Towns / Cities Visited: 135
Countries Visited: 22
Steps Taken Today: 21,730
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,495,602
We awoke leisurely for our final day of exploring the gorgeous capital of Hungary. With most of our sightseeing already complete, we set off after breakfast into the warm morning sunshine and meandered back towards the flowing vein of the Danube which splits this city into Buda and Pest. Crossing the river once again, we turned right and headed to one of the most important buildings here: Buda Castle. It sits perched prominently atop the crest of Castle Hill, its blue dome topped tower creating a recognisable silhouette against the bright blue sky. As we passed the long line of people waiting to catch the funicular to the top, we couldn’t help but chortle. We would not be joining the sardine can of lemmings before us, but rather chose to commit to the shoelace express, even if it meant huffing a little as we climbed the stairs.
There has been a castle here since 1265, but the current baroque masterpiece was not constructed until middle of the 18th century under the Austro-Hungarian rule of Maria Theresa of the famous Habsburg dynasty. After Buda was besieged in 1849 however, artillery fire resulted in the central and southern parts of the castle being burnt out, and it was rebuilt and expanded in the following six years by the Habsburg descendant Franz Josef, the husband of the country’s favourite queen, Sisi. It is commonly known as the Royal Palace, but after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy following WWI it became the seat of the Regent of Hungary, who was then later ousted by the Nazi occupation during WWII, who themselves unseated by Soviet occupation, thus ending any further monarchical residency. Despite its checkered past, the government has invested much money into restoring and preserving what survived of the castle, and it now stands as the home of Hungary’s National Gallery and The Budapest History Museum.
Not feeling inspired to indulge in hours of reading after the previous days cramming of historic information, we decided to simply wander the exterior and admire the beauty of the architecture and surrounding grounds. As we reached the peak, we began our wander. Its truly breathtaking to make your way through the intimate little gardens. From the ivy creeping across the stones of the medieval looking watchtower, to the new age stone sculptures, the manicured hedges, and even the sweeping stairs dusted with the gently falling yellow leaves of autumn make for a fairytale-esque picture.
As enclosed and private as it feels around the side of the castle, the front offers a much more grandiose and spectacular display of wealth. From the four metre high statue of the Virgin Mary looking down over the panorama of the city below, to the equestrian statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy which sits pride of place in the centre of the front terrace, you are reminded of the importance and significance of this building to the history of Budapest. Whilst lingering on the terrace, we were passed by mounted guards in traditional Hungarian garb: a delightful reminder of the pride in Hungarian tradition alive and well here.
We’d ogled at the exterior enough at this point, so we headed back down the hill to a lower section of the complex: the Castle Garden Bazaar. Despite its name, it is not some Ottoman style market, but rather a Neo-Renaissance style ornamental garden which was constructed in 1893. From the vine covered columns, to the intricately decorated domes with their colourful tiles and gorgeous paintings; and from the blooming flowers, to the albeit water-less fountain, its a paradise that sings of summer even in autumn.
With our sightseeing of Buda Castle at an end, we, somewhat masochistically, decided to undergo another lengthy uphill walk to visit another of the city’s hilltop landmarks: the Citadella. As we trekked up, we passed the massive bronze statue of Saint Gellert, the 11th century bishop who was killed by pagan insurgents who rolled him down the hill in a barrel pierced with nails. Perched on a rock, cross in hand and backed by a grand stone colonnade, its a rather striking feature tucked amongst the forested hill.
As we reached the top though, it was the statue at the pinnacle which really caught our attention. The 14 metre high bronze statue, atop its 26 metre pedestal, depicts lady liberty holding aloft a giant feather. The statue, although calming and beautiful, was actually constructed after the Soviet forces liberated Hungary from Nazi control. They later saw the statue as one not of liberation, but simply a different phase of foreign control. As a result, they eventually changed the plaque from its Soviet thanks to a gesture of gratitude to all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.
The fortress which constitutes the Citadella was constructed in 1851, despite its somewhat older appearance. It was built by the commander of the Austrian Empire by forced Hungarian labourers after the failed 1848 revolution attempt by the people of Hungary to oust their foreign rulers. Despite calls to demolish it when Austria and Hungary agreed on a compromise to become a dual monarchy in 1867, Austrian troops remained stationed there until 1897. Just before the turn of the century the city took possession of the fortress, and tore down its surrounding wall. They would later wish they had demolished the entire thing when Soviet troops occupied it and shot down into the city during the 1956 revolution. As you wander around the exterior you soon see that the walls wear their scars prominently: their bullet-hole speckled stones telling of unrest and the fight for liberation by the people of Hungary. There is also a display of WWII heavy artillery left behind by the Red Army. The true blessing of visiting this place, however, is the extraordinary view down over the city. The mighty Danube weaves its way into the distance, and the many bridges connecting to the two distinct halves of Budapest seem to be all that’s tying the very land together.
With the sun descending towards its western horizon, we found ourselves with stomachs rumbling. Luckily for us, there are a collection of food trucks and souvenir stalls to cater to those visiting. After a little browsing, we settled on one spruiking loaded Hungarian style hotdogs, homemade lemonade, and a Hungarian street food specialty which we were yet to try; lángos, a dish which is essentially a deep fried pizza dough topped with garlic, cheese, and sour cream (in short, a collection of some of my favourite things). About three quarters of our order was forgotten, but eventually we received our food and sat down to eat. Despite the mix up, all was forgiven with each bite of the delights before us. By the end, lángos was firmly added to my list of foods I’m going to reminisce fondly about. Although we were satiated by our meal, something caught our eye that we knew we’d have to make room for, an old friend we hadn’t seen since we were in Poland; lody, the abnormally tall soft serves we’d been talking about since we left Hungary’s northern cousin. Not only was it a satisfying throwback to our adventures in July, but it was the perfect remedy to the heat of the afternoon sun beating down on us.
Heading back down the far side of the hill, we weaved towards our final activity in Budapest, and a must do in this country so full of thermal springs: the thermal baths. Gellert Thermal Baths was our location of choice to indulge in the curative waters of mother nature, but being the introverts we are, we had decided to fork out the little extra money and forgo the public baths in favour of a three hour stint in a private pool. Arriving around an hour early for our appointment, we hunkered down in the foyer, gawking at the stunning interior, including the delicately patterned vaulting and the stained glass arched ceiling. Stepping up to the counter just to let them know that we were there, we were soon informed that due to there being no one booked before us, we would be allowed to start our session early, and we’d still be able to finish at the same time. Lady luck was certainly on our side on that one. A free forty-five minutes, yes please.
Stepping into our private room we found our spacious tub ready to be filled at our leisure, along with our own private shower, and a steam room which would go unused as neither my partner nor I enjoy sitting in hot rooms sweating, no matter how therapeutic it’s supposed to be. Sitting expectantly on the side table beside the lounge was a bottle of chilled Hungarian sparkling white wine, and a bowl of fresh fruit. It was everything we needed to unwind in our own good company to the sound of the soothing ancient minerals which ran hot from the faucet. Sinking into the lobster pot of a pool we’d run ourselves, we breathed a sigh of contentment, our weary muscles thanking us with every minute that passed. Eventually, the slight lack of ventilation in the room saw us suffocating a little on the rising steam; however, a quick, cool shower, and a little cold water to temper the pool, saw the problem swiftly fixed.
The remainder of our time, before our train and walk combo back to our Airbnb to catch some shut eye, was spent sipping wine and contemplating how important including more moments of relaxation and pause for thought was in our future travel plans. When you are organising long term travel in between working fifteen hour shifts, its easy to see travel as some relaxing, stress-free endeavour. After all, no work equals a less tiring life right? After seven months of almost non-stop sightseeing, flight taking, train hopping, bag lugging adventures I can honestly say that there is a massive difference between taking a holiday and travelling. Travel leaves you just as exhausted as any job, but it is safe to assert that it is, in many ways, more satisfying than the monotony of the daily grind; it can be fatiguing, but it leaves you hungry for more every time.
Whereas the days at work seem to blend into one, and you suddenly find January blurring straight into December; when you are travelling and filling every day with something new to see, learn, taste, and experience, each day becomes its own unique entity. There is no blur, time does not fly by in the mist of indiscernible daily tedium, and your days are not measured by how close you are to the weekend or whether it’s laundry day. Each week no longer seems just as unremarkable as the next when you are surrounded by remarkable things. As comfortable as routine is, it is what steals our years from us; it is in our comfort zone that we wither; it is within daily repetition, where muscle memory overrides memory making, that we lose our joy and ourselves. Is it common sense to pack up your whole life and jump headlong into travelling with no house, or car, or job to come back to? Perhaps not. But as the late, great Oscar Wilde once wrote: ‘People die of common sense…one lost moment at a time. Life is a moment. There is no hereafter. So make it burn always with the hardest flame’.