Budapest Trip May 2019

A group of ADFAS members have just returned from a splendid few days in Budapest.  Known as “The Pearl of the Danube” for good reason, the city promised a real treat offering a wealth of beautiful architecture and a fascinating insight into Hungarian history.

We left England in high spirits and beautiful sunshine, to be greeted in Budapest by heavy rain!  However, our guide, Sophie, met us at the airport with a cheerful smile and a promise of better weather to come, and led us to the coach which was to be our transport for the week.  

                      Sophie IMG 3156     Sophie aka Fejesné Zsófia

We had arrived at rush hour, so the slow journey to our hotel gave her plenty of opportunity to point out items of interest on the way, whetting our appetites for the days to come.

Our custom on the first evening of these trips is to meet for drinks before dining in the hotel.  Dinner was excellent – we quickly discovered that Hungarian food is delicious, if somewhat light on vegetables!   A few of us went for a walk after our meal (it had stopped raining) and were delighted find that we were very close to the Danube and were able to walk from our hotel in Pest across to the Buda side and enjoy a splendid view of their Statue of Liberty high on the opposite cliff.

Next day we began our tour with a visit to Heroes Square, where a huge statue of the Archangel Gabriel stands on a tall pillar, surrounded by the statues of the seven chieftains who led the Magyar conquest of Hungary.   In the colonnades to each side stand statues of the kings and leaders of Hungary from King Stephen, crowned in the year 1000, right up to recent times.  Sophie’s enthusiasm and knowledge of her subject made her a brilliant guide, and we listened enthralled as she led us, leader by leader, through 1000 years of Hungarian history. We then crossed over the river to Buda where we visited the Castle area on the hill and enjoyed the spectacular views from the Fisherman’s Bastion, so-called because in the Middle Ages, this section of the castle wall was defended by the Guild of Fishermen. Whilst there, we managed to squeeze in an unscheduled visit to the stunningly beautiful Matthias Church, full of wonderful frescoes painted as part of the restoration in Gothic style at the beginning of the 20th century. It is also known as the Coronation church, having hosted the coronations of the last two Hungarian Habsburg kings, Franz Joseph in 1867 and Charles IV in 1916.

After a lunch of Goulash Soup (of course!) our coach took us to the Franz Liszt Academy, a wonderful Art Nouveau building, its inside decorated with frescoes, Zsolnay ceramics, and statues of famous composers such as Bartok and Chopin.   Truly impressive!   Some of us then took a detour on the way home to visit the Great Synagogue in Dohany Street, the largest working synagogue in Europe and second largest in the world.   Having wondered at the beautiful interior design and listened as local guides explained the  different aspects of Judaism practised here, we then made a very sobering visit to the small cemetery garden next door, which contains the remains of 2,281 Hungarian Jews who died in the Budapest Ghetto towards the end of World War II.   I was not the only one holding back tears.

Next morning our first visit was to the House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, a small, beautifully restored Art Nouveau house containing a private collection of wonderful Art Nouveau and Art Deco treasures.  Its small café also provided the most delicious hot chocolate ever!   We had time before lunch for an unscheduled visit to St Stephen’s basilica – another amazing building, beautifully restored following World War II damage, and somewhat creepily displaying the mummified right hand of St Stephen. In the afternoon we visited the Gellert Spa where we were again impressed by the original Art Nouveau decoration and the Zsolnay majolica tiles and mosaics, together with the thermal baths themselves which were clearly being enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.  An enjoyable and interesting visit to the Hungarian National Gallery came next, followed for some by a return to the Matthias Church for a wonderful evening concert, and for others by dinner in one of the many excellent local restaurants.

On Saturday we were driven out of the city to the area known as the Danube Bend, where we visited the famous Basilica at Esztergom and the ruined palace of King Matthias, currently undergoing extensive reconstruction.  It was pleasant to be out in the countryside, and in the afternoon, a visit to the village of Szentendre gave us an opportunity to stroll around the various craft outlets and enjoy sunshine and a quiet drink beside the Danube.

On Sunday we were back in the city, and our first visit was to see the “Shoes on the Danube”.  This composition of 60 pairs of metal shoes, set in concrete on the edge of the river, was created in remembrance of the hundreds of Hungarian Jews who were forced to leave their shoes on the riverbank before being shot into the Danube during the Hungarian Holocaust. 

We continued to the magnificent neo-Gothic Parliament building, built to rival our own Palace of Westminster, where we marvelled at the beautiful grand staircase and the Dome Hall.  We were also able to see inside the debating chamber itself, and also the Holy Crown of St Stephen, the symbol of Hungary’s statehood, which is kept in a special chamber in the building.

After lunch (more delicious Hungarian food!) we had another wonderful Gallery visit – this time at the Museum of Fine Arts – where our specialist guide chose an excellent selection from their extensive collection for our tour.

Which brought us, sadly, to our final day.  In the morning we had a cruise on the river Danube, which was very enjoyable and gave us the opportunity to see the city from a different perspective.  We continued to the Royal Palace of Godollo, the second largest Baroque castle in the world, and considered to be the Hungarian equivalent of Versailles.  Built at the beginning of the 18th century, it was bought by the crown during the Austro-Hungarian Empire and became the favourite summer residence of Queen Elizabeth.  She was known as Sisi and the Palace became known as the Castle of Sisi.   It sustained damage during the Soviet era, but has now been renovated and were able to see it restored to its former magnificence.

At the end of our Palace tour, Sophie gathered us on to the bus for our journey to the airport and home.  She had been a wonderful guide and we had enjoyed an excellent few days, leaving us with some wonderful memories.

        Group photograph smaller  Group photo by Sophie in the gardens at the Palace of King Matthias                  

Bouquet from a New Member

My husband and I joined ADFAS in October 2018 and we duly went to our first meeting at Potten End Village Hall.  The people we met there were so welcoming and the lecture was fascinating.  

We were told that a trip had been arranged to go to Budapest for five days in May 2019 and we decided to sign up there and then.

The day finally arrived for our travel and from start to finish everything went without a hitch. This was mainly thanks to Barbara Mitchell, who worked tirelessly to make everything we saw and did perfect.

Under the tutelage of our knowledgeable local guide Sophie we visited many of Budapest’s historic sights and gained a good insight into the history, architecture and art of Hungary.  At the same time, the whole group of thirty were so friendly; thank you all, you were a great crowd to travel with. We are already looking forward to next year’s trip.