Embarkation day for our cruise had arrived but we had a few plans, with our guide Gabriella, to take care of first. We planned to make a half day visit to Szentendre with a stop at the Roman ruins of aquincum on the way.
The drive to Szentendre took us over the Danube to the Buda side and through parts of Budapest we otherwise might never have seen, areas developed under the rule of communism with sprawling utilitarian housing blocks alongside modern department stores and with a spattering of some much, much older construction, the remnants of Roman occupation. Gabriella explained some of the hardships of living in the sprawling communist structures, such as having very small living quarters and a centralized heating system, that was turned on and off by the government and of which you had no control over whatsoever.
The scattered Roman ruins we passed were once part of Aquincum, the capital of Roman occupied Hungary, which at the time was called Pannonia. Hungary was under Roman rule from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD. Aquincum was a town of about 15,000 people and the main excavation site can be visited along with a museum, I was disappointed that it was not open the day we were there but we did stop to look at the excavated ruins from the street.
Once we were past Aquincum things started to get a bit more rural, we were leaving Budapest and the remaining drive to Szentendre was short, which makes it a great option for a half day trip.
Szentendre has been settled since Roman times but was destroyed in the Mongol and Ottoman invasions in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was rebuilt in the 17th century so most of the historic buildings are in the Baroque style and it is really very pretty. When we arrived we were dropped on the outskirts and walked to the main square, it was a leisurely stroll through the winding cobblestone streets with so many photo opportunities.
Once you get closer to the main square there are many interesting shops with local artists and Hungarian made goods. We would explore this area but first we made the climb up to the Saint Janos church to take in it’s lofty views, on the way back down we met a couple of friendly and furry locals.
We made our way back to the town square for a look around and more importantly shopping and eating! We hit the small Christmas market first and I decided to try a Hungarian pizza called Langallo, it was so good! After that we spent the rest of our limited time shopping and ended up with a pottery sculpture, a Hungarian leather handbag and Christmas ornaments made from handpainted eggs.
It was time to head back to Budapest, we had a ship to catch! We walked down to the waterfront. Szentendre lies on the Danube and the promenade along the river reminds you of somewhere in the south of France, which come to think of it a lot of the town reminded me of Southern France.
If you have a couple of days in Budapest and want to see something different, I highly recommend a trip to Szentendre. I do hear that it gets very crowded in the summer with locals and tourists alike flocking there.