These past couple of years, Eid vacation (the end of Ramadan)
has fallen towards the beginning of the fall semester, making it the perfect
time to visit Europe. The weather is still warm and the sun still up but both
the summer crowds and inflated high season summer prices are starting to go
down. I had made recent trips to Greece, Turkey, Czech Republic, Slovakia and
Poland in the past couple of years so with Eid 2010 falling in September; I
decided to return to Eastern Europe. For this trip I selected Hungary and
Romania as my choice with a rendezvous in Serbias capital city, Belgrade
along the way.
The first stop was Hungarys majestic capital
city, Budapest. With no direct flights from Qatar to any of these places at the
time of writing, the easiest and cheapest way to get there was via Istanbul on
Turkish Airlines. Fortunately, thanks to the Istanbul Airports duty free
shops generous portions of free Turkish delight samples and very
affordable and relaxing water massage machine, the 5 hour both-ways transit was
nowhere near as vexing as at first envisioned. There wasnt any free
internet or enough time to go into the city but if you like Turkish Delights as
I do - then Istanbul Airport is not that bad a place to be stuck in for a
couple of hours.
Located on the Danube River, Budapest is without a
doubt one of the worlds finest cities. The river literally splits the
city into two districts in which the city derives its name from with
Buda located on the west bank and Pest on the east.
Historic monuments and buildings line up along both sides of the river. Perhaps
the finest of these is the almost surreal neo-gothic parliament building which
dominates the citys skyline. Across the river lies the Var a
walled plateau which contains the Buda Palace, the Hungary National Gallery and
a plethora of various other museums and monuments.
One could spend days, if not weeks wandering around
Budapests time-honored streets as I did but there are also many
interesting side trips to be made. One part of Hungarys epic history that
is not prevalent in its capital citys architecture is the 40 years that
Hungary spent under communist rule. This is because most of the monuments
forcefully erected during this period can all be found in one place, at the
Statue Park. The park is filled with statues and monuments of communist
propaganda and is well worth the trip to its rather remote suburban location.
On my final day in Hungary, I took the train northwest to the riverside towns
of Eszertgorm and Szentendre. The main attraction in Eszertgorm is the stunning
Bascilla which dominates its skyline. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the
Danube, the Eszertgorm Basicilla, Hungarys largest cathedral is certainly
a stunning site. I even walked up to the cupola and the walk around its
exterior and while its certainly not for agoraphobics, the views from the
top are breathtaking!
The only downfall to Budapest, apart from the
constant rain, is that the thriving nightlife that Id later find in some
of Hungarys neighboring capital cities of Bucharest and Belgrade is a
little harder to find. My hotel, the Kalvin House, was conveniently located
right in the heart of the Pest side of the city, just a couple of blocks away
from the Szabadsag Bridge and the Vaci Utca pedestrian street. While the latter
was quite vibrant during the day, things seemed to close down pretty early at
night. Theres still plenty to do after dark in Hungary, its just
most of it seems to cater more for tourists. I still did however find my fair
share of entertainment. I managed to get my football fix by attending the
Hungary vs. Moldova European qualifier. It actually turned out to be quite an
experience! I also attended a Hungarian music & dance show put on by the
Danube Folk Ensemble at the Danube Patola Theatre.