Monday, October 12, 2009


Budapest is comprised of Buda on the west side of the Danube River and Pest on the East and is the capital of Hungary.

Day 1

We arrived in Budapest after a relatively easy drive and checked into our hotel, the Radisson SAS Beke. We headed out to explore and found our way to the Hungarian Parliament building, the second largest Parliament building in Europe next only to the Parliament in England. We learned on our segway tour (Day 2) that there was a competition in Hungary to build a Parliament building. The plans for three different buildings were so great that all three were built in the square. Imre Steindl won the competition but the other two buildings still occupy the square as the Ethnographical Museum and the Ministry of Agriculture. The back of the Parliament faces the river, with stunning views of Castle Hill and the Buda Palace.

After a walk back to the hotel, stopping to scope out some possible restaurant choices for the following day, we got dressed to head out on a romantic dinner cruise on the Danube.

We were welcomed aboard the ship with a choice of a glass of champagne or a palinka (Hungarian double-distilled fruit brandy) and seated at our table. Salon music is performed by three members of the Rajko Folk Orchestra. We set off down the Danube with views of the Four Seasons and the Parliament on our right. We cruised the Danube to Margret Island, then turned around for views of Buda side of the river. We were invited to enjoy a buffet of traditional Hungarian foods including traditional Gulash soup, Tokaj style chicken, Vienna sausage, and stuffed cabbage. Accompaniments were buttered parsley potatoes and a variety of salads. Dinner was followed by an assortment of mini deserts and fresh fruits. We cruised by Castle District, Gellert Hill, and under the Chain, Elizabeth, and Liberty Bridges all by candlelight.

Day 2

Having read many rave reviews of City Segway Tours, we had to experience it for ourselves! We arrived at the City Segway Tours office and met our guide, Agnes. Another couple from England, Ben & Katie, were also on the tour with us and a nice man named Yew Wei. Yew Wei was the only one that had been on a segway before, so we all got a lesson. We learned how to get on, move forward and back, make turns, go up and down curbs, and how to get off.  After the lesson and a little practice in the street, we were off to our first stop: the Opera House on Andrássy Avenue.

Statues of the world's greatest composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi adorn the main facade of the Opera House, which was built in 1875. Scenes from the film Evita were also filmed here. We continued on down Budapest's famous Andrássy Avenue, which is part of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites list. The street is lined with sycamores and many expensive shops such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Gucci. 

Next we zoomed off, with many looks from people on the street, for a quick stop at Vigado Promenade and then onto Vaci Street, which is one of the main pedestrian shopping streets in Budapest. Vaci Street opens into Vörösmarty Square. At the centre of the square facing west is a large statue of poet Mihaly Vorosmarty and at the north end of the square is the famous Cafe Gerbeaud.

We carried on to the Danube Promenade, which runs along the Pest bank of the Danube between the Elizabeth and Chain Bridges. From the Promenade, a great view of Buda stretches out before you with views of the Taban Church, Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and the Chain Bridge.  Here we got to switch from slow to fast speeds and zipped down the promenade to the Chain Bridge.The Chain Bridge is a suspension bridge and it was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Budapest, and was opened in 1849.

From the Chain Bridge, we continued zipping along to the Parliament building. The rain was coming down a bit harder at this point and I literally ran into a pole on a building trying to avoid the rain run-off from the gutter above. With a now broken segway, Agnes kindly handed hers over and walked on with my broken one.  Mortified, We continued on from the Parliament to St. Stephen's Basilica and then back on to Andrássy Avenue to end the tour. 

Hungry, we walked back down Andrássy Avenue with hamburgers at the Folet Cafe catching our eye. These Hungarian hamburgers had to have been the biggest hamburgers I have ever seen and they were delicious! The hand cut steak pototoes (thing potatoes quartered and fried) and cabbage with mayonnaise (kind of like cole slaw) were equally as tasty.

We headed back to St. Stephen's Basilica to see the interior of Budapest's tallest building, built in 1851. In the very back left of the church is St. Stephen's chapel. The Holy Right Hand rests in the chapel. King Stephen died on August 15, 1038. On the same date in 1083, he was canonized in Szekesfehervar.  His right hand found intact was has been highly esteemed by the Hungarian nation ever since. Now shruken and yellowed, the hand still clutching precious jewels resides in a reliquary shaped like Matthias Church. We also visited the dome of the Basilica for a panoramic view of Budapest.

Ready for some relaxation, we visited the Szechenyi Bath, Budapest's first thermal baths on the Pest side in 1881. After a little confusion getting checked in, securing our changing cabins, and finding the towel rental, we headed outside to the three outdoor pools. From left to right, the first is a pool with streaming water, an effevescent bath, and massaging whirpool (32 - 34 degrees Celius). The middle is a swimming pool. And the last is a thermal sitting bath (38 degrees Celius). The hot spring contains a significant amount of fluoride and metabolic acid, along with calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium and sulphate, effective to cure degenerative illnesses of joints, as well as chronic and semi-acute arthritis. It is also fit for orthopaedic and post-injury treatments. The inside rooms of the bath house have 12 more thermal bath sections of varying water temperatures and a variety of dry saunas.  The thermal sitting bath was our favorite, especially as the sun set.

For dinner, we walked back to the Danube Promenade and had a lovely outdoor dinner at Duna Corso,  Warmed by the heaters, each table even has blankets if you need them, we dined on Cesar salad, fillet mignon of pork in smoked cheese with vegetables tagliatelle and red wine sauce, and roasted chicken with parsley potatoes and crispy vegetables.

We topped off the night with a stroll along the Danube Promenade and across the Chain Bridge to the Buda side of the river.