March 11 2010 by Sam Lowe
BUDAPEST - The Hungarian cities of Buda and Pest had grown and prospered for centuries along the banks of the fabled Danube River despite wars, invasions and other sorts of turmoil before they united and became Budapest in 1873. But, although they're joined in name, they remain apart in spirit and geography because Buda is still Buda and Pest is still Pest to locals, historians and mapmakers.
Fortunately, it's a matter of little concern to most who visit here. Pest, Buda or Budapest - it makes no difference what you call it, this is one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe. And even better for those of us who have reached an age where we prefer to view a city at a leisurely pace, it is easily walkable. And so, this report will concentrate on taking it in one step at a time.
The Chain Bridge is a good place to start because it spans the Danube to connect the two parts of the city. Originally built in 1849 and reconstructed in 1964, the bridge is not only functional, it's also an architectural delight, enhanced by towering supports and guarded by cast lions. There are ample attractions on both sides, highlighted by the Castle District in Buda on the east side and the spectacular Parliament Building in Pest on the west.
The Castle District sits on a hill about 200 feet above the river so it's an uphill - but easy - climb once you're across the bridge. The palace is still undergoing reconstruction so some parts are not open to the public, but there's plenty of good viewing on the grounds, particularly the gardens and the statuary. Not far away, the stone Gothic spire on the Church of Our Lady (also known as Matthias Church) rises 260 feet above the landscape and looks down on the Fisherman's Bastion, a popular photo stop where shutterbugs can get an excellent shot of the Parliament building across the river.
It's not mentioned in any of the brochures, but a nearby government building still bears the scars of war where a shell blasted into the wall to create a flower-like indentation that has a haunting beauty to it.
Across the river, the Parliament building resembles a storybook castle with its spires, domes, statuary and bright colors. It was erected between 1880 and 1902, measures more than 300 feet in length and features hundreds of statues that honor rulers, princes and military commanders. It's an impressive sight during the day; at night, when the exterior lights are turned on, it goes all the way to spectacular.
A few blocks away, the Basilica (St.Stephen's) dominates an otherwise level landscape. If time is a problem, go there first because the interior is a wondrous display of Hungarian culture, the works of many significant Hungarians artists.
My wife, Lyn, and I spent one full day exploring those sites, then elected to walk Andrassy Avenue the next morning and it was a wise choice. One of the city's main thoroughfares, it is reminiscent of a Parisian streetscape - tree-lined, pedestrian friendly, wide boulevards and adorned on both sides with such architectural gems as the Hungarian State Opera, cozy little outdoor cafes and multi-colored residences. The avenue is 1.5 miles long but if you choose to hike it, leave yourself plenty of time because while the avenue itself is splendid, there are also a myriad of little side streets that branch off and beg your consideration.
We stopped at the Terror Museum, which traces Hungary's brutal treatment during occupations by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, then ended our walk where the avenue dead ends at the Millenary Monument, a compilation of stone carvings and bronze statues that honor the nation's heroes, both military and civilian.
We bought ice cream from a little shop and a sausage sandwich from a street vendor, then just sat and watched and admired the scenery.
It was a long day.
But it was worth every step we took.