Liberty Bridge, Budapest, Hungary

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Liberty Bridge, Budapest, Hungary

Thick iron beams and sturdy iron bars may seem like an unusual site to behold in a city so well known for its elegance, old world charm, and beautiful architecture. In order to cross the famed Danube, you have a couple of options if you’re looking for famed landmarks: the magnificent Chain Bridge, or, as pictured here, the industrial-age Liberty Bridge. Connecting the beautiful Gellert Hill (location of Gellert Spa and Hotel), and the bustling Fővám Tér, or Great Market Hall, Liberty Bridge is as important as it is famous. As a cantilever truss bridge with a suspended middle span, it is quite different in structure than anything already spanning Budapest’s waters, but was constructed in a (successful) effort to augment the economy by better connecting Buda and Pest. And yes, Budapest is actually a combination of several communes, including Buda and Pest, whose names and boundaries were combined to create a compound city in 1873. We’ll wrap this up with a fun fact: the final piece of the puzzle (or in this case, the bridge) was symbolically added by Emperor Franz Joseph himself.

 

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Budapest, Hungary

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Budapest, Hungary

Old world charm, the steam age and the orient express, the turn of century (or more elegantly put, fin du siècle), lavishness, decadence.…yes, you’ve been painted into a canvas of the elegant, sometimes dream-like Hungarian capital. Budapest, in its own way, is an art form. It is a piece of a painting of a forgotten place, a poem putting colour to a lost era, a melody composed on an antique instrument. Budapest could be a place created by the most talented artists of the last few centuries, an enormous canvas on which to create their evolving masterpiece. Surely one of Europe’s greatest cities – then and now – Budapest seems to offer so much: spicy gastronomy, magnificent architecture, friendly locals, the Blue Danube, its own flavour. Much like the unique language spoken by inhabitants – related only to faraway Finnish and Estonian – Budapest seems to protrude from the rest of Eastern Europe. The culture, the food, the people, the city – everything feels somehow different; perhaps a creation by a steampunk fan or an old Polaroid photo. Budapest feels like a fin du siècle painting  breathed into being by Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey, a place where anything could happen, a place where you could become anyone or do anything.

Budapest, Hungary

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Gargoyle in Budapest, Hungary

Are lampposts tasty? This Hungarian gargoyle seems to think so! Gargoyles have always held a sort of fascination. In simple terms, they are a way of evacuating water from roofs to keep the water from running down the walls and weakening the mortar – but a gargoyle is so much more than a drain. No, gargoyles are indicative of the story, of the culture, of the hidden fears of a the people who carved them. Early gargoyles from Egyptian, Roman or Greek ruins show little variation but by the middle ages, gargoyles had become an art. Largely elongated, grotesque, mythical creatures, some take the shape of monks or existing animals, and are often comical. The most famous gargoyles are of course that of Notre Dame de Paris but most cathedrals and many churches, fortifications, castles and manors have them. Legend has it that St Romanus saved Rouen (France) from a terrible dragon-like creature he called the “gargouille” or gargoyle (etymology “gar” = “throat”). The local people burned the body but the head would not burn (since it was made to resist its own fire), so they mounted the head on the cathedral to ward off evil spirits – a practice that was repeated over and over again in stone. Whether true or not, gargoyles have been warding off gutter water for centuries, and will continue to do so as times go on, because the rain won’t stop falling!

 

 

Bratislava, Slovakia

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Hlavné námestie (Main Square), Bratislava, Slovakia

Did you know that Bratislava and Vienna and the closest (geographically-speaking) capital cities in Europe? Just one hour by train, and only 55 miles as the crow flies! Bratislava is also directly between Vienna and Budapest. There are Americans commute that same distance every day! Therefore, there is no excuse not to add Bratislava to your Austrian/Hungarian itinerary. Not only that, but Bratislava is still relatively “undiscovered.” While Vienna and Budapest may be grander and more inherently beautiful, they are also unavoidably touristic. In many ways, this is a good thing (i.e., foreign languages such as English, French, Spanish, Russian, etc, are prevalent), but this does take a way a little from the experience. To really get into the heart of central/Eastern Europe, Bratislava provides an excellent gateway. A smaller, and easily walkable city, Bratislava affords a quaint Old Town, a magnificent and glowing castle on the hilltop, many fine restaurants for very affordable prices, a lovely promenade along the Danube, funky statues and street art (including Cumil), and an overall fun and relaxed scene. During winter, everything is covered in a light layer of snow, pure and white. At Christmastime, Christmas markets abound, full of handmade gifts and trinkets. Meanwhile in the summer, sunny days blanket the city, glistening off the Danube–reminding us that it is, indeed, the Blue Danube.

Budapest, Hungary

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View overlooking Budapest, Hungary

Imagine if it was you sipping your coffee here. Imagine, in fact, that this is where you were taking your breakfast, perhaps a traditional Hungarian breakfast composing of an open sandwich with butter or cheese, perhaps cold cuts or sausages or bacon, and a cup of strong coffee. Imagine that this sweeping view of the grand city of Budapest is what your table overlooked. Imagine that you can afford to do this. Oh wait—you probably can. Perhaps this particular location is a bit more pricy, as it is an elegant café located on the famous Fisherman’s Bastion, a castle-like wall rising up just next to the castle. But Budapest is one of the cheapest places you’ll find in Europe—and also one of Europe’s most beautiful, elegant, and charming cities. Full of markets, Magyar cuisine (spicy and meaty), elegant edifices, magnificent cathedrals, splendid cafés (full of equally splendid cakes and pastries), grand baths (the Széchenyi Baths are world famous !), remarkable palaces and castles, street performers that play classical music, and bars that never seem to run out of cheap alcohol—and all at completely affordable prices! Budapest, one of Europe’s most amazing cities. So  now the only question that remains–what are you waiting for?

Budapest, Hungary

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Street-performing violin-guitar duo in Budapest, Hungary

We don’t give enough attention into the sounds of a place; it may be the most underrated of the five senses. For most of us–tourists and locals alike–it’s all about the magnificent views, pretty buildings, smells of the food cooking, the taste of the perfect pizza or verre du vin, perhaps even the feel of the cobblestones underfoot. Out in the countryside, sounds get a little more attention–namely, birds chirping, cicadas buzzing, wind blowing. Not only do sounds add flavour to a city, but they change our perspective of the view–without us even noticing! And one of the most positive influences on a city–when it comes to sounds–are those of street performers. Street artists don’t get enough credit. They hold the power to add character and completely change the way we think about a place. Could you imagine Las Ramblas in Barcelona without people in costume, artists painting your caricature, people singing and dancing to Spanish music? Could you imagine the streets of Paris or Lyon without someone playing French ballads on an accordion? Or Vienna without it’s constant stream of Oscar-worthy musicians and singers? Budapest without these lovely musicians in the Castle District? They exist in every city–and yet, we hardly pay them any attention. We enjoy their music as we walk by, perhaps smile for a moment before continuing on without even a thought to reach for our wallets. Yet, normal city sounds (car motors, airplanes over head, people shouting, machines humming, etc) aren’t very ‘beautiful;’ and all those barely-noticed artists, musicians and performers who do make beautiful or–at least interesting–music and performances are left to become obscure starving artists….now how is that fair? So the next time you’re downtown and someone’s performance makes you stop and watch or listen, be nice and toss in a few coins.

Budapest, Hungary

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Budapest, Hungary

As is so often the case, the castle offers a fantastic vantage point of the city below. From the castle terrace, one can see all of Budapest: the famous Hungarian Parliament Building, the Chain Bridge, the tower of St. Stephen’s Basilica, and of course, the Blue Danube. And on this clear, sunny Easter day, the Danube is actually blue! Budapest is one of Europe’s best-kept gems. A city with so much to offer, it is often overlooked by mass tourism travellers, though those more adventurous who wander eastward into Budapest are greatly reward for their trouble! Not only is everything a bargain in Budapest, but the city is downright gorgeous and ripe with culture, spice and tradition – especially during spring festivities!

Vajahunyad Castle, Budapest, Hungary

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Vajahunyad Castle, Budapest, Hungary

You might be surprised to discover that this magnificently medieval Translyvanian building was built less than 100 years ago, and not only that, but it stands in the middle of the Hungarian capital. Built for an annual fair, the building was so well-liked that the populace requested it remain intact; and so the obliging Hungarian government rebuilt the castle using more permanent materials (i.e., not plaster!). Situated in the middle of Budapest’s central park less than 400 metres from the famous Schenyi Baths, the castle is certainly an oddity. Making a full rotation around the campus reveals Vajahunyad’s four very different faces: each section is based on a different style (Baroque, Romanesque, Renaissance, and Gothic). Therefore, the structure looks completely different depending on one’s momentary perspective. The Gothic part in particular (the main section pictured here) was modelled on a Transylvanian castle—so if you can’t make it all the way to remote Transylvania (which one day I will, and bring back countless photographs of this infamous region to you!), you can still visit a replica here. In fact, the American TV drama, Dracula–which bears the name of Translyvania’s most famous resident–uses this castle as the infamous count’s residence for the series, though how much historical truth there is between Stoker’s vampire and the real-life Vlad Dracul is somewhat suspect. Regardless, the castle seems a fitting backdrop!

Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

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The Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

The Fisherman’s Bastion, or Halászbástya, is a terrace overlooking the Danube in Budapest. Built in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style at the turn of the century, to me, it resembles a giant sandcastle. For those not afraid of heights, a climb to the top offers a panoramic view of Budapest, including the House of Parliament, Margaret Island, Gellert Hill, and the Chain Bridge. Its name comes from the fisherman’s guild that was in charge of defending this section of the city walls in the Middle Ages and includes a statue of the infamous Stephen I. Beware though, during tourist season, they will try to make you pay.  To get the view for free, slip up through the café in the far left-hand quarter!


Pro tip: Do you like cake? Of course – who doesn’t!? Visit the Ruazwurm Confectionery just around the corner for delicious treats!


Other Faux Castles in Europe
  1. Sham Castle in Bath, England
  2. Vajahunyad Castle in Budapest, Hungary
  3. Kruzenstein Castle near Vienna, Austria
  4. Albigny-sur-Soane near Lyon, France
  5. Gravensteen Castle in Ghent, Belgium

 

Vajdahunyad Castle, Hungary

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Vajdahunyad Castle Budapest, Hungary.

Budapest is one of the most amazing cities in Eastern Europe. In the middle of the otherwise normal Varosliget park next to the famous bathhouse is…well, this. The Vajdahunyad Castle isn’t your typical castle. Built in 1896, it started out as a impermanent structure made of cardboard and wood built for Hungary’s 1000th birthday. But people liked it so much that they decided to solidify it. Named for the Hunyad Castle in Transylvania, these Gothic spires are only one of the four styles of the castle. Turn a corner and come across the Baroque style, Romanesque or the even Renaissance. It may be a strange architectural monument, but it is certainly worth visiting!