Recently I decided to take a well needed break before winter sets in. My destination was the Hungarian capital of Budapest, “The Jewel of the Danube”, a long awaited destination. Fortunately I have friends there, which made the entire experience so much better. I planned the trip well in advance and while searching the web for accommodation, came across a “boatel”, moored on the Danube, within walking distance from the city centre. ” I n t e r e s t i n g “, I thought and booked straight away.
It turned out to be a welcome change from staying in a youth hostel and just as affordable with my visit being out of season. Generally speaking, Budapest is very culturally orientated. My vacation consisted of outings during the daytime to important must-see sights and in the evenings I went out with friends who showed me the diverse and alternative nightlife the city has on offer. For example there are many hidden “garden bars” or “courtyard bars”. “Alternative” is the best way to describe them. They are often disused courtyards and old buildings or small warehouses with adjacent gardens in the Jewish Quarter or old city area which have been converted into funky late night venues. The gardens might have lanterns hanging from trees, candles on tables, couches and coffee tables in corners and lounge music filtered through loudspeakers in the background.
I noticed make-shift cinema screens on some of the courtyard walls and according to my friend, they often project art movies or silent films as part of the atmosphere or entertainment. None of these venues are signposted and many of them are seasonal, only open for the summer season, after which they close down, never to open again or they open at a different venue the following year. The gardens are near impossible to find in the maze of small streets and alleys in the old quarter, so it was a real treat to be taken out by Budapest locals. We also went to a few underground bars/pubs, which are situated in cellars with low ceilings and often with live music. Smallish art house cinemas are also popular and are all over the city. One of my mate’s friends, a film critic took us to a couple of these, not to watch films, but to drink Hungarian red wine, naturally a popular drink in a wine producing country, and to discuss and debate cinema in the dimly lit bar lounges. Debates were prompted by the décor, which included movie posters of cool and controversial films of past and present. During my stay I also sampled a couple of very tasty traditional Hungarian dishes at restaurants, which might be describes as quite “heavy” and filling. Sadly, I did not get around to trying out the famous Hungarian fish soup!
The Danube River splits the city into two: Buda and Pest. The main attractions I visited in Buda, which is situated on the hills and overlooking Pest were the Castle District and the Royal Castle, Gellert Hill and Fisherman’s Bastion. In Pest I went to Heroes Square, Szcechenyi Baths, The House of Terror, The Hungarian Parliament, and The Great Synagogue and to the Market Hall.
Quite a distance outside of Budapest, one can find Szoborpark also known as Statue Park, which is a kind of “cemetery” for all the sometimes crude Soviet statues which used to be inside of Budapest city during Soviet rule before they got moved out. Worth a visit to see the sheer size of some of them and to reflect on the Russian Empire’s influence on Central/Eastern European countries during the past 100 years.
Hopefully I’ll be able to return to Hungary to see the rest of the city and more of the country. I would like to mention an always important factor for travelers: This is still one of the more affordable destinations in Europe. When considering what Budapest can offer visitors, its brilliant value for money. The city is also a photographer paradise and autumn provided me with good light to capture the city on film.
Originally Written 07.09.2005 / Published Here 30.05.2008
All images are “click-able”
Photographs by Jean-Jacques M during a visit to Budapest and surrounds. Hungary, September 2005. Camera: Nikon F65 Film SLR with 28 – 80mm Nikkor Kit lens & Fuji Colour Film ISO 200 and Agfa Black & White Film ISO400.
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I was there in ’96, arriving from Prague via a circuitous route, by car. Lost for 2.5 hours as we missed turns and circled, always finding ourselves on a no-turn-off bridge entrance, criss-crossing forever until I finally found the place to drop the car. Rather spoiled my mood for the balance of the day. I found Buda-Pest rather morose after Czechoslavkia – did you notice that, or was it my imagination that everyone seemed a bit forlorn? Or more probably, it was the era.
I think you may be right about that Hayden. Lovely city in many ways, but the people are not very open. It didn’t bother me too much since I was with Hungarian friends most of the time. “They’re just too used to tourists” my friend told me, bored with them even, which could come across as them being unfriendly.
I haven’t been to Prague yet, but I heard its beautiful. Also the Czech people I met abroad were friendly, so Prague and Brno is very high on my list (!) for my next European visit.