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hello from Pest

I just spent half an hour chronicling my days here only to have my &$#@$&$ machine freeze and I lost it all. So this time will be briefer (maybe better).

I arrived by bus (late) from Krakow and spent the rest of the evening getting settled and eating in my room after a brief trip to the nearby Spar. Friday was beautifully sunny, so I went to Szentendre - very pretty town, a little touristy but not many tourists and it was quite pleasant. I followed the RS guide book and that went well, though sometimes the directions weren't quite exact and the recommended restaurant was just so-so. Thanks to Christa for raving about the Margit Kovacs Museum, which I might have skipped otherwise, not expecting very much. I really enjoyed her work and except for the staff, I was the only visitor, so I had lots of quiet time to appreciate it . . . and take some photos (1000 ft for the privilege). The big disappointment was missing the boat. Literally. I found out at 5.10 that the last boat (only boat?) back left at 5.00.

I will end here before another software issue and continue later . . .

Posted by
13017 posts

James, I've been thinking of you several times a day for the last 4 days. Loving every minute in Pest, staying in a terrific flat just a blessed few meters from Kadarka Winebar . . . for which I alternately bless and curse you for recommending to me . . . bless you because I love it, curse you because I am not exploring other restaurants, bars or ruin pubs . . . just Kadarka!!! I had my first (and possibly only) glass of palinka Friday night - the only thing I can compare it to is white lightning, same effect, just tastes a whole helluva lot better. Thankfully, I had a small glass and I was already standing when I drank it, so I didn't fall off the stool and the street I'm on is a dead-end, so I didn't have to worry about moving vehicles on the way back to my flat.

Off to buy my train ticket for tomorrow to Pecs, then to the opera. I hope you are enjoying your trip as much as I'm enjoying mine.

Posted by
1966 posts

Chani--I'm so glad you enjoyed the Margit Kovacs museum, I also made a list of her public works and have found a few throughout Budapest, the easiest is the postal building on castle Hill--look up and there's one of her sculptures. I look forward to hearing about Pecs, hoping to get there next May.

Posted by
2055 posts

Hi there Chani, I enjoy your reports on your current adventure in Eastern Europe. Here in California it is sunny and bright, but a bit boring, so your reports spark the travel bug in me. Today is the annual Fiesta at the Carmel Mission, so I may just walk over there to enjoy the mariachis, etc. it is for good reason that my neighborhood is called Mission Fields. Travel well, and keep on drinking in the local culture, so to speak.

Posted by
12 posts

Looking forward to our trip in just over a week! Chani, let me know how you find Pecs - we'll be doing an overnight there in 2 weeks.

Posted by
362 posts

You may have already done this, but I have lost so much writing on my various computers over the years that I know just open a blank document. Type a few words. Save it with a title. Then keep going. It may not help depending on the issue, but it's saved me a lot of work if I save every few paragraphs.

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13017 posts

The opera was great. I was worried about what to wear. Maybe at the Opera House you're expected to dress up, but they closed it a week or so ago, and this season and next are taking place at the modern Erkel Opera House and based on last night, you can wear whatever you please - I saw a couple evening dresses, many people were wearing "dressy" clothes, suits/ties and nice dresses with suitable accessories. But there were a lot of folks in casual everyday clothes. I don't know if Rigoletto is a local fave or if locals just get into the the performance but the audience was very enthusiastic with lots of applause and curtain calls. This is the 25th year they've performed Rigoletto with the same lead singer. They had a special celebration for him at the end of the opera - it was in fact his 26th anniversary in the role, but one year they didn't produce this opera, so it's 25 seasons.

I've tried to have a slow-paced trip. 4 night stays in every city (5 in Krakow) but for some reason, I got very little sleep the last 2 nights running . I suspect it's a bit too much wine and food late at night . . . but I'm so busy beforehand and the wine is so good. And now I'm in the busy itinerary phase - 2 nights in Pecs, 1 each in Szeged and Kecskemet, then 2 in Budapest and home. I left half my stuff and the bits of shopping in Budapest and am traveling with just a backpack, so it's a little easier.

I missed the English-language walking tour (2 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays). On Wednesday there's Hungarian and German. They don't get all that many tourists here in Pecs. I had a bit of a walk around - beautiful, beautiful. Then picked a place for the view of the main square and had a hot drink and finger food. There was just enough time for a leisurely visit to the beautiful synagogue and a stop in the supermarket next to it for some drinks (non-alcoholic) and nosh for a light supper in my room. Now that it's dark, I am trying to convince my legs to get moving and take the RS self-guided tour. I'm bribing myself with the promise of a cup of hot chocolate at the end.

The weather has improved. After several days of rain and temps in the low teens, the last couple of days have been in the upper teens and dry, with some sunshine. The forecast is for more sun and even temps of 20 and more for the rest of my trip. YAYYY.

I had no plan yesterday for Pest. The great thing about a return visit is that I don't have to run around to see the top sights . . . that was my first trip. I walked around the Jewish Quarter following the RS route, skipping the Great Synagogue and museum (been there). Serendipity . . . the walk goes past the first (and most famous?) ruin pub which is usually closed during the day, but on Sundays it's great - a farmer's market with lots of vendors of local products and lots of tastings, and the pub is open for a buffet breakfast - all you can eat until they close at 2 pm for 5000 ft. Going in daylight allows you to see all the decorations in all the nooks and crannies that are probably pretty dark in the evenings. Then I walked through a passageway that was lined with arts and crafts, mostly hand-made . . . bought a beautiful photograph of the Chain Bridge and will probably go back to that photographer next weekend with more cash . . . Then I took the Opera House tour - right now, the tours continue. The stall seats and orchestra pit are gone but the rest of the building is untouched by the work.

Posted by
13017 posts

Larry, sunny and warm sounds lovely. the California missions are great, aren't they? Enjoy! I'm tentatively planning a visit next summer.

To Harold in NYC and Craig in Chicago, thank you for writing so glowingly of Pecs. Your comments were the impetus for my visit.

Saturday in Pest - I started at the Great Market Hall where my cash disappeared - not pickpockets, just purchases. The main floor is mostly food - Hungarian products and fresh produce. Clean and neat, a pleasure to walk through. The basement level is much smaller with fresh fish, some still swimming, and pickles. Every kind of vegetable possible is pickled and the jars are packed so that there are smiley faces peering out at you. One shop had jars with cat faces and dog faces. They were closed, luckily for me, or I woud have bought a couple and I don't need the weight or the potential mess in my suitcase. The top floor is for intrepid shoppers. The aisles are narrow and the textiles and souvenirs take up most of the space, so the walk space is pretty limited to start out, then the tourists walk slowly, stopping often to admire and consider purchasing the colorful wares, blocking the way for everyone else. I did find a souvenir bag that fit the dimensions I required so for me it was worth the struggle. It seemed that many of the vendors were selling the same stuff and it didn't look like there were any bargains to be had - beautiful stuff though, especially the textiles. Just way above my pay grade.

Posted by
1966 posts

Re applause and curtain calls: I had the same experience at the Operettszinhaz where I saw a perfectly delightful musical comedy/satire (they had great fun with American cultural icons, it was an absolute riot) called The Duchess of Chicago in 2016. Expecting the usual 5 minutes of clapping and a curtain call for the principal players then the whole cast as is fairly typical at home I was astounded when the clapping when on for nearly 20 minutes and a curtain call for principal and supporting cast and perhaps 3 for the whole ensemble. I kept clapping right along with everyone else and it was exhausting! But also wonderful to see how much the Hungarians love supporting the artists, they are quite joyful people.

Posted by
13017 posts

Christa, there were two intermissions, and when the curtain went down after each act, the cast came out for curtain calls, as well as at the end. ... . . . next weekend back in Pest for Figaro.

Posted by
140 posts

Big Thumbs Up - always nice to read about someone enjoying the city/country.
The Kovacs museum is Szentendre is great - I love her pieces, the figurines are so expressive.
Enjoy - Don

Posted by
13017 posts

I am at the end of 4 days of "small" towns in southern Hungary and heading back to Pest in the morning. I am so glad I stayed 2 nights in Pecs, which gave me a full day to explore, plus a short afternoon on arrival day. I wanted to visit a couple of museums, but the day was so beautiful, I just walked around, soaking up the colorful, imaginative architecture. Maybe because it was midweek at the end of September, but there were few tourists around in any of the towns I visited. The 3 hour bus ride from Pecs to Szeged was smooth and comfortable . . . though the buses and trains are definitely not the same standard as one expects in Western European countries. That being said, the prices are ridiculously low. I had a full afternoon and evening in Szeged and would have been happier with more time. I took an early train (1 hour) from Szeged to Kecskemet, where I am now, and pretty much saw everything in 3-4 hours on foot. After 3 weeks of touring and 8 cities, I was ready to spend 2-3 quiet hours in my hotel room watching tv and resting my weary feet. Then I had an excellent dinner at a nearby restaurant (recommended by my hotel and tripadvisor). For $25 incl generous tip, I had a good local wine, an excellent entree, more wine, traditional dessert with dessert wine and tea.

Now I am looking forward to returning to "the poor man's Paris" in the morning. Then I'll have almost 3 full days to enjoy before flying home. Last weekend in Budapest, I started working out if I could make it back in 2018 for another stay in what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite cities.

Posted by
9305 posts

Small world. Just ran into Chani in a winebar in Budapest...... Very nice to meet you....

Posted by
13017 posts

And for me, meeting a forum friend was a great way to end my stay in Hungary. I just got home and will write more about beautiful Budapest after I get a couple days sleep!

James, enjoy!!

Posted by
475 posts

Chani, thanks for your report, I enjoyed reading it. How fun that you and James got to meet each other!

Posted by
518 posts

Thanks so much, Chani, for the great trip report! I'm seriously considering Budapest for next summer with a side trip to Pecs.

Posted by
30308 posts

Chani,

Thanks for the great report. I'm considering Budapest in the near future also, so your comments were interesting.

Posted by
170 posts

Chani,

Hello. I came across your mention here of my Pecs post three months after you had written it. I'm glad my Pecs post was helpful.

Hello to Tel Aviv -- another city I enjoyed visiting. Cheers.

Posted by
9305 posts

Chani, we had bruch at Mazel Tov https://www.mazeltov.hu/. It opened about 4 years ago but its the first time i given it a try. You will like it, you will like it a lot. Not far from where we stay, it is located behind the recently renovated Klauzál téri Market Hall; which by the way had a lot of vendor tables set up in it much like the do at the Gozsdu Udvar on weekends.

Posted by
231 posts

Dear Chani and James:
Thank you for your reports on Hungary. It was very enjoying reading Chani's reports, and very helpful because I am planning a first trip to Hungary next year and like to begin my research early.

Posted by
117 posts

Well, that was a fun read. Thank you for sharing your trip report.

I don't have anywhere near the travel experience of either the OP or James; but after four nights in Budapest almost exactly a year ago, I can't get the place out of my system.

Nice to be able to come here and read other's experiences. Thanks again for your reports and insights.

Posted by
1966 posts

Canuck--I, too, had just 4 nights in Budapest on my first visit there in 2014--I've since returned twice and will be there again in May. It works a strange magic on some of us.

Posted by
9305 posts

Part One

In the Fall of 2001 times were such that a trip to Europe was rare, and at that still had to be short and inexpensive. With so much at stake, with each trip I harbored the fear that we would get someplace and have a miserable time; wasting the rare travel opportunity. To alleviate some of this risk I had been trying to do at least two dissimilar locations; one primary and one as a backup. The 2001 trip, per that philosophy, would be 4 days in Vienna and 2 days in Budapest.

I had researched Vienna pretty well, but left the states knowing nothing about Budapest. This is 2001 and there wasn’t much published on Budapest and the internet was still fairly young; and of course I was a little nervous about “crossing behind the Iron Curtain”. Yes, the revolutions of 1989 had for all intents and purposes put an end to the Iron Curtain. Still, I am a product of the nuclear war duck and cover generation, and this was the dreaded Eastern Europe. Just how much could have changed in 12 years?

Vienna was a great city, but for some reason my wife and I couldn’t get comfortable. Different places speak differently to different people and we weren’t enjoying it as much
as we had hoped we would. On the morning of the third day we looked at each other and simultaneously we both said; “let’s go someplace else”. I called the hotel in Budapest (The Opera K&K) and changed the reservation for arrival that day, asked for a decent place for dinner, so we could at least have that much planned, and then we headed for the train station.

An hour or so out of Vienna the train stopped and we were boarded by “gentlemen” in black uniforms carrying automatic weapons. My wife began to panic. One of the soldiers approached and began demanding something in the most unintelligible language. I grabbed my wife’s passport and ticket and together with mine shoved them in front of the soldier. Of course, it was just a document check. Good G-d, I thought to myself, where were we going?

The soldier left, the train began moving again and my wife and began laughing about our ridiculous concern over the soldier. Then, out the train window we caught sight of a very large, very imposing, very dark statue of a Turul and the tenseness began to grow once again.

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9305 posts

Part Two

After a 3-hour ride, we arrived at Keleti Station in Budapest about an hour before sunset. Keleti is a magnificent station, and would have appeared so then, if they had ever taken the time to clean the coal suet off the walls and ceilings. Again, my mind raced, good G-d I have taken my wife into the heart of communist hell.

Gathering our senses we took our excessive luggage and headed for the front entrance of the station. Upon walking outside it was a beautiful, cool, sunny afternoon and... wait!; a short, stocky, mustached, stereotypical communist looking gentleman was grabbing at the luggage! “Crap!,” the soldier, the gun, the Turul, “now what,” I thought as the panic began to set in. Before I could react, and to my astonishment, a taxi drives up over the curb and onto the side walk. The driver, a kid in his early 20’s, gets out and runs to our rescue. He and the angry commie begin arguing, arms waving as they get up in each other’s faces. Then as abruptly as it had begun it ended. Hell, it was two cabbies fighting over a fare; us! We chose the kid because I thought that if needed I could win a fight with him.

The kid knew maybe six words in English, but after some of our efforts he stopped insisting, “no tuuuuuur guide”, and he understood that we just wanted to be driven around town. Remember we had done no research and had no idea where we were. Once he understood this was on the taxi meter he was happy to oblige. This was probably the first opportunity he ever had to run up a fare with thepermission of the customers.

For nearly an hour he drove us through amazing neighborhoods, down great avenues and along the banks of the Danube. Our faces were plastered to the taxi window as we gawked and expressed amazement at how beautiful this city was. Old and dark and in need of a lot of love, but stunningly beautiful at the same time. We quickly realized that we had found what was lacking in Vienna.

Then we crossed the Chain Bridge, drove through a great tunnel, and began climbing higher and higher as it got darker and darker. I suggested maybe we should head for the hotel, but the driver either didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand. Darker, higher, more remote. Now pitch dark and I knew the outcome. We were being hijacked for a mugging and robbery. Of course, we were behind the Iron Curtain and these were commies; what should I have expected?

As predicted he pulled to the side along a deserted stretch of road and ordered us out of the car. We did as directed. Then he demanded we turn with our backs to the car.

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9305 posts

Part three

I was beginning to judge distances, watching his hand movements for a weapon and sizing up the options to fight back or flee. We turned as directed. Now before I can explain what came next you have to know where we were: this was the outlook over the city from Gellert Hill near the Citadella.

Our mouths fell open. We stared like in a trance and all the events and worries of the last 15 minutes melted away. I knew our only mistake was not planning enough time for Budapest. Looking straight ahead, stunned by the vista, I told my wife, “we’re coming back”. Her confused response was, “we just got here” and the love affair with Budapest began.

That comfort we couldn’t find in Vienna came instantly in Budapest. What started as a visual epiphany quickly became something more meaningful as we discovered that here were a people with values and norms very, very similar to those I grew up with in the 60’s and 70’s in the U.S. and I discovered that I felt right at home in the most unfamiliar familiarity imaginable.

First once a year, then once every 9 months, then once every 6 months then once every 4 months; we kept returning. Generally Budapest and some other place, but always ending in Budapest so we could be comfortable, relax and unwind before returning
home. Before long we realized that we had met a made quite a few friends in town. Friends that would welcome us back on each trip. We had attained a point where within a day or two of arriving in town someone on walking the other way down the sidewalk would recognize us and welcome us home.

We returned so many times in the ensuing years that we finally decided that we might want to get beneath the surface of the tourism and learn more about life in Budapest. I wanted to know if my beliefs and feeling were just romantic notions or if there was some reality beneath them. In 2010 I had this ridiculous idea of getting a real estate agent to show us homes; so I could see Budapest on the inside. There was never intent to purchase anything. This is Budapest for G-d’s sake. Who in their right mind (at least in my income bracket) buys a home in Budapest?

Unfortunately we stumbled into a rat hole of an apartment in an amazing part of town. A rat hole, and a cheap rat hole at that. We left town without purchasing it. The idea of owning property in Budapest was laughable. More unimaginable was that upon returning home to the U.S. we talked almost every night about that rat hole. Every night

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9305 posts

Part Four

Each night for early three months the conversations continued; until I found myself alone on a flight to Budapest with the deposit money will hidden on my person.

A year and three contractors later the renovation was complete.

The concept was that we would have a place to stay when we were in Budapest and in-between our trips I would hire someone to look after it, pay the bills, etc. At this point in my life I had never heard of AirBnb. By the third year we were fortunate enough to meet a wonderful husband and wife that ran an apartment management company. These incredible people knew they could open our home to others and make it profitable in the process; and they have.

Our guests have been amazing. Never would I have imagined gifts, kind words and an absolute absence of vandalism or mistreatment of our home in any means, way or fashion. These are facts that I would have thought unimaginable before this great experiment. But credit has to go to our managers. I joke that we could rent the basement and get good reviews as long as they handle the business and the meet-and-greet. Most every guest comment begins and ends with praises of the management company. Beyond that they have become our dearest friends and we have joked that none of us has much of a social life when we are not all in Budapest together.

A few years ago we had the opportunity to purchase a slightly larger apartment in the same building so that between the two homes our entire family could share a week or two with us each year.

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9305 posts

Part Five

Because the people of Budapest have been so good, so welcoming and so supportive of us, our mission is less about profiting from the apartments and more about promoting Budapest and the businesses and causes of our friends in the city.

Posted by
13017 posts

What a heartwarming story . . . and so beautifully told. Thank you for taking the time to share it.

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9305 posts

In 4 to 6 years the contractors return. The 2 apartments share a wall and that will come down. One apt will be the kitchen, bar, dining room and guest bed; the other the living room and master bedroom. Then I retire. Still looking for a winter home further south, maybe Budva, or maybe further south on the Albanian Riviera.

Posted by
13676 posts

You need to get a move on with that Albania business. I intend to delay my visit until I have your first-hand reports to guide me.

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13017 posts

You're getting closer . . . have you considered Cyprus? That's just a swim away?

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9305 posts

In April I will do either Albania or back to Ukraine. Not sure yet. There is this amazing mountain lake (damed river) In Albania with an incredible ferry that takes you to some stunning high country, complete with virgin trout streams (I fly fish when possible on vacations). But then Ukraine is one of my favorite places and I have just scratched the surface (and fly fishing as well). And of course Budapest, but no fishing :-( From Budva the trout streams are just a couple of hours north. :-)

Posted by
291 posts

Chani, just wanted to chime in and say thanks for the nice trip report, and also James what a nice history of your special relationship with Budapest. I still have fond memories of my ten days or so there in the summer of 1989, when the country was at a political historical crossroads. Hope to get back there within the next few years.

Posted by
3814 posts

Wow, I lucked into reading this and I'm so glad I did. Great stories from two of my favorite posters about one of my favorite European cities. Only one visit so far but I hope more to come.

Posted by
148 posts

I just came back to RS forums to continue planning for our visit this summer and was entranced by James' story. Thank you for telling it :-) If you don't mind asking, is there a link to your apartments that you rent? We have ours booked (as a family of five we need to do that early) but a friend who presently lives in Scotland plans to meet us there for a few days so I'm just now looking for a place close to our apartment for her to stay.

Posted by
9305 posts

Joanne, you should book asap as it looks to be a record season shaping up. I had trouble finding open dates in my own home.

Check with the usual rental platforms like AirBnb and Booking.com, etc. My places are on most of them and each platform has different safeguards, advantages and disadvantages.

When you find something you think looks interesting, there is a chance i might know the neighborhood or in some instances the building. Send me the details and maybe i can help you decide.

Have a wonderful trip.

James

Posted by
117 posts

Wow! Thanks for sharing your story James. Based on that, I guess our desire to return and spend an extended amount of time (after being there for only four days, lol) isn't crazy after all.

Good to know.

I would be curious to hear about your thoughts and experiences in the Ukraine. My grandparents (on both sides of the family) were born and raised in the Ukraine and then fled the country during the revolution. Some day we would like to visit the area where they lived.

Thanks again.

Posted by
9305 posts

I'm not a great source on Ukraine. I've made one trip that included Kyiv and Odesa and I loved the people, their struggle and nationalism in the face of overwhelming odds. We were fortunate to be in Kyiv on their 25 anniversary of independence and it was electric. The tourism is good too, and cheap.

We return in about 3 weeks. This time Lviv and Kyiv; then on to Budapest.

Also a chance we will return in the Fall to do a little fly fishing; either there or Albania. Both are calling. I'm looking for the Budapest of 15 years ago and a place outside of the EU to extend future trips beyond the Schengen Visa limitations.

Where in Ukraine is your family from?

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9305 posts

Oh, our flight to Lviv, open jaw, returning from Budapest cost no more than a RT to Budapest. The flight on to Kyiv is about $50 and the final leg to Budapest is about $120. So it's very accessible to/from Budapest. Consider it when in Budapest.

Posted by
117 posts

Ok, thanks for the flight tips.

As for where my grandparents were from? I don't have solid information on that. But it was either of two colonies located between the Dnieper River and the Sea of Azov in the south.

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9305 posts

Not the greatest of areas since the Russian invasion. You might suspect that with a last name you could have some luck in finding some records in the area. Great excuse to visit Odesa!

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3 posts

Just stumbled on to this post, thanks so much for your stories Chani & James. We are going to Budapest for the first time the first 2 weeks in May and I am taking notes! We have a birdwatching tour to Kiskunsag scheduled May 5, otherwise no solid plans.