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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.