Recently I returned from a two week trip to Central Europe. I spent a week as a first time visitor to Budapest where I attended the first ASTA Global River Cruise Expo. It was the perfect destination to have the Expo due to it’s prime location on the Danube River. Many river cruise lines stop in Budapest on their way North to Austria and Germany or South to Romania. The Expo was such a success, it will make a return visit to the same city – and I plan to be there.
As a first time visitor to Hungary, I knew nothing about it, making it an even more intriguing destination. I would discover Budapest through the locals. Now that I have spent time in Budapest, I know so much more and I’m going to share it with you.
What does a first time visitor to Budapest need to know? Many people know that Budapest is made up of two cities. Buda on the west bank and Pest (pronounced Pesht) on the east bank of the Danube. But did you know it was really the merger in 1873 of three cities? Buda, Obuda or the Old Buda, and Pest.
The Chain Bridge Is 173 years old. The once and future beautiful bridge is currently in a reconstruction phase, again. So much has happened with this bridge; what stories it would have to tell if it could talk.
The Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge built-in 1849 across the Danube River. Count Istvan Szechenyi’s inspiration to finance a bridge arose from a very personal situation. When his father died in Vienna during the winter, the pontoon bridge was unusable, and he became stranded in Pest. His loss spurred him to benefit everyone.
During the Revolution of 1848-1849, it was almost blown up by the Austrians while it was being completed. Luckily, the explosives didn’t detonate.
In 1944, the German army succeeded, whereas the Austrian military failed. After the war in 1947, work began to reconstruct the Chain Bridge, and it returned to its original glory in 1949.
Once again, as you see below, the bridge is in reconstruction, and the work began in March of 2021. The plan will take two years to complete, and I hope it is completed by March of 2023 when I return. Seeing this architectural beauty will be such a pleasure.
The imposing Hungarian Parliament sits on the East side of the Danube River, facing the Buda Castle on the west side of the Danube. The show begins every night as the sun starts to set. The lights begin to come up, and both sides of the river take on a stunning site. It is an inspiring sight to see these buildings illuminated and reflected in the river, and the best way to see them is by cruise ship.
A first time visitor to Budapest should definitely take an illumination cruise to be inspired by the resilience of Budapest fully. Budapest has risen from its difficult past-first from the Germans, then the torturous Arrow Cross or Hungarian Nazis and finally the Soviets during the Cold War.
As you view the old, beautiful monumental building- there are, in fact, still Cold War-era buildings too. Such as those big-block gray buildings with no character standing next to St Stephen’s Cathedral. Later, as we cruised the Danube, more of the gray block buildings popped up.
Another surprise for me was the statues that adorn Budapest. If you’re not looking for them, it was fun serendipity to spy on them as I walked around the city on my first day. Keep your eyes open. There are both new and very old, and I completely geeked out on taking pictures of statues.
The first one I came across with this Hungarian Painter, Ignar Roskovics.
Then, as I continued walking, I met this Little Princess.
And then there was this paperboy.
After seeing these artistic surprises, I began to research statues in Budapest. and discovered so many more to see. Here was another reason to return to Budapest.
The Shoes on the Danube is a memorial to those murdered between 1944 and 1945. The sixty pairs of shoes represent the many people; men, women, children, Jews, and Romani. These victims were brought to the river and forced to remove their shoes (shoes were valuable). Shot in the back, fell into the river, and the current carried their bodies away.
These are things we must not forget; most especially in our world today.
I have so much more to share with you about discovering Budapest as a first time visitor, and I have only touched the surface. Therefore, I will continue my Budapest comments next week.
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