My mother always referred to Budapest as “the Paris of the Danube”, and it is true that much of the architecture and city planning here was inspired by France. Much of the rest bears the unmistakable imprint of the Habsburgs.
THIS is what it is like to sail into Budapest at dawn.
My mom and grandmother also often talked about Budapest’s seven bridges across the Danube, and how beautiful they were when lit at night (prior to being darkened during WWII). We were lucky enough in 2013 to sail in under the lights; today we came in just after daybreak, and then saw some of them again under sunny skies, which allowed us to appreciate the beauty of their engineering and construction. Somehow, though, we ended up without photos of the Margaret Bridge.
During Budapest’s glory days right around the time they celebrated their MILLENIUM in 1895, such importance was placed on making the city beautiful that all new construction was required by law to spend 20% of the entire construction cost of any building on the façade. By contrast, as our guide pointed out several times during our tour, the Soviets spent nothing on making buildings attractive during their decades in Hungary.
Our motorcoach tour took us past lots of ornately decorated buildings, while our guide gave us the Coles Notes synopsis of Hungary’s long history, all the way back to the 7 tribes who settled here in the Carpathian region beginning around 830 AD and forming an allegiance by 895 AD. Budapest was settled by Celts and Romans prior to the 7 tribes, with a short period after that of Mongol rule, and an interval of 150 years when it was part of the Ottoman Empire.
1895/86’s Hungarian millenium celebrations saw several huge parks and monuments erected here in the country’s capital, including Heroes’ Square and Fisherman’s Bastion.
The Matthias Church high on Castle Hill on the Buda side of the Danube is gorgeous inside and out. When it was restored in 19th century the interior was repainted using Mediaeval colours but in geometric designs reminiscent of Islamic decoration – a perhaps unintentional nod to the mosque that was there during the period of Ottoman reign. There is also plenty of Christian altar iconography, and many gilded murals and stained glass windows. The once controversial melding of themes and designs is now considered one of the highest achievements of Eastern European Art Nouveau.
For me, the result is awesome in the truest sense of that word. It brought back memories of our visit to the Hagia Sophia, which was a cathedral, mosque, museum, and then mosque again, and retained the historic decorative elements of both religions.
On this visit, we were able to climb the spiral stone stairs to the church galleries, where we got an extra-close look at the ceiling, windows, frescoes, and high altar.
We also got to walk through the Chapel of the Knights of Malta in an oratory in the northern gallery of the church. The chapel was created in 1927 and restored in 2005. It was especially interesting to us after our visit earlier this year with a living Knight of the order when we were in Malta. Episode 271 Since then, we seem to find Maltese crosses everywhere!
After our guided tour, Ted and I headed on foot to the nearby market, where we gawked at all the varieties of paprika, sweet Tokaj wine, Hungarian street food, embroidery, leather, and crochet work, while noshing on authentic Csabai sausages.
Our all-meat “lunch” gave us the energy to walk along the waterfront. Our goal was the Chain Bridge, but it was closed to pedestrians due to ongoing construction. We did get to see some great waterfront sculptures though, as well as smell the mulled cider and ogle the pastries on offer from outdoor stalls.
When the skies got dark, I sent poor Ted out into the cold to get some night photos from the “sun” deck.
Everyone on board disembarks tomorrow, so thete was a farewell cocktail party before dinner. Lucky us though, because we get to continue our exploration in Prague for 3 days with our friends.
Chef prepared a Hungarian-themed dinner for our last night: farmer’s fresh vegetable salad with crispy pork skin “croutons”, chicken paprikas, and layered walnut and chocolate cake.