Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to, no doubt enhanced by the fact we had great weather the whole time there. Sure, London and Paris are great towns, but oh so often the experience is marred by the fact you have to either carry around a brolly or walk in the rain (I’m the latter. Can’t ever remember to take the brolly with me).
Knowing Hungary was ruled by a communist regime for most of the 20th century, and knowing it was ‘behind the iron curtain’, Mr Moi and I weren’t quite sure what to expect. Our benchmark for Eastern and Central Europe, in lieu of actually travelling anywhere else, is Ukraine, and we were interested to see Budapest and make the comparison.
(Of course, if we’d bothered to buy a guidebook before we left, I’m sure we would have found out some interesting information about the city. However, there aren’t any Hungarian guidebooks on sale in the English bookstore in Kyiv).
As I’ve previously mentioned, the signs that greeted us on the highway from the airport took us by surprise. Tesco! Burger King! Subway! McDonald’s was there too, but we’re rather blase about that, considering there are like, 10 Maccas in Kyiv now.
We arrived at our very nice hotel in the centre of town, and decided right away to go exploring. The first place we hit was Vacy Utca (pron Oot-sa, it means street), a pedestrianised street with lots of boutiques, shops and outdoor pavement dining – all very civilised and dare I say it… There was certainly a bit of France in the atmosphere (just going on what I can compare it with, people!)
Before we knew it, we stumbled across the mighty Danube (well, not literally stumbled across it. I would have drowned. More like, we walked up to a fence where we could stand and see it).
The Danube, or Duna, as it’s known to Hungarians, is a lovely wide river that cuts the city of Budapest in half. As most of you probably know, Budapest was indeed, two different cities – Buda (the hilly side of the river), and Pest (pronounced PeSHt; the flat side of the river). Sometime in the late 1800s, the two cities joined together. I’m sure if I’d taken a tour or read a book, I would have an understanding of why this was, and what legacies remain today. But I don’t know anything, except the Castle district – the former seat of the Austro-Hungarian royalty – is on the Buda side.
Walking up the Danube banks, I made a few observations:
- Hungarians are slower drivers than Kyiv. This may be because the streets in Budapest are much narrower and usually only single lane.
- Hungarians like to ride bikes. There are bike lanes alongside major streets, and even bike traffic lights. Could be a contributor to point one, above.
- Hungarians have accidents. I saw two bumper-to-bumper crashes in just one night.
- Hungarians like exercising in public. There were lots of people out enjoying an afternoon jog (see point two).
Our afternoon stroll ended up to the north of town on the Pest side of the river, in a little Irish pub where the proprietors spoke English and they played Johnny Cash on the radio. We enjoyed a few big beers before stumbling home, basking in our new found love of Budapest.
You can see some pictures of the lovely Budapest here.