Normally, I like to take a tour of a city in order to learn of its history. But, due to heat and back pain, we are taking the easy way out in Budapest. We will take the HOHO bus!
There are many different HOHO companies here. I looked into Big Bus and City Sightseeing. Big Bus is slightly cheaper but have several different routes, which means you will have to switch buses at some point. I don’t know if this is true for Budapest, but the Big Bus we rode in Berlin did not have air conditioning in the lower part. City Sightseeing has ac and also gives you a coupon booklet with a few freebies – free beer, free goulash soup, etc. as well as some discounts around town.
We caught the bus by the Chain Bridge at 9 am. There are City Sightseeing employees at each of their scheduled stops that are happy to sell you tickets. The person at the Chain Bridge stop did not have a credit card reader, but we had enough Forints to pay her. Though we only needed a 24 hr. ticket, the only option was to buy a 48 hr. one which included unlimited boat rides on the Danube. Something that was a little confusing was that they seemed to have combined their two main routes into one, so the stop numbers on the brochure did not match the stop numbers that were announced. But, at least we would not need to change buses to see all of the sights of Budapest!
Since it was early, it wasn’t too hot yet, so we sat upstairs. If it got too hot, we could always move downstairs.
Like all HOHO tours, there was narration in multiple languages giving small bits of information as you passed by the sights. One of the interesting tidbits I learned was that the people of Budapest are big readers. There are over 400 publishers here and each year, readership increases by 40-50%. As a matter of fact, the people of Budapest are the biggest readers in Europe. Go, Budapest!
The synagogue here is very unique in style. It is also the 2nd largest synagogue in the world. It was severely damaged during the Siege of Budapest in WWII but has been rebuilt using public donations. Tony Curtis donated to the cause; his background is Hungarian.
Two of the main sites here were being renovated; the narration said each was one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest. The Opera House was one of them. We passed it as we drove down one of the main shopping avenues, Andrassy Ut, which was patterned after the Champs Elysee.
The bus stopped for a bit at Heroes Square. This impressive place houses a couple of museums as well as some impressive statuary. The statues feature the seven chieftains of the Magyars and other important historic figures. There is also a tomb to the unknown soldier.
Besides being big readers, the people of Budapest are also big supporters of the arts. There are 20 theaters and 60 experimental theaters in town. Three million people per year visit these theaters.
We passed by two railroad stations. These were what we were expecting when we arrived in Budapest! Not at all like the dismal, concrete lined tunnel called Kelenfold where we arrived yesterday.
We crossed the Danube River, moving from Pest into Buda. There is a large statue of Bishop Gellert there. He was sent by the Catholic Church to convert the heathens. They apparently didn’t take to his message. He was put into a barrel and rolled into the Danube.
There are several bridges that cross the river. The most famous is the Chain Bridge, so named because the top resembles a bicycle chain.
The “Buda” side of the river was historically inhabited by the Holy Roman Empire. The “Pest” side was inhabited by the Barbarians. Aristocrats inhabited Buda. This is where Buda Castle is located, as well as the Citadel, and many of the thermal baths the area is famous for. There are 118 thermal wells here. Just like in Iceland, there is a bathing culture here. Thirty baths are open to the public. There are two stops for spas on the HOHO route.
There is a funicular that you can take to reach the castle, if you are so inclined (so to speak!).
I don’t know if these statues have any historical significance since they seem to be located outside a restaurant. They are huge and definitely draw your attention! Notice the girl on the bike to get an idea of scale.
The bus climbed up a steep, windy hill to the Citadel where it stopped for another 15 minute break. The Citadel was never used by the military. It provides beautiful views of Pest and is very popular in the evening when the city is lit up.
The entire tour took about 2.5 hours (not including the boat tour), so we definitely felt like we got our moneys’ worth! The architecture in Budapest is quite lovely.
By the time we had completed the tour, it was time for lunch. We ate at a café called Kisharang Etkezde (www.kisharang.hu/). It serves traditional Hungarian food in generous portions for a very reasonable amount of money. Coincidentally, we were seated next to a family from Seattle. They were currently living in Spain and have been driving around Europe for the past few months. We enjoyed the food so much, we returned for lunch there the following day!
On the way back to our hotel, we happened across a holocaust memorial. I thought the style was unique so took a few pictures. In front of the memorial, there were strung messages that people had added. It intrigued me, so I looked it up when we returned to our apartment. Come to find out, there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding this particular monument, located in Liberty Square.
We spent our second day here walking around the city, relaxing in parks, and soaking up the atmosphere.
If I were visiting Europe for the first time and wanted to visit a city that had remarkable architecture, friendly people, and delicious food, Budapest would be it.