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Travel - Budapest A City for All Senses

by Ron Meijer in Travel and weekendtrips , 24 oktober 2007

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

A city that graces both sides of a legendary river, crossed by a succession of regal bridges. At night, the lights on the monuments and bridges gleam in the dark like jewels. Grand, tree-lined boulevards and neoclassical buildings from the 19th century. Neighborhoods with winding, narrow, cobblestone streets from medieval times. Antique-filled flea markets, fascinating book stores, inviting cafés with strong coffee and sweet confections, museums and concerts to delight the eye and ear. Budapest offers the sophisticated traveler the familiarity of European culture with a tantalizingly distinctive Hungarian flavor.

You see it in the domed baths, originally built by Turks during 150 years of occupation, and in the Eclectic style of turn-of-the-century architecture throughout the city. You taste it in the complex cuisine influenced by the Magyar founders from Central Asia, Turks, Serbs, Austrians and French. You hear it in the folk music and unpronounceable language, unlike any other. (In Budapest, though, you will find many who speak English, particularly among the young.) And you especially feel it in the verve, the humor and the sparkle of the people.

When you visit Hungary, you not only see monuments and reminders of the past, you are actually witnessing history in the vajdahunyad.jpg (8346 bytes)making. As it seeks to weave a new richer tapestry of Hungarian culture, the nation is reviving the traditions of the pre-Communist era - some as fundamental as religious instruction, others as frivolous as the glittering New Year's ball. It's exciting to watch a country creating a new future and asserting a new self. The city known as Budapest is actually three cities: Óbuda, the oldest section, with Celtic and Roman ruins, on the Buda side of the Danube; Buda among the gently rolling hills on the western bank, famous for its historic Castle Hill and beautiful residential area; and bustling Pest with its shopping, government and commercial districts on the flat plain of the east bank.

A City for Walking

United in 1873, Budapest is ideal for walking. And exploring the city on foot is the best way to burn off all the calories from the delicious food and wine you'll be enjoying. Afterwards, there is no more rejuvenating way to relax than in one of the city's many soothing spas - fed by 80 thermal springs. Start by strolling along the winding streets on Castle Hill, where the medieval character of Buda has been best preserved. The entire panorama of the two banks of the Danube all the way from Margaret Island - Budapest's green Central Park in the middle of the river - to Gellért Hill and the Castle District has been designated a World Heritage preservation site by UNESCO. At the top of Castle Hill visit the Royal Palace, and be sure to catch sunset at Fisherman's Bastion, with its view of the river, Chain Bridge, Parliament building and Pest spreading out across the horizon. For a view that takes in sights on both sides of the river, go up Gellért Hill to the Citadel. The hill is home to three famous and historic spas: the Art Nouveau-era Gellért and the 400 year-old Rudas and Rác Baths, the latter two built by the Turks. It is a cave on the southeastern side of Gellért Hill which gave the city half of its name.

Seeing the hollow in the hill, and the other caves that underlie the Buda Hills, the Magyar conquerors from Asia - with no word of their own for cave - borrowed the Slavic word, "pest," from tribes living in the area.
They named what is now Gellért Hill "Pest Hill" - or hill of caves.

In 1926 a lovely chapel, known as Rock Chapel, was built inside the hollow of Gellért Hill and can be visited today. The miles of caves under the city are the inactive vents of hot springs, the source of thermal water for all the city's spas. Sections of the labyrinthine cave system may be toured, for example Castle Cave at the corner of Országház and Dárda streets. Many caves have served as wine cellars and air raid shelters.


If you're looking for antiquity, Óbuda (Old Buda) is the place to see excavated ruins of the Roman city of Aquincum. An amphitheater once holding 16,000 seats, discovered under the houses in Királydomb, is considered one of Europe's largest open-air arenas. Relics from the Romans' occupation are on display in the Aquincum Museum. If you cross the Danube from Buda to Pest on the Margaret Bridge you enter the enchanted oasis of Margaret Island, Budapest's largest park, where no cars are allowed except an occasional taxi. Explore on foot, by rented bicycle or minibus the gardens, medieval church and chapel, game reserve, swimming pools, spa-hotels, tennis stadium and 10,000 trees that make the island in the middle of the river seem miles away from the bustle of a modern city. Originally housing a convent (still being excavated), Margaret Island was turned into a harem by the Turks!

Turn-of-the-Century Pest

Stepping back into the urban action on the Pest side, you can stroll along Andrássy Boulevard, very much like the Champs-Elysées, and admire the mix of neoclassic, Romantic, Art Nouveau and uniquely Hungarian Eclectic style of architecture in the buildings - mostly from the turn of the century. Outstanding examples include the Opera House, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Post Office Savings Bank, Museum of Applied Arts, St. Stephen's Basilica and, of course, Parliament, which you have seen at sunset from the Buda side across the river.

At the end of Andrássy you will find the magnificent Heroes' Square with statues of Hungary's greatest leaders from the founding of the state to the 19th century. At the National Museum, you will learn about the saga of Hungarian history and see the legendary crown jewels of King Stephen. Although they post-date the sainted Stephen by several centuries, the crown jewels nevertheless have a spectacular history, having been lost, stolen or misappropriated at various times since the Middle Ages.

After World War II, fleeing Hungarians brought them to the United States for safekeeping. Jimmy Carter returned them to Hungary in 1978. Worth seeing for both the building itself as well as the exhibits inside is the Museum of Applied Arts, a fantastic combination of traditional folk elements with Art Nouveau, Islamic, Hindu and Persian motifs. The roof is covered with ceramics from the famous Zsolnay factory in Pécs.

The spacious white Victorian interior with glass dome overhead seems a complete contrast to the multicolored Oriental exterior. Exhibits include furniture, textiles, metalwork, ceramics, porcelain and glass. The superb Museum of Ethnography originally served a different purpose.

Its designer was the first runner-up in the turn-of-the-century competition for the Parliament building, and it housed the Supreme Court and Chief Prosecutor's Office. Go inside just to admire the frescos on the ceiling and the splendid staircase. To make it easy for visitors to see museums and all the city's sights, the 3-day Budapest Card allows the purchaser to travel free on all public transportation, visit most of the city's top museums and provides discounts on guided tours, at selected restaurants and shops. You can buy the Budapest Card in the US or upon your arrival in Hungary at the airport, at hotels, museums, travel agencies and metro stations.

Budapest had the first subway on the European Continent. That first line is still in operation, along with the modern lines built after World War II. One area that must be explored on foot is Erzsébet Town, the charming old Jewish quarter. The Byzantine-looking Dohány Street Synagogue was recently restored to its original grandeur. With 3,000 seats, it is Europe's largest synagogue and the world's second largest after New York's Temple Emanu-El.

In the courtyard is the moving Holocaust Memorial in the form of a weeping willow, its metal leaves engraved with the names of victims. Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism, was born nearby. Wander through the courtyards connecting residential buildings, forming a protective cocoon for the quarter. Then stop for pastry or lunch at one of several kosher restaurants and cafés.

Gay Budapest

Budapest has become a gay mecca in this part of Europe with many gay places. By day, you can visit museums, take a coffee in one of the cafes or visit gay sauna Magnum. By night you can have a dinner at either a cheap or a fancy restaurant and after go to the gay discos or bars. Since the fall of the communist regime, a commercial gay infrastructure has grown up, though there is less of a sense of community than in other European countries. Nevertheless the very first gay youth group was founded recently and a Gay Pride Day in Budapest has been organized every year since 1997. Gay marriage is not possible, but the law makes no difference between homo- or heterosexual partnerships.

Bars & Clubs

Action Bar

Gay, Bar, Back room / Darkroom, Video, Rent Boys, Shows
Gay basement bar with Hungary's most frequented back room & video room. Crowded all week. Every night there are Go-Go dancers and a & stripper, show time is 0:30 am every night. Audience of all age ranges and types of interest. Not easy to find. At Magyar utca 42 there is a separate door to the cellar with a A on the door. Go downstairs (its located in the cellar). You'll get a consumption card after you've entered the place. Pay at the bar before you leave.

Picture: New York Palace at Budapest

CoXx Club (former Chaos)

near to Metro Astoria and Metro Blaha L. Square, Night bus 78é)
Gay (men only), Gallery, Internet café, Bar, Back room / Darkroom

CoXx was Chaos before. The owners are the same, but they enlarged the place. Now it has 300 sqm, 3 bars, xxl cruising area, dark-rooms, video room, wet-room, jail, Andrew-cross, sligs, cages etc. Every month special partys ( nude sex party, military cruising party etc.)

If you arrive at Dohány utca 38, you'll see their gallery and Internet café (3 terminals), which is open during daytime. Downstairs in the large cellar is the nightlife.

For many years the best known cruising area in Budapest was the promenade along the Danube on the Pest side (Duna-korzó) between Marcius 15 tér and Vigadó tér. It is no longer a cruising area but rentboys can usually be found there from 5 pm until 11 pm. Rentboys can also be found in the underpass linking the tram stop and the metro stop at the Nyugati train station. Beware of police checks. Greater then usual care and caution is to be applied with these hustlers.

The little park north off Margit bridge on the Buda side. The cruising area is found near the playground and small pool after crossing the street separating the park. Best time sunset until 11 pm. The people's park (Népliget) is the busiest daytime and nightime cruising park in Budapest. The best way to direct yourself in this park is to imagine a rectangular space with a ring road within it. The metro stop (Népliget) is where you will come out and is located in the lower right corner of the rectangle. Hustlers can also be found in the park.

Daytime cruising: From early morning to sunset, cruising happens at the back of the park on both sides of the ring road. Look for the dog school. Cruising happens to the right of it if you are facing the dog school. Car cruising: During nighttime, car cruising happens on the ring road, especially at the parking area to the left of the planeterium and at the back of the park near and after the dog school.

Nighttime cruising: The nightime cruising happens from sunset to midnight. Several cruising areas are to be found at night, mainly to the left of the Planeterium, mainly within the ring road. Once having passed the planeterium, continue to the parking area and observe where men go. Be aware that the police frequently patrols the park, especially at night, and that you should always have some ID with you. Trails of Gellért Hill (walk up the hill), near Rudas Thermal Bath. A cruisy toilet at the Ferenc körut metro station. Some rent boys, but also others. Best time 10 am until 6 pm. A cruisy toilet at the Nyugati metro station. Mostly, but not only rent boys. Best time 10 am until 6 pm.

Omski Lake. Nude sun bathing and cruisy woods during the summer. Just outside Budapest, in the north, reached by the suburban train HÉV, starting from Batthyány tér (direction: Szentendre). Summertime only. Get off at Budakalász. From there it is about 20-30 mins walk to the lake. There is a nudist area often visited by gays. Not worth the trip.



In the New Issue of Gay News, 323, July 2018

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