After my first full week back in Salzburg, I joined two of my classmates, Joc and J.T., on a weekend trip to Budapest. Once again, we used the train as our method of travel, arriving in the early afternoon on Friday. Though the transportation was easy, Joc and I had some issues figuring out Hungarian Forint and we both accidentally withdrew a little under €200 from the train station’s ATM. Once we realized our mistake, we immediately went to a money exchange and had them switch the majority back to Euros. Luckily, this turned out to be the only big mistake we made.
After sorting ourselves out monetarily, we took the local tram system to our Airbnb, which was located on one of the main shopping streets, Váci Utca. We spent a few minutes settling in before exploring the street to get lunch. We ended up at a touristy restaurant, as all on the street were, though it did serve Hungarian dishes. For what translated into €10, we ordered from a set menu. From the options, I chose the traditional goulash as an appetizer, chicken paprikash for the main meal, and a glass of wine.
After getting some energy, we decided to start our exploration of Budapest by climbing up to the Liberty Statue on Gellért Hill. To get there, we had to cross the Danube by walking over the Szabadság (Liberty) Bridge. Built from 1894-1896, it was opened in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The top of the four masts are decorated with bronze statues of the Turul, a falcon-like bird, prominent in ancient Hungarian mythology.
A network of caves is located in the hill with the first modern entrance to these having been constructed in the 1920s by a group of Pauline monks. It was consecrated in 1926 and afterwards served as a chapel and monastery until 1951. That year, the State Protection Authority raided the chapel, leading to the cave being sealed and many of the brothers imprisoned. The chapel was reopened in 1989 with the Pauline Order returning in 1992. We took an audio-guided tour, costing about €3.
In front of the entrance was a statue of Saint Stephen beside his horse, guarding the caves.
The criss-crossing paths up the hill provided many views of the city.
By the time we made it to the Citadel, where the Liberty Statue was located, we were in great need of some water, which we were able to get from one of the many drink stands targeting tourists. The statue was first erected in 1947 with the inscription, translated from Hungarian, “To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes [erected by] the grateful Hungarian people [in] 1945”. This was changed after the 1989 transition from Communism to be “To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary”. The monument itself consists of a 14m tall bronze statue of lady liberty holding a palm leaf atop a 26m pedestal. Two smaller statues are also present, the first of which depicts a triumphant figure holding a torch as a representation of ‘progress’. The other, an allegorical representation of evil, portrays a man fighting a mythical creature. Designed by Zsigmond Kisfaludi Stróbl, the memorial was originally to feature a human child instead of the palm leaf.
On the way down the other side of the hill, next to the Citadel, there was an archery game set up. Joc and J.T. each bought a round and competed against each other while I filmed and took pictures.
There were similar views of the Danube from this side of Gellért Hill, though this time showing the Erzsébet (Elisabeth) Bridge, named after Empress Elisabeth, wife of Franz Joseph I. On our walk down, we saw a Ferris wheel and decided that would be our next stop.
The namesake of Gellért Hill, a bronze statue of Saint Gellért (Gerard) is located on the backside of the hill. Supposedly, the saint met his death on this site and a monument was erected in 1904 by the sculptor Gyula Jankovits. The 12m tall statue shows Gellért victoriously holding aloft a crucifix. At his feet, a wild-looking Magyar looks up towards the bishop as if standing in awe.
Though we had a vague idea of where the Ferris wheel was located, we found ourselves turned around once we got onto Váci Utca. We had a fun time wandering around looking at the shops and eventually we found the right square. Known as the Budapest Eye, the 55m Ferris wheel was located in Erzsébet (Elisabeth) Square and cost a little under €8 for three rotations.
Our final stop of the day before returning to the Airbnb was St. Stephen’s Basilica, a Roman Catholic basilica named in honour of Stephen, the first King of Hungary. Completed in 1905, it stands at 96m, the height limit for buildings in Budapest.
By this point, it was getting dark and we decided to return to our Airbnb, stopping at a grocery store for breakfast items on the way. Once we got back, we ordered in and spent the rest of the night relaxing and planning what we would see and do on Saturday.