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3 Weeks in East-Central Europe: Part 1-Budapest

Our trip to Europe was fabulous—better than expected. You wonderful posters with your suggestions & guidance played a part in that. Thanks!

We packed only carryon bags & strolled past all the rubes in the looooong Canada Day weekend lineups at the airport. Yes! We miraculously made our ridiculous, 1-hour connection in Frankfurt & arrived mid-afternoon in Budapest. Upon advice from James, we took Fotaxi from the airport to our apartment, after dodging a gaggle of other, very persistent, taxi drivers.

I was a bit unsure about Budapest at first. All the graffiti, litter, & derelict buildings would be signs of a very sketchy neighbourhood back home, but that just seems to be the nature of Pest. Everywhere, people are working at construction, repairs, & restoration. All those years of war, revolution, & the communist regime have taken their toll, & it hasn't been long since the city has been able to start to recover. Anyway, after a short time, I got used to it, & there was so much to see there! Budapest is clearly a city that loves the arts. It's also clear that there is a great deal of national pride, & no wonder.

We stayed at The Pond, & it was well-equipped & comfortable. We appreciated the air conditioning, the washer/spin dryer, and the induction element (which we liked so much, we bought an induction stove when we got home).

After getting settled, we went out to explore & find food. The apartment was near the Opera, & there were many places to eat nearby. We didn’t know how tired we’d be after our overnight flight, though, so we wanted to keep it simple & quick. We stopped in an unassuming looking place called “Ize Faloda” on Broadway. It looked like a cafeteria, & we weren’t expecting much. We were pleasantly surprised. The food was great; it was one of our best meals in Budapest (which had good food, generally). I had Goulash, & DH had Mustard Pork, which was particularly tasty & tender.

After dinner, we strolled down Andrassy toward the Danube, oohing & aahing over the architecture & taking photos every few steps. We looked at the Chain Bridge & got our bearings, walked back up a pedestrian street that led to St. Stephen’s, headed back to our neighbourhood, found the grocery store, picked up some supplies, & went home & sank into bed.

We awoke early the next morning, because of jet lag, & took advantage of it to head to the castle. We walked across the Chain Bridge to the funicular & were the only patrons there, so we got to ride in front. We spent the next couple of hours wandering around the castle, taking photos, admiring the views, & feeling generally wonderstruck & pleased with ourselves. After an early lunch nearby, we headed over to the Matthias Church & the Fisherman’s Bastion. Wow. Again, we were overwhelmed by the beauty & detail of the architecture. We then poked around the Koller Gallery, which is in a charming house and has a lovely sculpture garden. After a bit more wandering, we took the pedestrian walkway around the back of castle hill, admiring the gorgeous residences there. We came across a patio bar along the wall, overlooking the Buda hills, & stopped for an apple lemonade slushie (me) & a wine (DH). Delicious & refreshing! We then took a bus back to the Pest side & hopped onto the oldest metro line in Europe, riding to the Opera station, near our apartment.

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Later, we took the metro to the Szechenyi Baths. These are housed in a breathtaking, yellow, art deco building. We rented a little changing cabin that locks with a wristband. The pool area was gorgeous, with beautiful statues. There are two, semi-circular hot pools flanking a lap pool. Only people wearing bathing caps are allowed in the lap pool. One hot pool has two, built-in, stone chessboards, & these were always in use. The other has a circular area in the centre with a strong current swirling in it for people to ride around in. Scattered throughout the bottom of the rest of the pool are squares with many small jets that spray up from them. They seemed to go in about 15 minute intervals. When the jets aren’t spraying from the squares, there are few other, stronger, single jets along the wall seating. We spent 3 hours at the baths, even though we knew we were getting sunburned. We were enjoying ourselves too much to care.

The next morning, we walked around our neighborhood & came across a gorgeous building (the Liszt Academy), with a breathtaking lobby (all we were allowed to see) & then stopped for breakfast at Vian—a café along the same street. The food was good—especially the coffee. We then headed to the Oktagon & caught a tram to Parliament. We got tickets for a tour & wandered around, taking pictures of the statues & surrounding buildings, watching the changing of the guard, & watching a rally of some sort that was going on. The rooms & hall we saw inside were beautiful, & it was interesting to hear the information about, for instance, the crown, & why the cross on it is crooked.

Next, we went across the street to the museum of ethnography. It was a gorgeous building, & we enjoyed seeing artifacts from Hungarian life in the past: clothing, toys, furniture, etc.

That evening, we ate at Menza. It was very popular & busy, so we had to sit inside. We were unimpressed. The food was just okay, & the restaurant was hot & noisy, with several kids running around playing hide & seek among the tables.

Later, we took another stroll around our neighbourhood & came across a ruin pub: Anker’t. The pub had two huge rooms, & we went through the first one, where people were watching sports on a large screen, to the second courtyard at the back. There, chairs were set up facing a small stage. We got drinks & sat down to see what sort of entertainment there would be. More people arrived, & more chairs were added. Finally, a young woman sat next to us & spoke to us in English, so I asked her what was going on. She told me there was going to be a reading by Hungary’s best slam poet. We decided to leave, since we wouldn’t understand any of it, but at least we got to see a ruin pub.

The following day, we went to Heroes’ Square in the morning. The statues & monuments here were amazing. Nearby were the Museum of Fine Arts & the Art Gallery. At the Museum of Fine Arts, we saw an extensive exhibition about Hungarian architecture. The art gallery had a Toulouse Latrec exhibition, but we chose to view the permanent collection, instead.

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We returned to our apartment to get our swimsuits to go to Veli Bej, a Turkish bath on the Buda side. We knew we could catch a tram from the Oktagon that would take us near Veli Bej. We decided to take the Metro from Opera to the Oktagon, since our feet were tired. To our surprise, the train did not stop at the usual stops. After Opera, it did not stop again until it reached Hosok Tere, 4 stops past the Oktagon. We got off the train, & there were policemen at the entrance to the station & fencing blocking access to Andrassy. We asked one of the policeman how we could get to the Oktagon, & he said we could walk, but we could not see a way to get around the fence. We took the Metro back to Opera & started walking in the direction of Parliament, thinking we could cut up to the street where the tram runs & catch it farther along. But every street we tried was also blocked by fencing. There was almost no traffic, other than police vehicles, & a group of officers in riot gear ran past us. We were starting to wonder what was going on. We decide to go & see the inside of St. Stephen’s, instead, & stay close to our apartment.

St. Stephen’s was breathtaking! We climbed the tower, & while we were there, we heard a couple of booms, like explosions, & saw smoke rising over in the Buda Hills. Now we were really wondering what was going on. Nobody seemed to be worried or panicking, however. We decided to go to Veli Bej after all, by cab. So we walked over to the Meridien Hotel & caught a cab there. We were still too focused on what was happening & didn’t notice that the driver did not turn on the meter. When he dropped us off near Veli Bej—actually on the street behind it—we know he overcharged us (since it cost more than our trip from the airport had, & it wasn’t all that far). But Veli Bej was such a great experience, we soon forgot our annoyance. We loved the old Turkish style of the octagonal pool & the surrounding plunge pools, & we enjoyed the more modern Jacuzzi on the other side, also. During our three hours there, we saw perhaps 6 other bathers, & most of the time we had whichever pool we were in to ourselves. Oh, we did eventually find out what all the fuss was about—the Pride parade.

That evening, we went for dinner at Komedias Kavehaz, a place we had passed on our first evening & wanted to try. We sat on the patio & were serenaded by piano music. I can’t remember what we ate, but I do remember that we enjoyed it.

On Day 5 of our trip, we had breakfast at another Café Vian location. We were headed to the Great Synagogue & found ourselves on a pedestrian street with market stalls, & we sat down to eat breakfast, realizing only later that it was another Café Vian. The food was good here, also, but we thought the one near the Liszt Academy was a little better. We were fascinated, though, by a large group of young men (perhaps the same stag group we had seen riding around on the Beer Bike the night before?) ordering large steins of beer for breakfast. (Some of them didn’t seem to be enjoying it very much, though.)

We then walked to the Great Synagogue. It is a fabulous building. We were told that, along with private donors, Estée Lauder & Tony Curtis had played major roles in funding the restoration of the synagogue. We also viewed the museum, the Holocaust memorial, & the weeping willow sculpture in honour of Holocaust victims.

In keeping with the theme, we then went to the Museum of Terror. This is a very well done museum & memorial in a building that was once the headquarters of the Hungarian equivalent of the KGB, & the cells in the basement are where prisoners awaited execution..

Later, we walked along the Vaci Utca—too ticky, tacky, touristy for my taste.

That evening, we went to Kadarka, a wine bar down the street from our apartment. We chose to sit inside, as it was still very hot outside. The music was a bit loud, but the service was good & the food & wine excellent.

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On our last day in Budapest, we went back across to the Buda side to visit the Gellert Baths. We stopped at the egg-shaped fountain--a monument to the springs & then crossed the street to the amazing Cave Church.

We started climbing the hill to see the Statue of Liberty, but the 37 degree heat soon disabused us of that notion. We did stop at a lookout point & enjoyed the view.

We then went to the Gellert Baths. This bath has an outdoor pool that I believe is a wave pool, although the waves weren’t going when we were there. There is an outdoor hot pool, also. Inside, is a lap pool with a small hot pool at the end of it. On either side are matching sets of hot pools—two on the men’s side & two on the women’s (mirror images, except that the men’s side is decorated more lavishly). People seemed to be ignoring the men’s/women’s distinction, so we did the same & visited both sides.

Afterward, we took the tram to the Great Market Hall. Since it was our last day, we did not shop for food there, but we did walk around the upper, souvenir shop level to find an ornament for our Christmas tree, which we like to decorate with mementos from our travels.

We returned to Andrassy & got tickets for a tour of the Opera house. I feel like I’m starting to sound redundant when I say that the interior was gorgeous, but it really was. I hear it is one of the most beautiful opera houses in Europe, & I can well believe it, although I haven’t seen the others.

We then stopped at Muvesz Kavehaz for chocolate milkshakes on the patio. These are not your typical, North American milkshakes. These were made with liquid chocolate & whipped cream over crushed ice, & they were delicious! My DH still talks about them.

We returned to our apartment & packed & tidied in preparation for leaving the next day. Then we headed out for a last dinner at Macesz Huszar, a “Jewish bistro.” We loved the décor & ambience. I decided I needed to try Palinka before leaving Hungary, & that was a mistake. It was truly vile; I couldn’t drink it. Even DH, who can tolerate stronger drinks than I can, said it was “like lighter fluid.” Oh, well.

The next morning, we took the metro to Keleti Station where we boarded our train for Vienna.

Although we did not really know what to expect when we went to Budapest—we had based our itinerary loosely upon where the river cruises go, & we thought Budapest sounded exotic—we loved it. I think we left a piece of our hearts there.

I’d highly recommend visiting Budapest, if you have not done so.

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Excellent trip report! Brings back so many memories from our trip, and interesting to see some of this through another's eyes.
Budapest is indeed wonderful.

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Thank you, Larry. I wish I had done the trip reports sooner, since I'm already forgetting details. However, immediately after we returned from Europe, there was a death in the family. Then, I went on another holiday to Kelowna. Then I was busy getting ready for teaching. I hope to get to the rest of my destinations: Vienna, Prague and Cesky Krumlov, Salzburg, and Munich soon.

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I saw your comments on the Opera House. We had ordered opera tickets for our first full day, it was the season closing night and actually was a ballet (Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet) rather than an opera. Keep in kind that we come from Philadelphia and we have our world-famous Academy of Music here, a grand and glorious building and hall that has always been a source of pride in this city. We were blown away by the beauty of the Opera House and how basic it made our Academy of Music look, along with how great the standard of the performance was.