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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Hungary.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Hungary.
The creepy costumes donned by the revellers at this eccentric Magyar carnival certainly give Halloween ghouls a run for their money.
Dressed as horned monsters with woollen pelts, these costumed fiends are entrusted with the job of frightening off the freezing winter weather. It’s a symbolic nod to a significant Hungarian historical event. In the 16th century, the townsfolk of Mohács dressed in disturbing get-up to frighten away the invading Turkish army.
The festival lasts six days and over the course of this time there are lots of activities, open to all, that won’t scare you silly. There’s a costume competition for little monsters, a street procession that starts off on boats on the Danube and ends with horse-drawn floats in the centre of town, and a burning man effigy to signal the end of the cold. Everyone walks around drinking mulled wine and brandy and toasting their success at seeing in the imminent end of winter.
Chain Bridge – Budapest won’t be completed without Chain Bridge. Szechenyi (Say-chain-ee) Chain Bridge has been the landmark of Budapest since it was opened in 1849 because it connects Clark Adam Square in Buda and Szechenyi Square in Pest on the opposite side of Danube River together. At the time of its completion, Chain Bridge is considered one of the modem world’s engineering wonders and went on the record as the longest suspension bridge in Europe.
The Museum of Fine Arts – Budapest won’t be completed without Chain Bridge. Szechenyi (Say-chain-ee) Chain Bridge has been the landmark of Budapest since it was opened in 1849 because it connects Clark Adam Square in Buda and Szechenyi Square in Pest on the opposite side of Danube River together. At the time of its completion, Chain Bridge is considered one of the modem world’s engineering wonders and went on the record as the longest suspension bridge in Europe.
Parliament Building you will be stunned by the magnificent Neo-Gothic architecture of the Parliament. Inaugurated in 1886 to celebrate Hungary’s 1000th anniversary and fully completed in 1902, Budapest Parliament has 691 rooms and an incredible 19 kilometers of stairs, making it the third largest parliament in the world. When the National Assembly is not in session, the parliament is opened for guided tours. Explore the fascinating architecture of the main hall, the old House of Lords, get a glimpse of the impressive Hungarian Crown Jewels, and learn the history of Hungary politic.
Margaret Island – Romantic walkways, medieval ruins, landscaped gardens, water park, musical fountains, and open-air theater, if these attractions spark your interest, then Margaret Island is your piece of heaven. Guarded by the majestic Danube River, the peaceful hideaway is located just a few minutes from the heart of Budapest and it is popular among locals and tourists alike, especially during weekend and holidays. Margaret Island gets extra lively during summer and spring as people flocks to Palatinus Baths to enjoy outdoor pools, some with medicinal benefits, amidst beautiful garden setting.
Budapest’s Busiest Avenue – Andrassy ut stretches 2.4 kilometres from the city center to the City Park. Andrassy ut is easily Budapest’s busiest avenue with eclectic Neo-Renaissance palaces and houses of aristocrats, bankers, and noble families built by the most distinguished architects of the time. The avenue is the best spot for a stroll alongside the beautiful turn-of-the-century buildings which are now turned into restaurants, cafes and upscale boutiques, including Louis Vuitton, Ermenegildo Zegna, Burberry and Gucci. It is also home to impressive cultural buildings like the State Opera and the Academy of Music, the Ferenc Hopp Museum of East Asian Art, and the Zoltan Kodaly Memorial Museum.
Imre Steindl’s rich Neo-Gothic Parliament is Hungary’s largest building and a symbol of Budapest. Hungarian materials, techniques, and master craftsmen were used in its construction on the bank of the Danube River. The building is 880 ft (268 m) long and 315 ft (96 m) high. The north wing houses the offices of Hungary’s prime minister, while the south wing contains those of the president of the Republic.
The building was intended to symbolize the country’s thriving democracy. Steindl drew inspiration from Charles Barry and A. W. Pugin’s Neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament in London. However, for the internal spaces, including the superb Dome Hall, he also used references from the Baroque and Renaissance styles as well.
The first Hungarian king, St. Stephen I (c. 975- 1038), received the royal crown from Pope Sylvester II in the year 1000. The crown became a symbol of Christianity and all Hungarian kings who followed after Stephen I were crowned with the sacred diadem. Many today believe that the crown bears little resemblance to the original crown, because over the centuries it has been lost and stolen. Battles and wars have also been fought for possession of the crown. At the end of World War II, it was taken to the US for safekeeping and returned to Hungary with much fanfare in 1978. The crown now resides in Hungary’s Parliament.
Surrounding the external facade of the Parliament building are 90 statues, which include some of the country’s past monarchs, prime minsters, writers, and revolutionaries.
A statue of the Transylvanian prince Ferenc Rakoczi II (1676-1735), who fought the Habsburgs for Hungary’s freedom, is at the southern end. Nearby is a seated statue of the Hungarian writer Jozsef Attila (1905-37). His first collection of poems was published when he was 17. Adorning the north wing is the statue of Lajos Kossuth (1802-94), who fought for Hungary’s independence for six months in 1849 before being driven into exile. Next to it is a statue of the democratic prime minister and revolutionary Mihaly Karolyi (1875-1955). He ruled Hungary for five months in 1919 until he was forced into exile after the government was overthrown by the Communists.
Deputy Council Chamber
Formerly the upper house, this hall is now where the National Assembly convenes. Two paintings by Zsigmond Vajada hang on either side of the Speaker’s lectern. These were especially commissioned for the building.
Lobbies, the venues for political discussions, line corri dors lit by stained-glass windows.
Adorning the massive pillars that support Parliament’s central dome are figures of some of the rulers of Hungary.
Over 500,000 stones were carved for the exterior decoration.
Almost every corner of the Parliament building features gables with lacelike pinnacles based on Gothic sculptures.
This hall is decorated with a Gobelin tapestry illustrating Prince Arpad, with seven Magyar leaders under his command, signing a peace treaty and blood oath.
Old Upper House Hall
This vast hall is virtually a mirror image of the National Assembly Hall. Both halls have public galleries running around a horseshoe-shaped interior.
The ceiling of the 315-ft (96-m) high dome is covered in an intricate design of Neo Gothic gilding combined with heraldic decoration.
The Crown Jewels of Hungary, except the Coronation Mantle, are kept in the Dome Hall.
The best contemporary artists were invited to decorate the interior. The sumptuous main staircase features ceiling frescoes by Kroly Lotz and sculptures by Gyorgy Kiss.
The magnificent dome marks the central point of the Parliament building. Although this facade is elaborately Neo-Gothic; the ground plan follows Baroque convetions.
In 1954, the Herend Porcelain Manufactory made the first Parliament Vase. It stood in the Dome Hall for ten years and was then moved to the Herend Museum. A new vase was created in 2000 to mark Hungary’s 1,000 years of statehood.
1882: Imre Steindl wins the competition for the design of the Parliament building.
1885: The foundation stone is laid along the Danube embankment.
1902: Work on the Parliament building is completed.
1987: The historic area of Budapest, including the Parliament building, is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There was a repeated sharp-snapping sound, like distant revolver shots. The ground rumbled as 20 hooves hammered the baize-short grass. The horseman didn’t so much come into view – on the billiard-table flatness of Hungary’s plains everything is always in view – but into focus. The tiny far-off shape grew into a figure standing on the rumps of two galloping horses while driving another three in front. He held skeins of reins in one hand; with the other he cracked his whip over and over. His blue skirts (hang on, what?) billowed in the wind, and a crane’s feather fluttered in his hat. This was the horsemanship of Europe’s wild east.
Three other csikós (horse-herdsman), each mounted on a single, sturdy Nonius horse, halted in a line and dismounted. Their simple pad saddles were unattached by girths and could be flipped off or on in seconds. At a command the horses dropped to the ground, lying flat out so they became dark, low mounds. Their riders stood on top of them and whirled their whips, the lashes exploding through the sound barrier inches above the horses’ heads.
It may have been a show but the horsemen’s costumes and tricks were keeping alive the real and authentic traditions of the puszta – the ‘barren lands. Petra Vasony, a local biologist, translated for me as the csikos talked. Their ‘skirts’, worn over breeches, were practical: the six metres of indigo-dyed cloth pleated into loose billowing leggings were cool in the summer’s heat or, when tied in at the ankle, warm when it was cold. Winter’s freezing winds and snows were kept at bay by the cifrasziir, a heavy cloak used by all plains herders. In the multi-function way of a countryman’s kit, the cloak could also be used in courtship; left ‘accidentally’ at a girl’s house, if it was found hung outside the next day the suitor had been rejected. Tobacco pouches were made from a ram’s scrotal sac; decorated rawhide belt-hung cases held working knifes, though were also perfectly sized for mobile phones.
Modern csikos still rode out with large herds of loose horses each day, keeping them together as they grazed the unfenced grasslands. The girthless saddle needed only to be thrown over the riding horse’s back before the rider vaulted up and cantered off in pursuit of strays.
Budapest, Hungary is where we start our introduction to the V4 (Visegrád Four, an alliance of four Central European countries: Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland). We’re told that “Buda is the more hilly and suburban part of the city, while Pest is the urban centre” the minute we meet our guide, Andrea. Formerly two cities on opposite sides of the Danube River, they were united as one in 1873. This makes Budapest one of the best places to visit for a weekend break.
Stay in Pest for a range of Hungarian entertainment, shopping and dining options but then cross over to Buda to visit prominent landmarks that helped shape Hungary’s history.
We start our tour in Pest at Andrássy Street, one of Budapest’s main shopping streets that is lined with luxury boutiques housed in restored neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses. Shopping at international brand names like Gucci and Armani, stop by the numerous cafes and restaurants for a proper cup of coffee or taste traditional Hungarian food.
One of the more iconic buildings on Andrássy Street is the Hungarian State Opera House, a neo-renaissance building with baroque ornamentations. Hungarian opera took shape around the late 18th century and first began with interpolations of German operas. It was not until mid-19th century that the first fully Hungarian opera was written by Ferenc Erkel, the grandfather of Hungarian opera. We had the privilege of watching one of Ferenc Erkel’s epics, Bánk bán, which is considered to be the national opera of Hungary. Although sung in Hungarian, English subtitles were displayed next to the stage for tourists to understand.
With Andrássy Street as our starting point, we make our way through a series of side streets to reach the Jewish Quarters that are still inhabited largely by Budapest’s Jewish community. The derelict neighbourhood reads of abandonment. “The Jews were forced to move during World War II,” was the explanation Andrea gave us but it wasn’t just WWII that forced the Jews out of Hungary. Prosecution of Hungarian Jews dates back as far as 1349, when Jews were expelled from the country dining the Black Death. Throughout history, the Jewish community would be readmitted and re-persecuted again and again when the country was under Habsburg rule and other foreign kings in the country.
The Hungarian capital has entered its most profound period of transformation since its imperial zenith.
If you want to understand Budapest, buy a subway ticket. The oldest electrified metro line in continental Europe lies below the Hungarian capital, running parallel to one of the youngest.
When Line 1 opened in 1896, the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s second city was in its Belle Epoque glory days, complete with opulent cafes, immaculately shaved gentlemen, and parasol-totting young ladies given to hysteria. The new subway typified the prosperity of Europe’s fastest-growing city. Secession-style entrances of wrought iron led down to stations lined with glazed mosaic tiles. The electric-powered cars were clad in polished wood. “Exceedingly handsome,” wrote a correspondent for a London railroad review. “More like the saloon of a yacht than a tram car?’ The two-mile line and its 11 stations took only 20 months to construct. Christened as the Millennium Underground Railway, the system opened in time for a massive celebration announcing the city on the Danube as a hypermodern metropolis of fin de siecle Europe. The original trains were replaced in the 1970s with vaguely antiqued modern cars, but Line 1, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, remains fully functional, a nostalgic thread connecting many of the city’s most lavish imperial sights.
By contrast, Line 4, completed in 2014, was considered a failure before construction even began. The plan to link the medieval village of Buda to the chaotic commercial district Pest, across the Danube, was approved in the 1970s but languished in political deadlock for more than 30 years. After construction began, in 2006, it quickly became an emblem of the corruption and mismanagement that, while less common than in the days of ‘goulash Communism, still affected Hungary. Unexplained delays caused the budget to balloon to US$2 billion. Residents griped that the line connected parts of the city that didn’t need connecting, while doing nothing to solve the city’s chronic traffic jams.
Take a couple of days to explore the atmospheric streets of Hungary’s capital, finding tumbledown pubs, thermal baths and contemporary design shops nudging against grand civic buildings and the gloriously blue Danube. Wandering through, fill up on old Magyar favorites in a Soviet-style canteen or local produce from a farmers’ market.
The Turkish occupation of Hungary from 1541 to 1686 is still detectable in the revered tradition of public bathing, a form of leisure that the Hungarians take mighty seriously. Budapest’s many bathing establishments survived Communism, but none so brilliantly as those of the Hotel Gellért. T
his dowager of the capital’s hotels, an Art Nouveau gem, was built in the early 1900s over eighteen generous hot springs with pools (open to the public) modeled after the ancient baths of Caracalla. Beneath the Gellért’s spectacular florid stained-glass domes and mosaics inlaid with gold, locals quietly play chess on floating boards, socialize in hushed tones, or paddle about at their leisure in the elaborately tiled pools. Visitors loll about swathed in Turkish towels (or much less) awaiting their massage appointments.
The city’s more than thirty spas offer the chance to partake in the ancient ritual of these restorative waters. It is said there are more than 1,000 underground hot springs in Hungary, 80 beneath Budapest alone, but the historic Gelléert’s is the Taj Mahal of baths, the most colorful and fascinating way to soak up the local Eastern European culture, even if just for a few hours.
Budapest’s fanciest and most famous restaurant is also widely considered the country’s – and maybe Eastern Europe’s – best. Reopened to much fanfare in 1992 after restoration by Hungarian-born American restaurateur George Lang (owner of New York’s Café des Artistes), the aristocratic magic of its 1894 debut can still be felt, from the era when Budapest was the Paris of Eastern Europe.
The menu is delightfully old-fashioned, with many classic dishes prepared as they were in Gundel’s glory days. Some of Hungary’s best wines never leave the country, and they can be found on the extensive wine list, the city’s most impressive, including a noble Tokay dessert wine, one of many under the Gundel house label.
Just next door is Gundel’s popular sister establishment, Bagolyvár (The Owl’s Castle), whose menu is less extensive, less expensive, and more homestyle – owner Lang wants visitors and Hungarian diners alike to have a choice between a grand evening, complete with wandering Gypsy violinists, and a cozy down- home alternative.
The final eastbound stop in the sweet-tooth triathlon (after Angelina’s in Paris and Demel’s in Vienna), Budapest’s famous Gerbeaud coffeehouse is a neo-Baroque throwback to imperial times, and an oasis of relaxation in a city reinventing itself at breakneck speed.
But then, that’s nothing new. In the late 19th century, Budapest was one of the fastest-growing cities in the world and the city’s coffeehouses became second homes for writers, artists, politicians, journalists, and even a bit of royalty in the person of Empress “Sissi” Hapsburg. Opened in 1858 and at its current site since 1870, Gerbeaud survived the bleak period of Communism and is now back on the tourist circuit – ensuring its survival, but making it impossible to find a late afternoon table in the vast, mansionlike interior, with its heavy velvet curtains, silk wallpaper, crystal chandeliers, and marble-topped tables.
Throughout its history, Gerbeaud has been a nirvana for chocoholics. Astounded by the dozens of ultra-rich confections made daily on the premises, wide-eyed, sweet-toothed, first-time patrons are hard pressed to choose between delicacies such as Gerbeaud’s signature seven-layer chocolate cake (the original Hungarian rhapsody?) and its famous cherry or apple strudel.