Buda & Pest- the charming twins on the banks of Danube
The international airport was going through refurbishing when we flew into Budapest in October 2019. We had to directly walk across to the terminal after deboarding our flight - rather literally rush in the face of soft sprays of drizzles and cold wind on our way. Strange it may seem, but on our left, a long chain of passengers was moving towards their boarding gate housed in a small temporary cubicle. They were separated from us by a barricade made of wire mesh. A scene identical to images of European Jews being herded by the Nazis for deportation by holocaust trains. Outside, Mr. Gabor (one of the partners of Lichtenstein Apartments) was waiting to pick us up as our apartment was about 15 km away from the airport. Lichtenstein Apartment complex is centrally located, on a lane leading to the hub of Jewish Quarters in District 7. The apartments are cut out from century-old building interiors with very high ceilings and tall windows of French window style overlooking the street. Because of the high ceiling, the rooms are designed in duplex format – kitchenette, seating area and toilet at ground level, and bedroom with TV, a closet and a sofa at the upper level. There were a lot of popular pubs and eateries a little ahead from our apartment. Weekdays were quiet and normal, but weekends i.e. Friday night and Saturday night brought sleepless nights to the residents. People started flocking in from 9pm and continued partying, dancing, singing, chatting until almost 3 in the morning. Though disturbing to the circadian rhythm of a normal human being, I have always advocated such lively gatherings once in a while. Brings about a sense of security, warmth, laughter, and happiness to humankind. Particularly in a large metropolis, where we were total strangers.
On the first morning, we walked down to Blaha Lujza Ter metro, being closest to our apartment. We decided to try the metro first, but on second thought decided to cover the city on the first day on Hop on – Hop off service. The Hop on-Hop off stop was in front of the famous New York Hotel & Café across the wide thoroughfare of the Grand Boulevard, with high-speed tram tracks on the median. New York Café is a nineteenth-century eclectic architectural wonder. A blend of the Italian renaissance, historical Greek, and baroque styles. Seen from the plaza on the opposite pavement presents a spectacular view of the illuminated building in the night. Able to sit in one of the front rows of the semi-covered upper deck was really an exciting experience, We went through some historic sites of Budapest, and alighted at the Pest end of Chain Bridge over the Danube. Chain Bridge was built between 1839 and 1849. A very important suspension bridge connecting Pest to the lower end of Castle Hill Funicular to Buda Castle. It happened to be the first permanent bridge uniting the ancient city of Buda with Pest, and thus merged to become Budapest in 1873. It, therefore, went on to become a national symbol of Hungary. The bridge was built at the initiation of Count Istvan Szechenyl after he had visited England and greatly admired Hammersmith Bridge. He hired the Hammersmith Bridge Engineer William Clarke to build the bridge. It is called Chain Bridge because the road-bed hangs in flat iron chains suspended from stone arches. The bridge was completely blown off by the retreating German soldiers in 1945 when the Soviet and Romanian forces had encircled Budapest and laid siege of the city. Only the pillars had remained intact, and the bridge was rebuilt in a couple of years’ time. Vehicles are allowed on the bridge, but we preferred to traverse it on foot in order to look at the historic bridge more closely. After crossing the bridge we took a bus to the Buda Castle and were there on time to watch the change of guard which takes place with a lot of fanfare. After that, we walked down to the viewing point known as Fisherman’s Bastion. It’s a nineteenth-century fortress-like construction on the periphery of Buda Castle, made of spires and turrets. Why ‘Fisherman’? No authentic information. But ‘Bastion’ it is, as it was meant to guard the Buda Castle. The tower offers a panoramic view of the Danube and the city below Castle Hill. An eleventh-century church(Matthias Church is the oldest Church, which got converted to a mosque for a brief period under Turkish occupation in the sixteenth century), a café on the terrace where we had coffee and snacks, cobblestone paths, classical and baroque buildings, worth watching huge nineteenth-century manhole covers, altogether present a unique vista of magnificence. On our way back to the bus stand we dropped in at Houdini’s Museum. Before we entered the magician’s chamber, we were caught by another magical surprise. The pretty, young Hungarian girl who was manning the counter of the museum started speaking with us in flawless Hindi. She said she graduated in Hindi from Budapest University and had been to India a couple of times. After all the mind-boggling exposures, we headed back for Pest. This time our bus crossed the newer Margaret Bridge and entered Pest via the magnificent Parliament building.
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