Sunday, May 06, 2012

Hungary: Exploring Budapest, the Heart of Europe

Budapest, Hungary is one of the most spectacular cities in Europe. No wonder people refer to it as the Heart of Europe and Pearl of the Danube. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the current city of Budapest was created in 1873 by the unification of three older cities namely Buda, Pest and Obuda.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge and Buda
Buda Castle
From Graz, Austria, we left very early in the morning and drove to Budapest. It was about 3 to 4 hours from Graz and it entailed driving back to a part of Slovenia and into Hungary. The sun was up by the time we arrived in Budapest.

Szabadság híd or Liberty Bridge
Without any GPS or city maps to help us, we just tried to find a place to park for us to explore the city on foot. We would later find out that we were on the Pest side, where the Inner City, including the Hungarian Parliament, Heroes' Square and Andrássy Avenue, can be found.

Hungarian Parliament Building and Lajos Kossuth Square
Given our limited time, we went straight to the Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház) in Lajos Kossuth Square, home to the Hungarian National Assembly, and an iconic landmark of Hungary. It was inaugurated in 1896, the 1000th anniversary of Hungary, and was completed in 1904.

Built in the Gothic Revival style, it is the largest and tallest building in Budapest. Both the Országház and St. Stephen's Basilica are 96 meters high, representing the conquest of the Kingdom of Hungary in 896. In fact, there is a rule in Budapest that no building can be higher than 96 meters, a major reason why the city's historical fabric is well-preserved. Why they share the same height also has a symbolic meaning, that worldly and spiritual concerns are of equal importance.

Museum of Ethnography
While it's nice to see the building up close, a better view can be seen from across the river. Too bad we didn't have time to explore the Buda side since we had to rush to Bratislava.

On the way back to the parking garage, we passed through Great Hall Market (Nagycsarnok), the biggest food market of Budapest, which sells meats, produce, spices (especially paprika) and souvenir items. It was a very colorful look at Hungarian culture and it's one of those places you must visit and eat at to experience the local flavor.

We also got to pass by a kürtőskalács shop while walking around Budapest. Also known as chimney cake, it consists of a thin pastry ribbon wound and baked around a wooden cylinder, and heavily sprinkled with sugar. The sugar is caramelized during the baking process and the finished pastry is flavored with cinnamon, walnuts, almonds or chocolate.

Nagyboldogasszony Church and Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd)
Our regret was we should have stayed in Budapest for a night since the city was very impressive. At least there's a reason to visit again. More photos of Budapest in the Ivan About Town Facebook page.
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