Let me begin by apologizing for the number of building photos of Budapest, Hungary. Please keep in mind that I am only posting 10% of those taken, but I can't blame "da spouse" (AKA "The Photo Boss) as the buildings were fantastic.
Budapest is actually two towns on two sides of the Danube River in Hungary; the town of “Buda” is in the hill country while the town of “Pest” is in the flat part of the area. Budapest is the capital and the largest city of Hungary, the largest in East-Central Europe and the seventh largest in the European Union. It is the country's principal political, cultural, commercial, industrial, and transportation center, sometimes described as the primate city of Hungary. According to 2011 Census, Budapest had 1.74 million inhabitants, down from its 1989 peak of 2.1 million due to suburbanization. The Budapest Commuter Area is home to 3.3 million people. The city covers an area of 202.7 square miles within the city limits. Budapest became a single city occupying both banks of the river Danube with unification on 17 November 1873 of west-bank Buda and Óbuda with east-bank Pest. The capital dominates the country both by the size of its population—which dwarfs those of Hungary's other cities. Budapest was the focal point of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, Operation Panzerfaust in 1944, the Battle of Budapest of 1945, and the Revolution of 1956. According to our guide, Budapest has a revolution, war or something about every 50 years and is long overdue -- we are keeping our fingers crossed that they don't start anything during our stay.
Cited as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, its extensive World Heritage Site includes the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue, Heroes' Square and the Millennium Underground Railway (the second oldest in the world). Other highlights include a total of 80 geothermal springs, the world's largest thermal water cave system, second largest synagogue, and third largest Parliament building. The city attracts about 2.7 million tourists a year, making it the 37th most popular city in the world according to Euromonitor. Considered a financial hub in Central Europe, the city ranked 3rd (out of 65 cities) on Mastercard's Emerging Markets Index, and ranked as the most livable Central/Eastern European city on EIU's quality of life index. It is also ranked as "Europe's 7th most idyllic place to live" by Forbes, and as the 9th most beautiful city in the world by UCityGuides. It is the highest ranked Central/Eastern European city on Innovation Cities' Top 100 index. With all that (official) stuff said, Budapest was most definitely the most beautiful European city we have visited.
After a good night’s sleep at the Corinthian, a five star hotel, we had a fantastic breakfast, the best we’ve had in Europe. Our morning tour began in Pest with a chance to view the Parliament, Royal Palace and Heroes' Square. A small note here; the most beautiful buildings we have seen in every coutry we have visited was a government building. Nice to know where your taxes are going, eh?
We then crossed the Danube over the Elizabeth Bridge to the Buda Hills. We visited Mount Gellert and Castle Hill to see the 13th century Matthias Coronation Church. From Fishermen's Bastion, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city. Budapest also lays claim to the very first McDonalds in communist Europe, but we chose to have lunch elsewhere. We also drove by a 16th century Turkish bath that was built in only three days and it’s still standing and in use today (like to see someone build something like that now, eh?). Budapest, as with every other major European city we have visited, has constructed a memorial to the millions who died during the plague of the 1700’s. We visited the Matyas Church, which of course, was beautiful, but also unique as it is reflected in the windows of the Hilton Hotel directly next door, the ONLY hotel that was allowed to build in this historical square (many hands were supposedly greased to allow this to happen when the communist ran the city).
In the town of Pest there was, until yesterday, a square in the center of town named after Franklin D. Roosevelt. The name was changed yesterday by the new mayor (who no one seems to care for) because he said that Roosevelt sided with Russia during the war and Russia was no friend of Hungary. O.K. Fine! Could be that if Roosevelt did not get help from the Russians during the war, Hungarians would be speaking German! (And they actually already speak a dialect of German so it wouldn’t be a big stretch, eh?)
We passed another remembrance of the Holocaust depicted in my attached photo that displays shoes on the river bank. A line of shoes, permanently cemented on the walkway near the river, is where the last Jews of Budapest we’re killed in WWII. These folks had “made it” through almost the entire war and then, with only two weeks from the city being liberated by the allies, the Germans lined up all the remaining Jews, had them take off their shoes to see if they were hiding any valuables, put a bullet in the back of their heads and watched them fall into the river. These were mostly women and children.
To help the mood change for the better, we drove past the Zoo which I wish we had time to visit. Besides being one of the largest zoos in the world, the animals’ habitats were built to resemble where the animals came from --- Taj Mahal for India Elephants, etc. We also drove past the first or second largest Synagogue in the world, depending on who you ask. Evidently, the one in New York has more square feet, but the one in Budapest has more cubic feet. We then drove to the Castle, located on the Buda side, and got some great photos of the Pest side, including this video
During the tour we heard an interesting story about the Opera House. It seems that the roof of the Opera House is decorated with statues of many famous musical composers. When the Germans took over the town during the war the head-Nazi-what’s-in-charge decided that Mendelssohn, a Jewish composer, did not belong up there with all those wonderful, non-Jewish composers so he ordered Mendelssohn’s statue be torn down. Problem was, once the troops got up on the roof, no one knew which statue was Mendelssohn. They finally settled on the statue with the biggest nose, figuring that this MUST be the Jew, and tore it down. Unfortunately, the statue was that of Josef Franz Wagner who was an Austrian military bandmaster and composer, a non-Jew and absolute favorite of Hitler. Don’t think that Nazi-in-charge got too many promotions after that, eh? Can you say “Eastern Front”?
After the tour, we were dropped off at our ship, The Sound of Music, where we had a very nice dinner, a few drinks and watched a Hungarian song and dance performance. BTW – I had to find a liquor store the next day and buy a bottle of Vodka. At $10.00 a drink I sure wasn’t going to have many drinks at the ship’s bar.
The next morning we had breakfast and I asked the Tour Director about local transportation. I had been watching the trolley from my cabin and noticed that no one seemed to pay to ride it when they got on. The director told me that the city works on a Honor System of sorts. You buy a ticket and have it date and time stamped as you enter the trolley. Every so often an official gets on and checks tickets. If you don’t have one the ride becomes VERY expensive. I told him that we would like to ride around the city, taking different trolleys and he suggested an all-day ticket (about $7.50). He then gave, what I thought at the time, very simple directions to the ticket office. He told me to walk directly down the street across from the dock where our ship was tied up and when I reached the church, turn left to the ticket office. Problem is, this city is so decorative almost every building looks like a church. It took us a few tries to find the office, but we did. We then rode around Pest, got off and window shopped, got another trolley that took us across the bridge to Buda, got off and window shopped and then made our way back to the ship on a couple of more trolleys. On the way we found a market that we visited and found that although the city of Budapest is the most beautiful we have visited, the Hungarian people are not the nicest. We found them to be rude, unfriendly and rude (did I mention that they were rude?) At times I thought I was back in France, but they weren’t quite that bad ;o) But, their attitudes were bad enough to lose Julieann as a customer, which didn’t hurt my wallet……I mean, feelings. She got so mad after being treated badly by the third store owner/clerk that she decided it was time to return to the ship.
We left beautiful Budapest (none too soon) and headed down/up (I don’t know) the river to a little town I never heard of. At least the smooth ride gave us a good night’s sleep. Next (major) stop --- Salzburg, Austria (Home of the “Sound of Music”)