Now that our dogs have returned to the States (and are living in the lap of luxury with my parents), it’s hard to be motivated to return to my regular daily walks. This was especially true in February, where the wind, drizzly rain, and cloudy days made me glad that I had no puppy eyes staring up at me, begging for a trip to the dog park. However, Budapest is experiencing some pretty springtime weather (we actually hit 60°F yesterday for a brief yet glorious moment), and after spending a few days with the soul-sucking tasks of researching potential future jobs, houses, and mortgage rates, I was ready for an extended break from the computer screen.
Today, I headed to Margaret Island (Margitsziget in Hungarian). I’ve mentioned it briefly on the blog, as it’s a spot we often took the dogs on sunny weekends. It’s easy to access – the 4/6 tram that runs along the Great Boulevard has a stop just for the island – and you could spend an entire day exploring it. For the athletes, there is a 5.35km running trail (with nice spongy material, although it’s a bit bedraggled in spots), an Olympic swimming pool, various sports and athletic centers, and, in the summer months, the Palatinus Strand, a bath complex with swimming pools, a wave pool, and slides.
For those who enjoy ruins, the island has plenty of those. At one time, the island was actually three individual islands, one of which was known as the Rabbit Island. Beginning in the 12th century, this island was mainly known for its religious groups, with monasteries, convents, and churches vying for space – including a Dominican convent housing Margaret, daughter of King Béla IV. I’ve heard from a tour guide or two that the king promised his daughter Margaret to God if only he would stop the Mongol invasion of Hungary, so he gave her to the care of the Dominican nuns. I don’t know if that part’s true, but I do know that he later attempted to set her up with the King of Bohemia, but she refused to leave her beloved convent and took her final religious vows to prevent him from marrying her off. Cheeky of her. The island, combined with two others in the 19th century in order to control the flow of the Danube, now bears her name, and you can visit her grave there.
When the Ottomans invaded Hungary, they destroyed many religious institutions, so today, all that remains of the convent, as well as the nearby Franciscan church and monastery, are ruins.
This is the Chapel of Saint Michael (Szent Mihaly kapolna) – if I read the plaque correctly, it was originally from the 13th century, but this is a 19th or 20th century reconstruction, using the ruins that were found on the island. The bell is original, I believe. Services are still held in the chapel – I couldn’t go in today, actually, due to a mass!
For those who don’t find ruins fascinating, there are plenty of other sights to suit your fancy, like this gorgeous Art Nouveau water tower (you can go in it during the summer months for a view of the city). At the base of the tower is an exhibition center and a small outdoor theater for musical performances.
Or perhaps you like gardens? The island is home to a vast amount of green space, suitable for a pickup game of football or frisbee, but several sections of the park have been turned into gardens. In winter, it’s a bit bare, but in the late spring and summer months, it’s a riot of color. Today, I visited the Japanese garden for the first time. It’s on the far side of the island (close to the Árpád bridge) and was recently renovated, although there are still signs of remaining projects, cordoned off with plastic barriers.
There are also two musical fountains on the island. The first, close to the Margaret Bridge and the main entrance to the island, was recently renovated and features pulsing water to the beat of various songs, much like the Bellagio fountains of Vegas (although not nearly as grand).
I actually thought this was THE musical fountain and have been calling it that for three years now, but it turns out (per the official Margaret Island map) this is just “the fountain” and the “musical fountain” is on the opposite end of the island, near the Japanese gardens and the Árpád bridge. Strangely, it’s not actually a fountain, but a well, built in 1935 as an exact replica of a well built in Marosvásárhely, Hungary, in the 1820s. It had a special clock and musical chime that was powered solely by the well’s water. The Margaret Island version uses the less-energy-efficient method of electricity to run the music, and it had to be significantly repaired after sustaining damage in WWII. It was renovated again in 2014, and now is pretty gorgeous.
There’s also what’s referred to as the Artists’ Promenade, with busts of various Hungarian painters and sculptors in all different styles and sizes.
My favorite feature of the island is one of the simplest, though – plenty of benches scattered throughout the park to bring a book and catch some sun. As soon as the temperatures hit 70 degrees, that’s where you’ll find me!