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It may come as a surprise to some that Budapest is not one, but two, great European cities.
Cruising upstream from Constanta, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea, toward Germany and the headwaters of the Danube River, passengers get a bird’s-eye view of five countries, grouped together as Eastern Europe.
The mighty Danube divides Croatia and Serbia (remnants of the old Yugoslavia) prior to our entry into Hungary. Most of the area through this stretch is agricultural with an occasional village popping into view, marked by a church steeple, visible from miles away. It seems as if we’re on a slow boat to China because of the length of time to arrive at these seemingly distant villages.
Finally, off in the distance we began seeing commercial buildings and developments larger than the rural farms, forests, and the ever-present church steeple. As we rounded a bend in the river, some of the first structures to come into full view were bridges — the five bridges of Budapest.
Our excitement over the famous bridges of Budapest soon gave way to the thrills of visual perspective of the two cities of Buda, on the left (west), and Pest, on the right (east). Buda and Pest were significant cities in their own right up until 1873, when the two cities were unified into one, with the famous Chain Bridge connecting the two. Thus, Budapest was born and became a major banking and cultural center for Eastern Europe.
French writer Jules Romain said, when he visited Budapest, “Budapest, along with the Danube, comprise one of the most beautiful riverside city landscapes of all, equaling London on the Thames and Paris on the Seine.”
A great way to get one’s bearings is to first visit the Buda side by climbing Castle Hill, which was the home of a medieval castle that has now been replaced by the Budapest Royal Palace that houses the Historical Museum of the City of Budapest, as well as the National Library and the Hungarian National Gallery.
Nearby, on Castle Hill, is Fisherman’s Bastion, a fort-like bastion built so fishermen could protect that stretch of the city wall above the river. There’s a viewing promenade that allows the best possible view of the Danube and the Pest side of the city. Plan to spend some time on Castle Hill, as there is a lot to see and the view is unbeatable. Then head over to the Pest side via the historic and beautiful Chain Bridge.
The locals, of course, call Pest the best, but as a first-time visitor we’ll leave that for them to work out. The best of Pest, for the sake of brevity, is the magnificent neo-Gothic Parliament Building dominating the skyline, the Church of St. Stephen and the Castle Palace, to name a few.
A serene night cruise on the river is another way to get the full impact of this impressive city and its stately buildings.
These timeless structures are transformed into a virtual sea of lights at night, dazzling to its audience, with reflections of the city’s waterfront on the Danube.
Aside from the historical structures and beauty of these twin cities, our favorite time was spent at Hotel Helia, a thermal and spa hotel, which is home to a rejuvenating hot mineral spring — so convenient! A few minutes in these soothing waters can erase all trauma of a full day of walking, standing, and climbing in and around one of the most picturesque cities in Europe, the twin cities of Buda and Pest, which are now one.
Neil and Karyn Sawyer have been residents of Crystal River for 27 years. They travel frequently, having been to 48 states, 64 countries and seven continents. Contact Neil via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.