Yesterday a fellow Central European Teaching Program teacher, Elena, and I ventured to Visegrád. Visegrád, located north of Budapest, is a castle town situated on the Danube at the Danube Bend. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the area in which Budapest is located today used to be occupied by the Ancient Romans. During the reign of Constantine the Great, Ponts Novatus (a fortress) was built on Sibrik Hill. The remains of this fortress can be found a few kilometers away from the heart of town.
Visegrád was first mentioned in 1009. The town was rebuilt after the Mongol invasion of 1242. The castle complex that still stands today was built by King Béla IV (IV. Béla magyar király) who reigned from 1235 to 1270. He was also known as the “second founder” of Hungary. In 1335, King Charles I of Hungary (Károly Róbert magyar király) “invited John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia; Casimir III, King of Poland; Charles, the Moravian Marquis; Heinrich Wittelsbach, the Bavarian Prince and Rudolph, the Saxon Prince” here for the Royal Summit/the Congress of Visegrád (source here). It was at this summit that an anti-Hapsburg alliance was formed. Under Sigismund of Luxemburg, King of Hungary (Luxemburgi Zsigmond magyar király), this town became the “seat of European standards” due to his strong desire to rebuild the castle. This king lived from 1368 to 1437 and reigned over Hungary from 1387 until his death. The next king to bring glory upon this town was King Matthias Cornivus (I. Mátyás magyar király), also known as “the Just.” He reigned over the Kingdom of Hungary from 1458 until his death in 1490. King Matthias Cornivus was a Renaissance king – his visitors at the time called the castle “paradise on Earth.”
Elena and I took Volánbusz 880 to Visegrád. Prior to our adventure, I scoured the internet for information concerning how one actually gets up to the castle (directions of some kind). Unfortunately what I found wasn’t of much help – I found only one post stating which stop that the author got off at. I initially planned to get off at that stop as well, but Elena and I were overexcited and got off at the first site of ruins. Following the directions from a man who didn’t speak English, we made our way to Solomon’s Tower (Salamon Torony) which is part of the Lower Castle. There was a show going on, so we couldn’t roam about the premises. Determined to go to Citadel/Upper Castle (Fellegvár), but not sure as to how to get to the top, we asked some bus drivers who were waiting for the show to finish. Again, in Hungarian, we followed the directions given to us (those new to my blog, I dabble in Hungarian). Result? Being lost.
We were skeptical at first because we were walking away from the hill that the castle sits on, but we figured it was just a winding road. There was no sidewalk on the road, so we probably looked crazed/lost/like tourists walking on the road. The map that we stumbled upon finally was put into perspective (size-wise) once we made it towards a summer bobsledding course. The castle was now just a tiny speck on top of a beautiful, fall colored hill. In despair, Elena and I took out our snacks, pulled ourselves together (exaggeration, we thought it was hilarious), and decided to just enter the woods. This move paid off – we eventually found a path! I am not going to say that we briefly considered sticking out our thumbs, but…
After taking possibly three or so times longer than we should have to reach the castle, we finally made it to our final destination. I almost broke my nice camera taking a dramatic “finally made it to the castle/going up the last set of stairs/I was lost at one time” picture, but luckily for us all, that didn’t happen. The view from the castle overlooking the Danube was absolutely breathtaking. I have now been to eight cities that this river flows through: Vienna, Bratislava, Štúrovo, Esztergom, Visegrád, Szentendre, Budapest, and Mohács.
We walked about Fellegvár and even entered a small waxwork exhibition. The first room showed a feast from 1335 (the year of the Royal Summit). At the table were King Charles I of Hungary (Károly Róbert magyar király), Casimir III, King of Poland (III. Nagy Kázmér lengyel király), John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia (Luxemburgi János cseh király), among others. The other room showed couples dancing – music of the time also played in the background.
Upon leaving the castle, we came across a Canadian who we briefly ran into before getting on the bus in Budapest. Luckily, this unknown man pointed us in the right direction (who knows where we would have ended up – the sad part is that I am wildly good at directions). For the first half of the path, we couldn’t look up because the path was far too rocky/full of leaves (aka slippery)/uneven. I ended up slipping – I sacrificed my knee for my camera. We came across a small cathedral built into rock and the accompanying monuments showing the Christian Messiah, Jesus, on his way to be crucified. Elena and I also met a lovely kitty cat!
Going home was an adventure in itself because we got on the wrong bus – it ended in Budapest, but the bus number was different (889). For those interested in going to Visegrád – take Volánbusz 880 (or 889) from Újpest-Városkapu to Visegrád nagymaros rév (ferry stop). A roundtrip ticket cost me 1.490Ft (roughly about $7). There should be an information center in that area – get a map. The path up to the citadel is behind the large church. If you want to start with the Lower Castle and Solomon’s Tower (Salamon Torony), get off at Visegrád hajóállomás (boat stop). There are signs that lead you into the forest – hike away!
Once in Budapest, Elena and I ate our weight in Asian food – I recommend Papír Tigris (Paper Tiger). I had a vegetable roll, salmon teriyaki, and smoked tofu maki. Finom (delicious)! If you live in Budapest, they deliver!
I fully recommend going to Visegrád – hiking up the hill was fun (even when lost), the views were spectacular, and the history is interesting!
Oh, and lastly: Budapest was just ranked NUMBER TWO (tied with Florence, Italy) in the Readers’ Choice Awards 2013 “Top 25 Cities in the World” poll! An excerpt from the site: The “classic masterpiece” of a city gives off a “different feeling than other European cities.” There is “so much to see, great food and easy navigation,” one reader said. The “gorgeous residences and buildings” are “gracious and grand.” “Everything about Budapest was entrancing.” Two words: HELL YES.
A Lesson From Miss Jennifer: Follow the signs. Just follow the signs.