Saturday, April 13, 2013

Blissful Budapest

Those who have been reading my blog know that even though I enjoy living abroad in Finland, I really like taking an occasional  kid-free weekend getaway to other European cities.  It gives my wife and I time to get away from our daily routine while exploring new places.  We try to schedule in two "weekend getaway" trips per year and space them out accordingly.

 The spring 2013 adventure was a nice weekend trip to beautiful Budapest.  Budapest is the capital of Hungary, which is a landlocked country located almost directly in the middle of Europe.  Budapest is a city that I always wanted to visit and for some reason I neglected it during my post-college Europe whirlwind backpacking trip.  Back then it was a bit of an exotic eastern European destination and it wasn't always on the top of everyone's travel plans.  Now, along with Prague, Budapest seems to be a world class destination in eastern Europe.  We couldn't agree more and really enjoyed the city and all it had to offer.  Budapest is more or less broken into two distinct sections.  Those sections, split up by the Danube river, include the older section named Buda and the newer section called Pest.  The Buda castle, which sits high on a ridge, dominates the Buda side and is also the main tourist attraction.  On the first day we took the funicular up to the top of the high ridge to begin our exploration.  These activities included watching the changing of the guards, walking around the castle grounds and exploring the Fisherman's bastion while taking in the amazing views of Pest and the Danube.  It seems that every great capital city in Europe features a river or is a coastal town. The amazing Danube river splits the city nicely in half and greatly adds to the charm of this beautiful city.  The city also features many unique bridges, which allow people to easily access either side of the city.  The most recognizable of these is the famous Chain bridge.  We had an awesome view of the Chain Bridge as well as the Buda castle from our hotel room on the Pest side of town.

The Pest side is the more modern section of town which also has many nice features including the classic Parliament house, the Hero's Square and the famous Andrassy Avenue shopping district.  On day two, we explored this side of the town.  We kicked things off with a scheduled tour of the Parliament house.  The Parliament house seemed much more grandiose than a typical Parliament building.  The building was huge and you felt more like you were in some French palace than a government building.  One of the highlights inside is perhaps the most valuable relic of Hungarian history, the Holy crown of Hungary.  This crown which still appears in great condition is believed to be approximately 800 - 1,000 years old and a very important piece of their history.  It is guarded by 3 to 4 guards armed with swords.  These guards looked very serious and I think that one would not want to mess with them.  Later in the day we ventured down Andrassy Avenue to the "House of Terror."  This building, which is now a museum, features much of the tragic history during the last century when Hungary was dealing with Hitler and communism from the Soviet Union.  The house also was a prison and many Hungarians who were accused of not being patriotic to their government were tortured inside.  It was a fascinating but sad piece of history.  After leaving the museum we walked over to perhaps the most famous square in all of Budapest, the Hero's square.  It features large statues of all the past "Heros" of Hungarian history.  Interesting enough there was a dog training class going on at the same time we strolled the square.  The day would end with a long stroll down the shopping street Andrassy Avenue which would take us all the way down to Vorosmarty square which featured a large open air food and crafts market.  Many of the items in this market were Hungarian specialties geared toward tourists.  My wife grabbed a few souvenirs to take home and I bought a bottle of the famous Hungarian sweet dessert wine, Tokaji.

Budapest, while not Paris or Rome, is still an awesome city for a weekend getaway in Europe.  We had much to do, plenty of sites to see and good food to eat.  There are so many city getaway vacation options while living in Helsinki and Europe in general and if you are feeling a bit more adventurous than going on your typical London or Paris vacation, then Budapest makes a nice weekend.  I would recommend it, and probably sooner than later. While it is not nearly as expensive as most major western European capital cities, the prices are starting to creep up.  The values might be fading, but definitely not the charm.