We left Bratislava in mid-afternoon, a deliberate choice so we could enter Budapest after sundown. Our first stop was the last of the 79 locks on the trip, at the Gabčíkovo Dam, in Slovakia. This was part of a huge joint flood control project between Hungary and Slovakia, over which both countries are suing in the International Court of Justice. Meanwhile, there is this dam, and its lock, with probably the biggest rise of the trip. I suspect it was more than 100 feet. Below you can see the Embla in the lock, with quite a distance left to rise.
Unusually, the lock was wide enough for at least 2 riverboats abreast. I’m not sure it would have taken 3 abreast.
We finally floated out onto the lake behind the dam, and on down the Danube.
All the photos in this post, and more, are in this photogallery on my SmugMug site.
International borders don’t show on the riverbank, of course, but we gathered we were in Hungary when the Esztergom Basilica and its associated village hove into view on the riverbank:
The full name of this edifice is Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St Adalbert (Hungarian: Nagyboldogasszony és Szent Adalbert prímási főszékesegyház). Details of the building and its history are in the linked Wikipedia article.
Not much happened after passing the Basilica until after dinner, and sunset. Viking chooses to enter Budapest after dark for the simple reason that Budapest after dark is gorgeous. In all, Budapest has fourteen bridges crossing the Danube at various points, and at night they light them all up:
The really amazing bridge is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which is just what it sounds like. The purple lines are lighting along the chains of the suspension:
I took dozens of photos that night and ended up with five that I was willing to post. Night photography is challenging; night photography from a moving boat is nearly impossible, and don’t even try taking photos except straight ahead, because (of course!) everything on the bank is moving very slowly sideways. I can’t imagine why it took me so long to realize that.
The Embla tied up on the east bank of the Danube, right under the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The next day was sunny and clear; in Hungary at the end of July that means it was also very hot and humid. Great photography weather. This shot is interesting, this is along the length of the Chain Bridge and shows the little funicular railway people can take to get up to the top of Castle Hill from the end of the Chain Bridge.
You may or may not know that Budapest is really two cities, Buda (west of the Danube and very hilly) and Pest (east of the Danube and flat). The Royal Palace is on the top of this hill – you can see part of it to the left of the funicular (with the eagle statue). Here’s the whole Palace (postcard shot):
Hungary hasn’t had a king for quite a while now, so the Palace is a collection of museums and libraries. Somehow I never got inside.
The standard tour of the city began around 9 AM, in unusually chaotic conditions. There were four Viking ships in port that day, plus multiple other tour ships, so there were dozens of little groups of tourists, each following a local guide with a numbered paddle (so we could find the guide). Our guide Marta had a bad habit of forgetting to put the paddle up, we had to remind her repeatedly. Much of the tour was by bus – air conditioned, thank God. My diary says Budapest is “a lovely, slightly tatty city with lots of street trees – great shade, covers the chipped stucco and peeling paint, makes photos from bus all but impossible.” The tight schedule also meant we never got to take advantage of the mineral water baths, a feature of the city. Here’s the formal public bath, near the Heroes’ Gate Square, but there were others:
And then there’s Heroes’ Square. This is the spot where every tourist goes, sooner or later. This is an extremely wide-angle shot, to get it all in.
The statues around the base of the column represent the 7 Magyar chieftains who led the Hungarian people into the Carpathian Basin. You can see from the people standing around that the statues are huge. Full details on all the statuary are in the Wikipedia article.
On the second page of the photo gallery, there are 11 photos, of the big individual statues on the columns, with captions indicating what they represent. I’m just including these two to give an idea of the size and scale of this place.
Ethnically, the original Magyar tribesmen were neither Slavs nor Teutons, unlike most of their neighbors. They were clans of Turkic origin, from the Carpathian mountains, who migrated to this area around the end of the 9th century. The Hungarian language is classified as Finno-Ugric, and is related only to Finnish and Estonian. This may explain why Hungary sometimes seems different from its neighbors.
After our tour of Heroes’ Square, it was back on the bus, so the next half dozen photos are interesting background, including street scenes, but I’m not going to include them here. I do want to include one of the 3 photos I took of the Dohány Street Synagogue:
The stone and mosaic work on this was gorgeous; the original photos were awful, and these had to be heavily cropped to make them usable. According to Wikipedia, this is the largest synagogue in Europe and one of the largest in the world, seating 3,000 people. It would have been nice to be able to tour it but the bus was moving along. Eventually we did stop at the Castle Hill overlook (along with several other buses full of people) where you can view both Buda and Pest along a bend in the Danube:
The tower on the right bank is the Parliament building again. You can see the paddle labeled “4 Embla” which we were supposed to follow around. Check the photo gallery for other photos of the area. After the Castle Hill overlook, the bus went over the Chain Bridge and up to Castle Hill itself, near the Matthias Church (below). Note the gorgeous tiled roof pattern, very hard to see from right next to the church.
You notice the Matthias Church isn’t “Saint” anything, although it is a Roman Catholic church. The first church in Buda was built on this site in 1015 by St. Stephen (Stephen I of Hungary). Like most medieval churches, that church was destroyed (in 1241, by the Mongols) and rebuilt in the 14th century. It has had several names and was rechristened “Matthias Church” in the 19th century after a major reconstruction. “Matthias” was Matthias Corvinus (or Matthias I), King of Hungary for roughly the last half of the 15th century. Corvinus means “crow,” one of the lesser steeples is crowned with a statue of a crow, with a gold ring in its mouth.
The Matthias Church is a basilica (an important church) but not a cathedral (the seat of a bishop). St. Stephen’s, in Pest, is the cathedral. Here’s St. Stephen’s, which I only saw from the overlook:
After the Castle Hill overlook, the bus took us across the Chain Bridge and up the streets to a drop-off spot on Castle Hill itself. The streets in this area are so narrow and crowded that buses are only allowed in a few places and not allowed to stay, so we all got out to walk around. At this point I’ll mention the weather again – you can tell from the photos that the sky was quite hazy. Did I mention it was blazing hot and absurdly humid? Awful weather for walking around hilly spots. We were all sweating like horses. I don’t know the temperature, but it was hot enough that I got very red in the face (which happens to me when exercising in hot weather), to the point that the guide suggested I take the “leisurely” tour (there wasn’t one, but let that pass). I think she thought I was worse than I was, but I remember having to work to stay hydrated.
On our way to the Matthias Church, we passed an old building, which the guide explained had previously been the Ministry of War. You will notice the bullet holes in the facade; she said some of them go back to World War II, and some to the Soviet invasion in 1956.
I took some photos of the buildings and statuary in the area, which you can see in the gallery. It’s very hard to identify statues when all the labels are in Hungarian, but this one was pretty obvious:
The Matthias Church is located behind the Fishermen’s Bastion, which was not actually built by fishermen, or in the Middle Ages. It does represent a section of the medieval city wall which was officially defended by the Fishermen’s Guild, but it was built around the turn of the 20th century. It’s quite pretty and looks quite Gothic until you check the history:
The statue of the horseman represents King Steven I. I have a number of photos of the Matthias Church, exterior and interior; interior photography is always iffy in old churches, but in this case the interior was being renovated and large chunks of it were swathed in black plastic, which I had to work around. Fortunately the main altar wasn’t wrapped up:
The tympanum over the main door was gorgeous:
After we’d finished our tour, we went back and reboarded the bus. From the other side of the Danube, I managed to get a final good shot of Castle Hill, showing the Matthias Church and the Fishermen’s Bastion. The church in the foreground, on the river level, is the Reformed Church.
And that was the end of the trip – we left the next day from the Budapest airport, where we had our first meal in 2 weeks with all the veggies we could eat! Heaps of green beans! Then home via Munich.