Pest: The Other Side of the Danube River
Leaving the hills of Buda to return to the Pest side of the Danube you can hop on the green bus, which will take you down the hill, or you can return by funicular, subway, or walk across the bridge. Any way you descend the hill, watch for the “movie set” architecture from the 1700’s. These picturesque buildings are now apartments and small businesses, required by law to be kept historically authentic.
In Budapest you’ll find it easy to get almost anywhere by the very good public transport systems. The subways are marked with “M”, and the top word is the station where you are standing. The bottom word is the end of that particular line. The maps are on the wall of the beautifully clean underground stations and on display inside the cars as well. The Budapest Card, which you really should have, will take you on any public transportation free. The yellow line of the subways is the oldest on the Continent, a fact of which Hungarians are very proud. Visit the Transportation Museum to see the old cars. The city tram system is not quite so fast or so long but will give you a good view as you move along beside the Danube.
Note the wonderful architecture as you pass. Ardivassy Street’s seventeenth century architecture is so notable it has recently been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll want to walk along to reach the millennium park, built for Hungary’s 1,000th anniversary. The marvelous bronzes of the kings and Dukes have their most important achievements noted in relief sculpture below each figure. It is a truly incredible historic monument for any city.
You’ll want a guide to explain the wonders of Budapest to you. One of the best you could find is Peter Koltai, who can be contacted here. His family is in its second generation as guide service, and he is well trained with degrees in tourism and history. His family also owns a horse farm just outside the city and can arrange any kind of riding or horse program you’d like at their private stables, where the finest Hungarian horses of the large,famed stock are raised.
Just beyond this monument you’ll find the most important park on the Pest side: City Park with year round outdoor activities for the whole family. In summer you can boat on the shallow lake, and in winter it is festive with ice skaters, who enjoy the picturesque setting beneath a most unique castle. The castle is the feature of Vajdahunyad Castle, which is an amalgam of all the famous castles and palaces (Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque) in Hungary. It was made first of paper and wood for an exhibition at the end of the 19th century. The exhibit was so successful; it was later done in stone. In the same area, just west of Hero Square, you’ll find The Szechenyi Baths, the largest in Europe, built on the site of the ancient Roman Baths. You’ll also find the Botanical Gardens, the Zoo, and Museums.
Of note at the castle is the rather scary imposing statue of a hooded, seated mysterious person with a book and writing instrument in his hand. He is symbolic of the unknown person who first wrote down the tales of Hungarian history. The book was discovered and no one yet knows who wrote it. It is a priceless treasure, studied by all school children, and students rub the pen on the statue for good luck in their final exams.
A little past this castle you’ll be surprised to find a statue of George Washington, the first American President. Hungary has a population of 10 million, one-fifth of which live in Budapest. But because of the turbulent history Thousands of Hungarians have had to refugee to other countries in the past. After World War I Hungary lost two-thirds of its land. Today there are 50,000 Hungarian citizens living outside of their country. The ones from the Indiana in the United States of America gave this statue to their beloved homeland.
Along the beautiful Danube River, you MUST take a ride on one of the many water tours offered and see the city from the water. Perhaps you arrived in Budapest on a cruise and have already seen her majesty illuminated at night. If not, there are many opportunities. We chose to have dinner on one of the showboats docked at Pier #2.
Kossuth Museumhajo (Etterem Restaurant) is a real steamship built in 1913. We dined in Venhajo Restaurant on board. Phone 36-1-267-03-03. This was an excellent choice because we got to sample many, many authentic Hungarian dishes at their enormous and delicious buffet! Hungary is an agricultural nation, so the food is fresh from the farms and excellent as Mother’s home cooking, and the portions are enormous everywhere. Prices are very reasonable. We listened to the beautiful Salon Music Orchestra and most famous Gypsy Band. Budapest is known for its music academy and has one of the world’s greatest concert halls, second only to Venice’s Scala. After dining at about 7 pm, we had just the right amount o f time to walk to Pier #6 just before the green bridge, where we chose the Legend boat tour. Our champaigne cruise began at 2100 hours (9pm), just as dark was falling and the lights were coming on. We listened to soft classical music as we cruised the gentle waters of the Danube gazing at the illumined monuments for a romantic hour that was a highlight of our trip. If we spent a month in Budapest I’d want to take this cruise every night! Don’t miss it!
You can also select daylight times for this and other cruises. Or you may want to enjoy an entire day by taking the high speed Hydrofoil from the International Harbor to Vienna, which takes five hours. There you can spend several hours sight-seeing and eating and then return on the four hour trip (with the current). Anyway you do it, you’ll fall in love with the Danube, the lifeline of theBudapest.
Seven bridges connect Buda and Pest, which were first united as one when the pontoon bridge was built in the early 1800’s. The oldest and most beautirul, the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, was the first permanent one: built in 1848. However, all the bridges were destroyed in World War II and have been replaced by beautiful structures since then. The Margaret Bridge has the entrance to the lovely Island Park Nature Refuge. In the thirteenth century, King Buda had lost two daughters to the Tartars, who plundered, raped, and killed savagely. Buda and his queen fled the city and prayed fervently that their people be spared, promising God that they would offer their next daughter to be born into holy service and build a monastery to God’s glory. The Tartars did flee, and the Queen did conceive, and the princess Margaret was trained from the earliest period of her life to be God’s handmaiden. She lived her chaste life on this island.
When you return to Peste from the Margaret Bridge, board the tram #2 and go past all the bridges to one of the largest, oldest, and most beautiful Market Halls in Europe. Save this for your last day and plan to spend half day and all the rest of your money here! A wonderful discovery is that the food in the restaurant here is so fresh, delicious, and very inexpensive, so have lunch here. You’ll see locals buying all their fresh produce and meats for their families, and The colorful displays of fruits, vegetables, fish, sausages, and the famous Hungarian paprika take up the entire first floor. A normal grocery store and bank are in the basement.
The upper level has restaurants, etterems, bars, fast foods, and Hungarian handcrafts of every type. Here you’ll find the cheapest prices of any in Budapest, (although the markets in the small villages are a little cheaper). If you have Hungarian cash forents to spend you’ll get a 10 per cent discount in most places, and perhaps a little more if you are a good bargainer. Remember the embroideries, leather, wood, ceramic, porcelain, and glassware are of superb quality and excellent prices. You’ll want to bring lots home with you, so do as we did: Pack in the bottom of your suitcases before you come, or purchase at the market or airport some soft, sack-type suitcases, or backpacks to fill with your Hungarian treasures. You’ll be glad you did!