I feel like a lost pup during the initial few days at a new place – especially when it comes to commuting between cities or towns using public transport. More so, where English isn’t widely spoken. “What if…?”, “How will I?”, “Where will I…?” – questions like those kill me with anxiety. Happens to me every single time I travel, happens to me despite having traveled to a dozen countries so far. And therefore, my first commute between cities or towns using public transport becomes a big, important event in itself. My day trip to the Danube Bend from Budapest was one such “big” event.

But what’s the Danube Bend? The Danube river originates in Germany, flows through Austria and then forms the border between Slovakia and Hungary. It flows between some hills in Hungary, which force it to change its course and make a sharp turn southward, toward Budapest. This curve of the river caused by the hills on both its sides is called the Danube Bend (Dunakanyar in Hungarian).

Danubemap.png
Danube River (Map Source: Public Domain)

There are several pretty towns and villages along the Danube Bend that you can visit to get away from the bustling Budapest and experience the Hungarian countryside. The more popular Szentendre, Visegrad and Esztergom are on the west bank of the Danube and the lesser visited Vac, Vacratot, Zebegeny, and Nagymaros are on the east bank.

I’d heard about Szentendre and getting to Szentendre from Budapest seemed fairly easy. And since Visegrad and Esztergom are on the same route ahead and can easily be reached by bus from Szentendre, those were the places I chose for my day trip from Budapest. “You won’t be able to do justice to all the three places in a day”, warned the girl at the reception desk in my hostel in Budapest. I wanted to carry on with my overambitious plans in any case.

I checked Google Maps for my commute options and took a train from Margit Hid (Margaret Bridge), budai hidfo train station. Of course, since this was the first time I was taking public transport in Hungary, I went through my usual hassles and confusions – problem locating the station despite having Google Maps for rescue, confusion while buying the ticket at the machine, etc. Thankfully, there are kind people everywhere and they are always too willing to help. When I was desperately trying to figure out the instructions on the ticket machine (the instructions were in Hungarian and I couldn’t see an icon for the English language), one of the two old gentlemen standing near the adjacent machine offered to help. “Funny, these machines… They confuse me!”, he said with a smile after handing my ticket to me. A nice way to make me feel less of an idiot perhaps. It sure helped! ?

The journey to Szentendre took about 40 minutes. Szentendre turned out to be a laid-back, pretty town with cobblestone streets and colorful houses.

Cobblestone Streets and Colorful Houses and Umbrellas

Apparently, Szentenre is known as the Artist’s Village. Hundreds of painters, poets, musicians and actors are said to have made this town their home. You will see a long list of art galleries and museums on the board showing the map of Szentendre just outside the train station. Among the numerous museums, the most popular ones are the Szamos Marzipan Museum that showcases marzipan statuettes and the Skanzen Village Museum or The Hungarian Open Air Museum, which shows the folk architecture and life in different parts of Hungary. For wine lovers, there’s the National Wine Museum too. As for me – well, I skipped all the museums and art galleries and spent my time walking through the town enjoying the vibe and admiring the colorful town and its shops selling traditional Hungarian crafts and souvenirs. And oh, I was surprised to see an Ayurveda center… in Szentendre!

Staircase in Szentendre

I spent some time by the Danube riverside enjoying the cool breeze and music of the wind and the waves. I walked around for quite some time on some empty streets until noon, when tourists started showing up and the streets and eateries started buzzing with activity.

Danube Riverside, Szentendre

Late in the noon, I took a bus from Szentendre to Esztergom, one of the oldest towns in Hungary, the capital of the country from 10th to 13th century and the birthplace of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. The views of Visegrad, the greenery around, and Danube on the way were mind-blowing. I promised myself that on my way back from Esztergom to Budapest, I’d spend some time in Visegrad.

When I reached Esztergom, it was already 3:30ish in the noon. With absolutely no clue about what to expect or see in the town (yep, I hadn’t done my homework!), I started wandering and wondering what I could do in about 2 hours, so I could be on my way back to Budapest by the last bus.

Not too far from the bus station was St. Thomas Hill. I walked up the hill at a leisurely pace, absolutely alone, wondering if I was even allowed to go up and continuing anyway since there was no one who would complain or stop me. I sat on the steps near a chapel, soaking in the tranquility and beauty of the views around. I was tired. I’d walked almost the entire day. I wanted to sit there for some time and just be. But that was the luxury I couldn’t afford for too long – I had a bus to catch. I gathered the strength and started walking again.

St. Thomas Hill, Esztergom

While I was walking from St. Thomas Hill to find my way back to the bus stop, I came across an enormous building with the letters “CAPUT, MATER ET MAGISTRA ECCLESIARUM HUNGARIAE” inscribed on it. I was at the largest church/basilica in Hungary! Sadly, the basilica was closed and I missed the views of the mountains and the Danube that the top of the dome is said to provide. And that wasn’t the only thing I missed. I also missed crossing the Maria Valeria bridge that connects Esztergom in Hungary with a town in Slovakia. It was time to catch a bus back to Budapest and there was no time to stop in Visegrad either.

Esztergom Basilica
Had no clue that this was the largest basilica in Hungary at the time I clicked this selfie!

I returned to Budapest a little disappointed with myself… wishing that I’d planned my visit to these places a little better. These places do deserve a minimum of 2 days for exploring and I felt silly to have tried to squeeze everything in a day. But then, sometimes it’s okay to make mistakes. And then, what’s travel without such mistakes and lessons learned from those? 🙂