Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Glorious Danube - Hungary Pt 3

Continuing our epic cruise from Romania to Austria along the Danube River voyage on the River Duchess of Uniworld...

Budapest - Day 2

One full day in Budapest had been enough for us to fall in love with this ancient city, a city of impressive buildings, monumental architecture, modern tendencies and superbly efficient public transport. We hoped a second day would provide even more depth to our new affaire d'amour.

The system of buses, trolleys, trams and underground system (the oldest in continental Europe) was a joy to watch in action but, with the River Duchess moored in the heart of the city, it was just as easy to navigate on foot, so we did. Across the Chain Bridge and along the river-front to the iconic Parliament Building (above) this 1896 edifice is one of Europe's oldest legislative buildings and is fascinating to behold from any number of perspectives.

The Gothic revival style is crowned by a huge central dome and surrounded by a myriad of supporting spires and turrets, and it sits in imposing Lajos Kossuth Square like the most regal of crown jewels while also boasting the memorial to 1956 uprising martyr Imre Nagy.
From here, we wandered along the streets in the general direction of St Stephen's Basilica, enjoying some window shopping and sudden, sharp views down streets full of impressive 19th century facades. The Basilica itself (above) also dates back to the 19th century, although it took 54 years to build and was finally completed only in 1905 by the third in a series of architects.

It also boasts the amazing relic of St Stephen's Hand, supposedly the mummified right hand of the first king of Hungary, Stephen the First (or St Istvan, 975-1038), which is on view in a special gold casket. For an extra 500 florint per person (less than 2 euros) we were able to take the lift to the observation level around the dome for a spectacular view over Pest and up towards Buda (below).
As it was getting towards lunch, we decided to retrace our steps a little and find a nice cafe to enjoy a proper local taste before heading back to the ship and decided to give the pedestriansed street of Zrinyi Utica a try.

Otkert Budapest was more trendy bar (and nightclub) than typical local hostelry but it had an ideal outside terrace and promising menu, so it served our purposes well. The traditional gulyas (goulash soup) was absolutely excellent - as was the beer and Maximilian Tokaji, the local brandy!

We needed to be back aboard by 2pm for the next part of our Hungarian odyssey - a trip to the famous Csikos horse show on Szentendre Island just a few kilometers up-river.

Here, the Bodor Major horse farm offers an impressive arena for the show, which is part demonstration of the thousand-year-old riding techniques and methods of the Csikos horse-herders and warriors and part riding contest, with the traditionally-garbed 'cowboys' competing in mounted archery, racing and scarf-tearing - using the traditional ringed whip.

The finale was provided by one rider standing astride a team of five fast-galloping stallions, our view of this feat of daring not in the least impaired by the welcome local brandy and warm pastries we were offered on arrival!

To complete another memorable day, our transport back to the Duchess was provided by a series of horse-drawn buggies, which took us around the entire estate - including the impressive stables, where an 8-day-old colt was the star attraction - before dropping us off back at the Danube.

Back on board, the usual fruit-juice-and-cold-towels reception awaited our return and there was just time to freshen up again before another impeccable dinner was on the horizon, prefaced by the now-familiar port talk from Cruise Manager Christine, which promised another day of epic exploration and discovery.

Next up - Slovakia!

This ‘Imperial Capitals of Europe’ voyage can be booked at www.uniworldrivercruises.co.uk, with Titan Travel (in the UK only) at www.titantravel.co.uk or, for more on river-cruising in general, seek out the luxury cruise-agent specialists of The Cruise Line Ltd on this link.