Friday, 30 September 2011
Back to Budapest 3 - Gellert Hill
Rising above the Danube on the Buda side of the river, at the foot of the Liberty Bridge sits Gellert Hill. You cannot miss it! Every night, the Liberty Statue (again, another controversial structure in Budapest) is brightly lit up. Built by the Soviets to commemorate the liberation of Hungary from Nazi Germany, it is one of the few pieces of public art from the Communist Period not to be relocated. Well, it is a symbol of the city. And it would now feel really weird if it was to be pulled down from its perch above the city.
On the approach to Gellert Hill from the Liberty Bridge, there are two major landmarks to look out for. First is the famed Gellert Baths, meant to be the most ostentatious ones in the city. Time meant that the spa was out of reach for this visit to Budapest, but the building (externally) is very pretty to view:
Actually built into Gelert Hill are a huge labyrinth of caves, part of which houses the city's only monastery. Still functioning today, it is a holy site, so no shorts or bare shoulders if you want to visit!
But for me, the main target of Gellert Hill was the summit itself. The day was hot and sultry, the air was balmy, the city was inviting and so off I went. The climb up is pretty painless, if a little confusing. The route up the hill switches and turns but at least the route is scenic. Plenty of benches line the route up and so if you need a rest it is pretty easy on the feet. The key to reachin the summit is to keep heading up. The paths all lead to the summit in the end, so if you go on a roundabout route then do not worry too much.
But the walk up is magical as the views on the way up are spectacular. It is on top of Buda's summits that you can begin to appreciate the differences between the flat Pest Side and the hilly Buda part of the city. The Danube slices through the city, its main artery and on a stunning day, it is a beautiful view to behold.
But the real reward is at the top of the hill itself. There, the Liberty Statue can be seen in all its glory. And it is huge! No wonder you can see it across the city, the actual construction is massive. Because it was built by the Soviets, it is not universally loved. Had it been built by anyone except Europe's number 2 bogeymen, this would be a celebrated piece of modern art. Instead it is like a secret shame, like a foot fetish or an indulgence of Yum Yum's. yes it is a good thing, but something that is frowned upon by society as a whole.
While the Liberty Statue dominates Gellert Hill, the summit also hosts the Citadel. Built by the Austro-Hungarian Empire for protection, it was heavily shelled by the Red Army in the battle for the city at the end of WWII. Today it has been restored and some of the old armament can still be seen. Otherwise it is a modest entry fee to view the inside of the citadel itself. And for those caught short, there is a handy (but pricey) toilet to use inside the Citadel itself. You can also snack on some ice creams (guilty!) in the shade of the citadel before resuming your endeavors!
For me though, it is the view that makes Gellert Hill so worthwhile to climb. Budapest is a pretty city, and I was blessed with a gloriously sunny day. Perched high above the city, the vista across this wonderful capital is truly spectacular! Now a free and open country, Hungary's Capital is really an easy to get to and easy to navigate. It is not exactly a hidden gem after all this is one of Europe's most famed cities (rightly so) and the former Eastern Bloc has now been a part of the EU for seven years, making transport to and from it (especially from the UK) a doddle! However, it is well worth visiting, despite the tourist numbers (but not as much as you think) and the prices (not as pricey as it could be). One of my favourite places that I have been to. Well, think about it, the second year running I have ended up here! There must be something good about Budapest...