Shoes On the Danube
In February of 2016, I visited Budapest for a long weekend. Here’s my story:
I arrived at Ferihegy airport at midnight on the morning of my birthday, February 19th. As I showed my passport to the Customs Official, he took a closer look, then smiled and wished me “Happy Birthday!” It was my first time here & I was excited about celebrating my birthday in this beautiful city. My Hungarian friend, a native of Budapest, met me at arrivals. I was staying at the luxury 4* Danubius Health Spa Resort on the Pest side of Budapest opposite Margaret Island. To my delight, my room was on the top floor with picturesque views overlooking the river Danube.
After a very restful sleep, I was awoken by a knock on the door at 9am the next morning. I didn’t recall ordering room service and I still had the ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign still hanging on my door. I opened it to one of the restaurant staff holding a cake in his hand. My thoughtful friend had organised a special birthday cake to be delivered to my room — what a wonderful surprise! I was delighted and couldn’t wait to taste some as it looked so scrumptious but I held off until after breakfast!
My friend & I were ready to explore all the beautiful sights that Budapest had to offer. First stop was St Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side which boasts panoramic city views overlooking the Danube, the Chain Bridge and the House of Parliament. The Bastion takes its name from the guild of fishermen that was responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls during the Middle Ages. We explored the viewing terrace with its many stairs and walking paths just watching the world go by.
It was time for some grub so we headed to Tarnok Kavehaz restaurant where I sampled some of the traditional Hungarian goulash for the first time. I was expecting a satisfying gastronomical experience but I was quite disappointed as the goulash was extremely salty and I had to wash it down with about three glasses of water! I decided to re-order something safe and had salad followed by delicious apple strudel and ice-cream for dessert.
Our next stop was Castle Hill and Buda Castle (formerly known as the Royal Palace). The most striking thing about the castle is the medieval, baroque architecture and the panoramic views overlooking the city. We walked around the grounds and browsed in the souvenir kiosks selling everything from ‘I Love Budapest’ mugs to cute dolls dressed in the traditional, Hungarian costume. After a day’s sightseeing, I was exhausted and headed back to the hotel for an early night!
On the Saturday, my friend & I hopped on a city bus to Margaret Island (Margitziget), a 2.5km long island in the middle of the Danube between the Pest and Buda side. We strolled through the beautiful landscaped parks and walkways which is a haven for walkers and joggers alike. One of the island attractions is a small Japanese garden with a thermal fish pond and a tiny zoo featuring a range of exotic waterfowl and deer. There’s a ‘music fountain’ where music is played and open-air theater is performed during the summer months.
The water springs out according to the music so the fountain seems to dance to the various classical themes played. If you need a great reason to visit Budapest, it’s worth coming especially to enjoy this spectacle! We visited the 4*Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitziget, a thermal spa hotel in the middle of the island. Hungarian spas are world renowned for their relaxation and health benefits. The hotel’s spa uses a natural thermal spring on the island and boasts facilities such as indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, steam room, thermal bath and beauty salon. Spending an hour relaxing in the spa was one of the highlights of this trip. I highly recommend it!
The Gundel pancake
My friend had told me so much about the famous Gundel pancake and I was eager to try it so after dinner in a lovely Italian eaterie, we headed to Voros Postakocsi (Red Mail Coach). After perusing the menu, I ordered the pancake with ground almonds, chocolate sauce and rum. The waiter lit the rum on top creating a blue flame which reminded me of a traditional Christmas pudding! It was quite rich and heavy as it comprised three thick, American-style pancakes but I still recommend trying it.
On Sunday, my last full day in Budapest, we headed to Heroes Square (a World Heritage site), a monument square with statues dedicated to the medieval kings of Hungary which is surrounded by museums. I spotted the archangel Gabriel on top of the Millennium column as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We took some selfies just outside the Museum of Fine Arts which was promoting a photography exhibition with a giant banner of the striking ‘Afghan Girl’ draped across the front of the museum.
Walking north of Heroes Square, we passed by Vidam Park which has an ice skating rink from November to March so we watched quite a few skaters of all ages enjoying an afternoon’s skating. Next stop was Vajdahunyad Castle built in 1896 to commemorate a thousand years of Hungary. It combines multiple architectural styles including Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque and is surrounded by a lake and the beautiful landscaped Varosliget park. The castle has a fairy tale magic to it and you can’t help but feel enchanted once you walk through the main entrance gate. For me, this was even more impressive than Buda Castle.
Shoes on the Danube
After a light lunch we headed towards the House of Parliament overlooking the banks of the Danube and walked along the promenade to the Shoes on the Danube memorial dedicated to the innocent Jews who were murdered there during WWII. The monument is very simple in its design, comprising numerous pairs of bronze men’s, women’s and children’s shoes lined up along the riverbank. It was approaching sunset and many shoes were lit with nightlights inside them as a sign of respect to those that lost their lives. It was a very moving and poignant experience and one that will stay with me forever.
We continued to walk down the promenade towards the bridge then walked up the steps towards the 5* Four Seasons Gresham Palace hotel with spectacular views directly facing the Chain Bridge and the banks of the Danube. We took a quick look at the restaurant menu then made a discreet getaway needless to say, it exceeded our budget!
It was finally time for dinner and drinks to celebrate my last night so we headed to TG Italiano eatery for delicious pasta and refreshing mojitos!
What a fabulous weekend spent in one of the most beautiful and hospitable European cities — a totally unforgettable experience. I hope to return very soon to experience it all again!