“You can’t do Budapest in a weekend,” many of my friends and family told me as I mentioned our planned mini-break “Five days is probably minimum to get everything done.” If I could afford to take a week out, of course we would have planned a longer break together! Yet, being restricted by my boyfriend’s available holiday days and me wanting to be available for any upcoming job interviews, we knew we had to plan carefully if we wanted to make the most out of our busy whistle-stop tour of Budapest.
After a spot of Saturday lunch at the First Strudel House of Pest, we started out on a walking tour I had drafted the day before, making sure we would check off all the main sights on our list within just a few hours of daylight. On our way down to the river, we stumbled across a war memorial in Szabadság Square that is proving to be very controversial amongst the citizens of Hungary. The monument depicts the Archangel Gabriel being attacked by a German imperial Eagle, which -so its critics say- is an attempt to absolve the Hungarian state and its citizens from their active participation in sending 450,000 Jewish people to their deaths under Nazi occupation.
In front of this memorial lies a scattering of flowers, personal objects and photographs amongst some barbed wire. This is the protest from the citizens of Hungary who claim that, by depicting Hungary as an innocent angel being corrupted by evil, the state is attempting to re-write history, choosing to forget the extent to which they willingly complied and collaborated with the Nazi regime. Post-war remembrance and guilt, has always been a fascinating subject to me and was even the subject of one of my university essays on the history of France, and so, this site of protest is a must for any secret history nerds like myself.
After admiring the architecture of the magnificent red-roofed Parliament Building we continued along our riverside stroll, stopping at the Shoes on the Danube Bank – a very different memorial than we had seen earlier in the day. The memorial commemorates the many people, mostly Jews, who were killed on these banks during World War II; after being ordered to remove their shoes on the bank of the river, these people were shot and left to fall to their deaths. The sculpture is a very real reminder of the people who died here through representing the shoes that were left behind on the bank, as the river washed their bodies away.
The next stop of our walking tour was to cross the river on the iconic, albeit very windy Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The Danube may be the longest river in Europe, but while battling the wind on the bridge, it felt like we were crossing the widest river not only in Europe, but in the world. Needless to say, we were relieved to step into the still, sunny surroundings of the Buda side of the river. By this point, my boyfriend had started to complain about his feet hurting, so I agreed to a slight compromise – we would take the funicular up to the top of Buda Castle, taking a slower-paced stroll back down. He agreed begrudgingly. Yet, once we arrived at the summit and took in the magnificent panoramic view of the city, there were smiles all round. Of course, this may have partly been because he knew the torture of my guided walking tour was soon to end – with a trip to one of the city’s famous thermal baths.
We had several popular baths to choose from, but finally opted for the Rudas Thermal Baths, as recommended by our Airbnb host. Upon arrival, there were several options to choose from, but we didn’t hesitate to opt for their “wellness” session including access to several thermal baths as well as the panoramic view from their rooftop pool. It is a very surreal feeling when you step outside to temperatures of 5°C in nothing but your bikini or your swimming trunks (thank God this was not one of the naturist baths). And yet, once your shoulders are safely dipped below the surface of the water, there is no more natural and blissful feeling in the world, soothing your muscles post-14km-hike, all the while with a smug grin on our faces; we had proved to our family and friends that you can do Budapest in a weekend, with just a little determination, some meticulous planning and a very patient companion.