A free weekend, a bored friend and a common destination yet to be discovered, so my trip to the Hungarian capital was born. Never before had I thought of Budapest as a destination for one of my “escapades across the border” and as a result I knew little or nothing about the city and its visit turned out to be a continuous succession of surprises!
A new but ancient city
The first impression I had just set foot in the city was of a place steeped in history. All the buildings in the centre in fact have an imposing appearance with high and decorated facades, worthy of an ancient imperial capital (it is very reminiscent of Vienna with which it shared the role of capital at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Imagine my surprise to discover instead that everything you can see in the city is actually “new”. Although its history has roots dating back to the 1st century B.C. the bombardments and the siege suffered at the end of the Second World War practically razed it to the ground and only thanks to a reconstruction that in my opinion is very intelligent can we enjoy it today as the little jewel it has become.
The Blue Danube
The Danube certainly represents one of the greatest beauties of this place and I couldn’t resist the temptation of a boat ride on its waters. There are several companies that offer this service and I have chosen one of the many without particular criteria, the tour for all is more or less the same as I imagine also the information that are given on board, essential but interesting. In addition to a unique view of the two main bridges that cross the river (the Chain Bridge and the Freedom Bridge), what struck me the most was the succession of the city’s most important buildings overlooking the water, offering a spectacle not to be missed. From the city which stands on a hill west of the river to the Hungarian Parliament which stands on the east bank to the Margaret Island which divides the large waterway in two and houses a beautiful park and some medieval ruins that have fully satisfied my expectations by repaying me for the cold on the upper bridge.
Buda and Pest
The whole area of Pest (which takes its name from the settlement that stood on the east bank of the river before unification) is very beautiful, monumental, and most of its streets deserve to be walked through in order to admire the architecture of the buildings, some of which are very modern but perfectly integrated in its role as an imperial city. There are not many places of interest and monuments: besides the Parliament, the Szabadság tér (Liberty Square), the basilicas of St Stephen, heroes square and the adjacent park Városliget are worth a visit.
Buda (from the small town on the west side) is full of historical buildings and, thanks to its hilly terrain, it excited me more by offering unforgettable views of the town. From the Church of Matthias and the nearby Fisherman’s Bastion to the Citadel that houses the Castle and all the wonders that surround it managed to transport me into the past and make me curious about its history.
Budapest Thermal Baths
An appointment not to be missed after a whole day spent in the cold…
The thermal baths in the city deserve their own chapter. They are without doubt the thing that I most appreciated and have become an unmissable appointment for me after a whole day spent wandering around in the cold and bad weather to which the Hungarian winter has subjected me. Here is a brief description of the three structures where I literally sunset in the days of my visit:
Located in the Városliget Park they are the largest and probably also the most chaotic in the city. Inside they offer many pools with various temperatures and some rooms with steam baths but I fell in love with the huge heated outdoor pool! Having to go out under the snow in a swimming costume to jump into the hot water and there stay up to your neck watching the flakes fall was a wonderful experience!
Built in 1918 at the foot of the Gellert hill from which they take their name (the same hill on which the Buda Castle stands), the Gellert Baths are characterised by an unmistakable Art Nouveau style which, together with the numerous mosaics and stained glass windows, make them absolutely the most elegant of the city, even if in my opinion the least involving.
On the other side of the same hill I discovered a bit by chance these spa treatments. Dating back to the 16th century and decidedly smaller than the other two structures, they were able to fascinate me thanks to their octagonal pool, the rough stone columns that surround it and the immense dome that overlooks it dotted with small coloured windows.
Spices and strong flavours
Whatever the destination of my trip, I can’t help but jump in and try the traditional local dishes. And so I did also in Budapest: besides the inevitable gulasch (for those who don’t know it is a thick soup of meat, potatoes, onion and carrots with a lot of paprika) the Hungarian cuisine offers mainly meat dishes (to my great joy since I don’t eat fish) rather elaborate with a rich use of ingredients and spices. For those who, like me, love strong flavours, it’s a great opportunity to try something different that won’t leave you disappointed!