Visiting Szeged, Hungary: My Favourite Photos

Szeged is a city in the south of Hungary, close to the border with Serbia. It is Hungary’s third largest city and is home to a well-regarded university. The influx of students gives the small city an international flavour. I often heard English being spoken on the streets and in the shops. English comprehension among locals is high.

A small, attractive city of about 170,000 built along the river Tisza, the city centre is has many interesting cafés, restaurants and some impressive architecture. There are many large squares and wide boulevards. The public transit system is excellent for a city of its size.

I spent five nights in Szeged. These are some of my favourite photos.

 

Szeged Water Tower, Built in 1904

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Another large water tower with a classic tram stopped in front.

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Monument to Hungarians living in Romania

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Grapes at Sándorfalva, just north of Szeged

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Votive Church By Night (Szeged Dom)

Summer 2016 in Budapest: My Favourite Photos

I was able to spend the month of August in Budapest, Hungary.

It’s a city that I know very well, having already spent a year there through 2014-15. It was fun to return and explore some old haunts, catch up with friends and even discover a few new hidden gems.

Here are some of my favourite photos from my visit.

Liberty Bridge Open to Pedestrians Only
Liberty Bridge Open to Pedestrians Only

Rooftops of Pest
Rooftops of Pest

The Danube, Chain Bridge, and Parliament.

Astoria Metro Station
Astoria Metro Station

Örs vezér tere is the eastern terminus of the M2 Metro Line
Örs vezér tere is the eastern terminus of the M2 Metro Line

Liberty Bridge at Night
Liberty Bridge at Night

Budapest Skyline on the Danube River
Budapest Skyline on the Danube River

St. Stephen's Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica

Ferenciek tere traffic
Ferenciek tere traffic

Heroes Square
Heroes Square

You can read more about my visits to Budapest and Hungary by visiting the Travel section of my website.

If you like my photos, follow me on Instagram @jeremymaclaine. I post photos there every day.

Visiting Esztergom and Štúrovo

For many centuries, Esztergom was the most important city in Hungary, acting as the capital from the 10th till the mid-13th century. It was here that the coronation of Saint Stephen of Hungary took place, in the year 1000 or 1001. With his ascension to the throne, Esztergom became the political, cultural and religious centre of the Hungarian nation.

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Today, the city is home to some 30,000 people. It lies on the banks of the Danube river, across the water is Slovakia and the town of Štúrovo. The two towns are connected by the Mária Valéria bridge, which has no border control.

Esztergom lies on the left, Sturovo on the right.
Esztergom lies on the left, Sturovo on the right.

You can easily reach Esztergom by train from Budapest. Trains leave the Nyugati train station every hour and a round trip costs about $10 Canadian or 7 Euros. The journey is slow, with many stops through the Budapest suburbs and small country villages, but the train is modern, making for a pleasant enough trip.

Esztergom’s basilica and castle are built atop a hill with sprawling views of the surrounding countryside and the Danube river.

The view from the Slovakian side of the river.
The view from the Slovakian side of the river.

Castle Hill
Castle Hill

Small Dungeon by the castle
Small Dungeon by the castle

Sunset at a sculpture depicting the coronation of St. Stephen.
Sunset at a sculpture depicting the coronation of St. Stephen.

The winding stairs up to the castle hill.
The winding stairs up to the castle hill.

Sunset views from the lookout spots.
Sunset views from the lookout spots.

A re-creation of the famous Holy Crown of Hungary with its bent cross.
A re-creation of the famous Holy Crown of Hungary with its bent cross.

Saint Stephen's likeness in front of a restaurant that claims to have been in operation since 1659.
Saint Stephen’s likeness in front of a restaurant that claims to have been in operation since 1659.

Saint Stephen Square. There is likely one of these in every Hungarian town.
Saint Stephen Square. There is likely one of these in every Hungarian town.

Across the river is Štúrovo, Slovakia. It’s a small town, with a mostly ethnically Hungarian population. You’ll hear Hungarian spoken on the streets and you can even pay for your food and drinks in Hungarian Forints at the local restaurants and cafés.

Crossing into Slovakia.
Crossing into Slovakia.

On the Slovak side of the bridge.
On the Slovak side of the bridge.

Central Štúrovo.
Central Štúrovo.

Bilingual street signs
Bilingual street signs

Welcome to Štúrovo.
Welcome to Štúrovo.

The convenience of cheap and hourly trains running between Budapest and Esztergom makes for a fun and easy daytrip. Esztergom is a nice enough town, with an impressive history to merit a visit on its own. Being able to cross the border and visit a different country only adds to the novelty. I enjoyed my daytrip to Esztergom and Štúrovo and would recommend it to someone looking for a change of pace during a longer stay in Budapest.

Christmas Time in Budapest

I am back in Canada for the Christmas break but I wanted to share a few photos of Budapest during the month of December. Christmas markets pop up in squares throughout the city, with little wooden huts selling traditional foods, hot wine and gifts.

This was my first time in Europe during the winter months. In Canada, it is customary to hang Christmas wreaths on our doors and in our windows. In Central Europe, advent wreaths are also prominent but instead of hanging on doors, they are laid down horizontally with a candle at each corner. The wreath and its candles symbolize the passage of the four weeks before Christmas. With each passing week, a new candle is lit.

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The Christmas market at Vörösmarty tér, at the northern end of Váci Utca, gets very crowded. In the most busy areas it can take minutes to move just a few metres.

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For more photos of Budapest at Christmas time and throughout the year, visit my newly launched tumblr blog, http://budapestography.tumblr.com/. I started posting the backlog of images I’ve taken from during my first five and a half months in the city. In under 30 days, I’ve been able to post 86 photos and I still have some more images to share. My goal, starting in January when I return, is to be able to offer up at least one new photo a day. This means going out once a week (likely on the weekend) with my camera in hand and getting at least seven quality shots. It’s doable, especially in Budapest.

Szent Istvan Fireworks in Budapest – August 20th, 2014

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As mentioned in my previous post, August 20th is St. Stephen’s Day, a National Holiday marking the Foundation of Hungary. The main event for the people of Budapest is the annual fireworks show, which lasts about 30 minutes.

I made my way down to the shores of the Danube river to watch the show along with thousands of Hungarians. All the bridges spanning the river were jammed with people. Fortunately, there are wide boulevards running alongside the river, which police close down for the spectacle. There was ample room to enjoy the show.

If fireworks are your thing, here’s an HD video I shot featuring the final moments of the show, with the fireworks exploding above the Erzsébet Bridge.

St. Stephen’s Day Celebrations Begin Early in Budapest

MacLaine_August19_Celebrations_01_webAugust 20th is‚ St. Stephen’s Day, a National Holiday marking the Foundation of Hungary. It’s Hungary’s Canada Day or Independence Day. Many stores will be closed, there will be ceremonies throughout the day, including at the Cathedral which bears his name. In the evening there will be a spectacular fireworks show along the banks of the Danube at 9pm.

Even on the day before, celebrations have already begun. The Chain Bridge was closed to motor traffic today, allowing pedestrians to stroll leisurely right down the middle of the thoroughfare. At the Buda end of the bridge lies Clark Adam Square, where a temporary stage was set up, featuring traditional folk dancers and music. Scattered around the square were vendors, selling traditional Hungarian food.

Walking along the famous Chain Bridge
Walking along the famous Chain Bridge

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Food Vendors at Clark Adam Square

The Lions guarding the bridge were illuminated for the occasion
The Lions guarding the bridge were illuminated for the occasion

Looking to the Chain Bridge from Buda
Looking to the Chain Bridge from Buda

Even the local grocery stores celebrate - Szent Istvan Kenyer
Even the local grocery stores celebrate – Szent Istvan Kenyer

The weather forecast for August 20th is calling for rain throughout the day. Hopefully it relents so that everyone will be able to enjoy the fireworks show along the river.

The $44 Ticket to Freedom

On Tuesday afternoon I had to make a purchase.

I left my apartment with my passport in my pocket and headed south along the grand boulevard adjacent to my street. My destination was a Metro station. I got to the busy intersection under which the station lies and ducked down the stairs into the underground complex. Just outside the entrance of the old Soviet era metro station, is a small ticket booth. The ticket booth had a queue of about five or six people in front of me. I took my place at the back of the line.

I don’t particularly like standing in line or spending money (who does?). I usually try to schedule my shopping excursions for the quiet hours of the day, often late at night after 9pm. But I was willing to stand and wait to make this purchase. After about 10 minutes, it was my turn to proceed to the ticket window. I walked up, presented my passport and credit card.

“Egy Havi, I said, in my broken Hungarian.

“Jo, the woman inside responded, before switching to English. When the transaction was completed, I had this in my possession.

MacLaine_Monthly_Pass_BudapestThis is a monthly Budapest transit pass, good for buses, metros and trams. It costs 9,500 HUF or $44 Canadian. This piece of paper represents complete freedom and mobility throughout the city for 30 days. Strangely, I get a feeling of satisfaction when I purchase a fresh month’s pass. With this piece of paper, I can go anywhere, at anytime.

The system here is so extensive and so efficient that to not purchase a pass, would be depriving myself of one of Budapest’s best attributes. From where I live, I can be just about anywhere in the city in 20 minutes or less. There are 24 hour buses and trams, directly outside my apartment. Sometimes I take a bus, other days I take the tram and then the metro. It all depends where I have to go. There seem to be multiple ways to get to the same spot.

There’s also no stigma, for lack of a better term, around public transportation here. Everyone uses is it, because it’s so affordable and just too damn convenient. Metro stations and tram stops are common meeting points.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve had a car. I think back to how much a tank of gas cost to fill up my little Hyundai. It was about $45 and only lasted a couple of weeks. Then there was insurance ($1,000) and maintenance on top of that. A year’s worth of public transit here would cost me around $530.

After enjoying the affordable cost of living that an Eastern European city can provide and its excellent public transportation options, how do I go back? Living in a city with great public transportation system is something that greatly increases the quality of your day-to-day life. How do I reconcile paying over $100 per month for an inferior OCTranspo service? I don’t hate OCTranspo, which gets a lot of heat from the locals. Overall, I think it’s pretty good by North American standards, but the fares for what you get are far too high and the lack of 24 hour routes is frustrating.

But that’s halfway around the world in Ottawa and I’m here in Budapest. For now, I’m just enjoying the freedom that this little piece of paper affords me.

Photo: Is This The Best Parking Spot in Europe?

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While out for a walk with my camera, I spotted a single car parked along‚ the banks of the Danube River in Budapest. Across the river is Hungary’s magnificent Parliament Building. I thought it made for a pretty neat image.

Quick Facts about the Hungarian Parliament Building

  • Inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of the country in 1896, and completed in 1904
  • The architect of the building, Imre Steindl, went blind before its completion
  • It is the tallest building in Budapest

Budapest: Eastern Europe’s Gem

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When researching my trip, I heard nothing but good things about Budapest. Hungary’s capital delivered in a big way, living up to the hype.

Often called the Paris of Eastern Europe, the comparison is justified. Budapest offers the aesthetic beauty of the French capital, at a fraction of the cost and without the Parisian seediness I’ve previously talked about on this blog.

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For anyone with an interest in photography, Budapest offers stunning views and fantastic architecture along the Danube river. The city is particularly lovely at night. I was able to get some great shots with my DSLR, which I’ll share once I get back to Canada.

A cosmopolitan city, Budapest offers a tremendous nightlife and great food at low prices. Eating out at a place with take-out is just as cheap as cooking a meal from the grocery store. Alcohol in Hungary is also cheap.

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For those who love shopping, Andrassy street, the main drag in the city which was modelled after the Champs d’Elysees is lined with high end boutiques from the world’s most well-known brands.
Budapest’s thermal spas have been drawing tourists to the city for thousands of years. Every Saturday night, one of the city’s most well-known spas is turned into a giant night club, making for an epic water party fuelled by alcohol and house music. If you’re looking for a unique nightlife experience, check out the Spa party. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

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A great place for a weekend getaway, or maybe even more, Budapest is a playground for Europeans looking to live the good life. With cheap flight connections from across Europe, it’s an attractive destination. If I lived in Europe, I would visit regularly, it’s that good.