ABOARD THE VIKING GULLVEIG – What can you say about a city that takes your breath away? Budapest, our final stop is such a place.
Despite grey clouds and crisp temperature, this city split in two on both sides of the Danube is a jewel. Historic Buda on the east and cosmopolitan Pest (pronounced “Pesht”) on the west are brimming with culture, history and fascinating attractions.
The Hungarian capital is a treasure trove of Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Nouveau architecture, with something to do around every corner.
Until 1873, the two were separate towns connected only by ferry and in times of high water or drifting ice, they were completely cut off from one another. The construction of the Chain Bridge connected Buda and Pest, forming the Hungarian capital into its present form.
As our ship sailed into the city late last night, impressive illuminated historic buildings revealed a fairytale splendor along the Danube. Strings of lights running the length of seven bridges connecting the two sides of the river add to the magic.
Fortunately, we docked underneath the Chain Bridge – the perfect launching pad for our visit to this beautiful city.
I’d heard that this capital of Hungary was beautiful, but in all truth, it’s breathtaking. Budapest Castle, the Parliament Building, Fisherman’s Bastian – offering a sweeping view of the city – and gentrified 18th Century buildings, an ancient synagogue and a host of statues commemorating long gone kings and heroes are just the beginning of the story.
Buda and Pest
The Pest area lends a more cosmopolitan feel with a pedestrian shopping area known as Vaci Utca, where you’ll find a variety of designer shops, bookshops chic restaurants and cafes, while Buda has a more charming feel with cobblestone streets, St. Matthias Church, Buda Castle and surrounding Fisherman’s Bastian, used to defend the castle and the town.
But Buda is more than just a royal castle. It’s an historical old town, with cobblestone streets with small shops tucked into them and a definite medieval feel throughout. It’s also known as the “hilly” side of the capital city. Trinity Square – the most visited site – is where you’ll find St. Matthias Church, which is more than 700 years old and the site of many coronation ceremonies.
Next to the church is the Fisherman’s Bastion, built on the site of an old rampart which, during the Middle Ages, was defended by the guild of fishermen, who lived nearby in Vízívaros at the foot of the hill. A fish market was also located there at the time and the name has held through the ages.
Our morning tour ended just in time for a very welcome lunch and after that, we were free to explore on our own or take an optional excursion to the sprawling Gödöllo Palace – a favorite with Hungarian Queen Elizabeth – or experience the therapeutic waters and relax in the thermal spa of the Széchenyi Bath.
We opted to hit one last Christmas, which was brimming with shoppers, but offered some unusual crafts, which we hadn’t seen anywhere else on our journey.
Back on board the Gullveig, a children’s choir offered a magical evening with typical Christmas songs, followed by a “farewell briefing” by our program director and dinner.
Later, “A Hungarian-Slovakian Evening,” offered singers, dancers and musicians from Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest who performed folk dances and selections from operettas such as “The Merry Window.”
A perfect finale, to a perfect cruise.
Photos by Michelle da Silva Richmond