The reason why it's taken so long to get around to write about my experiences of Budapest have to do with me having 940 images with me, back home. I first had to narrow those down, deleting doubles, which got me down to about 550 images. Then I've looked through all of those, in order to fix them up. Adjusting colour, exposure etc. Yes. That took a long time. Out of those, I selected the images I was gonna upload and use to illustrate this article.
Impression of Budapest. Mixed.
It's tricky to explain. Budapest is a big city. The 8th largest in Europe, and as with all cities, they tend to become very much the same. It's houses, streets, people going on with their everyday businesses, there's shops etc. With the global corporations using their size to kill off local competition, you tend to be able to buy the exact same things in the stores. If you want to buy ice cream, you tend to be able to select Unilever's "Magnum", being in Stockholm, London, Dallas or Budapest. You do have your Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Except for maybe London, I've never seen as many McDonalds or Burger Kings as I saw in Budapest. Obviously, in the main shopping districts, you have your H&Ms, Mexx, Lewis, Nike etc stores etc. In that sense, Budapest, could be any city, not that much different from other cities.
What make cities different is the "life" there. The culture etc.
The problem with Budapest is that it feel as if it's taking it's first, stumbling steps as a place for tourists, for good and worse. Budapest try to market itself as an alternative to Prague, which many see as destroyed by tourists. A lot of the original Prague, the reason to go there, having disappeared, being replaced by something that make it easy for tourists. Creating a sort of "image of Prague" that tourist have. Instead of offering the original thing, they build a new that better live up to what one expect. Now, I haven't been in Prague, so I can't say. But one of the reasons I've wanted, for about a year, to go to Budapest, is to try to catch it in time, between genuine and totally changed. Where it's accessible, but before you have to really go searching high and low for "Budapest", and if one want that, I think it's the right time to go.
The main problem with Budapest, is that they speak a language completely of their own. As someone commented.. not a letter is right. Most languages in the western world have the same origins, Greek, Latin, French and German, and mixes of that, which mean you can trace the origins in most languages, since they share the same origins. Hungarian, or "Magyar" doesn't share those origins, making it a very different language. One can't even guess what signs say, and they're lousy at putting up signs that say something in any other language than Hungarian, in most places. Budapest have always been close to Vienna, which have made German a tradition. That means that very few speak English. Even a lot of those that work in places that live out of tourists, speak English. For good and worse. No. I don't want them all to take a crash course in English and change all signs to English. At the same time, it make things a touch inaccessible. They have a system on buses, trams and in the subway, where you buy the ticket first (at least at the bus stops, you could select language on the vending machines), those tickets work "once" on all the different transportations. As in.. You can buy one ticket, and then use it for that specific bus line, Subway line etc. You clip the ticket in a machine as you enter the subway or bus etc, keep it until you step off, when you can throw it away. The problem is. There's no information about that. No signs in English, German or French etc, giving instructions to how it works, and there's few you can ask. The lady selling tickets in the booth, doesn't know English, etc. In fact, essentially the only place you can find that out, is on the home-page of the company.
At the same time as it's nice that they haven't "sold out", it does make it feel as if you're walking in some kind of tunnel, closed off from the workings of the city, making you feel slightly "bewildered". Especially since you, after some initial tries to guess what it says etc, just give up and simply close it off. A shame, since most likely will miss a lot of interesting things that way. Not saying it's wrong, only that one have to be prepared for it. At the same time, it's turning "international". The vending machines for tickets to the subway, buses etc, allowed you to select language. You had lot of banks with ATM's which all, essentially, accepted every single bank- or credit card there ever has been (At least a good way of allowing you to spend money :-p). So, Budapest is a mix of a lot of things. At general, very "closed in", at the same time you're seeing all the familiar stuff in shops etc.
I'd been looking to go to Budapest since sometime last year, thinking about going in May. The problem is that you have almost no tourist travels to Budapest from Sweden, which make one having to fly with some regular airline at very high prices. The cheapest I've seen now, is about 3,700 SEK ($ 500). The alternative would be to find cheap flights to London from Sweden, and then some cheap flight from London to Budapest, which would bring it down to maybe 1,500 SEK ($200). Now, it was really fitting that they would offer a trip to Budapest through work. Bus to and from Arlanda. Flight. Hotel (4 stars), Bus and guide in Budapest, a boat trip and a couple of lunches/dinners. All that for less than it would cost me to just fly to Budapest from Sweden, on my own.
I also liked it, because it would mean I'd get some kind of introduction to Budapest. Find out how the land lies. And, as it was, learn how you did on public transports etc.
We started very early in the morning.. the bus left Sandviken at 3:45 a.m. (Yuck!) Down to Arlanda, get on the flight, and before you knew it, you were in Budapest. The guide was a Hungarian woman who had lived in Stockholm for 5 years and she spoke fairly decent Swedish. Impressing to guide the way she did, since she sort of had to translate everything as we went, and she was "chatty" to say the least..
The hotel.. and the "platform" in front of it. It was next to a railway station, so you have buses and the subway there as well.
Nice stairs, even if the were really exhausting to use. I was on 4th floor. Dunno if it was the carpet, or something, but using them to get up to my floor, sure made the legs strained.
The Railway Station.
A view from the hotel at night. I'm most amazed by the fact that I was able to set the camera to a very long exposure, 2 - 4 seconds, and get 3 out of 3 shots without using a tripod, only holding the camera in my hands and supporting them on the railing to the balcony, and not get any noticeable camera shake.
The first day there really wasn't anything planned, but the guide took us to a place where we had lunch, and generally told us the "rules" of Budapest, such as how it worked with the tickets on Public Transport etc.
The hotel was close to the main Budapest Graveyard, so after our lunch, having checked in and settled down at the hotel, without anything planned, I headed in that direction. Yes.. The first thing I did in Budapest, was heading to the graveyard :-p.
Now, it payed off since it was the most impressive graveyard I've ever seen, and I did a second visit another morning.
It was huge, and despite two visits there I think I only covered about 40% of it, due to the wealth of things to photograph. Surrounded by really high brick walls, it was like entering a totally different world, of calm, with birds chirping etc. Also. It was really green. Along the walls were a lot of, I guess, old graves which nobody seemed to care about anymore. In other areas, it was like walking along a field at summer starting to become overgrown with bushes and trees. In the end, it felt like walking in a huge park with the greatest of art exhibitions. At the same time, it was one of the saddest graveyards I've ever seen. A lot of the tombstones/sculptures really expressed the biggest of despair and grief.
(Pics from my two visits)
They had a "Russian" part in one "corner" of it:
Budapest once were two cities, Buda and Pest, on each side of the river, until they decided they could as well have just one city, Budapest, which meant they needed bridges across the river Danube (Adding it to my series of seeing the famous rivers of the world, having seen Thames, Mississippi river and Rhen before. :-p)
The first evening, I and two more ventured down to the river, and was very lucky as the sun set and they turned on all the lights on the "Chain Bridge" as well as the spotlights on houses along the river.
The lit building at the top of the hill, is the castle, now working as an Art Museum and Library.
On the Buda side of the "Chain Bridge", we had to take the "Funicular" up to the castle, which gave a wonderful view across the river.
I'm not sure what that building was, but it might have been a hotel.. in that case, by the look of it, one could only dream about staying there for a night.
Obviously, they had more bridges. The most interesting, photographically, was the "Liberty Bridge", which looked as if it had been built by Eiffel, even if I can't find any information about that. It was built in 1896, destroyed during the war but rebuilt again.
Then there was a bridge with a severe lack of water flowing underneath it.. Now it was concrete, but next to it was the Budapest Bandy "arena", and I suspect there's been water there once, which froze in the winter, or something. Neat looking anyway..
That small bridge we visited the second day, when the Guide/Bus took us on a quick tour around the cities main sights. The "Tourist" essentials, sort of. She guided us, in the bus, the "If you look at the right side, if you look to the left"-thing, with some stops at interesting places.
First up was the "Millennium Monument - Heroes Square", which was built to, as was the "Liberty Bridge" in celebration of the 1,000 years of Hungarians in Europe, back in 1896 (Actually, a lot was built around that year, since the city was very rich back then and with the Hungarian Millennium they sure saw fit to spend a lot of that wealth.
It was two arcs, that portrayed al the various kings in the history of Hungary.
As well as sculptures of monumental proportions here and there.
Music is big in Hungary, and you can't walk into a restaurant without they having some musicians playing (and wanting a tip). I guess some either didn't get work in a restaurant, or was out on tour..
Close to the square, across that small yellow bridge without water was three buildings that was my favorites with their fairy tale looks, and as it was, I actually happened to return there the last day and take some more pics. Vajdahunyad Castle. As I understand it, it was originally built for the World Exhibition, you guess it, back in 1896, out of timber and cardboard, in miniature scale, in order to show off Hungarian architecture, and the castle proved to be so popular it had been built in stone.
The second time I was there, there was a bunch of girls with sketch books all over the place. Not sure if there's some art school in the area. I visited the zoo before, and there were a lot of girls with sketch books there too. I was too chicken to ask, but almost wished I had.
Next stop was St. Stephen's Basilica. Budapest's biggest church, seating 8,500 people. Building it wasn't without problems, as it was found out during construction that the dome, reaching 96 meters/314 ft wouldn't be able to support itself, so essentially they built it and then just had to wait for it to fall down and re-construct the building and re-build it.
The third stop was the "Castle District" with the "Trinity Square" and "Old Town", and the major tourist attraction in Budapest. Understandable, since it was a great place, but as with all major tourist attractions slightly boring too, with all the tourists around, it being "clean" and "neat" with expensive restaurants, souvenir shops etc.
It was nice, in the time we got to ourself, to walk away from the main area around the square.
All mailboxes looked this way in Budapest, but this was the only one I saw that had legs (All other was mounted on walls), making it look strangely much like a robot. "See the one and only mailbox that will run away and deliver the mail when you've put some mail in it" :-p
Then we headed of to the main overview of the city, where I took the two pictures of "Buda" and "Pest" above (Well.. actually I probably took a dozen image up there, but I guess I had to pick out only the "interesting" images, which fit with the events described).
After that, it was lunch and we were off for the rest of the day. Well.. at least until the evening, when most of us visited a place the guide had suggested. An evening with dinner, wine and traditional entertainment.
The Kalocsa Paprika Cdárda
Not sure how to describe it. It did smell an awful lot like a tourist trap, a sort of Hungarian Sangria, but at the same time.. it was "cheap" and one did get a good three-course dinner, lots of wine and decent and interesting entertainment. It was cheap, in the end anyway, but obviously, the band/entertainers wanted a tip, and the first thing when we arrived was to pose for a group photo with the main star of the show, Ildi Hideg. A photo we, of course, could buy later :-p.
Actually, the one time during the whole trip I didn't bring my camera with me, since I essentially wanted to relax. It was nice to not having to carry the bag with the camera as well.
The next day I got up early and did my second trip to the graveyard and a short expedition in the neighborhood, before we were gonna see some more of Hungary than Budapest, doing a trip to the area of the Danube Bend, or whatever it's called in English.
On the Road
First up was the former royal town of Esztergom and capital of Hungary. It also was the foundation of Christianity in Hungary, with the first Catholic church in Hungary. Some 100 years ago, they built the Basilica. The biggest church-building in Hungary, bigger than the Basilica in Budapest.
Everything with it was HUGE, it being 100 meters/329 ft high. The pillars on the front is 23 meters/75 ft high. And then, they only built 1/4 of the complex they intended building.
You see the letters on the inside of the dome saying "ASSUMPTA". Standing below them, looking upwards, you would guess they were about 50 - 60 cm/about 2 ft high, but they're actually 2 meters/about 7 ft high.
And the organ with 10,000 pipes.
It was one of the most impressive buildings I've been into. It's actually very bright inside it, which allow one to see all the splendor and making it feel a lot more airy.
If you look closely on the first, external, image, you might see some people outside of the dome.
One could pay 200 forint (8 SEK/$ 1) and walk up a bunch of stairs, and then there's close to 400 steps in 2 spiral staircases. I guess, about 70 meter/230 ft of stairs. I think, out of our group of 37 people, only 5 of us were brave, or crazy enough, to go up.
What's not that evident, is the fact that the stairs are only about 60 cm/2 ft wide. When frida and I went up in York Minster, they only let people up and down in groups, but here you could walk up and down as you wanted, which meant that you met people, and with stairs that narrow, not exactly the greatest thing. That's the upper staircase, where you only had a pole in the middle, which actually was good when you "walked" down, since you could hold on to it and use it as a brake. That meant that going down, you actually half run down. At the lower staircase, you had a column filling the gap in the middle.
Now, being "modern" stairs, it actually wasn't that exhausting to make it up them, even if you did felt it in the legs. I actually was surprised it wasn't as hard as one might think, remembering how hard it was in York. The only thing, was that.. half running down the stairs, you could forget all about trying to walk in a straight line. When I came down, I asked the one selling tickets how many steps it was, and he said 400. That was funny, because when we made it back to the bus and the rest of the group, the guide asked how many steps it was :-p
Was it worth it? Absolutely!!! First of all, the Basilica is situated up on a cliff, and with the additional height, the view was spectacular. Especially since it's a very beautiful area. Also, inside the dome, between the inner ceiling and the roof, it was a totally wonderful acoustics which produced an extremely clear sounding echo which, actually, was amazing to hear.
The other side of the river actually is Slovakia. Too bad we didn't made a trip across the bridge as well, just back and forth, getting 2 countries on one trip :-p
We then followed the Danube to the actual bend at Visegrád where we had dinner, and it's probably the best food I've ever eaten. First some really thick and creamy soup. Not sure exactly what it was, but I think it contained veal and various vegetables. As for the main course, there was steaks of deer as rolls filled with some kind of stuffing which I think must have contained pieces of pork. Then there were filled pancakes (with some cream of nuts. Hazel??) and a chocolate sauce made with real rum. Totally wonderful, and it felt as if it was really expensive, even if I can't say if it actually was, because it went on the cost of the trip.
After that delicious stop, we continued along the river to Szentendre (≈ St. Andrews), which is a traditional Artists and Crafts town.. and a major tourist place, which was a shame really. The town is totally lovely, and one could only wish to live there (A reason why such a lot of artists have settled down there, I guess). The main street was.. well.. All having been in Stockholm know about Västerlånggatan, and it was the Hungarian version of that. Old, even if it looked as if they re-painted the town every spring in time for the tourist-season. Filled with shops selling things to tourists. Vases, clothes, textiles, figurines and I don't know what..
Among the places there was a combination of a marzipan museum and shop.
You could see as the worked creating the pieces used in the museum.
They had all kinds of things made out of marzipan and chocolate. 1 meter/3 ft long buildings, life size people, Disney characters etc. Don't ask me why. Was it well done? I guess. Was it amzing? Not really. But I don't know the point of it. Why make it out of Marzipan instead of something else? Why are we supposed to go; Wow!, just because it's sculptures made out of Marzipan instead of metal, plaster or something? (Actually, the same old man having started it, has opened one in Stockholm as well, for those that might be interested)
And, of course.. you had a huge shop full of Marzipan. Hearts, Disney characters, bunnies etc. And.. I actually didn't buy one single thing.
Actually, the most interesting thing I found along the main street, was this totally weird mannequin:
I guess it's supposed to express joy and happiness, but is it someone beside me that get the impression of a bikini-clad woman with her arms tied behind her back, along with that expression of.. "satisfaction"?
Essentially I couldn't get off the main street as fast as possible, to see what was behind the "mask". A really cute and lovely town, as it was. A labyrinth of a town, as well, with narrow streets/alleys everywhere. I really was worried that I would get really lost. Normally, a town have one or two churches, but Szentendre has 7 of them, so you couldn't really use them as some kind of aid for orientation.
As I said, it was a touristy town where a lot of people made a living out of selling things, which made you follow some small street, turn at some corner and suddenly find yourself in a restaurant or café or they selling stuff, as in the image. Having seen it from above like that etc, I still wouldn't be sure to find my way there in case I wanted.
They had a lot of these, very interesting, photographically, trees there.
Somewhere, I bumped into my two buddies on the trip, and together we found an Orthodox church and museum. I think it cost 400 forint (16 SEK/$ 2) which gave you access to both the church as well as the museum, so one can't complain that it was expensive.
From Szentendre we made it back to Budapest by one of the regular boats trafficking the river, with stops at every town along the way.
While waiting for the boat, we bumped into a couple from Arizona. They had flown to Vienna, and now made it, most of the way to Budapest by bike. It seemed that they'd been in a lot of places with those bikes. Some years before they, or she, had been to Iceland, and next year they thought about Scandinavia and was asking for tips on places etc.
This isn't the boat we went with, but one that we met, but it was exactly the same.
Since the water level is unpredictable, most houses along the river looked like this. This one had a "For Sale" sign on it, so.. if someone's interested... Actually, I think the boat had a stop not that far away from it, so the communication should be good too, only about 30 minutes away from Budapest by boat. (Nope, I don't have a clue of how much it might cost, but I'm sure it's not cheap, or I would move there right away :-p)
About an hour later, we were back in Budapest. It was slightly windy and chilly on the boat, since I preferred to sit on the open, second floor. Sat in the back mostly, where there were no roof, but the last 15 minutes before we came to Budapest, it started to rain some. The only rain we got exposed to during the trip.
In the back, you see the Matthias church at the Trinity Square. Took a lot of pics of it when we were there, but I think this was actually the best view of it.
It had been a long day, we came back to Budapest at about 7:30 p.m., and I hadn't slept that much. I think it was close to midnight before I fell asleep the day before, after having visited that Paprika Chárda, and I had woken up at 5 in the morning and unable to get back to sleep again. That way, when we came back to the hotel, I just went away and bought some chocolate and stuff at some small convenience store not far from the hotel, and then spent the rest of the evening relaxing. Watching BBC on TV, reading etc. Felt nice. Even with the small camera bag, with only the camera + lens and the additional lens. Carrying it the whole time, it sure feel as if it's made of lead.
I think it rained during the night. Was some rain in the morning, when I had breakfast, but it had stopped before I made it out, and soon it became the sunniest and warmest day during the time in Budapest. It was the last day, and there were no specific plans for the day. The guide was availability in case we wanted to do something, but we decided to give her the day off and all doing what they wanted to do. The bus was gonna pick us up at 4 p.m. and take us to the airport, and we had to check out from the hotel before 10 a.m. (even if we, of course, could leave our luggage at the hotel until it was time to leave for the airport). I made a short trip, buying some stuff in the area, before I made it back to the hotel, packed the last and checked out. Could've checked out earlier, but it's nice to have the room as long as possible, in case one should need it. When that was done, I walked to Budapest Zoo :)
It might not be a very big area, but it sure felt big. It's known as one of the old, traditional zoos, but it seem that for the last 5 - 10 years they've essentially re-built all of it, in line with modern thoughts about keeping wild animals, even if, of course, it's tricky to make it ideal with the area they do have. Now it's a combination of Zoo and Botanical Garden, and the whole Zoo is essnetially a very green park, which was lovely to stroll around in and look at the animals. Now, of course, I had to be back at the hotel at 3:30 - 4 p.m. to catch the bus, which made me keep the speed up. Still, I think it took 2 1/2 hrs just to walk around it, without any longer stops etc. There was plenty of animals to see, and the zoo had a great design. Most of the enclosures were at street level, and used a lot of Plexi-glass (?) and wood and steel net. That made it possible to come close to a lot of the animals and see them extremely well. The enclosures often had a straight back and a rounded front, which made it impossible for the animals to hide. One of the problems with a lot of zoos is the fact that there have to be shelter for the animals, and more often than not you're not able to see them. At Budapest Zoo, they still could get shelter and you could always see them from some point. Or, as it was with the various monkeys, they had a house, where you could walk in the middle with the cages on both sides, but they were also able to make it to an enclosure outside. That way, if they weren't outside, you could see them inside, with only the glass between them and you.
One thing with the zoo was the fact that you could essentially walk everywhere. Most buildings were open, you had paths over the artificial mountains they had built for the bears and monkeys, which made it very fun to walk there, as you found a path here and another there, and a building you could enter etc. A sort of "expedition", even if it also drove you slightly nuts, since it was tricky to know if you were going somewhere you already been etc. You got a map as you entered, but.. not sure why, since there were no way you could use it to navigate with. Not helped by the fact that it was only available in Hungarian (Even if all cages had the names on the animals in a lot of different languages, thankfully). That's one of the problems with Budapest. A zoo attracts tourists. At the entrance, they did have the prices in both Hungarian and English, and on the cages the species was listed in several languages, but it was only the very basic information. The map, as I said, was only in Hungarian, directions inside the zoo was Hungarian, as well as information. One sign I interpreted as an apology for the animal not being in the enclosure at the time was in Hungarian only etc. I think the only sign I saw in English inside the zoo, was the one that pointed to the toilets. That way, inside the zoo, you didn't get any information, unless you knew Hungarian, and that was the case in a lot of places.
And, of course, I photographed a lot. I have one 1 GB and on 0.5 GB card. Since I tried to avoid erasing the pictures I'd taken the day before, on the 1 GB card I used the 512 MB one, but was able to fill it up, about 175 images I think, and had to continue with the 1 GB card, which I had room for an additional 100 images on.
A view of the zoo..
Most likely the closest I'll ever be to a lion.. (hopefully.. at least not without glass between us).
I used my tele-zoom on this image, because it was some distance. Still.. it felt so HUGE. Actually, more than the male.
As I said.. to get a really good view, you could see the pond from street level, but also go into a tunnel that took you below the surface to see the seals and penguins in it, and the seals was amazing swimmers, the way they turned around etc..
I'm so sad that this became blurry, because it was so funny.. It was like 30 cm/1 foot inside the glass, and obviously saw me and made that face. I continued trying to get a good shot, adjusting the polarizing filter to minimize the reflexes in the glass etc.. After a minute or so, he/she obviously got very tired of me photographing and walked the 1 meter/3 ft to the side, away from the glass, and sat down against the wall there, where he/she was out of sight :-p
I walked back to the hotel, picked up my suitcase and waited for the bus..
Obviously, I photographed a lot on the streets, of the houses etc, as well..
Next to the zoo, on one side, you had a circus (on the other side there was an amusement park) so you could spend a whole day being amused there.
"Terror" museum. Yes, it does say that. Showed, as I understood it, the terror of torture, concentration camps and similar.
I've never seen a city so full of statues and sculptures of various kinds.
And one saw a lot of Trabants around
What a little paint can do. Obviously, a lot of the houses was in a bad condition. One can only hope that they spend money keeping them, instead of tearing them down to build new houses, because it certainly give a nice impression with all the old houses all around.
And.. You didn't thought I'd forget to photograph a door, did you?? :-p (Actually, I photographed a lot of doors and gates, even if it felt, when I was there, that I almost never photographed any. Yes, I actually thought about it, but when I came home and looked at the photos, there were a lot more of them than I thought).
This was a common sight.
Not long after I'd taken this picture, a really stunning woman/girl came up to me. She was beautiful, and she dressed really well. The kind of dress that sort of say that she's got style and are willing to spend money on having style. She said something to me, in Hungarian. When I said "Sorry??", she just went something like "oh.. " and walked on, obviously not knowing English. :(
Of course, being curious, I can't stop wondering about what she said. Telling me something, or asking me something.. such as.. "Do you want to marry me, and we'll live happily ever after?" :-p :-p
If not for that, it was a shame, because if she'd spoken English, I would have asked her if I could've taken a picture of her, because she looked, her whole appearance, so good.
This was at some mall I visited, and they had an amazing fountain. I tried to capture it, taking lots of photos, but never got what I wanted. That arc of water were cut of at times, which created an end to the water as it went on it's trajectory. At times, it only squirted out a short time, creating a 30 cm/1 ft long "piece" of water that still made that bow along the trajectory. It really looked weird, since you don't expect water to hold together like that and in a bow shape as well..
Took several photos, but not once was I able to catch one of the short ones.
A moment later, when I had stopped, some guard came and, in an upset voice, told me something in Hungarian. Have no idea what he actually said, but.. I got it that it wasn't allowed to photograph inside the mall.
So.. impression of Budapest. I'd love to go back, have a week on my own, and photograph certain things. Doing better shots at places, when I have time to get them, and knowing what I want to photograph, before I go there. Such as planned images of the bridges during night etc.
If you feel like going there, you should. Maybe you'd just love to know more.
In any case, this is therettourist office site, and a good one too.