Be­witch­ing Bu­dapest

Bu­dapest is lovelyby day, ro­man­tic in the twi­light and glo­ri­ous by night, writes LIZA KAPPELLE

Townsville Bulletin - - Weekend Extra -

I ’M still in bed when I get my first glimpse of Bu­dapest, across a stretch of the Danube to the lib­erty statue on Gellert Hill on the Buda side of the city.

Who hasn’t fan­ta­sised about such an im­me­di­ate in­tro­duc­tion to an ex­otic part of the planet, by­pass­ing air­ports and cabs or buses?

It fi­nally hap­pened to me in Bu­dapest (or Bu­dapesht, as the lo­cals pro­nounce the name of the Hun­gar­ian cap­i­tal) in the heart of cen­tral Europe.

From my state­room on river cruiser MSPoetry, I can see Bu­dapest’s colour­ful build­ings jut­ting like an­cient bones from the hill­sides of the city, with ev­i­dence of in­flu­ence from Ro­mans and Turks dur­ing its rich and some­times tragic past.

It is the fi­nal day of my 11-day bus and boat trip from the Czech Repub­lic.

I head off to catch some lo­cal colour at Mar­ket Hall, near our moor­ing by the Sz­abad­sag Bridge on the Pest side of the Danube.

There is a throng of lo­cals and tourists in the Nagy­vasar Csarnok mar­kets but it is easy to ma­noeu­vre around the ground floor where veg­etable and small­go­ods stalls, with their in­evitable scar­let strings of paprika, strad­dle the wide walk­ways.

It is more crowded up­stairs where tan­ta­lis­ing smells and a crush of lo­cals hint at tasty things on of­fer.

I press through a cheer­ful beer­swill­ing mob — it is af­ter all a Satur­day and al­most noon — to try Lan­gos, a cir­cle of fried potato bread smoth­ered with sour cream and cheese.

It is ut­terly de­li­cious and I wish I had room for the un­doubt­edly heart-stop­ping ver­sion slathered with salami and pep­pers.

Still up­stairs I wan­der past stalls filled with silk pash­mi­nas, lace, toys and ex­otic cloth­ing be­fore head­ing back to take a bus tour of Bu­dapest which is in­cluded in my Danube trip.

Guide Ju­dit Deak takes us down stately streets lined with build­ings dec­o­rated with such de­tailed paint­ing it ap­pears they have been wall­pa­pered.

She takes us to He­roes Square where she points out a statue of Hun­gary’s for­mer King Matthias while urg­ing us not to cling to false im­pres­sions about Drac­ula be­ing Hun­gar­ian de­spite his con­nec­tion with the king.

Drac­ula, or Vlad the Im­paler, did spend time in Hun­gary and was im­pris­oned by King Matthias, in 1462, for nail­ing ‘hats’ to the heads of Turks, she says.

‘‘But he was Tran­syl­va­nian, not Hun­gar­ian, and he was not a vam­pire, he was crazy man who liked killing peo­ple,’’ she tells her fas­ci­nated tour group.

Next stop is the fish­er­men’s bas­tion across the river to Buda, the part of their city most prized by Hun­gar­i­ans.

To reach it we have to drive past the Ter­ror Mu­seum in Peste, which Ju­dit says has been very pop­u­lar since it was cre­ated re­cently out of one­time Nazi and Rus­sian KGB head­quar­ters.

The fish­er­men’s bas­tion lies high above the river in the cas­tle dis­trict, a me­dieval part of old Buda, from where you can gaze down across the Danube.

Across the river, in Pest, lies Hun­gary’s or­nately spired Par­lia­ment House which Ju­dit says re­mains the most ex­pen­sive build­ing ever erected in this coun­try.

The tour leaves us some free time to spend in this me­dieval quar­ter so I stroll past pastel­coloured houses, watch­ing light spill on to cob­bles from cor­ner food stores as the day dark­ens.

Bu­dapest is lovely by day, ro­man­tic in the twi­light and I am soon to dis­cover the city is glo­ri­ous by night.

Lights burned dimly here dur­ing the com­mu­nist time so lo­cals have cel­e­brated the era’s end­ing by turn­ing the spot­light on more than 30 sights in Bu­dapest at night.

It is freez­ing out­side at 9pm in Novem­ber but I can’t re­sist an­other bus tour, this one to Va­j­dahun­yad Cas­tle, be­hind He­roes Square.

A mas­sive Gothic gate gives en­try to a court­yard where I first get a good look at the light-bathed cas­tle which was built be­tween 1896 and 1908 to show­case dif­fer­ent styles of Hun­gar­ian ar­chi­tec­ture.

There are build­ings to suit ev­ery taste — from Ro­manesque and Baroque build­ings, im­i­ta­tions of a cas­tle-wall and a feu­dal cas­tle, and Re­nais­sance twirls.

There is even a sin­is­ter look­ing statue of Anony­mous, his face hid­den in his monk’s hood, in the gar­den fac­ing the cas­tle.

The cas­tle was spe­cial but my best me­mory of Bu­dapest by night is from our first stop, a hill­top in Buda where we brave icy rain to gaze with awe down upon the three bridges span­ning the lit-up city.

A day isn’t enough to spend in Bu­dapest, but the Leg­endary Danube trip I take from Prague to Bu­dapest is a taster tour, al­low­ing pas­sen­gers a lux­u­ri­ous trip down the river with bus tours and walks in ev­ery port.

Many of my fel­low pas­sen­gers will stay on in Bu­dapest af­ter leav­ing the boat but I am to fly out of the city with­out visit­ing Mar­garet Is­land or the fa­mous Turk­ish baths in this city renowned for its ther­mal springs. IF YOU GO........................... Price for Avalon Wa­ter­ways’ 11-day Le­gendaryDanube cruises start at $2326pp ex­clud­ing air fares. Avalon Wa­ter­ways can ar­range pack­ages in­clud­ing flights: visit www.aval­on­wa­ter­ways.com.au. Cities vis­ited on the cruise‘in­clude Re­gens­burg, Pas­sau, Melk, Vi­enna and Bu­dapest. Emi­rates (www.emi­rates.com/au/) flies be­tween Aus­tralia and Vi­enna con­nect­ing with Aus­trian Air­lines (www.aua.com.au/ eng) to Prague; af­ter three days there, pas­sen­gers travel by­bus to join the cruise in Nurem­berg, Ger­many.

Bu­dapest’s He­roes Square and, top, the city strad­dles the Danube River

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