Hungary Budapest 2000.09.17 - 09.21

The Capital of Hungary

Budapest was our first stop in the former Soviet Block. Although the Iron Curtain eroded over a decade ago, the effects of Communist rule are lasting. The city is in disrepair and polluted. Once elegantly decorated buildings are crumbling. Air quality (rated excellent by Budapest standards during our stay) is the worst we experienced in Europe. Trash and dog doo litter the streets. The Danube River running through the city is an ugly brown.

That said, there are some excellent sites within this generally drab city. Castle Hill in Buda has posh shops and a good lookout point from Fisherman's Bastion. The Parliament building on the bank of the Danube River is impressive. The inside of the Opera House is richly decorated. The 100 year old metro line 1 (the yellow line) is clean and quaint. The Hungarian National Museum presents a good chronology of Hungarian history.

In addition to exploring the city, we did the 2 activities every tourist to Budapest is encouraged to try: soak in a hot spring and watch an opera. Both are good.

According to the Lonely Planet guide on Budapest, 123 thermal and more than 400 mineral springs come from 14 different sources. The Budapest "Baths" brochure by the Tourist Office of Budapest lists 25 spa and combination spa/swimming pool locations around town. For about US$5, you can soak in therapeutic natural mineral waters of various temperatures and get a short relaxing massage afterwards. Bring your own bathing suit and towel, and arrive early. The baths open at 06:00. Everything from lockers to massages is first come first serve. On our first try, we went to Gellért Gyógyfürdö at 15:00 asking for a massage. We were laughed at and told to return the next day at 06:00. On our second try, we went to Szent Lukács Gyógyfürdö (Wes didn't need to be laughed at again) at 06:15 and had a good experience. The 550 Ft (about US$1.70) per person entry fee included the use of clothes locker, pool, sauna, steam room, and 4 mineral baths at 24, 32, 36, and 40 °C. A 15 minute massage was an additional 800 Ft (about US$2.60) - give the blind masseurs a tip too. With tip, the total bill comes to US$5 for a wonderfully relaxing morning.

An opera is recommended because the quality is good and the price is cheap. We saw Turandot by Giaccomo Puccini in the center of the ground floor with a full view of the stage. These were the 2nd most expensive tickets costing a whopping 5200 Ft (US$ 17.30). Ticket prices ranged from 400 Ft to 6000 Ft. Dress is supposed to be formal, but as backpackers, all we had were hiking pants, pile pullovers, and sneakers. We weren't denied admission. 

Where does the name Budapest come from? There were 3 cities: Buda and Óbuda on the west side of the Danube River and Pest on the east. Today, 9 bridges physically link the 3 areas together to form the capital of Hungary. The first link, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, was completed in 1849. These links, combined with the Compromise of 1867, unified Buda, Óbuda, and Pest to create Budapest in 1873.

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge spans the Danube River. Built in 1849, it's the first physical link connecting Buda and Pest.

The impressive Parliament building rests on the bank of the Danube River. The private house we stayed at was a short 1 minute walk away.

Within the Opera House, we look up towards the left balcony booths from our seats in the center of the theater. Gold trim, marble pillars, and frescoes richly decorate the interior.

Fisherman's Bastion atop Castle Hill provides an excellent lookout point over the Danube River to Pest. With a direct view of the Parliament building, this may be the best lookout point in the city.

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