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Budapest – A delight on the Danube

Nathalie Taylor

Special to the Village News

Linger is one word that comes to mind when describing my experiences in Budapest. Each time I approached another exquisite building, I felt compelled to linger and appreciate the details. Each time I enjoyed yet another delicious meal of traditional Hungarian cuisine, I felt the need to linger and savor every bite.

Relaxing on a bench in St. Stephen’s Square, I watched the slow parade of locals and tourists. Since it was May, the mild weather lured people outdoors to chat at sunny sidewalk cafes, stroll along narrow cobblestone streets or, like me, observe St. Stephen’s Square from a comfortable bench.

The people I watched seemed content and happy, reveling in the company of others, and in the beauty of the surroundings. I caught the wave of that spirit and enjoyed the moment. I was almost intoxicated by the penetrating sunshine and view of the striking St. Stephen’s Basilica. I lingered in the square, appreciating the ebb and flow of visitors. Even though I was a tourist, I didn’t feel like one. I wasn’t a party-crasher, but felt at ease, and at home, in Budapest.

The Hungarian city of Budapest is comprised of two cities – Buda and Pest, with the Danube River flowing between them. The cities were separate until the Széchenyi Chain Bridge connected the two in 1849.

My home in Budapest was the stunning Aria Hotel, adjacent to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Nestled among shops and cafes along Hercegprímás Street, the hotel is fresh, artistically designed, and welcoming.

Aria’s High Note Sky Bar, a rooftop al fresco cafe, is where I would relax after a day of touring. Content and comfortable in my cushioned wicker chair, I enjoyed my artistically plated gourmet dinner in the shadow of St. Stephen’s Basilica. After I had been sufficiently dazzled by the cuisine, my attention was drawn to the sparkling lights of the city below.

Each morning at the Aria’s stunning Music Garden Courtyard, tables were laden with a variety of delicacies from smoked salmon to artisan breads and exotic cheeses. Purple orchids bloomed from gleaming gold-hued planters, and the stone floor was fashioned with a unique piano keyboard design.

Due to the close proximity of St. Stephen’s Basilica to the Aria, I visited the cathedral more than once. The murmur of hushed voices echoed in the massive sanctuary as I sat quietly, attempting to memorize the details of the intricate dome paintings, plethora of gold leaf, and the many works of art.

Hercegprímás street, where the Aria is located, is home to several delightful shops and cafes. Tantalizing scents led me to more than one cafe. When I settled in for a meal, I asked if they served traditional cuisine. At times, I would need to have the menu translated. Being a lover of paprika, one of my favorites was Paprikás Csirke (Chicken Paprika), which was slow-cooked in sour cream paprika sauce. Marvelous!

Fortunately, I am a fan of paprika, since it is the Hungarian National Spice, and used generously in many of the dishes I sampled. Paprika falls into three categories – sweet, hot or smoked. I prefer the sweet, so I bought several tins of the spice. Actually, I went a bit overboard and bought more than I could ever use. However, I remedied that situation by giving the spice as gifts.

Budapest offers shops where a customer is invited to sample various paprika flavors. There was no need for that as I had already made my decision, and opted for the sweet. I suspect that several of the traditional Hungarian dishes are seasoned with paprika even though the menu might not reveal the ingredient.

Gulyás (Goulash), the extremely popular soup, almost became an obsession with me. Needless to say, I enjoyed it more than once. Since it is considered the Hungarian National Dish, the enticing concoction was easy to find. The flavors were a bit varied, and I enjoyed it served in either a hot metal pot, or ceramic bowl. Gulyás was always thick with beef, carrots, potatoes,onions, and – of course – more than a few dashes of vibrant paprika.

One of the most engaging Hungarian desserts is the dreamy Gundel Palacsinta (Gundel Crepe), which was created by Károly Gundel, a Hungarian restaurateur. A delicate crepe is filled with luscious chocolate sauce, then topped with whipped cream. If that wasn’t enough deliciousness, a thinner version of the chocolate sauce is drizzled on the top!

Cafe Vian Bazilika – cozy and cheerful – is an excellent choice for sampling traditional Hungarian cuisine. The cafe is located near St. Stephen’s Basilica, on Hercegprímás street.

A Danube River cruise elevated my Budapest holiday from remarkable to unparalleled. Our boat slowly slid past charming edifices lining the banks of the Danube. Many of Budapest’s historical buildings and bridges are best viewed from the Danube perspective.

When the imposing outline of the Hungarian Parliament building came into view, I had tears in my eyes, it was so enchanting. I immediately thought of an ornately frosted wedding cake. I had seen photos of the castle-like structure, but never dreamed that I would actually see its curved and delicately fashioned stone arches. However, to fully appreciate the intricacies, I knew it demanded closer inspection. So later, I viewed the building closely from the grounds. The two perspectives lent a wonderful overview of this magnificent structure.

The Danube cruise was perfect for observing details of both the Chain Bridge and Liberty Bridge. I was in awe of the green-hued Liberty Bridge, with its intricate spires and striking peaks flowing upward like waves across the Danube.

As the boat passed St. Anne’s Church, I had a commanding view of the twin copper spires. Later, when I saw the church from a land perspective, it was even more striking. When viewing a 1785 painting of the building, I happily discovered that, over the centuries, the exterior hadn’t been altered.

Through the Aria Hotel, I booked daily private car tours that were first class, but surprisingly affordable. The drivers were extremely knowledgeable about Budapest, and each day came with new discoveries. At my request, drivers would linger if I chose to explore an area in depth.

Over the stately Chain Bridge from Pest to Buda, we visited the extensive Buda Castle with its gardens crowded with colorful flowers. I was impressed by the massive bronze statues and flowing fountains. There was so much to absorb, it was almost overwhelming.

The Fisherman’s Bastion, which I also viewed from the tour boat, was another dramatic edifice. It stood out among the stone structures of Buda with a smooth style of stunning white walls, towers, and turrets. The sweeping view of the river and city from the structure is definitely part of the bastion’s lure.

As I observed the Gothic-styled Mattias Church with its colorful glazed tile roof and towering steeple rising to 200 feet, I thought to myself...with so many remarkable structures in Budapest it is impossible to appreciate every detail. However, on my first Budapest visit, I tried my best.

I watched quietly while the driver placed my luggage in the trunk of his car. As he navigated through canyons of stunning buildings, I felt wistful. I was leaving Budapest. I knew there was much more to explore, much more to discover, much more to appreciate. Then I will only take a 6,200 mile airplane journey to return, and, in anticipation of another wonderful experience, that isn’t very far at all.


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