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HIKING: BUDAPEST HEAD No Blues on the Danube

July 17, 1994|JOHN McKINNEY

Mysterious, exotic, surprising. These are some of the reactions I had while exploring the "Queen of the Danube," Budapest, on foot.

On one side of the Danube are the Buda Hills, said by some geologists to be the last gasp of the Alps, rising dramatically from the water. On the other side of the river is Pest, low and flat and stretching into the plains. Marking this meeting of Europe and Asia are towers and turrets, castles and cathedrals. And over on Margaret Island is a tall bronze monument symbolizing the 1873 union of old Buda and new Pest, the result being Budapest, surely a more euphonious name combined than divided.

The most popular river walk, for visitors and locals alike, is the Danube Promenade on the Pest side of the city. It's a place for an evening stroll or an evening talk in one of the many riverside cafes. You can walk from Chain Bridge south to Elizabeth Bridge, then walk back on the Buda side of the Danube.

Chief riverside landmarks are the Danube's eight beautiful bridges. Oldest of the bridges so beloved by Budapest residents is Chain Bridge, built by Englishman Adam Clark in 1849, destroyed by retreating Nazi armies, and rebuilt and reopened in 1949.

Two bridges, the Arpad and the Margaret, link Margaret Island with Buda and Pest. The Margaret, designed by French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, is especially intriguing because it abandons its straight trajectory about midriver and heads off at an obtuse angle. From certain angles the bridge appears to end in midair.

Margaret Island, a green refuge away from the hubbub of the city, is another great place to walk. The island's thermal pools, extensive hydrotherapy programs and fine hotels draw spa-goers from around the world. Slake your thirst with some Margaritsziget Kristalyviz, Margaret Island Mineral Water.

Enjoy an afternoon walk under fine old trees and through a rose garden and a sculpture garden.

Must-do city walks include Castle Hill, a half-mile-long limestone plateau on the west bank of the Danube containing Budapest's most important medieval monuments and best museums. Gellert Hill, crowned with Independence Monument, Budapest's unofficial symbol, offers great views.

While city walking, pick up the widely available Budapest map by Cartographia that includes hiking trails in the Buda Hills.

DANUBE, MARGARET ISLAND, BUDA HILLS TRAILS

WHERE: Budapest, Hungary

DISTANCE: 1-4 miles round trip.

TERRAIN: Riverbanks and hillsides

HIGHLIGHTS: Budapest's bridges.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy, though the Buda Hills may get your heart pumping.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Ibusz Travel Agency / Hungarian Tourist Board, 1 Parker Plaza, Suite 1104, Fort Lee, N.J. 07024; tel. (201) 592-8585

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