Aug 2015: Despite some discouragement due to racism in Prague last summer, I went ahead to visit Budapest, one of the triumvirates in eastern Europe and I am glad we did this month. Hungarians are civil, generous and helpful. Budapest is full of beautiful architectures and the Danube is quite romantic with the various bridges that connect the two sides of Buda and Pest. Except for the heavy but thankfully short downpours, the sun was out the whole week, one day the heat must be at least 43c.
We did all the touristy things: visiting all the known attractions (the magnificent Parliament building, Royal palace, Hotel Gellert, Central Market, St Stephen’s Basilica, Jewish quarter, Cave Church..) and walked everywhere or hopped on the subway, trams or some buses when the legs started to complain; Photographed everything, trying local dishes and lingering around souvenir stands.
I ventured by train to Vac, a small town north of the city. Built some time in 1200s, the compact town on the east side of the Danube still bears relics and foot prints of ancient time with the old prison still spreads out on the north side. Even on a scorching hot summer day it was a treat to walk slowly through it, resting leisurely to take in the peaceful languor and uniqueness of the town. I love the train rides despite the suffocating heat on the way back (the train was an old type without air condition).
Budapest is a civil, quiet city with green grass along some parts of the Danube, benches in parks often occupied by lovers, patio cafés and restaurants everywhere and wonderful architecture on every old building and structure, every corner and walkway. Subway stations with delicious pastry shops at the entrance and ladies selling embroidered dresses and dolls everywhere. It has little western influence except the occasional Starbucks and fast food chains (though prices are outrageously more and taste are worse than the local average shops there). Only one shopping “mall” called “WestEnd” (actually located north east of the city) displaying only the bare minimum British influence and north American stores. Some remnants of the communist regime remain: statues of soldiers and real soldiers wearing a strange shade of green guarding important buildings.
I trekked up the hilly side of Buda to see arts at the National Gallery which now stored some of the art works from the Museum of Fine Arts while the latter was under renovation. There is a small section of new, modern art otherwise the 4 floors were scattered with older, realism style arts. For 500 forints (appx $4 Cdn) photographs without flash were allowed. It was nice to see the city flooded with visitors and everyone seemed to have a good time. Most books there were in Hungarian and without the language it was difficult to select even just by images. I bought a small book of an artist whose arts captured my attention, Birkas Akos. He is as I just researched now, a notable Hungarian artist ( Széchenyi Arts Academy)
The eve of our departure I took a stroll along the Danube to take in the last bits of whatever the city offered: the various songs from street artists and their musical instruments, the trams, the sight of cruise ships entertaining their patrons on brightly lit deck, the beautiful displays of lights on Chain bridge, horse carriages and the occasional long limousines with open sun roof with giddy women holding champagne glasses screaming out their hedonistic night fun. The locals seemed to question the loud laughter and visitors just smiled.
And so, in spite of the 12 hrs with connecting flights, it was a very good trip.