We sailed out of Vienna for an overnight ride to Budapest with a 4 hour stop on the way at the small town of Esztergom.
As is normal for me, I was up around 05:30 so went upstairs to read and enjoy the scenery. On my way to the lounge I met on of our co-passengers from South Africawho was in the middle of a frantic phone call to a family member who is a pharmacist. Apparently, her husband had been retching all night and she was trying to get advice on what to do. Little did we know that this was the start of something not so wonderful on a boat trip. I shall write more in the next blog as that is where it really started to be serious.
We were told that there was nothing of interest at Esztergom except the Basilica which goes by the name of Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St Adalbert. Never believe that there is nothing of interest in a place. It is always new and different and if one just walks about a place it is amazing what you can find that many others never see. We docked at Esztergom at 07:00 and were directed to be back on board in time for an 11:00 departure. If one does not return in time, the boat does not wait! It then becomes that passenger’s responsibility to get to the next port of call, in this case Budapest, at one’s own expense.
View of the Basilica from the boat behind the old city wall
When we left the boat we were sure that 4 hours would be more than sufficient but we were in for a special surprise. Directly opposite the dock was a set of approx. 200 steps which make up Macska út (Cat street/Cat steps), a little street which leads to the top of the hill on which the Basilica is stands. Having climbed enough steps in Prague to the Petrin Tower we declined to go that route or to travel on the little bus which transported the infirm to the Basilica. The 2 of us decided to follow a path which wound its way around the bottom of the hill until we reached a spot where it intersected with a town road. (A note to reasonably fit Seniors – many areas around the Danube are quite steep and it is really worthwhile to seek the easier path. One often finds something interesting and unexpected too)
A small section of the street of steps
The beautiful woodland path to the Basilica
The path became the sidewalk of this road and then we continued on a road to the right which was parallel to the riverside path we had started on. A hundred yards or so on this road was a beautiful woodland path and a gentle climb to the last 20 odd stairs right up to the Basilica. We met a few people who had climbed the stairs and they were surprised to meet us not huffing and puffing. As we entered the lower building we disturbed a young man who clearly slept there on a regular basis, based on the amount of stuff he had. It must have been bitterly cold for him as it is a stone building and no sun shone on it. He had left by the time we returned.
Some homes on the street we arrived at from the path
We also discovered something else which many others did not get to see and that was the statue of St Stephen being crowned. He was the last Grand Prince of the Hungarians and the 1st King of Hungary in the 11th Century. He is believed to have been born in Esztergom and once on the throne worked hard to establish Christianity as the only religion in Hungary and appointed an Archbishopric based at Esztergom, 6 Bishops and 3 Benedictine Monasteries which helped to separate them from the Roman Empire. As King Stephen 1 and later St Stephen he was very popular with the Hungarians. Back to the statue – it is HUGE! In fact it is 12m high but so beautifully sculptured that one can see the whole statue quite clearly.
Statue of the Consecration of St Stephen
The statue is found off to the side of the Basilica itself and if one approaches from the main road up to the Basilica or follows the path to it at the top of the stairs it is easy not to see the statue. We had seen it from the lower path and went there first. From there we walked under the trees around to the main entrance.
On our way we stopped to look over a wall and saw the Faculty of Sciences building of the local university in front of which was a spotless, well laid out car and bus park. On turning around to go to the Basilica itself we also spotted a statue of a Hussar on horseback. Interesting to have a representative of one of the cruellest armies in a church garden.
The University Faculty of Sciences Building
Statue of a Hussar on horse
From the front of the Basilica one looked down a wide street into the town. Turning around one is faced with a building that is just amazing. There is a statue of the Virgin Mary in the approach area overlooked by the front of the Basilica which has a row of columns across the entrance. Every time we see these magnificent buildings, solid and intricately decorated, we are in awe considering they had none of our machines. This one has stood for more than 1000 years!
A view of Esztergom from the Basilica
Statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the Basilica
After a short tour of the inside of the church which, like so many of the churches of this age, is brightly and beautifully adorned with paintings, golden ornaments, dozens of stained glass windows and an imposing organ. The altarpiece is a painting of The Blessed Virgin, the largest painting in the world painted on a single piece of canvas. One can also visit both the huge Egyptian style Crypt with over 100 graves of Archbishops and the high tower each of which requires an entry fee and has a number of steps to access each – 400 for the tower. Needless to say, we did neither. We had done enough climbing stairs in Prague.
Inside the Basilica
Sanctuary of the Basilica
We walked around the other side of the church from where we got wonderful views of the town, of the River Danube, including our boat, and the beautiful bridge across to the rest of the town on the other side. The entrance to the original castle now a military post was to one side of the church.
Castle, now a military post, entrance
An arched brisge over the Danube linking 2 halves of the town
Our boat, the bridge and some former Socialist apartments
Realising that we had just on an hour to get back to the boat we decided to begin our descent. On the way down we passed the Bishop’s Palace and a Protestant Church with 2 beautiful spires. There was also a door to a Christian Museum but sadly no time to go in for a look.
The Bishop’s Palace and the church spires
The door to the Christain Museum
We retraced our steps to the little room where we had seen the homeless man and as we went down were able to get a number of photos from that height of various parts of the town. This time we chose to go down the 200+ stairs but slowly as they proved to be quite uneven.
Another view some of the street of stairs
View over the Danube as we descended. The pathe in the foreground is the one we used to get to the Basilica