A Winter Bike Tour through Budapest
Cycling with a Yellow Zebra
As you might guess we not only love cycling in our hometown Berlin but anywhere really. The annual Cycle Cities symposium brought us to beautiful Budapest this time. Cycle Cities is a network of fellow bike tour operators from all over Europe, the US and Australia, who meet every year to get to know each other and exchange knowledge and experiences to create the best bike tours in the world. I joined the symposium for the first time and met people from 20 (!) cities, which was lots of fun mostly because these bike-crazy people are such a friendly bunch.
Part of our program was, of course, a bike tour through Budapest, organized by our generous hosts from Yellow Zebra Budapest. Their home base is in a shop behind the Hungarian State Opera. Apart from storing their bikes and welcoming their guests there, they also sell second-hand books in English on a gallery upstairs which gives the place a very cozy vibe.
Temperatures in Budapest were not too friendly around 0° C, so our hosts asked us if we wanted go on a walking tour instead. Even if we wanted to, that was of course not an option, if we are not weather-proof, who will be? So, after grabbing one of their yellow bikes we set off in 3 groups to explore the city.
To my surprise our guide Bogata immediately went onto the side walk, which doesn’t seem to be a problem in Budapest. Although streets are usually too narrow for cycle paths in the Jewish quarter where we stayed, bigger streets have one more often. After a brief stop at the opera house, we took a cycle path going down Andrassy boulevard, the city’s main avenue, cycling past grand mansions from the 19th century and designer shops. Think Unter den Linden just grander and prettier. Right from the start you can see and feel that this city was once part of a great empire. The Habsburg dynasty ruled the Austro-Hungarian empire from Vienna with Budapest as its co-capital until 1917.
Our first stop leads us to St. Stephen’s basilica, Budapest’s biggest church, named after Hungary’s first king. According to our guide, buildings are not allowed to be higher than the basilica in the city. This includes the parliament building which is of equal height to symbolize that neither church nor state rule over one another.
From here we take off to Liberty square, home among more grand old buildings to the Hungarian National Bank and the US Embassy. My curiosity is grabbed by a monument in front of us though, as people have seemingly created another make-shift monument in front of it. People have left lots of historical photographs, flowers, candles and other signs of remembrance in front of what turns out to be the Memorial to the victims of the German occupation. Erected only in 2014 by Victor Orban’s government, in the middle of the night no-less, critics of the monument say it is trying to rewrite history and absolve Hungary from its responsibility in the Holocaust. Portraying innocent Hungary as a helpless victim of the “German eagle” while its government collaborated with the Nazis. The signs left by Holocaust survivors and protesters seem to form its own counter-memorial.
From here we hop on the bikes very briefly to go to the other side of the square where we are introduced to two other memorials. The Soviet War Memorial honors the Red Army soldiers that died during Budapest’s liberation at the end of the 2nd World War. It is one of the very few remaining Soviet monuments in Hungary. Weirdly right next to it stands the statue of former US president Ronald Reagan facing the US embassy. Unfortunately I read about its existence beforehand, otherwise that would have been quite a surprise. So what is Reagan doing here? We learn from our guide that the statue is honoring him for his involvement in ending the Cold War, which brings our mind our right back to our hometown Berlin and his famous speech in front of Brandenburg Gate to “Tear down this wall!”.
After getting hit with Europe’s 20th century history in just one square and our hands and feet slowly turning into ice, we are celebrating when one of the other guides suggests we take an early break and had over to the Strudel House. The name already gives it away, everybody can choose from at least 10 different kinds of strudel! Poppyseed apple and raspberry custard are both amazing, together with a hot chocolate, I’m not sure I ever want to leave this place.
After getting all warm and cozy we continue our tour with a place we’ve already seen from the Danube River the night before on a river cruise. Hungary’s parliament building is just massive from wherever you look at it. We actually didn’t talk about it too much as Bogata turns our attention to another fairly small memorial. On a building just opposite parliament metal plugs that look like large bullets are attached to the wall. The plugs preserve bullet holes from the Hungarian uprising in 1956 when protesters where shot in this square. Most people know that the Revolution eventually failed after Soviet troops invaded the city but our guide gave us a detailed and moving account of the events. We still leave on a lighter note though as Bogata points out that around the square apart from the winning design for the parliament building also the entries that made second and third place were built.
We move on to our last stop, a smaller cousin of the city’s famous Great Market Hall, the Downtown Market close to Liberty Square. Housed in a beautiful building from the end of the 19th century, people not only go here for buying local produce and the omnipresent Hungarian salami but also to eat from a great choice of food stalls in the gallery. You can find everything here from local to international cuisine. Parts of our group descend on the langos place and if it wasn’t for the strudel I would definitely go for another one of these. In case you don’t know langos, it is a deep fried dough traditionally served with sour cream, garlic and grated cheese on top and must be one of the best hangover foods in the world.
After this short trip into local food culture we cycle back to our starting point and return our bikes. Cycling is surprisingly easy in Budapest and I can only recommend taking a tour there (of course!). Many many thanks to our hosts from Yellow Zebra and our great guide Bogata! I must return another time as we spent all our time in Pest and never made it to Buda, the Western side of the river. So, go to Budapest already and take a bike tour with our partners from Yellow Zebra!
If you already booked a tour with us or another member of cyclecities, make sure to register on their site to claim your 20% discount for a tour in Budapest. In our case the code is in the email, we sent you after the tour. If you don’t have the code anymore, just ask the nice folks at Yellow Zebra, they might just give you the discount anyway.