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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Visiting Budapest In Hungary

Chain Bridge, Budapest, HungaryImage via Wikipedia
Author: Sammy Hely

I'm trying to remember what called us to Budapest, Hungary... other than the pure joy of travel and discovery of course. Was it the Danube River? The Chain Bridge that we had seen so many photos of? Was it the spas fed by hot springs.... or the wine?

Probably it was all of the above. That and the historical lore that back in time it had been two cities... Buda and Pest. I mean, London was always London. Paris was always Paris.... but Budapest... I guess it was the tale of two cities before Dickens put pen to paper!

You'll find that when you start trying to navigate the city, landmarks become important. Bridges are important landmarks.... the Margaret Bridge, the Chain Bridge and the Elizabeth Bridge. There is Castle Hill in Buda and the Parliament Building in Pest. Things kind of branch out from there.

One great way to get an overview of the city is to take a ride on the Number 2 tram. It's pretty amazing that you can see most of the best tourist attractions for the price of a tram ticket. You can start at the northern end of the route at the Pest end of the Margaret Bridge and see the Parliament Building, pass along the pedestrianized embankment known as the Korzo and catch a glimpse of the Royal Palace, pass by the Central Market Hall... or just get off there and call your brief tram tour done.

One of the special things about this city is the prevalence of thermal springs right in the center of the city. It's been known as a city of spas since ancient times... enjoyed by Romans and Crusaders, Kings and Queens, and modern day residents and tourists. The experience can range from the Rudas Thermal Bath, which is a traditional Turkish bath in the center of town, to the large Szechenyi Bath complex a short subway ride from the city center.

As in any great capital city, there are plenty of museums to choose from.... art museums, history museums, and one we visited... the Aviation Museum filled with old planes that you just never can see at home.

The city is known for its caves as well as its baths. Those waters that everyone enjoys in the baths were responsible over the millennia for carving out some two hundred caves under the city. Some of the caves are open to the public. Some are extensive and spectacular to tour. We went wine tasting in a couple under hotels and shops.

The streets on both sides of the river are fun to walk... they're lined with a potpourri of architectural styles from Gothic (or Neo-gothic) to Art Nouveau. And of course, you have to stop and try some great Hungarian food, wine and beer.

It was easy to fly into the International Airport. We arranged for a hotel with the help of Tourist Services on arrival, and a shared hotel bus dropped us off at our front door. After three days, we picked up a car and drove ourselves out of town to start a wine tasting tour, and that was easy too. So maybe it was the ease of travel and the call of great wines that took us to Budapest.
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