Segway Tour of Budapest With a Dog
Over the years we’ve done some fun things when visiting a new place for the first time. Some of them are even considered really touristy but we don’t care! I’ve enjoyed the view from the top of a hop-on-hop-off bus in Rome, taken a seaplane ride from Split to Pula, hopped a Ski lift up Vitosha Mountain, had the wind in my fur biking the marvelous ring road of Vienna and explored the Everglades in an airboat.
I am always up for a new way to experience the art of sightseeing. I must admit though I was not expecting the FUN factor associated with our Segway tour of Budapest!
We got coaxed into the idea at the foot of the funicular that connects Buda Castle to the Chain Bridge. We had just gotten there and the bipeds were discussing what to do next (take the funicular up or the stairs) About then – like any good sales man – the rep from Extra Bike Budapest approached us with a pamphlet. Normally this turns the bipeds off but, we had talked about doing a Segway tour at some point and well… why not at least hear the man out right?
First thing, Dad stopped the sales man in his track and enquired: “Can he come on the Segway too?” pointing at me. The man asked if we had a bag or something and since we NEVER leave without my sling bag Dad demonstrated that yes, we were ready. The man clapped his hands in delight and said “yes No problem. But you responsible for him not us. Yes? You see if you are ok on Segway… feel safe for dog?” and with that … Dad got his first Segway lesson!
It’s actually not that difficult. It does require good control of your core but on the whole it’s one of the least difficult things the bipeds have tried. The basic premise is this: Stand still with a very slight backward lean and you are at a stop. Lean forward and you move forward. Lean a little back you stop. Lean to the side and you turn to that side. It’s … intuitive. After Dad felt confident he could get around safely with me; Mom gave it a go and agreed it seemed easy enough. Even in a dress!
But what sites did the tour include? The route they mapped out for us seemed pretty thorough. And with only 3 days in the city we felt it was a great way to get a feel for what we might want to return to and see more in depth – versus what we would be happy to just skim past on our Segway’s.
Basically we’d get a guided tour of the Buda Castle, then cross the Chain bridge and turn left and visit the area around the magnificent parliament buildings, get a glimpse of the shopping district on the right and return to the funicular. The whole tour would take about 3 hours.
The sales person was great. After all that time he spent explaining everything to us, he didn’t force the bipeds to decide right away. He said “think about it”… and that’s what sold it. The lack of pressure. We asked if we could have a quick lunch first (no point in doing a tour when hangry – it …well…spoils the mood right?) and he said yes of course! He even brought us to a pizza place nearby, where we benefited from a little discount he shared with us. We sat on the patio outside and ate while waiting for our guide and our Segway’s. Yes, they happily came to us rather than forcing us to meet them. That’s service.
Our guide arrived, (I am so sorry I can’t remember his name) and we liked him right away. He had a good energy about him. You could tell he had been touring all day but his smile was still genuine and he let out a cheerful “HA!” when he noticed me. Of course we just had to get to know each other better first!
We got our second “quick training” and off we went! We crossed the big busy roundabout at the foot of the funicular and off onto a small side street up towards the Buda Castle. It was fun to watch the bipeds get better and better at driving their Segway’s. By the time we made it to the top and into Buda the bipeds were almost …dare I say …cocky? They were laughing out loud! Letting out happy WHOOP noises. Yep, they were giggling and laughing out loud. Like small children. I found it all rather bewildering but admit I fully enjoyed the wind in my fur and I loved the smells the quicker pace brought to my nose!
I listened carefully to our guide as we went up. He told us that Budapest’s two banks (separated by the Danube river) were once two cities, joined as recently as the 19th century. Can you believe that the resulting city was almost called Pestbuda instead of Budapest (I know – Budapest flows better!). This historical separation means that Buda and Pest have distinct identities. The former (where we were also staying) is hilly and home to grand residential areas and the beautiful Buda Castle, whereas the latter is larger, flatter, home to politics and a choice spot for partiers thanks to its trendy restaurants and bars. Pest also hosts most of the famous baths (I have yet to find one that is pet friendly!!).
A Quick Tour of Buda Castle
It is the oldest part of the city though the present look is significantly different then it’s original given the number of wars and fires it has survived. The narrow streets that start from the castle gates follow the shape of the hill.
Fisherman’s Bastion is in all likelihood, one of the most visited attractions in Budapest. This is the place where locals and tourists come to enjoy the city views. But what is the history of Halaszbastya as the locals call it? Why is the bastion so decorative rather than defensive as bastions are? I WANTED TO KNOW! Luckily our guide could give us some answers.
The Fisherman’s Bastion was built between 1895 and 1902 as part of the series of developments that were erected to celebrate the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state. The bastion was designed on the base of a stretch of the castle walls (from the 17-18th century, built after the Buda Castle Siege). Rather than building sturdy thick stone walls, the intention was to present the locals with a communal panorama terrace, as the Buda Castle was no longer considered to be a military place. The romantic notion was to recall the old times, so Halaszbastya is often likened to a “prop” which does not feel real. It was meant to be like a fairy tale, feel like history rather than be history.
The ceremonial, wide stairs leading up to the Fishermen’s Bastion provide a dramatic entrance to the Castle Hill attractions and to the views of the Pest side sights. The stairway features historical statues, from bottom to top: the Statue of John Hunyadi, the statue of St George Piercing the Dragon (the replica of the 15th century statue in Prague made by medieval Hungarian masters, the Kolozsvari Brothers found on that famous Charles bridge), and 10th century soldiers guarding the gate (at the top of the stairs, under the arch).
It was all horribly damaged during the wars, quickly rebuilt, then communism left it in ruins and crumbling under the weight of polluted grey soot. Today it stands restored and pristinely white again for all to enjoy.
Matthias Church (officially called the Church of Our Lady, but all locals call it “Matyas Templom”) has quite the history. According to historians a church called Church of Mary stood on the site of the current building founded by Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary in 1015. The current Roman Catholic church was founded by King Bela IV after the Mongol invaders left Hungary in 1242 in complete ruins, and King Bela IV decided to move the royal residence from Esztergom in the Danube Bend, to the Buda Hills. Here there have been coronations and much pomp over the centuries
Dear Reader I rarely wax poetic about churches. But this one… this one might just be THE most gorgeous Church I have ever seen. I do not say this lightly. I have seen many. Paris, Rome, Zurich, Vienna…so many. This Church is truly stellar. If you don’t want to pay admission go just to see the exterior and it’s gorgeous details and roof. But I do urge you to go inside (handoff will be needed) it is worth the price of admission. Climb the 170+ steps to the top of the tower for a view that will take your breath away.
You can’t miss the Statue of St. Stephen (first king of Hungary between 1000-1038) just outside St. Matthias Church. This bronze statue was created Hungarian sculptor, Alojs Stróbl in 1906 and features St. Stephen as an old king, mounted on a war horse, holding a reign in one hand and a staff in the other. There is a gold ring around his head, indicative of his saintliness, having been canonized in 1083. Four lions amongst a host of other sculptures are found at the base.
Holy Trinity Column or as it’s called, Szentháromság tér is the highest point of the castle hill. The 14 m high monument was erected between 1710, and 1713 by the citizens of Buda to help prevent another plague epidemic. Not sure how they thought a statue would accomplish that but… it’s pretty.
And on and on we zigged and zagged! We went under the Bécsi kapu tér (Vienna gate) – the only gate that survived from the original Castle. We stood in awe for a moment in front of the vast building of the Hungarian National Archive.
We slowed the Segway’s right down to take in the Táncsics Mihály Street where the most beautiful baroque houses stand. Here Beethoven lived at the Endrődy palace, number 7. From there we headed off to Tóth Árpád Promenade (1810’s), also called Bástyasétány – a lovely walkway where you can see rather stellar and less views of the city without the crowds found at the Fisherman’s bastion.
I can honestly say that doing this by Segway meant we still had time and energy to zoom back down … and cross the Chain bridge into Pest!
A Quick Tour of Pest
We started with a rather somber visit, Shoes on the Danube is a memorial conceived by film director Can Togay with sculptor Gyula Pauer to honor the people who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during WWII. These poor souls were told to remove their shoes, before being shot on the edge where their bodies then fell into the river to be carried away. I will never understand how horrible humans can be Dear Reader. I really will not. The tiny children’s shoes especially break your heart.
From there we went to Pest’s most emblematic building, sitting on the bank of the Danube, The parliament building. This magnificent Neo-Gothic building was completed at the turn of the 20th century, as the result of an architecture competition that also yielded the Museum of Ethnography and the Ministry of Agriculture, now standing opposite of it, in Buda.
We didn’t go in although I hear good things, but trust me when I say you WILL want to take time to look at this phenomenal building. It’s absolutely glorious. I also took time to have a quick pee break as the bipeds got off the Segways to walk about a little. The massive green lawns there were perfect for that!
We just happened upon the changing of the guards too!
I like that across the street there is a building where they left the bullets and wholes from WWII in the wall. A harsh reminder of all that this city and its people have had to survived.
Just before heading back over the bridge to Buda, we did stop breafly in front of Szent István (Saint Stephen), often called ‘the Basilica’ due to its clerical status as a minor basilica, is the most important church in Hungary and the tallest in Budapest—as tall as the Parliament building. Designed by Miklós Ybl and József Hild at the end of the 19th century, it is shaped like a Greek cross, with two bell towers and a dome in the middle. One of the draws for tourists is the panoramic view, but the artworks the church is home to shouldn’t be overlooked, like mosaics by Károly Lotz, a monumental statue of Saint Stephen, and beautiful stained glass windows.
PHEW! Do you see how doing ALL of that in 3 hours would be near impossible on foot? But with the Segway we had time to find a nice place to have tea and then dinner. But more on that in my next post.
So that concludes our Segway tour of Budapest with a dog. So what should I attempt next Dear Reader? I’m thinking hot air balloon ride…. Any other suggestions?