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The most sensational visual trip in Budapest is unquestionably a night cruise on the Danube, writes Andrew L. Urban.

In just one hour, our bubble boat, the Legenda, slid silently past some of the city's historic markers as well as taking us close to the most modern arts 'palace', with which I boast a tenuous connection, through my late uncle's work as one of its architects. He even showed me the plans some years ago, and last year I attended a concert there with his adult son, a neurosurgeon.

I had inadvertently picked the full moon for my solo cruise, and she put on a show: as we approached the arts palace, she was a misty, faintly pink apparition, peeping from behind clouds, low in the sky, a dramatic entrance. By the end of our cruise, she could be seen fully naked above the Parliament, in a clear night sky. A designer moon ...

The Legenda is called a bubble boat because of its curved glass canopy covering the bulk of the seating, over 100 comfortable chairs, each with headphones for multi lingual commentary. But I had come down during the day to check it out and had spied a spiral staircase at the rear, which leads to a narrow open deck, with one row of single seats on either side of the central passage. My only criticism of the arrangements is the large TV screen in the middle at the front of this deck, which provides an accompanying narrated doco about the sights. It may be practical, but it obscures the forward view.

I was first up and took the first seat, taking in the view as the Legenda is berthed facing north, towards the Royal Palace up on the hill in Buda, all aglow in lights, posing grandly over its domain.

Below it is the famous Chain bridge, perhaps the most spectacularly lit of all the bridges, with its elegant cable lines and superstructure studded with a myriad 'bulbs' and the two main support structures awash in light As with all the lighting, the source of the lights is never evident (those bulbs aside), a technique well developed here, given the volume of lighting involved across the city.

Behind me and next to me were a Spanish couple and their son, for whom early spring on the river was the equivalent of a deep winter, especially by the end of the cruise, which began at 9pm. He shuddered and his teeth clattered as he tried to rug up, while his wife had shrouded herself in a scarf. But they were riveted and stayed up on deck.

Not far from the Palace on the Castle Hill, the most famous church in Budapest, St Matthias, is clearly visible, its signature roof pattern and striking steeple a monument to Hungary's first and much loved King, Stephen. The young King founded the first church on the site in 1015. The current building was buit in the late 14th century and restored in the late 19th century, to its present state, with its unique interior and exterior. It isn't big (only the seventh largest church in Hungary) but its fabulous.

Snuggled into the hillside we see the grunt of the old Fishermans Bastion, famous now for its seafood menu and wonderful atmosphere, but looking for all the world like a battle ready fort, which it was, lit to accentuate its turrets amidst the foliage of the hill. It features seven turrets in all, each representing one of the founding tribes of Hungary (in 895) and was built at the turn of the 19th century. Some people compare its outlines with the Walt Disney fairy castle.

As we draw level with these historic buildings, across on the Pest side is the amazing Parliament, the winning design of an architectural competition launched in 1876. It was officially opened in 1896, the country's 1000th anniversary (but not fully complete until 1905). From the river at night, it glows in a soft light, the architectural details clearly etched with light and its reflection in the dark Danube mixed with other lights creates a painter's palette of colours.

After the Chain bridge, the second most eye catching is the elaborate metalwork and decorations of the green Liberty bridge, lights revealing such details as the iconic Hungarian crown with its tilted cross, at the centre of each of the two mainstays. This an exotic bridge by day, a magic kingdom one at night.

Standing tall and apart from the Palace area on the Buda side, a little further south, is the world famous Citadella, a statute of a graceful female holding above her head a large palm leaf, erected after the Hungarian revolution of 1848, and completed in 1854. It is part of what was the fortress overlooking the city, and stands 230 metres high on the top of Gellert Hill. A truly dramatic night sight. Not far from her is the modest but beautifully lit monument to St Gellert (originally an Italian Benedictine monk named Gerard Sagredo) who was barbarically martyred by being hurled down this hill inside a barrell studded with nails in September 1038. Such was the nature of the anti-Christian times.

The grand old Gellert Hotel at the foot of the hill is a splendid vision, its grandeur still somehow evoked by the lights that announce the presence of something special. it was once THE grand Budapest hotel, boasting fabulously designed thermal baths, a large swimming pool with articifical waves (where I experienced my first wave as a kid) and much else.

As we cruise back towards our berth, we look down at some of the smaller craft that ply the Danube with visitors on board; not down our noses so much as down below the upper deck, which offers perhaps the highest cruising platform of the various operators.

Returning to land, I cross the quayside road and through a small tunnell emerge up on the tram tracks at the Vigado square station, the square bustling with visitors and locals, cafes and restaurants inviting all to enjoy the view of majestically lit Buda across the Danube. But I've been there, done that ...

Published June 10, 2015

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More info: www.legenda.hu

Daytime and Dinner cruises also available

Prices from 3,900 HUF (one drink included)

My cruise normally 5,500 HUF (one drink included)

Dinner package cruise 16,900 HUF

Cruise courtesy Legenda

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