May I present you riverside highlights from Budapest to Párkány (Sturovo)? There are many ways to achieve seeing them, by car, bus, boat, cruise, walking. I chose to do this by bicycle.

The Duna, or Danube (as known in English), has to be the most famous and celebrated river in Europe; Starting its 2860 Kms journey from Germany, the legendary Duna with much cargo, carries its elegant flow in a Easterly direction passing by many famous Central European land-marks. In particular Wien, where the Duna proceeds further with its fame with the famous “Blue Danube” waltz by Strauss; before venturing onto Bratislava (Pozsony).

Between Bratislava (Pozsony) and Sturovo (Párkány), the Duna distinguishes the border between Slovakia and Hungary before turning Southwards to the majestic Duna-Bend that carries spectacular beauty and renown before arriving in Budapest, the great river-side city. The flow continues another 400 Kms Southwards onto imposing Belgrade. Eastwards from there, onto another part border line, the Duna flows between parts of Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, before turning slightly North-Eastwards to the unique Duna Delta region, and the Black Sea.

Exploring the Duna any-time of the year is always a pleasure; Whether it’s because of the splendour of the high Summer scenery, as in these pictures. Or during early Spring or late Autumn when the colours of the landscape vary. And not forgetting the Winter, when the leaves are down, the crowds are few, and on a clear day, the views are even more spectacular! I often venture from Budapest to Sturovo, passing the Duna-Bend; Probably the most scenic spot, alongside with the more wilder, dramatic Kazan Straits, 700 Kms further along.

There are many boat rides and cruises available all year round. Information is easily found on websites and at the Budapest Tourist Information bureaus.


Part 1. Tourism

For a first impression, may I introduce a postcard view of the Duna from the Citadella? This striking monument stands on top of the Gellért Hill on the Buda side and gives a fine view of the Duna and the city centre.

On the left side are the Buda Hills and before us is the fine, imposing National gallery, which hosts national and international artworks of great renown. Further along is the more historical Castle District with its museums, galleries, meandering streets, cosy corners, hotels as well as the famous Matyas Church and the Halasz Bastya look out tower.

On the more commercial Pest side stands many fine offices, residential buildings and luxury hotels, as well as the architecturally famed parliament building. In-between Buda and Pest is the green Margaret Island with excellent swimming facilities, a concert venue and a musical fountain. This island is a great place for children and makes a peaceful getaway from the city!

We continue Northwards along the Buda side, passing the grandiose Széchenyi Lánchid, the Chain-Bridge,with imperialistic lions perched at both sides. Behind in this photograph, from the Pest side is the Országház, the Hungarian parliament.

This unique UNESCO world heritage site is situated in Kossuth Lajos Square and built between 1885 to 1904; and has played its part with Hungarian sovereignty and politics ever since. The exquisite building itself is of Gothic revival style; Whilst the elegant domes are of Renaissance revival style and is a distinguished cultural wonder.

Still on the same side; our sortie takes us 20 Kms upstream to the quaint Szentendre, Saint Andrew. This enchanting small town, dating back from 1146, has a calm provincial atmosphere and is a Mecca for local artists, authors, poets, musicians, actors. There are many little churches of various dominions as well as fine galleries, restaurants and novelty souvenir shops to welcome visitors. Should camping be your style, there is the wonderful Pap-Sziget camp-site just a little further up-stream from the town.

Another 20 Kms further along this popular route is the medieval castle town of Visegrad. Along side with Nagymaros directly opposite, they are the 2 main towns on the illustrious Duna-Bend and both connect with a ferry. From Visegrad Castle, one gets the best view of this immediate area.

The further up-stream one gets, the more varied the landscape becomes, as I pause for a while to take in the splendour of the Dömös rocky peaks opposite with my daughter Judy. 20 Kms later I arrive at the royal town of Esztergom with the highly symbolic Basilica before me.

Esztergom is truly an Danubian place and really has a spiritual presence. Pope John Paul II visited in 1990 and is at the centre of the Hungarian Catholic church. Once you have walked the romantic cobble-stoned streets, passing by many buildings up to the Basilica grounds. A fine panorama of Slovakia awaits as one can immediately see Sturovo.

To get there, head towards the Maria Valeria Friendship Bridge. To get the best view of the Esztergom Basilica, visit anywhere along the Sturovo Duna shore-line.

Sturovo, the most Southern point of Slovakia is a very pleasant town that provides an ideal rest before either venturing 150 Kms along the Duna cycle path to Bratislava; Or in this case, returning to Budapest on the other side.

Part 2. Independent travelling

I would like to now take you to the lesser known other side of the Danube.

For this, I had to make a 10 Kms same way return to the tiny Pilismarót harbour and take the 10 minute ferry crossing to the Szob shoreline. As the tug-boat shunters along, there is Slovakia on one side of the river and Hungary on the other.

Szob has a very fine atmosphere and very much worth a visit. The unruffled Duna scenery, without the crowds, along the number 12 road and cycle lane, is at its scenic best as the water flows downstream towards enchanting Nagymaros with swimmers and Visegrad Castle in plain view.

15 Kms from Nagymaros is the riverside town of Vac, similar to Esztergom; also a lovely scenic town with much to see and do with many restaurants and conveniences on hand.

From Vac, I took the ferry to Saint Andrew Island and made my way Southwards to another ferry crossing and made my way to Dunakeszi. Once again, this immediate riverside, with its wondrous riverside scenery is a paradise for swimmers, walkers and cyclists alike.

Finally I return to Budapest that Summer’s evening. The Pest river side with its many bars and restaurants were in full flow, as many tourists and local people congregate together to capture the scenic night time atmosphere.

It is well known by many that Buda and Pest are quite different; and is generally best to explore the city of Buda by day and Pest by night.

Part 3. The Blue Duna

To round this off, I wish to take you, dear friend, somewhere unexpected but special. Well… special to me, because I am English and this came to me as much of a surprise!

To achieve this, we must return to the Buda side and cycle 12 Kms Southwards to the lesser known riverside town of Budafok. Facing opposite is the industrial atmosphere of Northern Csepel Island with the tall, imposing chimneys of the less-famed Csepel Muvek works, all very much off the tourist trail.

However continuing along this cycle lane with chimneys still in view, is an very unexpected pleasure. By this shoreline stands 2 original English red double-decker buses! This touch of surrealism also provides a buffet and a welcome rest for the weary cyclist! As I declare my English identity to the friendly staff who serve me pancakes and ginger-beer.

From the buses, I end this tour, as I look directly southwards at the Duna, with so much history, mystery and magic, as it continues its flow elsewhere in its eternal waltz.

Bon Voyage!

Source: Copyright Alexander Stemp. August 2015

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