We rose early this morning in time to watch as our ship docked near another interesting bridge, this time in Budapest. This bridge was the lovely Szabadság híd, or “Liberty Bridge” (also called “Freedom Bridge”). This is one of the bridges that spans the Danube and connects the two main areas of the city which make up Budapest–“Buda” and “Pest.” (Actually, prior to 1873, there were three separate cities in this area: Buda, Óbuda (Old Buda), and Pest. All three united to form Budapest at that time.)
The Buda end of the Liberty Bridge sits at the foot of Gellért Hill, near the beautiful Gellért Spa and Hotel Gellért. The Pest end is near the Great Market Hall and the Budapest University of Economics. This bridge was built between 1894 and 1896, and it was originally named after Emperor Franz Joseph, who had the honor of inserting the final silver rivet on the Pest abutment. According to Wikipedia, the bridge is “333.6 m in length and 20.1 m in width. The top of the four masts are decorated with large bronze statues of the Turul, a falcon-like bird, prominent in ancient Hungarian mythology.”
The Szabadság Szobor (Liberty Statue) was built atop Gellért Hill in 1947 “in remembrance of the Soviet liberation of Hungary from Nazi forces during World War II,” according to the web site, www.budapest.com. The bronze statue features a woman holding a palm leaf above her head. The statue is 14 meters tall and stands on top of a 26 meter pedestal.
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and is its largest city, with approximately 1.7 million people as of 2011. Hungary has been a member of the European Union since 2004, though they are not yet on the Euro monetary system. Their currency is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). Jeannette, our cruise director, had advised us to use up all our Euros while still in Slovakia, as a matter of fact, since we would be changing to the Forint once we crossed into Hungary.
We stepped outside and met our city tour guide at 8:25 a.m. and boarded a bus. I tried to take some photos while riding on the bus, but it was difficult. The tour guide pointed out the Great Market Hall, which is supposedly similar to a huge flea market, where you can buy all kinds of Hungarian items, fresh produce, clothing, etc. This was as close to the Great Market Hall as Bill and I got, though many in our group did go back there later in the afternoon to buy their souvenirs.
We rode northeast on the Pest side of the city, along Andrássy út (Andrássy Avenue), which was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2002. Andrássy Avenue is “the most important boulevard in Budapest,” according to my Avalon guide book, and it was built to be modeled after the Champs-Elysées in Paris. It is about 1.75 miles long and ends at Heroes Square. There are many beautiful buildings, cafés, museums, such as the Iron Curtain Museum, and flats along this boulevard.
We drove along until we came to the beautiful Hungarian State Opera House. This opera house was originally known as the Hungarian Royal Opera House, and it was designed by the major Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl. Construction began in 1875, and the opera house was opened in 1884. This is the largest opera house in Hungary, and it is considered to be, in both beauty and in quality of acoustics, “among the finest opera houses in the world,” according to Wikipedia. The opera house is home to the Budapest Opera Ball and also to the Hungarian National Ballet.
We all exited the bus, walked across the street and were given a tour of the Opera House. We were shown most of the major areas, and it was simply gorgeous. Unfortunately, we were allowed to take photos on the exterior of the building and in the foyer area only, so I have included a few of the interior from some different web sites.
The house’s auditorium can hold up to 1,261 people. The exterior of the building includes statues of both Ferenc Erkel, who composed the Hungarian national anthem and who was the first music director at the Opera House, and Franz Liszt, who was the best known Hungarian composer. The foyer contains marble columns and murals on the ceiling by Bertalan Székely and Mór Than. The murals depict the nine Greek Muses. The main hall sports a bronze chandelier that weighs 3,050 kg.
Towards the end of the tour, we walked partway down the grand staircase, where our group was serenaded by a male opera singer (in costume) from up above, and then we were all given a yummy mimosa (orange juice and champagne) to drink. It was wonderful! Then we were led back outside to take a few more photos before we re-boarded the bus to move further north up the avenue.
Now our bus parked at the end of Andrássy Avenue, just behind the Museum of Modern Art near Heroes Square. We walked around the Museum, across the street and to the huge Square. The weather was a bit chilly, but it was sunny and there were no clouds in the sky, which was very nice.
The Millenium Monument features a statue of the Archangel Gabriel, who, according to my Avalon guide book, supposedly “handed St. Stephen the crown of Hungary,” and who perches on the top. The monument stands almost 120 feet high. “The base depicts Prince Arpád and six other Hungarian tribal princes, in remembrance of the conquest of the land in 896.” The statues to the rear sides of the Monument depict national heroes and freedom fighters. Looking at this view of the Monument, the Museum of Modern Art was to our right, and the Museum of Fine Arts was to our left. We saw that the Museum of Fine Arts was featuring a Rembrandt exhibit, so Bill and I vowed to come back here in a couple of days to see that exhibit.
While we were standing in the Square, our tour guide pointed out some places in the area, such as the large City Park behind the Monument, along with the City Park Ice Rink and building, which also houses an information center and a restaurant. We wanted to come back later to view this area also.
Now we headed back to the bus and drove around seeing more parts of the city. We drove past the The Great Synagogue in the Jewish community. This is the second largest synagogue in the world (second only to one in New York). According to my guide book, it has room for 4,000 worshipers. It was built in 1859 in the Moorish style and has fairly recently undergone a major renovation. “This was largely financed by a trust set up by the American movie star, Tony Curtis, whose father was a Jewish immigrant from Hungary.” Today there are about 80,000 Jewish people in Budapest, and there are 16 other synagogues in the city.
Now our bus took us across the Danube and over to the Buda side of the city, up to the Castle District. We crossed on the oldest and most famous bridge in Budapest–Széchenyi Chain Bridge. This is a suspension bridge which was built in 1849 and was designed by the famous English engineer, William Tierney Clark. It’s Buda side ends at The Adam Clark Square, near the lower end of the Castle Hill Funicular, a cable tram that takes people up the hill to Buda Castle. There are stone “guardian” lions on the abutments at both ends of the bridge. Our tour guide told us that the lions were somewhat controversial when they were first placed there because their mouths were open, but they seemed not to have any tongues. But she said that the sculptor, János Marschalkó, did assure the people that, though you couldn’t see the lions’ tongues from below looking up, they did indeed have them, they were only “hidden.”
Now we drove past the bottom of the Castle Hill district and around the back, where we left the bus and began our walking tour.
We walked up to the Fishermen’s Bastion and Matthias Church area of Buda.
The bus now took us back to our ship so we could partake of the special Hungarian Buffet that the restaurant was serving. They had all kinds of wonderful Hungarian dishes, such as two or three different types of Hungarian Goulash, meat dishes, breads, and good desserts. This was the final lunch we would be eating on the ship.
At 1:45 p.m., Bill, Fox, Lois, and I left for our optional excursion to Szentendre, which was billed as a “bohemian” area of Budapest, an artsy place with lots of art museums, souvenir stores and other available shopping. It was an interesting little town, but seemed quite a long drive away and was not nearly the “artists’ colony” I had thought it would be.
We stopped at the Annunciation Church, which is a Serbian Orthodox church. It was interesting because, inside, there are no chairs or benches for the congregation to sit. They are expected to stand throughout the services.
After viewing the Church, we exited out a side door and walked down a small side street (Vastagh Street) toward a famous Hungarian ceramic artist’s gallery/museum. This was the Margit Kovács museum. Margit Kovács was a ceramic artist and sculptor, who was born in 1902 and donated many of her works to this museum in 1973. It was quite interesting. After the tour, Fox and Lois went back there to buy a book about her life and works.
After this, we wandered around the town by ourselves until it was time to go back to where the bus was parked.
Finally, we made it back to the ship. We needed to pack our belongings tonight so we would be all ready to disembark in the morning. Luckily, Bill and I (and Bill G.) were planning to stay in Budapest for a few more nights, so we didn’t have to get up around 3:30 a.m. to catch a ride to the airport, like most of the rest of our group and the others on the ship. We ate our last dinner on the ship, gave everybody a hug and told them goodbye, and made plans to meet Bill G. in two days for lunch somewhere in Budapest. Some in our group went on the final excursion of the trip, a drive around Budapest’s Night Lights.
Goodbye to our wonderful friends and family: Barbara, Scott, Sherry, Ross, Sue, Lois, Fox, Samantha, Dominic, Tom, Susan, Jan, Dan, Bill G. (for now), and of course, our lovely Ann! We had a fantastic time with you on this trip!