We left Prague Thursday afternoon and spent Friday in Vienna cleaning house, doing laundry and repacking. Then on Saturday, we left early by train for Budapest, the capital of Hungary.
Budapest is divided by the Danube River (Duna in Hungarian) which runs north-south through the city. The hilly, west bank of the river was formerly the city of Buda, the historic capital of the Kingdom of Hungary; the City on the flat plain on the east side was known as Pest and today it is the business and governmental side of the city.
In 1849, the first permanent bridge across the Danube River in Hungary – the Széchenyi Chain Bridge – was constructed, connecting Buda with Pest. In 1873 the two cities combined to become Budapest. Since then, seven more bridges have been built across the Danube in Budapest.
We are staying for a week on the Pest side, just north of the Chain Bridge, in an apartment we found on AirBnB. It’s a 4-story walkup, surrounding a pleasant courtyard (photo, below). We’re just a couple hundred yards from the Danube and from the Parliament Building, right in the heart of all the government ministries, such as the Ministry of Human Capacities right across the street, whatever that is.
On our first day in Budapest we decided to cross over the next bridge to the south, the Elizabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd), which is named after Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph’s wife, Elizabeth (Sisi). We learned about her back in Vienna when we toured the Hofburg Palace.
All five of the bridges across the Danube in Budapest that existed in the 1940s were blown up by the Germans in WWII to defend Buda from the Red Army as it approached from the east during the Siege of Budapest (the Hungarians were Axis allies of the Germans). Consequently, all the present bridges are less than 65 years old, although they have been rebuilt as much as possible to their original condition.
Our destination on this day was the Statute of Liberty (really, that’s what they call it) on the top of Gellért Hill which you can just make out in this photo:
We were intrigued by the suspension cables used on the Elizabeth Bridge as we walked across.
I asked Dale to stop near the middle so I could take this picture to show you the scale of the cables that were used. Look at how many were bound together to form the main suspension cable.
Most of the tourists in Budapest stay on the eastern Pest side of the river, so that’s where all the river boats and ferries dock. The shoreline on the Buda side has a distinctly different appearance.
Once across the river, we began our ascent up Gellért Hill to the Citadel (Citadella), the fortress at the top. Here’s a view looking back at the Elizabeth Bridge and the Pest side of the Danube.
I knew when we reached the top that we had found the best place to take a picture looking upriver because there were a couple guys filming a promotional video for a Hungarian Tour Guide to Budapest right there (that’s the Chain Bridge you see in the photo, by the way).
The Citadel is no longer used for military purposes, but it saw plenty of action during WWII, as you can tell from all the unrepaired bullet holes. Gellért Hill was defended by German SS troops, but finally fell to the Red Army after 6 weeks of fighting on February 11, 1945. Having lost the high ground, the city surrendered to the Russians two days later.
Just beyond the Citadel is the Statute of Liberty (Szabadság Szobor), erected by the Soviets in 1947. At the time of its construction, the inscription on the base of the statute read (in Hungarian): “To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes [erected by] the grateful Hungarian people [in] 1945.”
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition of Hungary to a democratic republic, the inscription was changed to read (again, in Hungarian), as it does today: “To the memory of those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.”
Looks like nobody was fooled into thinking the Soviets had “liberated” Hungary. Indeed, it is believed that 38,000 citizens were killed during the Siege of Budapest.
We continued our hike back down to the river, torward the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd):
Again, we were intrigued by the construction. It’s really interesting to see when you get up this close. Look at all the rivets.
Back on the Pest side of the Danube, you can see the difference in the river bank; this side gets most of the river boat traffic.
We hiked 8 miles on this little adventure, plus climbing up 770 feet to the top of Gellért Hill. That 4-story staircase back at the apartment will be a breeze.