Budapest

I went for the first time to Hungary in 1992. The country drastically changed for the better since that time. Clean streets, houses in a good state, and modern cars replaced the difficult period after the iron curtain collapsed.

Take alone the capital city,  Budapest has really a lot to offer to the visitor:  Gorgeous architecture, art everywhere, traditional food, museums… We see Budapest as one city, but for its inhabitants, there are actually two cities; Buda and Pest. Buda, the old upper city, has beautiful mansions with gardens, rocky cliffs, green hills. Pest, the Imperial city, is on the opposite flat bank. People living in Buda proudly claim that they could never live in Pest and vice versa.

The Budapest landmark is undoubtedly the Hungarian Parliament, inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of the country in 1896. I was surprised to learn that it was built at the same time that the Opera House, because its Neo-Gothic style imitates quite well the 14th century Gothic.

The magnificent Opera house was built in the end of the 19th century. Budapest was during those times a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The city was big enough to host an Opera house, so the Emperor Franz Joseph let Budapest have its own music house, under the condition that it must be less beautiful that the Vienna Opera house. When the building was built, the emperor visited it, and found it nicer that the Vienna’s one. It is said he never came back to Budapest. His wife, the Empress Elizabeth or Sisi, came back on her own and enjoyed regularly plays in it.

Budapest, along with Paris, Vienna and Alesund (Norway), has a high number of Art Nouveau buildings. In Pest, you can visit the stunning Gresham Palace, now a palace managed by Four Seasons Hotels, and in the Buda hill, there are many Art Nouveau villas.

Budapest is said to be the only capital in the world that has thermal bathes. There are more than 100 hot springs in Budapest! Among several public bathes in the city, the two most famous are Gellert and Szechenyi. Gellert Baths are not very expensive – only a dozen euros. The interior is a real labyrinth, with a few signs written only in Hungarian! It took me 10 min to find out where the exit is! Just like the Blue Lagoon in Island, it’s worth doing it once, just to feel the atmosphere of one of Budapest landmarks.

Hungarian wines are fabulous! Apart from the sweet white Tokay, there are many others, not very well-known. Try the subtle, well-balanced red Egri Pinot Noir. Due to their relatively small production volume, they are as expensive as decent French wines. It goes perfectly with local food such as foie gras, salami, or gulash, a dish made of veal, mild chili, onions and tomatoes.  I did not have any single bad surprise in restaurants, or in any tourists place.  Obviously, Hungarians care about visitors well-being.

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  • © Sebastian Zelechowski, Moscow 2011
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