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Budapest is a European city I find very attractive and love to revisit many times. Having seen most of the major sightseeing attractions in the city on our last trip we decided to take time out and visit a town I had always wanted to see because of its Serbian influences. I have always found Serbia a crazy country culture wise and couldn't wait to see just what lay ahead in the Hungarian town of Szentendre.
Szentendre is the Hungarian word for St Andrew and you can find this picturesque town on a bend in the River Danube north of Budapest. This small, attractive town, the centre of Serbian settlement in Hungary, has been known as an artists' colony since the very early 1920s, and is now a very popular tourist centre for day trippers from Budapest.
Before you enter the town you will pass the first evidence of Serbian presence in Szentendre; The Pozarevacka church, built in 1773. Having studied iconography in Art History I knew about this church and one wall in particular with its icons in Byzantine style. It is really very beautiful to look at and the more you study the icons you are able to understand the culture that they originated in.
A couple of hundred metres on is Fo ter, an irregular space that constitutes the heart of the town. Its centrepiece, the Plague Monument, a masterpiece of wrought-iron work, was erected in1763 as a token of thanksgiving after the town was spared from the plague that ravaged the surrounding countryside.
Immediately behind Fo ter, three exceptional galleries beckon. An 18th century building that was originally a salt depot houses the works of Margit Kovacs, Hungary's best known ceramic artist. Her naive figures were dismissed by critics but won greater acclaim with the public. Close by is the Ferenczy Museum which was built as a Serbian school more than 200 years ago; the collected works of the entire Ferenczy family are spread over four spacious floors. Karol Ferenczy, the patriarch, was one of Hungary's leading impressionists and her work is an excellent example of this style. The Amos and Anna Museum contains the works of the lyrical painter Amos Imre and his wife, surrealist Anna Margit. Just pass this museum you can see the output of today's Szentendre artists in the Muveszet Malom (Art Mill), an exhibition hall which has been created from an old sawmill.
For lunch or dinner, the Aranysarkany Vendelgo on Alkotamany Street serves delicious Hungarian food and has an excellent wine list. This was the first restaurant in the country to be privatised after the communist regime fell.
There is no need to worry about further directions around a town built on a gently inclining hillside that slopes down into the Danube river. Stroll around the cobbled streets, where the only traffic is an occasional horse-drawn carriage, enjoy the host of shops and stalls selling folk art and rather splendid glass. At some point you might stroll down to the Danube embankment, from where you can watch life pass by on the river.
On the southern side of Fo ter, adjacent to the Ferency Museum, you will see the Serbian church Blagovestenska church, built in 1754. The choral voices inside are recorded rather than live but are delightful nevertheless. Look out for the rococo iconostasis of carved limewood, and the elaborate 18th century furnishings.
Take your time and slowly wander up the winding cobbled streets to Templom ter, to catch wonderful views over the town. Here stands the parish Church of St John, the oldest building in Szentendre. Although reconstructed in baroque style in the 18th century, the church retains a number of visible traces of its medieval heritage. From Templom ter, you can't miss the blood-red tower of Belgrade Cathedral. Surrounded by tall trees and a wall, the cathedral is open only for Sunday service (10am). There is, however, one building in the leafy compound that is bound to be open: the Serbian Ecclesiastical Art Collection. This collection features a treasure trove of icons, liturgical vessels and Arabic scrolls dating from the Ottoman period.
If you have any spare time then go and visit The Hungarian Open-Air Ethnographical Museum because it is extremely interesting and worth a visit. The museum is about 2 miles/3kilometres from Szentendre and can be reached by an hourly bus from Platform 8 of the bus station. The idea behind the museum is to gather buildings - churches, farmhouses, windmills and so forth - from 10 diverse regions of the country to illustrate the many features of Hungarian life over the past three centuries. The museum is constantly being developed and, so far, buildings from six regions have been reconstructed, of which probably the most interesting is the 17th century Greek Orthodox church from the village of Mandok near Zahony on the Ukranian border.
To reach Szentendre you can take the suburbian train from Batthyanyin, Budapest. They leave this point every ten to thirty minutes and you will find that the journey takes about 45 minutes. Buses leave Arpad hid bus terminal in Budapest for Szentendre also and they leave every thirty minutes. The journey takes 30 minutes - not too long to leave Budapest for a short while. You will still be in the same country but able to experience a much different culture. Highly Recommended.
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