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Home Articles Romancing with hungary
Romancing with hungary

Romancing with Hungary


By Sajid Mehmood Qazi

You don’t often find
Hungary on the list of travellers from Pakistan. But then you don’t often find places like it in Eastern Europe

I confess; I have fallen in love with
Hungary as a whole, especially with its capital city Budapest. With a rich cultural and historical past, the country has a lot to offer a tourist. As does its capital, Budapest whose star attraction is the ‘Blue Danube’, Europe’s second largest river as it cuts through the Hungarian capital during its 2850 kilometre journey. In the process it divides the metropolis into the hilly residential Buda and the flat commercial Pest, running right through the middle.

London has its Tower Bridge. San Francisco its Golden Gate, Florence the Ponte Vecchio and Paris the Pont Neuf. Like all great capital cities of the world, Budapest too has its very own link way, the stunning Chain Bridge. Apart from it, the city has seven more road bridges linking Buda and Pest, each with a fascinating tale to tell.

A common
Budapest saying goes, “The best thing about living in Pest is the view of Buda.” It is no exaggeration to say that Budapest is one of the finest capital cities of Europe and also one of the best situated. Among the several places in Hungary that have been afforded the classification of Unesco World Heritage Site, the first were the Danube Panorama (on the Buda side from the Gellert Hotel all along Castle Hill to Margaret Bridge, and on the Pest side from the Parliament back down to Petofi Bridge), and Andrassy Avenue (along its entire length from the center of Pest to Heroes’ Square, where the Millenary Monument stands on the edge of the City Park).

There is no other city in Hungary like Budapest. With a population of around two million people, the metropolis is home to almost 20 per cent of the total population. It is the administrative, business and cultural centre. Virtually everything starts, finishes or takes place in Budapest. There isn’t also any other capital city in the world that as many hydrothermal and mineral springs as Budapest has. There are more activities here for the visitors than anywhere else in the country. But the beauty of Budapest is what really makes it stand apart. Architecturally, it is a gem. Though it may lack the mediaeval buildings so ubiquitous in Prague, there is enough baroque, neoclassical, eclectic and art nouveau architecture here to satisfy anyone. Overall, however, Budapest has a turn-of-the-century feel to it, for it was then — during the industrial boom and the capital’s ‘golden age’ — that most of today’s city was built. In some places, particularly along the two ring roads and up Andrassy Avenue to the City Park, Budapest’s nickname — Paris of Eastern Europe — is well deserved. Nearly every building has some interesting or unusual detail. From art nouveau tiles and neoclassical reliefs to bullet holes left over from World War II or the 1956 uprising. Nevertheless, Budapest’s scars are not well hidden.

Industrial and automobile pollution have exacerbated the decay, but in recent years the rebuilding and renovations have been nothing short of astonishing.
Budapest is at its best in the spring and summer or just after dark when Castle Hill is bathed in warm yellow lights. Stroll along the river front on the Pest side or across any of the bridges, past young couples embracing passionately. It’s then that you feel the romance of a city that despite all attempts both from within and outside to destroy it, has never died.

If we move out of the city, many wonderful sites in the country-side unfurl their majestic glory. The stretch of the river known as the Danube Bend is one such attractive part of all
Hungary. The river follows the form of a double S shape, which it has carved out for itself between the hills after the Ice Age. The town of Visegrad is in the most picturesque part. The town’s principal monuments are the thirteenth century citadel perched high on the hill and the fourteenth century royal palace at the bottom.

Another beautiful country town is called Szentendre. It is a charming monument to the eighteenth century, with its undulating cobbled streets and unexpected alleyways. And if it exudes something of a Mediterranean atmosphere then that’s probably thanks to the Serbs, Dalmatians and Greeks who settled here from the fourteenth century onwards.
Hungary’s largest open-air ethnological museum, or skansen, is situated at the edge of the town. Its old peasant houses, church and handicraft workshops are well worth visiting.

National Historical Memorial Park in Opusztaser commemorates the single most important event in Hungarian history: conquest of the Carpathian Basin by the Magyars in AD896. This park is an attractive, sombre, place. There are ruins of an 11th century Romanesque church and monastery, an open-air museum with a farmhouse, windmills, an old post office and old village cottages. To the west of the park beside the little lake, a museum reminiscent of a Magyar chieftain’s tent houses a huge panorama painting titled The Arrival of the Hungarians. Completed by Arpad Feszty for the millenary exhibition in Budapest in 1896, the enormous work, which measures 15 by 120 meters, was badly damaged during World War II and was restored by a Polish team in time for the 1100th anniversary of the AD996 conquest.

Fort Sandberg at Komarom (North-West Hungary) is the largest military fortress of the 19th century in Central Europe built by the Austrian Empire. As an important element of the defensive line protecting the Danube and Vienna, the fortress was built after the defeat of the 1848-49 Hungarian Revolution and Independence War. The complex system of strange buildings, bastions, sophisticated trenches and well hidden gun-shelters shows the highest military technology of its age. After WWII, it was occupied by the Soviet Army and used as magazine. Following the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1990, this monument of military architecture was opened to the public.

It is not possible to give a fuller account of a beautiful country like
Hungary in one article, but it will be incomplete without the mention of world famous porcelain factory at Herend. It has been producing Hungary’s finest hand-painted chinaware for over a century and a half. There is lot to see in this dusty one-horse village, but the Porcelain Museum, displaying the most prized pieces, is definitely worth a trip.

A visit to the wine cellars should be on the priority list of things to do in
Hungary. There are some 20 wine-growing areas in Hungary — in Transdanubia, the Northern Uplands and the Great Plains. Of course it’s all a matter of taste, but the most distinctive reds come from Villainy and Szedszard in Southern Transdanubia and the best whites come from around Lake Balaton and the Matra Hills. However, the reds and whites from Eger and Tokja are much better known abroad. A lunch served in the restaurant of the winery with an excellent view of the low-land and the Danube maybe one of the most unforgettable moments of one’s culinary existence