Sunday, September 24: Tumbling off the bus at an unimpressive roadside bus stop in Visegrád, I’m sure we look baffled. We expected to be deposited at a bus station, but instead we’re left standing at a map beside an awning-covered bench along the main road. It’s a few minutes before we’re convinced we’re in Visegrád, the name of which means in Slavic the “upper castle” or castle of privileged position.
We start walking into town in hopes of finding some information.
Luckily a nice woman, who disembarked from the bus with some friends, notices our confusion and tries to answer Mike’s questions about a “less steep path” starting from behind the Catholic church in the town center to the citadel. Mike read about this path in Lonely Planet Hungary. The well-intentioned woman actually knows nothing about this path; she also wonders if it’s possible to walk this alleged path before nightfall. Looking at the imposing and distant fortress perched atop the huge hill, I too wonder if it is possible.
We make our way to the Catholic Church, behind which this hike supposedly begins.
We follow some folks past the church until we find another large map and a path leading toward the castle, called Fellegvár in Hungarian — literally “cloud castle.” We had seen the 13th-century hexagonal Solomon’s Tower, once part of a lower castle used to control river traffic, low on a steep hill when our hydrofoil had stopped here this morning; the fortress is supposedly above that tower. Now we just have to make our way up to it.
For a short bit, we can see the town beneath. Before long, we’re submerged in a forest of spindly trees.
The path to Fellegvár is all uphill, relentless in its quest to deprive us of oxygen as we climb to the top. There is not a flat stretch on the entire trail.
The only thing we see of interest on this endless path to Fellegvár is this chapel built into these pinnacle rocks. As we’re in the forest the whole time, we don’t even have any views.
After what seems like an eternity, we come to a trail marker, but we have no idea what it means. We’ve only walked 15P? And we still have 25P to go? What kind of measurement is P? Later, we’re even more confused when another sign shows a higher number after Fellegvár , suggesting we have further to go to Fellegvár than we did before.
Later, we find out that Hungarian hiking trails show the elevation change to the peak (P). As the trail gets steeper the closer we get to the peak, the numbers increase.
All told, it takes us about 1 1/2 hours to climb to the top, where we finally see a sign for Fellegvár. Though I started out with a jacket today, I’ve now got it stuffed into my backpack and I’m sweating in my long-sleeve knit top.
After the Mongol invasion in 1242, King Béla IV (1206-1270) and his wife had a new fortification system constructed near the one destroyed earlier. The Upper Castle, set atop a high hill, was laid out on a triangular ground-plan and had three towers at its corners.
King Charles I of Hungary made Visegrád, his hometown, the royal seat of Hungary in 1325. Around 1400, the palace was enlarged and a third curtain wall was built. The Upper Castle also served as safekeeping of the Hungarian royal insignia between the 14th century and 1526. At the end of the 15th century, the interior was renovated.
In 1544 Visegrád was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. Apart from a short period in 1595-1605, it remained in Turkish hands until 1685. The castle was seriously damaged by the Turks and was never used afterwards (Wikipedia: Visegrád).
One of the best things about the castle is its sweeping views of the Danube bend and the towns and landscape of Hungary.
We walk through the small wax museum, which shows castle life during the time of its habitation.
The wax figures at Fellegvár seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. I wouldn’t mind joining in their festivities.
We walk all around the castle grounds trying to see every possible view.
From the Fellegvár, we see the busy boat and barge traffic on the Danube.
There is no way I want to walk back down that path to the town, so we search for a bus to take us back down. We’re told at a little shop that the next bus won’t arrive for two hours! The shopkeeper points us out to a van driver who will take us down for a price. He drops us at the boat dock, where we have less than a half hour to wait for the hydrofoil back to Budapest at 6:00. We wander around near the boat dock, admiring some stately homes.
Finally, we see the hydrofoil approach.
As the sun goes down, we’re on the hydrofoil and on our way back to Budapest.
At 6:20, we make a brief stop at Vác, where we pick up a few passengers. Vác’s episcopal palace houses a museum for Roman and medieval artifacts. The city is also known for its 18th-century arch of triumph and for its baroque city center.
By 7:00, we’re back in Budapest and can see Castle Hill all lit up.
On the Pest side, we can see the beautiful Parliament.
After disembarking, we make our way along the river and are tempted to have dinner on Spoon, a floating restaurant, but we decide to find someplace less touristy.
On our way back we have to be careful not to be run over by the Budapest trams, which run along a track that isn’t blocked off and is traversed by often oblivious pedestrians.
Peeking over the boats docked along the river, we can see glimpses of Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a suspension bridge connecting Buda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest.
We walk past the 65-meter-tall Budapest Eye, Europe’s largest mobile Ferris wheel with 42 cars and a capacity of 332 people, in Erzsébet Square.
We pass by St. Stephens all lit up.
It’s hard to fathom eating at the outdoor cafes in the cold night air, despite the festive colored lights strung overhead.
We find ourselves back in front of the Hungarian State Opera House, all aglow.
The windows in Budapest are decked out in futuristic purple fur coats and metal studded dresses.
We are in search of Két Szerecsen, described in Lonely Planet Hungary as a “vaulted cellar-like bistro” with “imaginative international cuisine.” We don’t have reservations, but they manage to find a table for us. We fall in love with this place. Our meal and the atmosphere are superb.
I start out with red wine and Mike a cold beer.
We order an array of small dishes, including Moroccan pumpkin cream soup with goat cheese, pomegranate and pistachios; roasted goat cheese with green apple puree and honey walnuts; and spinach with cream and Serrano ham. For my meal, I order chicken paprika stew, parsley dumplings, & cucumber salad with sour cream. I love everything about this meal.
My favorite dish is the spinach with cream and Serrano ham. After every bite, I make an “mmm” sound and smile. It is so good that I say, “I just want to lie on the floor with my legs up in the air,” thinking of a dog happily having its belly rubbed. When Mike and I realize how bad that sounds, we burst out laughing and can’t stop. We’re out of control! 🙂
After our fabulous day, we return to our apartment where we help ourselves to some macadamia nut ice cream we bought at the market. Yum!
Total steps today: 22,888 (9.7 miles).