The ship’s manager, a lovely blue-eyed, blonde haired woman, smiled broadly and wished us well as we headed for the awaiting buses to take us to our first close up experience of a European city. She grew up in Budapest, was obviously proud of it and excited that we were off to learn about her hometown. The city is pronounced “Budapesht”. At first, I thought the cruise director spoke with a lisp whenever he mentioned the name, until the manager informed me of this correct pronunciation.
The morning was warm and clear. I peered through tinted bus windows as we passed stately white buildings adorned with statues, outdoor cafes, and quaint shops. Our tour guide, seated at the front of the coach, spoke through a microphone to give us brief history and highlights of the city as we traveled through its streets. Viking employs residents from each city we visit as guides, giving us a more personal and familiar viewpoint of the area. Viking pays these guides well, and their salaries along with tips enable many to live solely off of this income.
One fifth of the population of Hungary live in Budapest, which is the commercial, political, administrative, and industrial hub of the country. It’s origins, dating back to medieval times, began as two cities separated by the Danube River. Buda, the older part, was built into the hilly terrain on the west and Pest, primarily on the lower lands to the east. Both cities were connected by bridges across the Danube. In 1873, the two cities were officially merged into the city of Budapest.
Hungary has seen great changes since the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc, with Soviet military occupation only ending in 1991. Budapest embraced the new opportunities for prosperity as the country transitioned from closed communist rule to an open society.
Buses dropped us off at the Buda Castle area, also where Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Matthias Church are located. This is one of the most visited areas of the city.
We quickly got accustomed to our tour guides constantly corralling and counting us; on the bus before leaving each location, I watched their mouths move silently as their fingers pointed to each passenger. They counted us each time we re-gathered under their sign held up high in the middle of the crowded walkways. We followed obediently as they walked us to the next destination, encouraging us to squeeze in closer to make room for the other groups on the crowded streets. But no one was ever left behind during our trip.
Though its architectural style, with its turrets and spires, makes it appear to be very old, Fisherman’s Bastion was completed in 1902 to celebrate Hungary’s 1000th birthday. It provides some of the most beautiful views of the banks of the Danube from the Buda side, such as this clear view of the Parliament building.
St. Matthias Church
St. Matthias Church has a storied history, having undergone several revisions in the past centuries. The original church on the site was believed to have been built in 1015, though not much evidence exists today that supports that. Matthias Church was built in the 13th century. Since then it has been rebuilt and modified many times with each ruler, architectural style change and castle siege. During Turkish occupation in 1541, it was even a mosque. In the 1900’s the church was returned to the Gothic Style.
Up next: Budapest Market featuring local foods!
If you weren’t able to start at the beginning of this Viking River Cruise, click here at the start of the journey!
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