By Parvin Mirza.
Budapest is a dear old friend but it still holds surprises for me and often takes my breath away. It has made me gape with wonder, filled me with joy, soothed me, added a spring to my step, intrigued me and often made me smile for no reason at all.
With its magnificent buildings and beautiful bridges, it is rightly called the ‘Queen of the Danube.’ The river divides it into verdant and hilly, Buda and the flatter Pest. The majestic Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Mathias Church dominate Buda, while St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Parliament house grandly grace Pest. Spanned by the Chain Bridge, either side is an awe inspiring sight. It’s probably best viewed from a boat and river cruises are very popular, but walking along the Danube can be rewarding too. My great favorite is the cafe in Fisherman’s Bastion where one can enjoy Gypsy music and the best views of the Parliament House. There are many historical places close to Budapest and the day after I arrived we visited Esztergom, one of Hungary’s oldest towns. We drove through some lovely scenery with forests on one side and wildflower meadows sloping into a valley on the other.
The Esztergom Basilica dominates the town and the countryside. The paintings and sculptures inside match the splendor of the exterior as do the intricately crafted, bejeweled, golden articles in the treasury. Later we climbed up to the dome and the vistas simply took our breath away. Below us lay the stately town of Esztergom and spread out beyond it was the verdant landscape in two countries, with the Danube flowing between them. The river’s width was spanned by the Maria Valeria Bridge, and later we walked over it to Slovakia, for the best views of the Basilica. As we turned back, our last view was of a glorious sunset and it made me smile to think that in that part of the world, the sun rose over one country and set in another.
The next day I visited Hősök tere or Heroes’ Square. The statues of the seven chieftains of the Magyars always fascinate me as does the Vajdahunyad Castle behind it. The castle is part of the City Park, Budapest’s biggest park. It’s a lovely area to just walk around in and explore. Close by are the Budapest Zoo and the Széchenyi medicinal baths, the largest in Europe. Winding, shady paths of the City Park stretched out invitingly before me. I sat down on a bench in a clearing under some trees to drink in the sights and sounds: the cooing of doves, the chugging of sprinklers, an incessant call of some bird, sudden flutter of wings. Sweet sounds of peace. A slight breeze stirred the leaves into life and the willows moved gracefully, I felt a deep tranquility within. From Heroes’ Square, I walked down the famous Andrassy Avenue. Tree lined, with grand mansions flanking it, it was a treat to walk on.
The next day we decided to pamper ourselves and spent it exploring the beautiful Hungarian countryside and some of its spa towns like Sárvár and Hévíz. The thermal waters in Hungary have great medicinal properties and are found in a number of places, especially the thermal lake at Hévíz. Whether one is seeking wellness, beauty, medical treatments or just some pampering, Hungary is the place to find it. Returning to Budapest we caught glimpses of Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s biggest lake, popular for sailing and water sports. The day after, we visited Lazar Equestrian Park near Godollo, close to Budapest. The landscapes of Lazar Park were beautiful as was the surrounding countryside. We had a great lunch after which we enjoyed a spectacular horse show. Later we returned to Budapest. Walking down Basilica Street we stopped for lemonade at a restaurant beside the statue of the gendarme, one of Budapest’s many statues of ordinary people. A band playing in front of the Basilica invited passersby to stop for an impromptu dance. Others posed with the statue. Sounds of chatter, laughter and music filled the air. Sounds of happiness! It was exhilarating.
We found time to eat the famous rose shaped gelato in the shadows of the Basilica, as the evening sun turned it golden and its bells chimed. Later we walked down the famous shopping street, Váci Utca and made our way to the Central Market. The market stalls were vibrant canvases of still life, stacked with gleaming fruits and vegetables and decorated with bunches of bright red Hungarian paprika. Time was short; I was greedily drinking in all the sights, sounds and smells I could. We walked back down Váci Utca to Deak Ferenc Ter. Another band was playing here. People were picnicking on the grass, some were dancing, the excitement was infectious and we could not stop smiling.
On the last day my friend and I decided to visit old haunts, to climb up to Gellert Hill from where we could enjoy the best views of the city. The sky was a deep blue, the sun was shining and as we cut across the park in front of her house, filtered sunrays lit our path through the trees. Despite the sun, the park was cool and we skipped along, uncaring of everything, feeling the decades slipping off, laughing joyfully, we were five again. It was a moment to treasure forever.