Day 24: From Buda to Pest

Well, I may just have a new favorite city.  If you have ever been to Budapest, you will know what I am talking about.  Now, don't get me wrong- I will always be a fan of Sevilla, Jerusalem will always hold a special place in my heart, and Tokyo is just loads of fun...but there is something about Budapest that you just fall in love with the second you see the city.  With Buda on one side, Pest on the other, and the Danube river cutting right between them.  See, Buda and Pest were separate cities, but once there was a bridge to connect the two, which are opposite each other on the banks of the Danube, the cities united and became Budapest (pronounced buda-pesh-t).  What can I say...I love it here!

Let me show you why:

This was the one day where we had a local guide with our group.  Before heading out for the day, I had some breakfast at the hotel.  Here are some of the things offered.

Then we boarded the bus, a little on the early side, but you can see some people are awake.
First up was some sightseeing around Buda.  We were staying in Pest, so we had to cross the river.  To tell the difference, just remember that Buda is the hilly side and Pest is flat.  Buda is more residential and more expensive for living, and Pest is more of the government buildings and businesses.

We started off with the views up at the Citadel and the Lady Liberty statue.  These are some seriously amazing and beautiful views.

I had to make sure I got at least 1 picture with me and the Danube behind me.
This is the Lady Liberty statue.  She is holding a palm leaf now, but the original plan was for her to hold a propeller blade.  This goes back to the plans made when the Soviets built this monument after they liberated (and remember from yesterdays post they stayed and occupied the area, all the way until 1989) Hungary.
More gorgeous views.

Our next stop was also in Buda.  We went to Fisherman's Bastion and Matthias Church.  They are right next to each other and provide more stunning backdrops for pictures and just gazing off into the distance while actually there.

This is the castle at Fisherman's Bastion.
Here is Matthias Church.  I didn't go in, but I am told it is very beautiful in there.

More of Fisherman's Bastion.

There were great views from here too.

Here I am with Keri.

Here I am enjoying being in Budapest and soaking up the views.
Our next stop was Hero's square, which is back over in the Pest side.  The statues here are of previous Kings.  The most famous and well liked is St. Stephen.  He was the first King to introduce religion and convert the people to Christianity.  He was later made a Saint.
Here is another building that was in the same area.

The next stop was Parliament.  Here two soldiers stand with the flag.  This is also the same area where the Russians opened fire on a group of students protesting, and this started the uprising of 1956.  This is why there are some monuments here to remember the victims and the event.
Here is the parliament building.  It is huge, and it is having renovations done.  It was luckily not destroyed in WWII.

More monuments in the courtyard.
These next pictures were taken inside the Parliament building.  Some of us on the trip picked this option for a tour of the inside.

You can see it is very elaborate inside.  Definitely a grand scale of design and decoration.

These are the crown jewels.  They are guarded by 2 soldiers 24/7.  They take turns with 2 hour shifts.

I loved the ceiling.  I feel like I am always taking pictures of ceilings, but so often these are the most elaborate designs or pictures of the entire room.

Here you can see the guards as they were changing positions.

This is inside one of the halls where sessions could be held.

Some last shots of the building before moving on for the afternoon.

Afterwards, Keri and I headed out on our own for lunch and afternoon activities.  I had to take a picture of the subway escalators.  These things move so fast and are so steep that it is scary to get on sometimes.  You can't tell so much from the picture, but for me, it felt like we were moving on a flat surface and I was the one leaning at an angle.  It was the strangest feeling.
When we got off the subway, we headed towards the market, but I couldn't resist taking a picture of this building.
Here is the Great Market Hall.
Here you can see how big it is inside.
They mostly had meat vendors and then some produce vendors too.  There were also some bakeries in there.  The other big one was stands selling paprika, which is a specialty here.  Here are just some of the market pictures I took.

See, here are the paprika souvenirs.

For lunch we decided to eat at one of the restaurants upstairs that boasted serving a traditional Hungarian meal.
It certainly had an authentic feel, although I know it is in a touristy area and the idea is to make it look as authentic as possible.  I even liked that they had someone playing music, which we enjoyed while we ate.
I ordered the fried fish, with veggies and potatoes.  It was really good, but way too much food.
I also ordered a Hungarian beer to try.
Keri went with the chicken and potatoes.  She said it was really good.
Here is another shot of the market taken from the top level, overlooking the ground floor.
After we had lunch we decided to try out some of the local sweets.

I picked this cake covered in chocolate and filled with a nice, light lemon cream.
Keri picked a coffee flavored creamy cake.  Both were really good.
After lunch we headed up to the Szechenyi Baths.  Thankfully Budapest has a great public transport system, and the metro is really easy to use.  We had no problem at all navigating the system (ok, we had a few mishaps, but that was the learning process, and then we had it down, no problems) to get us from the market all the way to the baths.

One of the main attractions in Budapest are the baths.  They had tons all over the city.  They are hot springs with minerals.  They are so popular here.  People will even sit in them and play chess.  When we were there we spotted a few older men playing chess while in the water.

This is the building, and it goes around in a big circle with the baths in the middle.

Here you can see what it looks like once inside.  From this view it looks like a pool, but they are a little different since they are filled with mineral water ranging from cold to hot, and everything in between.

This was such a relaxing and enjoyable experience.  We had a great time.  We only tried out two of the temperatures, but really enjoyed both.  If you are ever in Budapest, this is something you can't and shouldn't pass on checking out.

Once we were finished we checked out the surrounding area.  We wanted to take a closer look at the castle that was built for the millennium celebrations in the later 1800's.  It was never a place where people lived and was to be temporary, but it was never taken down.  I think it is a museum now.

This is also something that is very interesting.  This is a manmade lake and in the winter freezes to become an ice skating rink.  The white building in the background is where people can get ready for ice skating.
This is the outside of the zoo, which is in the same area as the city baths.
I really couldn't resist taking this picture when we stopped into a little grocery store.  I have never seen this before, so it was neat to see what it is called here.
That evening our tour group had a dinner cruise down the Danube River.  Here is the boat we were on.
We had a nice set up on the table, complete with wine.
Here are some of the salad options for our buffet dinner.

I didn't get a chance to get in and take a picture of hot food before people started getting their food.  Since I don't eat meat, I was given this dish instead.  It was an avocado filled with avocado, tomatoes, onions and olives.  This is another reason why I never made it over to the hot food.  I know they served chicken paprikash, which is one of their most well known dishes.
I thought it was cute that it was served in the avocado skin and then positioned to look like a heart.
Here is what I grabbed from the cold salad assortment.
Here is my table at dinner.
This was the dessert we were served.  Both were yummy!
After the meal we started to approach some of the famous sights that dot the banks of the Danube.  The next pictures are all taken while on the boat as we went down the river.  The first two were taken through the glass window and this is why there is an odd reflection of lights.

This was a really cute picture I took of Aino while standing outside in the cold and rain hoping to get good shots of the nicely lit buildings as we cruised by.

Here I am with Parliament in the background.

The last thing we did for the evening before heading back and saying our farewells, was to go a bar.  We wound up with little tickets for "free beers" (we paid admission and got these tickets in return, hence "free").  The only problem was that we needed to get them before 11 pm, and that didn't give us much time.  As a result, we ended up getting them all at once and just setting them in the middle of the table. 
It was a nice time out with new friends, but it was tough to say goodbye to everyone.

In the end, I am really glad I signed up for this trip, even if it was only a few days.  I had a good time and saw some things I may not have seen otherwise.  Thanks Contiki for a very memorable experience!

QUESTIONS:  Do you like to travel alone, with a group, or just a few other people?  What is your favorite city?  Have you ever visited a Parliament building?  Have you ever taken a river cruise (with or without a meal)?

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