Tag Archives: citybreak

Beautiful Budapest

Many years ago I visited Budapest and due to some personal issues didn’t have the best experience, despite being able to see that it was a beautiful city. I felt that it was time to ‘redeem’ Budapest, and popped over for a super quick city break.

I was not disappointed and had spectacularly wonderful time!

Free Walking Tour: Original

Fishermans BastionAs is my preference to start exploring any city, I started with a Free Walking Tour. Based on the experience and recommendation of a friend, I did the Original Walking Tour.

The tour guide Lilla was a Budapest local, born and raised in Hungary. She walked us through various parts of the city and history.

The city of Budapest is split across two sides of the river Danube. One side of the river is Buda, meaning water and the other is Pest, meaning fire.

Hungary has a population of 10 million, approximately 1.7 million in Budapest, and the nation has 13 Nobel Prize winners. The theory is that the complexity of the language is intertwined with the level of complexity the Hungarian mind can process. This talented and modest nation of people has been the mother to great innovation and creative design including the Rubik’s cube, ballpoint pen, helicopter rotors and much more.

Some History

Nomadic pagans first arrived in Hungary from Asia in 896, and as a result the number 96 because a significant, or special number in Hungarian culture. The asian origins of Hungary is still evident today in the language, which is highly complex and has no links to any other European language (Finnish is the other Asian based language in Europe – these two are considered to be among the most complex languages to learn)

St Steven was crowned as the first King of Hungary in 1000, and converted the nation to Christianity.  In 1241 a Mongol invasion caused havoc and and much damage Throughout Hungary; in 1340 Hungary feel under the rule of Louis the Great; in 1526 the Hungarian forces were conquered by the Ottoman Turks; and in 1699 the Turks were expelled and the nation fell under Austrian rule. Eventually Hungary became a partner in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austrian architecture is still the predominant architectural style visible in the city of Budapest.

In 1918, post World War I, a Hungarian republic was proclaimed; but in 1919 the country was taken over by communist rule. According to Lilla, if nothing else, life under communist rule taught Hungarians to have and value a strong separation of their personal and public lives. Public appearances will convey happiness and perhaps wealth – but personally this may or may not be the case.

Hungary finally became an independent democracy in 1990; and is now a member of the European Union, NATO, the OECD, the Visegrád Group, and the Schengen Area. Despite being a member of the EU, Hungary continues to use it’s own currency of Forint as the currency is not yet strong enough to make the switch to Euro.

Things to see

The Castle District

Matthias ChurchDespite the name, there is no castle on castle hill. Only the ruins can still be found. Regardless of whether a castle remains or not, the castle district is a gorgeous area to explore. Cute little streets, nice green parklands and my two favourites:theMatthias Church and the Fishermans Bastion.

The Church of our Lady, typically referred to as Matthias Church was started in the 13th century but rebuilt 100 years ago in it’s original gothic style. It’s a beautiful white church with a coloured tile roof.

I hear it is spectacular inside, but unfortunately it was closed on the day of my visit; entry costs 1500HUF.

The Fishermans Bastion is a terrace constructed along the hillside with seven turrets providing spectacular panoramic views of the river and city below. The seven turrets represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896. It was constructed around 1900 out of beautiful white stone blocks. You can freely explore the Fisherman’s Bastion, but if you wish to walk the upper towers there is an entry fee of 800HUF. If I recall correctly, you can purchase a combo ticket for the church and bastion.

Chain Bridge

Chain BridgeChain Bridge was the first permanent bridge built over the Danube, to connect the two sides of the city. During the war the bridge suffered a lot of damage, it was blown up but pillars remained intact. The connections between the pillars were rebuilt after war.

Some quirky folklore to go along with this bridge is that the bridge’s architect said it was so perfect that he challenged all the people to find a flaw in it. If they found a flaw he would jump off his bridge and kill himself. It took two weeks but eventually a child said that the lions did not have tongues. The architect proceeded to spin a story about lions keeping their tongues in their mouths, unlike dogs – and that this was not a flaw but simply not visible; thus saving his life.

Heroes Square

Heroes Square is the largest square in Budapest. This millenium monument was established to commemorate the first 1000 years of the Hungarian state. The Archangel Gabriel is atop the central pillar, surrounded by seven Magyar Chieftains, and the semi circle of columns contains the likenesses of fourteen important historical figures, such as Kings. It is a beautiful site to wander around and behold.

Heroes Square

Gellert Hill

Gellert Hill is a 140 metre high Dolomite rock overlooking the river Danube. It is a beautiful area to explore with a natural park, several monuments and a cave church to explore.

On top of Gellert Hill is statue of lady holding palm leaf, which can be seen as a beacon from all over the city.

It was placed in 1947  by the Soviets as a symbol of liberation during World War II. Despite the rule and conditions under which she was placed on the hill, she was kept there because the Hungarians like the sculpture, though the inscription was modified to read “To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary”.

Tram Line 2

We didn’t get around to it, but we were advised that Tram Line 2 is worth riding around as it takes you past all the best sights of the city, offering beautiful views. When you google it, it is listed as one of the best tram rides in the world!

Thermal Baths

Szechenyi Thermal BathsBudapest is home to the largest thermal water cave system and the second-largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz). With more than 136 thermal springs around the city it is no wonder that there are many thermal baths to visit. The baths are both turkish and non-turkish styles, and an absolutely fantastic way to relax.

Possibly the most famous baths in the city are the Szechenyi Baths, which can be found just a few minutes walk from Heroes Square. Baths range in temperature from icy cold to searing hot, and are both indoor and outdoor. I lolled about in the tepid baths for several hours, genuinely wishing I had the entire day to soak it up and relax.

Prices vary from 4900HUF to 5600HUF dependent on whether you have an advanced booking and a locker or cabin, this gives access for single entry but full day use. The pools are also open in the evening for a ‘pool party’ in the outdoor pools.

Cave Systems

While I did not have the time for caving on this trip, my caving experience in 2007 was probably the best caving experience in my life.

Underneath the city are extensive cave system which you can explore on a variety of tours of differing challenge levels. Caving has always been my number one recommendation for anyone travelling to Budapest!

Ruin Bars

During communist rule normal buildings were owned by the state, but  when the conditions of the buildings deteriorated, they were simply deserted. Since then some artists bought them cheap,  did the minimum possible renovations and converted them into bars. The Ruin Bars are a very popular spot to drink (and eat) and can be found in the Jewish district.

Other things to spot

Little Princess SculptureThe “Little princess” sculpture by the river was placed in 1972, it was modelled on the daughter of the artist as she played in a paper crown and bathrobe as a mantel.

The Danubius Fountain in Erzsebet  square is beautifully constructed with with four sculptures; one to represent each of the four rivers of Hungary.

Food and Drink

Eating Chimney CakeHungary has a range of cuisine, but three traditional items to point out are Palinka, Langos and Chimney Cake.

Palinka  is a plum brandy,which legally needs to be between 36% to 80% alcohol. It’s quite extreme, but a must-try!

Langos is “communist pizza”, and a commonly found street food. It is a deep friend flat bread typically served with warm with sour cream and cheese, though there are many toppings available.

Chimney cake is a hollow chimney shaped cake that’s quite crispy and coated in a sugary glaze. The sugar and vanilla flavour is most traditional, but more recently the flavours, and fillings, have expanded in options. The best chimney cake has been baked on open fire.

Accommodation

I am incredibly lucky to have a Hungarian friend, who has an apartment in Budapest which she rents out via airbnb. It’s an absolutely gorgeous, recently renovated one bedroom apartment in a brilliant location just a few minutes walk to Heroes Square.

If you are headed to Budapest – then I can’t recommend this apartment highly enough as the ideal place to stay!!!

If you haven’t already got an airbnb account – feel free to sign up using my link, to give us both some travel credit.

Getting Around

Flights

I always search for flights using a variety of search engines: Kiwi, Momondo and Kayak. This particular trip I booked via Momondo, and a return flight Amsterdam-Budapest cost €158 with KLM.

Airport Transfers

Sadly Uber doesn’t operate in Budapest, but for transfers to and from the airport the most cost effective option for two people was a taxi. On arrival at the airport is an official taxi booth where you request and are assigned an offical taxi. A one way taxi ride cost approximately €20.

If you are ever taking a taxi – do not hail one from the street, as there are many taxi scams. I suggest to phone in a booking, or go into a nearby hotel and ask them to book you a taxi.

Taxi Numbers: 
+36 1 211 1111   +36 1 666 6666   +36 1 777 7777

Local Transport

Budapest has buses, trams, a subway system and bubi bikes to allow you to move around the city. My preference however is always to walk – so I cannot comment on prices and ease of use of public transport.

Budapest, Hungary

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Weekend whip around Belgium

Reflections on the Leie Canal at nightLiving in the South of The Netherlands, the closest international weekend getaway location is Belgium. With a reasonably last-minute decision, a friend and I drove down to Antwerp and Gent for the weekend and throughly enjoyed exploring these two towns.

Antwerp

Arriving in Antwerp we parked the car and started exploring the city on foot. We parked at the Grote Markt and walked a big loop along the river Scheldt, through the area called Zuid, Sint-Andres and into the historic centre. In our wandering we enjoyed stops for food, coffee and of course Belgian chocolate bon-bons. We also stopped by some of the historic sights of the city, many of which are UNESCO Heritage listed.

Much to my disappointment there were no free walking tours running at the time of my visit, perhaps due to Winter. If you are headed to Antwerp, I’d recommend checking if they are running the tours.

Worlds oldest half-hour hourglassHet Steen

Het Steen is a medieval fortress on the Scheldt river. Antwerp is one of Europe’s biggest ports, and Het Steen was previously used to control access to this port. It is a beautiful old building and is free to wander in for a look.

Near the entrance to the fortress is a sculpture called Lange Wapper, a Flemish folklore character. Inside the first courtyard is also the worlds oldest half-hour hourglass which I thought was beautiful.

Onze Lieve vrouwenkathedralOnze-Lieve Vrouwenkathedral

The Cathedral of our Lady is a roman-catholic cathedral from the 1500s in the historic centre of Antwerp. The bell tower has quite a striking clock face  and can be seen from various points around the city.

I enjoyed views of the cathedral from outside, but missed out on going inside as I got there after closing time.
Entry costs €6, check the opening hours.

StadhuisStadhuis & Grote Markt

The Town Hall of Antwerp can be found in a large open plaza called the Grote Markt.

The Stadhuis, town hall, is also from the 1500s and is another example of renaissance architecture. The Stadhuis has a beautifully structured and decorated gable.

Standing in the Grote Markt you have a beautiful view in all directions; a series of various shaped gables are a stunning silhouette against a sunny blue sky. This is a great spot to sit outside on one of the many terraces and enjoy a local brew.

Sint-Anna TunnelSint-Anna Tunnel

The Sint-Anna Tunnel is a lesser known gem of the city. It was established as a pedestrian and bicycle tunnel to cross from one side of the river to the other, in the 1930s.

The tunnel is 572 metres long and is still in use today. The 30s architecture of the tunnel is super charming, along with the wooden escalators.

In addition to the charming tunnel, the view of Antwerp from the opposite side of the river is worth the walk.

Gent

Leie CanalRoughly an hours drive from Antwerp is the magical town of Gent. It reminded me of Bruges, as they both have canals winding through the town. Despite thoroughly enjoying my half day in Antwerp, it was Gent that stole my heart.

The town is wonderfully charming; it has a friendly feeling to it combined with old world character. Sitting at a cafe beside a canal watching the boats go by, drinking a latte and tucking into a Belgian Waffle was such a fantastic way to spend time.

Belgian Waffles by the riverGent has free walking tours operating daily. While I didn’t get to a free walking tour I did get to a Canal Boat Tour and would highly recommend doing the same.

The boat tours leave from either side of the Leie River near the Graslei. It’s a relaxing hour cruising up and down the canal learning about the history of the town.

Some of the more interesting things I learned included the fact that: the town has a whopping 53 churches, every guild in the town had its own church; the town has only one building with a wooden facade, all wooden facades were banned in Europe after the London fires of 1666; and the Dutch expression Stone Rich (Steenrijk) originated from historic times when only very rich people could afford to build stone houses.

Some sights to check out…

Belfort

Belfort of GentThe Belfort of Gent is one of the three towers looking over the city’s historic centre. It is flanked by the Sint-Niklaaskerk (which I did not visit) on one side and Sint Baafskathedraal on the other side.

The Belfort was constructed in the 1300s and has been used as both a bell tower and fortified watchtower. The tower spire is adorned with a gilded dragon, which I consider to be such a charming feature.

My favourite aspect of the Belfort is that it is open for the public to climb, entry costs €8. The long way up a narrow winding staircase, is rewarded with stunning views over the historical city of Gent.

Sint-Baafskathedraal

Sint-Baafskathedral is another cathedral of Gothic architecture, which is free to visit. The exterior of the cathedral is undergoing renovation, but what you can see is certainly beautiful.

It is a stunning cathedral to visit, with beautiful old artworks adorning the walls, and meticulously detailed sculptures, altars and alcoves. It is worth stopping by for a look.

Gravensteen

Gravensteen CastleGravensteen is a castle in the centre of town. The current construction of the castle dates back to the 1100s, though the site first housed a wooden castle in the 900s. The restored parts of the castle have been open to the public since the 1900s.

Gravensteen is one of very few castles in the world that can be found in a city centre; it looks imposing yet dignified in the historic centre of Gent.

The castle has an entry fee of €10, and I chose not to visit it on this occasion.

Big Canon

On Big Canon Square (Grootkanonplein) you will find a 12,500kg Canon. The canon is rumoured to have been used once, on which occasion it shot a big bad canon ball that was so heavy it only fell 5cm from the mouth of the canon.

Now it serves only as decoration and has the nickname Dulle Griet, or Evil Woman.

Korenmarkt

The Korenmarkt is the main city square in Gent, and has beautiful historic buildings on all sides. When we walked through the square it was filled with tourists and locals enjoying a warm winters day out, and with children running after the clouds of bubbles floating through the air. Such fun and laughter!

Belgium Weekend

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