Tag Archives: Budapest

Hungary for Budapest (and Paprikash)

I don’t (yet) have a bucket list, per se. However, if  I were to have had one, visiting Budapest and seeing the Hungarian Parliament Building would have been hovering somewhere near the top of said list.  Given that I’m in love with architecture, Budapest captured me as being one of the destinations I’d absolutely HAVE to visit at some point during my lifetime. Fortunately, I had opportunity to fulfill this need during my son’s and my Christmas vacation a few short months, yet seemingly a simultaneous lifetime ago.

Buda Castle
Buda Castle

Taking the train from Wien’s Westbahnhof (Vienna’s Main Train Station) to Budapest’s Keleti train station seemed the most prudent course of action, given that Keleti was a  simple Metro transfer to reach  our hotel, the Hilton Budapest City, just a quick walk from the Nyugati railway station. Devan and I checked in and made an almost immediate beeline toward the Hungarian Parliament Building.

Budapest Parliament
Budapest Parliament

The building always looked so spectacular to me in photographs, but seeing the magnificent Gothic architecture up close in person was a breathtaking experience. I had an image of what I expected out of our visit to Budapest, but I truly wasn’t prepared for what lay ahead. Budapest was different for me in many ways, one of the primary being that the Magyar language is completely incomprehensible to me. Only in Finland and Estonia had I previously been so completely flummoxed by a language during my travels, which makes sense, given that Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian all share a Uralic language family tie (though I’ve never visited the many parts of the world where the language systems would be equally and even more extremely baffling to me).

Shoes on the Danube, Budapest
Shoes on the Danube, Budapest

We strolled along the Danube a bit and came across the Shoes on the Danube memorial with its 60 pairs of iron cast rusted shoes of all sizes and types, signifying that nobody was spared the atrocities of the Holocaust, regardless of age, gender or station in life. Devan and I also visited the House of Terror on Andrássy út which also commemorates some of Budapest’s less than stellar history, to put it lightly. Here, we learned more of Budapest’s dark past under fascist and communist dictatorial rule. We certainly didn’t leave the House of Terror with a warm, fuzzy feeling, but this museum provided a powerful glimpse into a grim past of repression and much, much worse.

House of Terror, Budapest
House of Terror, Budapest

As with our stops in Prague and Vienna, Devan and I had no hard itinerary for our visit to Budapest.  We mainly wandered the streets and hopped onto the trams when the temperature dropped below Devan’s and my fairly high tolerance levels.  We strolled (and walked briskly when a more rapid clip helped keep our body temperatures at fairly comfortable point) all around the city, ducking into some off the beaten path eateries to sample varieties of paprikash, goulash and other local fare. One of our stellar, accidental finds was Drum Cafe. We were captured by the engaging signage outside the cafe advertising its “dirty glasses, poor foods, slow service, rude staff, expensive and Hungarian humour” as we roamed around toward our destination of the Great Synagogue.

The Dohány Street Synagogue (The Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue)
The Dohány Street Synagogue (The Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue)
The Dohány Street Synagogue (The Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue)The Dohány Street Synagogue (The Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue)
The Dohány Street Synagogue (The Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue)

It must have been “Opposite Day” in Budapest the day we visited Drum Cafe, as the food was delicious, reasonably priced, quickly served on clean dishes by friendly workers. We enjoyed some of the most tasty paprikash and goulash of our trip followed by a Nutella slathered Lángos. Drum Cafe turned out to be another proof in the theorem that suspect directional wanderings frequently lead to a little travel treasure that likely would have been otherwise missed.  

Drum Cafe, Budapest
Fortunately, the Drum Cafe did a bit of false advertising.

 

 

 

I could ramble incessantly about the stunning views throughout the city along the Danube, in the Castle District in Buda with its Royal Palace, Inner Pest, the Chain Bridge, Heroes’ Square, The Széchenyi Baths, Vajdahunyad Castle, Matthias Church, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Cave Church, inside Gellért Hill, the War History Museum, the aforementioned Hungarian Parliament Building and Great Synagogue. There were too many captivating sights to mention.

Heroes' Square, Budapest
Heroes’ Square, Budapest
Heroes' Square
Heroes’ Square

 

 

 

 

But one of my special memories from this glorious city was Devan’s and my unconventional way of finding our way around the city from Point A to Point B by purposefully going nowhere in particular, and occasionally, at Devan’s suggestion hopping on a tram or metro we’d not yet ridden just to see where we’d end up. Our last evening in Budapest, we ended up at the edges of the city where we encountered a mall that Devan wanted to check out to see what it was like. Well, it was just like any other suburban-ish mall you could find in the U.S., so it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the Great Market Hall’s interesting stalls and chaos. The stop did, however, get us out of the cold for a short stint. When we left the mundane shopping center, we discovered a fun fact…that some tram lines farther from the city center stop running in the evening.  This was brought to our attention by a Hungarian police officer who was futilely attempting to pantomime to us that we should not be at the tram stop where were were unknowingly loitering. We eventually managed our way back to one of the main metro lines to find our way back to the Hilton. I have to say that Devan’s and my ineptitude with the Magyar language did give us a few giggles here and there when we gave a go at verbalizing the (to us) unpronounceable street, square and other directional and destination names along our path.

Vörösmarty tér
Vörösmarty tér, Devn’s namesake square / metro station

We largely resorted to our assigned nicknames for places such as “Deke” (actually Deák Ferenc tér, where one can transfer to the M1, M2 or M3 metro lines) or my personal favorite, “Very Smarty” (in reality Vörösmarty utca, one of the M1 line metro stations) which I liked because I considered it to be Devan’s station, since he is a Very Smarty Pants. It doesn’t seem all that funny now, but for some reason, it amused me much more than it should have each and every time we passed through that station. Apparently, I’m relatively easily amused.

City Park at Széchenyi Baths
City Park at Széchenyi Baths
Matthias Church (Matyas Templom), Budapest
Matthias Church (Matyas Templom), Budapest
Buda Castle
Buda Castle
Castle District
Castle District
Buda Castle
Buda Castle
Great Market Hall (Nagy Vasarcsarnok)
Great Market Hall (Nagy Vasarcsarnok)
Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest
Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest
Andrássy út
Andrássy út
St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika)
St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika)
Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion

Hungarian Rhapsody – Live in Budapest

I guess Bohemian Rhapsody would have been a more appropriate title and song for my Czech Czech Czech post including random facts about the Czech Republic and Prague, but contemplating what to include in my discoveries about Budapest and Hungary, the Queen album, Hungarian Rhapsody – Live in Budapest, recorded in Budapest in 1986, popped to mind.  Relevant or not, Queen’s music is fantastic, so here’s the video anyway….

Now for a few interesting notes about Budapest that I discovered in various sources (please note that I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the below):

  • Budapest is a hot city and has more thermal springs than any other capital city in the world. Budapest is renowned for its medicinal baths, with the bathing culture dating back to the Roman empire.
  • Budapest’s Parliament Building is the third largest in the world, behind the U.S. Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the Palace of Parliament in  Bucharest, Romania. Budapest’s Parliament Building spans 18,000 square meters, contains 691 rooms, 20 kilometers of stairs and is 96 meters in height.
  • Budapest’s Dohány Street Synagogue is the second largest synagogue in the world and the largest synagogue in Europe and can accommodate approximately 3,000 worshipers.
  • Budapest is the largest city in Hungary and is home to 20% of the country’s population.
  • Budapest was not always the capital city of Hungary.  Esztergom was the capital city of Hungary until the 13th century when the Royal Seat was moved to Buda. The modern day city of Budapest wasn’t formed until 1873 when the three cities of Buda, Pest and Óbuda (Old Buda) were joined together by the Habsburg rule.
  • Having opened in 1896, Budapest’s underground train system is the oldest in mainland Europe.
  • Not a fun “fact” exactly, but definitely a fun part of Budapest lore:  Touching the pen held by the Statue of Anonymous located in front of the Vajdahunyad Castle in the City Park in Budapest supposedly has the power to make you a better writer! While I’m most certainly not superstitious, I may have to give that a try, since it definitely can’t hurt (I don’t think it will help, either, but still….)! We’ll find out in the early part of next year if the pen’s “special powers” have any impact!

Holding Pattern

Now that I’ve finally determined that I’ll be visiting Prague, Vienna and Budapest during my next “big”  trip (I will likely take a “little” one the month prior) as well as with whom I will be traveling (my son – YAY!), I’ve become incredibly antsy (yes, a surprise for those who know me) to get all of my proverbial ducks in a row so that I have a general game plan to review and tweak as travel day approaches. However, in this case, definitive planning is somewhat stalled for the time being, although my nerd research continues full bore.

Some of the structural bones to the trip have been defined to date, which is a nice feeling since those are the essential elements to trip planning, while the activities laced between are all somewhat adaptable to circumstances. Thus far, I’ve secured our flights to Prague and home from Budapest (after much ado weighing the virtues of convenient flight times, reasonable layovers and palatable fares) as well as our lodgings in each of the cities we’ll be visiting. As per usual, we’ll take advantage of my credit card points in Prague and Budapest – hey, not much beats “free” – and, Hotwire helped me find a conveniently located and reasonable, yet decent, hotel in Vienna, where the hotels included in my rewards plan would have drained my points stockpile a bit further than I would have liked.

Our airport transfer modes have also been determined (though not yet secured) with utilizing the Airport Express bus service from Vaclav Havel Airport Prague (no reservation is required) and a private pre-arranged transfer (too early to book) at the miserable hour of 2:45 am from the hotel in Budapest to catch our 5 am flight home from Ferenc Liszt International Airport. However, my logistical planning has been slightly delayed on account of train schedules being a bit in flux at the current juncture. From what I’ve read, a new main train station in Vienna (Wien Hauptbahnhof) has been under construction for some time and should be fully operational by the start of December, with schedules not being released until mid-October. Since Vienna is flanked by Prague and Budapest in our itinerary and arrival and departure via train are part of the plan, this logistical detail will have to wait until schedules are available. Once train schedules are finally released, there’s even the possibility we’ll utilize a bus service between cities instead, if those schedules turn out to be more conducive to our overall game plan.

In the meantime, there’s much to research in each of our destination cities. But my holding pattern is twofold, though, since I want to consider my son’s input in the activity planning. Given that he’s been incommunicado whilst at training at Fort Knox for three weeks now (sniff, sniff), he’s neither been able to do his own research nor even provide input to ideas I’ve garnered to date.  At least soon he’ll have access to the outside world once he arrives at Fort Polk for infantry training (big time YAY!), so he’ll be able to provide his thoughts about how we should spend our time during the trip.  Without a doubt, sampling some fine Czech pilsners will end up on his to-do list. I’m sure we can work that into the schedule for him somehow….

And the winner is……. Prague!

Well, the headline of this post is quite incomplete, possibly even a bit inaccurate, since I’m the real winner being that my son agreed to be my travel buddy on my upcoming trip once again. But as far as the travel destination selection goes, Prague, along with Vienna and Budapest, won my internal debate about where I should spend Christmas with my son this year. It’s been an arduous process just to arrive at this conclusion, but now that I’m finally there… the fun begins!

Vienna, Austria at Christmas
Vienna doesn’t seem to be a bad place to spend Christmas with my son!

I took the first leap yesterday and bought our plane tickets via Kayak and Vayama after spending many hours researching flights on Skyscanner, Airfarewatchdog, and Google Flights amongst many of the other flight aggregator sites. It wasn’t easy to decide the right approach, but “right” is subjective. For me, it turned out to be finding a good mix of relatively conveniently scheduled and relatively reasonable flights. I say “relatively” on both counts since the flights to Prague and from Budapest both have layovers in Lisbon (TAP Portugal) with the layover on the journey to Prague being unpleasantly long (a bit over four hours), the departure flight from Budapest is at an unreasonably early hour (5 am – YUCK!), and the price, while the cheapest I’ve paid to get to Europe in many years, still wasn’t a real bargain. But, all things considered, these flights seemed a good option to grab so I can forge ahead with the next stages of the trip planning process.

So, now I’m in full research mode….looking into accommodation options as well as logistical details, mainly the train schedule between Prague and Vienna and from Vienna and Budapest at this stage in the game. The train schedule could very well affect my plan for travel dates between cities since I don’t want to cut the stay in any of the cities we’ll be visiting too short. It looks like Devan and I will be spending Christmas 2014 in Vienna, though! I’ve never spent Christmas overseas before, but Christmas in Vienna looks magical and seems like a good way to give a European Christmas a try! Really, how bad could it be?!

Now that “big decision number one” has been determined, the Tripadvisor forums will be one of the places you’ll be able to find me over the next several months. These forums are invaluable tools for seeking out advice from destination experts around the globe. They’re also quite entertaining, since there are typically resident know-it-alls, who are not only very knowledgeable about the destination they claim as their area of expertise, but who also enjoy lacing a bit of sarcasm and wit into their responses to posts, particularly to newbies.

I can't wait to take my own photos in Budapest!
I can’t wait to take my own photos in Budapest!

So much to do…but at least I have a bit of time to get all of my proverbial ducks in a row. Since my son is still incommunicado at Fort Knox Army ROTC training, he is unaware that our Christmas trip destination has been finalized. When he’s allowed to communicate with the outside world once again next month, I’m hoping he’ll be pleased with the outcome of what was the question of the hour. At the very least, I’m sure he’ll be thrilled at the prospect of sampling some fine Czech pilsners!

 

 
Continue reading And the winner is……. Prague!