13 August 2018

Budapest

Budapest

After passing through Vienna and Bratislava, the Danube meanders lazily through the Hungarian capital, dividing what had famously been two separate cities - Buda on the western shore, and Pest on the east. Although seemingly small, Budapest is a truly handsome city, rich in architecture, history and culture. It's the kind you can lose yourself in, without much chance of physically getting lost.

Mine and Lizzie's Airbnb accommodation was conveniently located off the UNESCO listed Andrássy Avenue in District VI, which connects Erzsébet Square in the inner city with the Városliget (City Park). As such, it provided easy walking distance to many of Budapest's landmarks, as well as the fabled ruin bars of District VII.

Crossing the Széchenyi Chain Bridge into Buda, our first full day was spent exploring the historic Castle District, which overlooks the rest of the city from its hilltop perch. North of Buda Castle, cobbled streets lined with pastel townhouses lead us to the magnificent Matthias Church, splendorously adorned with brightly coloured roof tiles. A stroll southward then takes us back past the Castle and down into its formal gardens, eventually returning to the western bank of the Danube. 

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After descending Castle Hill, I then decided the next best thing would be to climb another, because I apparently enjoy punishing my friends with exercise. In all seriousness, I do forget that not everyone posesses the same grace of a mountain goat as myself, nor my mad inclinations to overexert oneself in the name of exploration. That all being said, Lizzie did admit the stunning views of Budapest from atop Gellért Hill were very much worth the gruelling 235m ascent in thirty-degree heat.

As we ventured back to our apartment for a well-deserved shower and rest, we paused en-route to explore Budapest's Great Market Hall, sited on the Pest end of the Liberty Bridge. If you enjoy pottering about Borough Market in South London, or The Covered Market in Oxford, you will find yourself immersed in this maze of stalls selling fresh produce, pastries, spirits, spices and souvenirs.

Later on, we took to the inner city in search of dinner. Aided by TripAdvisor recommendations, Lizzie and I were quick to discover that great food isn't difficult to come by in Budapest, and much of it is reasonably priced. A generous serving of tiger prawns - flambéed in Blood Orange Cointreau, might I add - at Bottega di Brontolo was swiftly followed by a cheese board and Hungarian wine tasting at Doblo wine bar.

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Day Two was significantly more relaxed - at least to the point that we avoided any more hills. Lizzie and I walked the opposite direction along Andrássy Avenue, past palatial Neo-Renaissance houses towards the City Park and Széchenyi Thermal Baths, hoping its temperate waters would alleviate the aches and stiffness we had earned from yesterday's inadvertent workout. Naturally, we failed to appreciate that Andrássy Avenue is a fairly long and straight street, therefore we were doubly in need of recuperation upon changing into our respective bathing suit and swim shorts.

The outdoor lagoon was indeed a welcome retreat from the hubbub beyond its walls, even with dark clouds threatening to break above us. After a couple of hours to warm our bones (and turn our fingertips to the likeness of sultanas), we then wandered across the park to Vajdahunyad Castle, which - although only built in 1896 - could have been lifted from the pages of a fairytale. Given I work at an architectural practice, I ought to have acknowledged the purposeful mix of classical styles used in its construction, but to tell the truth, my mind was filled with Tale As Old As Time when wandering below its spired turrets. Let's face it, English castles simply don't have the same romantic qualities as their European equivalents.

In the evening, Lizzie and I boarded a river boat to explore the remainder of Budapest from the water. Before grey clouds finally drew across the sky, we were fortunate enough to witness the Hungarian Parliament Building bathed in gold from the setting sun. A marvel of the Gothic Revival movement, it stands proudly and elegantly on the eastern bank of the Danube. Catching the last of the sunlight, it was a beautiful moment to conclude our short break in this charming city.

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