Budapest’s Lively Arts
By Maria Lisella
Some say a visit to Budapest is love at first sight. Budapest is famous for its romantic bridges that span the Danube, such as Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the Independence Bridge, the Margaret Bridge, and the Elizabeth Bridge. Just stroll along the main bridges for step into the heart of the city: the Danube itself.
Even if your client has not waltzed into your office demanding a trip to Hungary exclusively, any number of river cruises will drop them off for the day. On the strength of a daytrip, I promise you will have a client who will soon look for an opportunity to revisit.
Despite the sharp contrast between the twin cities of Buda and Pest, both radiate the aspirations of past eras. In Pest, you cannot miss the proud neoclassical unity of the buildings, enlivened at intervals by decorative flecks of art nouveau and extravagant eclecticism.
The Danube River divides and also unifies the Hungarian capital -- the hills and valleys of Buda from the flatlands of Pest -- in separating the two sides of the same coin, visitors can see quickly that the two are in some very integral and intuitive way, inseparable. The view of the bridges spanning the river, the buildings along the banks and the rich culture they represent, are on the list of World Heritage sites. This splendid panorama can be best enjoyed from the Buda hills, the promenade in Pest, or from a private boat on the Danube. From a stalactite cave system, hidden under the hills, 18 million gallons of thermal water gush daily, making Budapest the only city in the world where 50 baths and spas are fed by natural mineral and therapeutic waters.
The mingling of cultures has brought about amphitheatres from the Roman Empire and 16th century Turkish baths, preserved in their original form and still in use. Central Europe’s largest Jewish community lives in Hungary, mainly in Budapest, making their traditions, architecture and art forms a valuable part of Hungarian culture. The Great Synagogue is the second largest in the world.
Buda’s winding old-world alleyways are lined with colorful Baroque palaces and shallow-domed steam baths built by the Turks during their long occupation. The Neo-Gothic Parliament is one of the city’s most decorative structures, characterized by numerous small spikes and stone lace ornamentation. With its magnificent staircase and exquisite reception rooms, the building is one of the largest assemblies in the world.
Budapest’s oldest traditional urban district is the Old Jewish Quarter of Pest, which embraces a dense network of fractured and curving streets established in the first half of the 18th century. Among other great architectural structures of Budapest are the Neo-Renaissance Opera House and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, as well as the secessionist Gresham Palace.
Budapest took its present form in the 1890s, when – celebrating the 1,000-year anniversary of the foundation of the state – magnificent buildings were erected. Some outstanding examples are: The largest Parliament in Europe located on the Pest side of the city: its 315-foot high dome overlooking the Danube is an impressive sight; the neo-renaissance Opera House: its architectural details harmoniously blend its columns, arcades, woodwork, metalwork and mural decorations; St. Stephen’s Basilica: the largest church in the city with a breathtaking view from its dome.
The Budapest Zoo and Botanical Gardens house buildings that are masterpieces of turn-of-the-century Hungarian architecture, which features a spectacular mixture of Hungarian art nouveau and romantic styles with oriental patterns.
The Western Railway Station was designed and constructed by the Eiffel Company of Paris, the huge terminal behind the elegant glass façade is supported by a cast-iron structure. There are 10 different modes of transportation available to discover the city, including the cogwheel railway, funicular, chairlift and the first subway (built in 1896). The two or three-day Budapest Card offers visitors free public transportation and free or discounted entry to most museums and other points of interest.
If clients are looking for the intangible values they can take home with them that will add no weight to their suitcases, then be sure to plan ahead to obtain tickets for live performances. Visit the tourist office website for details.
Performing Arts Festivals
One of the most beautiful buildings and main cultural venues in all of romantic Budapest is the Hungarian State Opera House. Furthermore, the newest cultural complex, the Palace of Arts has opened its premises for symphony and concert music, opera and ballet performances. Come here to catch a Hungarian Rhapsody or two by musical giant Franz Liszt, or head for a tanchaz (dance house) for an evening of haunting folk music and dance. Below are a few suggestions of festivals that take place annually.
Budapest: Spring Festival, is Hungary’s largest and most prestigious cultural festival, featuring more than 200 events staged in 60 venues around the city. Over the years it has grown a country-wide festival; Summer Opera and Ballet Festival, with opera and ballet on stage in the Hungarian State Opera House, the capital’s beaux-arts architectural centerpiece; Sziget Festival, a multicultural event: film, jazz, folklore and mostly youth concerts are held on Hajogyar Island. (1st week of August); the Autumn Arts Festival highlighting contemporary art and music (mid-October)
Fertod: Haydn Festival, a week of classical music performance at the Eszterhazy Castle.
Gyor: Summer International Cultural Festival, offering a rich palette of classical and folk music, jazz, dance, theater handicraft and gourmet programs.
The choice of hotels in Budapest runs from small to large, old-fashioned to modern, traditional to international chains, such as Marriott, Intercontinental, Hyatt and Hilton. Also available are spa hotels built on the healing waters of the city that offer an opportunity to be pampered by highly qualified staffs. They say Hungarians have always considered satisfying a visitor´s appetite the primary element of hospitality. Hungarian, as well as diverse specialty foods, can be found in Budapest. It is hard to resist the aroma of coffee and cakes as they find their way from ovens to counters in old cafés. Pubs and jazz clubs are becoming very popular, especially on days when live music makes the beer taste even better. Budapest is a city of history, culture, tradition and ambiance in a rapidly changing world. An amazing experience that needs to be experienced now.
For information, contact the Hungarian National Tourist Office, 212-695-1221; E-mail email@example.com; www.gotohungary.com
April 2008 Feature
Budapest Re-Emerges with Something to Celebrate
By Tom Bross
We all know that truly appealing, historic capital-city destinations are scattered across Continental Europe. In many or perhaps even most instances, our thoughts tend to veer westward—to Paris and Brussels, for instance, also Madrid and Lisbon. Or midway, on a Berlin and Viennese-Roman arc. Now, though, let’s be timely by turning in an eastern direction, giving us an opportunity to focus on the attractions of big, bountiful Budapest.
Timely? Of course. Hungary’s centuries-old metropolis has re-emerged from its four drab socialist decades in remarkably good shape—thanks in no small part to extensive refurbishment, new construction, capitalist investments and noticeable expansion of visitor amenities.
In town for last summer’s celebrations marking yearly Hungarian National Day on August 20th, I eased into accommodations at the riverview Four Seasons Gresham Palace (www.fourseasons.com). A circa-1906 showpiece of fanciful Art Nouveau/Secessionist architecture and design, the war-damaged edifice underwent a four-year, $130,000,000 restoration prior to reopening in 2004.
Coinciding with attention-getting patriotic holiday festivities (concerts, parades, flag-raisings, fireworks above statue-festooned 460-ft.Géllert Hill, zooming Danube flyovers highlighted by an acrobatic air race between—and beneath—the Chain and Margaret bridges), travel officials announced a major tourism promotion called The Budapest Winter Invasion, which began December 1st and runs through March. The target: boosting the city’s visitor total by 20,000 and increasing overnight stays by 80,000. (Length of stays have averaged 2.7 nights in recent years, prompting an aim for higher numbers).
Campaign organizers include the Hungarian National Tourist Office and national carrier Málev Airlines, plus some four dozen properties affiliated with the Hotel Association of Hungary. Involved, too, with tie-in advertising on view in its two expanded terminals: Budapest Ferihegy gateway airport. Visit www.budapestwinterinvasion.com
Tell clients about the promotion’s key element, whereby participating hotels offer guests one additional free stay as a bonus for every three they book. As expected, this cosmopolitan city contains an ample range of accommodations in all rack-rate categories. In the mix are 14 five-star properties and 41 four-star choices. Overall, occupancy rates have increased at a 50% clip during recent years.
Danube Determines Location
The wide Danube (Duna in local vernacular) determines location—either in flat Pest’s commercial, cultural and government districts on the east side or over in hilly west-side Buda, dominated by Hungary’s Royal Castle and traversed by narrow streets laid out in the Middle Ages.
While strolling around, I watched for still-remaining pockmarks left by bullets fired during house-to-house combat—Dec. 29th ‘44-Feb. 13th ’45—retreating German (and Hungarian) forces vs. the advancing Russian Red Army. Then, for 18 days in autumn ’56, came the heroic Hungarian Revolution—Budapest’s populace vs. Soviet troops and tanks.
If the super-posh Four Seasons proves too costly for their travel budgets, visitors with five-star tastes can pick centrally situated alternatives in Pest. A 218-room Le Meridien (www.lemeridien. com), splendidly converted from a limestone police headquarters, opened for business in 2003, followed two years later by the modernistic Kempinski Corvinus (www.kempinski-budapest.com).
A bit less central, in an upscale neighborhood that’s walkably close to Heroe’s Square and vast City Park, the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal (www.corinthiahotels.com) dates from Hungary’s 1896 Magyar Millenium and comes complete with luxurious spa amenities.
Buda’s skyline has been dominated for the past 30 years by a lofty Hilton (www.budapest.hilton. com), looming directly adjacent to Castle Hill’s much-photographed Fishermen’s Bastion arcades.
By the Buda
For clients preferring Buda surroundings with much less touristic frenzy, you can confidently recommend such four-star riverfront properties as the Novotel Blue Danube (www.novotel-bud-danube.hu), the trendy-contemporary German-conceived art’otel budapest (www.artotel.de) and—for more traditional atmospherics along with memorable Danube vistas—the family-run, 27-room Hotel Victoria (www.victoria.hu).
For Budapest at its cultural showiest, nothing beats each year’s two-week Spring Festival, with #27 in the annual series coming March 14-30. For ticket and schedule information, visit: www.festivalcity.hu. Crowds gather for art exhibitions, grand opera, ballet, National Philharmonic orchestral and choral performances, chamber-music concerts, theatrical productions, folkloric galas and jazz gigs in more than 50 citywide venues. Those include—on the Pest side of the river—the Franz Lizst Academy of Music, 1884’s renowned Hungarian Opera House and the strikingly contemporary Palace of Arts.
Three UNESCO World Heritage Sites augment the capital’s prestige. Dominating a Buda promontory, approached by an ornamental gateway, the castle complex includes the Hungarian National Gallery and evokes the old-time Austro-Hungarian empire’s mightiness for sure-fire World Heritage recognition. Honored, too: spectacular Danube panoramics—wooded slopes, illuminated-at -night castle and bridges, the clustered cityscape and Pest’s riverfront Parliament, a neo-Gothic behemoth completed in 1902.
To round out the UNESCO trio, continue elsewhere in Pest to admire the one-mile stretch of thoroughly urbane Andrássy Avenue, lined with mansions and monumental public buildings, restored to their 19th-century opulence. Wrought-iron balustrades seen on this Parisian-style boulevard frame stairways leading down to stations on continental Europe’s first subway line, operating since the millenium anniversary.
Malev has suspended nonstop flights for the winter, in the meantime, its Oneworld partner American Airlines services Budapest from New York via Zurich, and to/from Chicago ORD and Los Angeles LAX. Check-in facilities used by both airlines are in JFK’s Terminal 8. At the same time, Delta continues to fly nonstop four times/week during the winter. Other carriers that touch down in Budapest via their own hubs include Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Air France, British Airways, CSA Czech Airlines and KLM and Swiss all have connections through their European hubs, flying from some 10 U.S. gateways. Budapest’s gateway airport efficiently handles an average of 25,000 travelers daily.
Agents can rely on the www.gotohungary.com website’s Budapest for an all-purpose travel-planning resource. Contents include sightseeing highlights, exchange rates, hotel rep listings, online hotel reservations and updated agents’ fam trips (for arrangements, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org).