The beautiful city of Budapest was my latest photography destination as I spent a few days there at the end of March. The city is a fascinating one for photography with its many remarkable buildings and a succession of bridges across the Danube which winds its way through the middle of the city, separating the old settlements of Buda and Pest. The city is perhaps at its best during night time as almost all the main attractions are illuminated, making for a spectacular view.
The parliament building, the largest actively used state parliament in Europe, is a particular favourite of mine and I hoped to get some good shots of it during this trip. On the day of my arrival I was hoping to photograph the interior of the parliament but the tickets were sold out for that day so instead I headed to the nearby St Stephen's Basilica.
After recent trips to Prague and Riga I have started to enjoy visiting the grand old churches that can be found in many cities and photographing their interiors, usually with a wide angle lens (my 12-24mm lens seems ideal for this). Appropriately, this kind of photography often involves pointing the camera to the heavens in order to capture the patterns of high ceilings or cupolas.
The churches in Budapest seemed to be very rich and ornate in their details, not only in the main central spaces but also in all the alcoves and secondary areas, which made them extremely rewarding to photograph.
On the Buda side of the river the terrain rises steeply and there you can find the huge castle, the beautiful Matthias church and the remarkable neo-gothic battlements of the Fishermans Bastion.
At the foot of the castle hill lies the castle gardens and the buildings of the Várkert bazár and thanks to some advice from a friend I was able to find another staircase to add to my collection (after the lightbulb staircase in Prague and the art nouveau staircase in Riga). Budapest has many beautiful staircases but usually they are in private buildings so they are not easily accessible, the one in the Várkert bazár however is in regular public use and it resembles an eye when photographed from the right angle.
I usually try to make my photographs mostly in the camera rather than in the computer but in this case the staircase seemed to offer possibilities that were too good to ignore... the staircase looks like an eye, but eyes usually come in pairs, so it seemed inevitable that I should play with that.
On a rainy day later in the trip I may have had a little bit too much time on my hands as the family of staircase creatures started to grow...
At the end of that first evening I took a walk along the river at night and decided that the Chain Bridge was my favourite of the many interesting bridges across the Danube.
I almost always travel alone on these photography trips but this time I had made plans to meet up and shoot with a couple of photographer friends who I have got to know online over the past 5-6 months, Robert Juvet and Gergő Bakos (provider of excellent staircase advice from the day before), both of whom have been very successful in the photography competitions on GuruShots, winning many times over the past year. Robert was visiting Hungary from his home in Switzerland while Gergő is a native of Budapest and we spent about 12 hours of the second day of my trip shooting together in the Budapest area.
Our first destination was the Medveotthon Bear Sanctuary where we had a chance to photograph bears, wolves, lynx and some smaller mammals. This sanctuary provides a comfortable and protected environment for animals who have been released from their former duties in circuses or evicted from their homes in zoos around Europe. The animals are not free to roam the countryside, but they are given a relatively large area with suitable terrain in which to spend their days. To me the animals all looked well taken care of and content... if a little bit bored.
Although the bears and wolves were the headline acts, some of the smaller animals were a great support act, it was fun to watch a cute coati climbing up to the top branches of a tree to play.
The weather was sunny and mild at this part of the day and the bears were lazing around to take advantage of this.
The bear above looked like he might have already breathed his last breath but shortly afterwards he perked up and started doing some yoga :)
The interesting looking long horned Hungarian Grey cattle were the final attraction on this part of the visit.
After Medveotthon we visited a traditional Hungarian restaurant for some delicious lunch on our way to a place where there were a number of old military aircraft and helicopters gently falling apart in a field. This was an extremely interesting place, when it came to photographing it I found the most inspiration when concentrating on smaller details rather than trying to photograph entire aircraft.
As the sun began to set we made for our final destination, heading back to Budapest to shoot the city lights from the top of the hill at Citadella. This vantage point offers great panoramic views to many directions.
My favourite view from the Citadella hill was of the castle and the Matthias church with the suburbs of Budapest on the hill behind.
Over the past few months I have spent quite a bit of time exchanging ideas with Rob and Gergő and being finally able to get them and spend the day shooting with them was a special and memorable occasion and definitely the highlight of the trip for me. Gergő has been particularly helpful to me as I have tried to improve my skills in editing my pictures and I have appreciated that a lot while Rob and I seem to find interest and inspiration in similar places, often shooting in the mountains when possible. This was a successful meeting and I hope we can meet again.
On the following day Gergő had to return to work but I spent a few hours with Rob and his family as we visited Visegrad castle and then the Esztergom Basilica, from where you can get a clear view across the Danube to neighbouring Slovakia.
I would particularly like to thank Rob and his family for being such generous hosts, picking me up from my hotel and driving me around on both days despite the horrendous Budapest traffic.
After saying my farewells and thank-yous to the Juvet family my attention turned once again to the Parliament building. I booked a place on a tour of the interior for the following morning and went walking to try and see if I could find good angles to combine the parliament with one of the bridges.
The following morning my tour of the parliament started at 0815. As far as I could find out this was the only way to view the interior of the building, accompanied by about 60 other people (two guided tours at the same time, one in English and one in French on this occasion). This 45 minute tour gave some great information and took in some of the most interesting parts of the building but was something of a challenge from photography point of view due to the concentration of human beings in each area. The dome room, where the Hungarian crown is kept, would be a particularly beautiful place for pictures (the ceiling is spectacular) but all photography is forbidden in that room.
The grand staircase is truly an imposing sight and would make a great first impression for anyone entering by this route. From there we continued via the impressive dome room to view one of the parliament chambers. Originally the Hungarian parliament was a bi-cameral system and the building contains two identically sized chambers for debating and voting. Nowadays there is only a single parliamentary house and the other chamber is used for meetings and other parliamentary business.
On this kind of tour you quickly learn to try and get to each destination first, or leave last, or both, in order to get some chance for a photo before the crowd arrives. I found some opportunities initially by shooting from the crowd above people's heads but people tend to learn quickly so after a few seconds the people in front would also be taking pictures at arms length above their heads... so I would have multiple smartphones in any picture I tried to take.
After breakfast I had 3-4 hours before I should go to the airport. The weather was pretty miserable so I had to look for indoor photography opportunities. I decided to go to the Matthias church and see how that looked inside. This was a good idea.
This church, on the hill near to the castle on the Buda side of the river, is very beautiful on the outside, but the inside is even better. The rich colours, ornate decorations and beautiful designs in every part of the building make it a superb photography destination.
In this church the beauty was more than skin deep, even side passages and corridors were elaborately decorated.
As the rain poured down outside I spent a happy hour in this great place.
Although this was a short trip it was a really good one. Budapest is an excellent destination for photography and it could have held my interest for many more days, I have to return one day.
Thanks again to Rob and Gergő for good company on this trip.
Until next time,
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