My third day in Budapest was devoted to exploring the Castle Hill. Even though my hotel was in Buda during the Hungary leg of my Eurotrip I had begun each morning by crossing the bridge into Pest and staying in the larger part of the city for the majority of the day. After a delicious coffee and chocolate croissant and I took the famous tram up the hill to the Budapest Castle District.
Sure, I could have walked but the tram is actually an attraction in and of itself and who am I to miss a great photo opp? I am glad I sat in the lowest car as I was able to get the best photos on the way up. The tram let me off directly at the entrance to the castle but unfortunately it is closed on Mondays. I tried to rationalize my disappointment that I was not able to go in with the fact that admission was pricey, even by conversion rates, and I would only be able to spend an hour there.
Instead of touring the Buda Castle I explored the entire district and the entire area is a world heritage site following the self guided walking tour. As I headed from the castle and theatre to the church square it was the first place I felt, woah, this an overly touristy area. A dozen buses were letting off 50 tourists a piece into the square directly in front of Matthias Church and there was barely room to breathe.
After taking a few photos of the famous statue depicting the Holy Trinity I took a trip inside the Church and was immediately ask to cover up. As the day was in the 80’s I did not have anything to cover my shoulders with and thus was given a white scarf. I was so thankful they had a basket of these as the inside of Matthias Church was beautiful and I would have hated to miss it!
After visiting the Church I bought a ticket for the tower tour. While I waited for it to start I read up on the Mathias Church. Of the facts the one that stuck with me was that first building was destroyed in 1242 by a Mongolian invasion. Wait, things are old enough not only to have been here but do have been destroyed in the 1200’s? Reality check and America is a baby.
When the tour started I learned the church was a great mosque until the mid 1850’s when the Jesuit order transformed it into a church and then King Mathias built the tower and named it after himself. The tower tour was great – not merely a walk up the very tall tower but a full hour long experience featuring three mini exhibits inside about the history of the area, structure, and construction along with a tour of the bells. The view from the top was a spectacular panoramic.
Once my visit to the church was complete I explored the Fisherman’s Bastion located at the South Side of the Church overlooking the Danube. The guide books were not wrong, it is well worth exploring. I explored each of the seven towers, one of each of the seven tribes who founded the city in 896, and I loved taking in the views of Pest from the same place where fishermen stood watch over the city for hundreds of years.
When I thought the self guided tour was done and I headed back to the tram, only to realize the rest of the article had not loaded so I doubled back to go explore the rest of the castle district. At least, I thought, I would get to try the dessert place the tour guide of the tower recommend. Then, causally on my way back the president came out of his White House to greet a dignitary. First, that was really cool, and second, our president never just walks out of his White House.
After seeing the Hungarian president I headed to the place the tour guided recommended and found out it was only a desert restaurant (that is actually what they call it). Whoops, I was planning on having lunch there, but when in Rome you eat dessert for lunch! I ordered the two most famous options at Ruszwurm Cukrászda, the “ruszwurm” torts and the Dobostorta, a dobos cake. And for the hell of it a glass of dry, white wine. I took two sips of the wine and passed on the rest and while the Dobos was good but the real star was the ruszwurm. This is not an insult to Hungary the cream in the cake was basically the best cool whip I have ever tasted. The tower guide did not steer me wrong the desserts was delicious and you would definitely need to do the tower tour 6 times a day as they do to not get fat off of the decadent treats.
When cake was gone I followed the rest of the self guided walking tour and as soon as I walked a few blocks beyond the Matthias Church the tourists virtually disappeared. For the rest of tour I got great shots of a lot of beautiful buildings which included a full perimeter of the area including a loop around the castle. Even though it was closed and they were cleaning up from the Budapest Wine Festival that had ended the day before I smiled, pointed at my camera, and after a bunch of gestures was allowed in.
After touring the Castle District I headed back down the hill and over the Chain Bridge to Pest to take my make up bike tour. The guide was the same local girl who had run the bar crawl the night before and her British friend. And again, I was the only person on the tour. We spent over three hours exploring the city and she nicely went out of our way for me to take photos.
Speaking of photos most of the sites we passed I had seen and photographed the previous day, so instead of just snapping a picture and walking by, I learned the history and symbology of many of Budapest’s most famous sites. It really helped my guide had fantastic English and was a native, her personal anecdotes interesting color and perspective to the history of the city and Hungary as a whole. Before this tour I had never heard local’s story or account of exactly what losing two back to back world wars did to one’s people and country – it was truly enlightening.
The only site of the top ten Budapest attractions I did not get a photo of was the famous iron / pewter shoes on the Danube, however we did pass them on the bike tour. Our three hour adventure ended at a very, very local spot for what translates to a white wine spritzer. After the ride it was quite refreshing and apparently only 40¢, thus the establishment, my guide told me, is one frequented by local alcoholics. It is not a place I would go back by myself but a wonderful hole-in-the-wall bar I am glad I had the chance to visit. According to my guide it is actually the oldest bar in Budapest and is still decorated in the communist fashion, furniture included!
After a very long day of touring I picked another restaurant on the same Danube riverbank as the previous night, this time dining at Jerney Bistro. When ordering wine the waiter suggested a good Hungarian Pinot Grigio, which was to my ears as I had had enough adventure for one day. The wine was made even better with bruschetta and prosciutto pizza. Every night at dinner, iPhone battery cooperating, I jotted down notes of the highlights of the day and tidbits I did not want to forget. Completely spent I made the a one kilometer journey back to the other side of the Danube and finished the day having traveled 11.27 miles.
I hope you enjoyed my recount, it was a great last day in Budapest!