Stepping off the train in Esztergom, I inhale a deep breath of fresh air. The town may be small, the station nearly deserted, yet the energy is enormous – almost palpable. The first thing that catches my eye is the huge basilica perched on the hill overlooking the town. I make a mental note to climb up there later.
We wander around the station a bit, to see if there’s a bus that can take us into town.
It soon becomes clear that English is not widely spoken here, but I find a strange comfort in the anonymity of being a foreigner in an unfamiliar land.
I am nameless, and the world is vast.
We are unsure how to get to the city center, other than walking. So, that is what we do. We walk.
As we continue our walk through the streets of Esztergom, we come across a few stores lining our path. One catches our eye, a shoe store, and we decide to pop in out of curiosity. The store clerks greet us with huge smiles.
Further down the street, my attention is drawn to a charming little produce store with an olive-green exterior – my favorite color. A striped awning, weather-beaten yet protective, drapes over the front door and window. I step inside. As I browse. I overhear the store attendant conversing with the only customer present, and I’m captivated by the melodic Hungarian language.
It draws me in and I feel like I’m part of this idyllic scene.
We carry on walking and eventually come upon the city square, small but pleasant. Modern shops and restaurants coexist harmoniously with historic buildings. Trees line the streets, and the sidewalks comfortably accommodate two people walking and chatting about their day.
According to Google, it typically takes roughly forty minutes to reach the Basilica from the train station. We’re almost there after an hour-long walk when we decide to stop for lunch. The Mediterranean-themed eatery, Mediterraneo, is adorable yet sophisticated. The outdoor patio is inviting. But since we had just endured the sun, we decide to sit inside under the fan to cool us down.
The host is courteous and understanding – honestly, one of the kindest souls I’ve encountered. Though he speaks limited English, he persists in trying to communicate with us and inquiring about our needs. We request a phone charger, and he obliges. The food is divine, prepared with love.
We linger a bit longer than usual, savoring the ambiance, catching our breath, and chatting about our trip so far. Eventually, we settle our bill to continue our journey.
The bridge linking Hungary to Slovakia is about a kilometer away, maybe less, so we opt to explore Stúrovo, Slovakia, en route. I’m not sure what I anticipated, but crossing into another country with such ease was not it.
Passport in hand, we cross the deserted border without seeing a soul. I’ll share more about the town of Stúrovo later.
Next, we head to the Esztergom Basilica, the largest church in Hungary – built in the 19th century – the city’s guiding light. It sits atop a massive hill, underscoring its magnificence and beauty. The mere act of gazing up at it while approaching fills me with a sense of hope and inspiration.
The emptiness of the streets, the stark contrast, having just left the lively city of Budapest, was so refreshing and welcomed. It felt like I had the whole city to myself. How is this place not swarming with tourists every minute?
I felt like I had found this special treasure.
I thought about the people that lived there too. What does it feel like to live in such a tranquil and beautiful place? To so clearly be able to hear the birds sing and the wind blow every day. Seemingly closed off to the world, like an impenetrable bubble.
Finally, we make it to the top of the hill and the view from the basilica is breathtaking. The river stretches out in front of me, and I can see for miles. How many people have stood in this exact spot throughout history and marveled at the same view? Because it truly is a view.
Esztergom, once the capital of Hungary, has a rich history dating back to the Roman times. It was the center of the Hungarian Catholic Church and the birthplace of the first Hungarian king, Saint Stephen. The town has witnessed many battles and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout history.
I take a moment to reflect on the beauty of this town and the history that has shaped it. It’s amazing how such a small place can hold so much significance.
As I head back down the hill, I wonder how many more special places like this exist in Hungary? And how lucky am I to have stumbled upon Esztergom today? I gotta come back. I am going back.
Plan A Trip
Are you planning a trip to Esztergom? I recommend checking out the official website of the Esztergom-Budapest Archdiocese Tourism Office.
The website offers a wealth of information about the town’s many museums, galleries, and cultural events. There are also plenty of outdoor activities to explore, from hiking trails to the stunning Danube Bend, where you can take a river cruise or rent a kayak.
If you’re interested in exploring the religious heritage of Hungary, the website offers a comprehensive guide to the town’s many churches and monasteries.
There’s also information about the many pilgrimages that take place in Esztergom, including the annual National Pilgrimage, which draws thousands of visitors from all over Hungary. Happy travels.