Ok, I’m back from Hungary. Our group made the trek to Budapest on Wednesday. We met that morning at 7:00 (meaning 5 AM wakeup) and jumped on the bus. We arrived in Budapest at about noonish. First order of business was to feed ourselves. We found an ATM, withdrew 10,000 Florints (Sure is fun to deal in thousands) and stopped to get some authentic Hungarian cuisine. Pizza! Actually, it was decent pizza. Four tasty cheeses, olives and corn. Different but good. The nicest part was that we noticed immediately that things were actually reasonably priced. Hallalujah! We paid 349 Florints for a slice of pizza, which is 1.4 Euros or $1.90. The same slice in Vienna would have been 3 Euro, $4. After this we met up with a tour guide and started a tour through Budapest. The city is actually two cities, Buda and Pest that have sort of grown together with a river, the Danube, down the middle. There are some really pretty bridges across the river but it certainly doesn’t help the transportation infrastructure. We saw some interesting things on the tour. I bought a Hungarian cookbook with recipes for pork feet stew and roast wild boar and cool stuff like that. When the tour ended we were on our own for the rest of the day. Allyson and I headed up the hill near our hotel with the Hungarian fortress and palace on it. We hung out up there for most of the evening, watching the sunset, taking pictures and getting really cold. Turns out this fall thing involves getting cold again. Blast. Speaking of fall, there are loads and loads of trees in Budapest and they were all changing colors. Magnificent! I was caught totally off guard by the beauty of Budapest. One of the prettiest cities I’ve seen in Europe and that’s saying a lot from a great world traveler like myself! Anyway, we eventually got a little too cold and headed down the hill. On the way down we met a new little friend. Allyson pointed out a nasty little rat in the path but on closer inspection we found that it wasn’t a rat at all. A hedgehog! I love hedgehogs! You may not know, but it is my goal to own a hedgehog someday. Great pets. We took a few pictures of the hedgehog, walked across the beautiful chain bridge and looked for hot chocolate somewhere. Finally we stopped at an English pub (Yeah. In Hungary.) and had some. Honestly, it was more like whipped hot milk with a little chocolate added. Not what I was expecting but tasty in it’s own way.
The next day we met up with our tour guide for the rest of the tour. We went to the jewish quarter of Budapest, stopping in the second largest synagogue in the world. It was really cool. Interestingly, the synagogue was designed by a man that did cathedrals, so it’s almost exactly like a catholic cathedral. The guide pointed out lots of features (altars, organs, pulpits) that have zero use in a synagogue but are still there. Quite funny. Rebekah, Allyson and I headed out after the tour and stopped for soup. Good soup. These Hungarians know how to cook. Their food is much spicier and heartier than their more “European” counterparts to the west. We walked down the Hungarian equivalent to the Champs Elysees in Paris called Andrassy. A beautiful tree-lined avenue leading to the square of heroes with statues and museums. Let me tell you, there were people making out all over the place! People say Paris and Venice are bad, but Hungary beats them in a heartbeat. PDAs everywhere! It got kind of ridiculous sometimes.
There was a great little market that we found in the middle of town. I was content looking around at the stalls and some of the cool woodwork but then I found the ties. Oh, the ties. There was a tie stand with incredibly beautiful ugly polyester ties for a euro a piece. I, of course, immediately went crazy looking through the goods and selected the 10 best ties to purchase. Simply lovely. That basically made me the happiest person on earth.
Hungary has a fairly recently built parliament building that’s pretty famous for its interior, so we decided to try and get in for a tour on Friday. Unfortunately, it’s extremely popular with my arch-nemeses, the tour bus people. We didn’t get in. RRRRRR….dang those fanny-pack toting, white sneaker wearing, chubby tour bus people! They really come in two brands. The overbearing, clueless Americans that make us embarrassed to speak English and the perky, picture happy Japanese types. Honestly, I’m not sure if there’s anyone left in the country of Japan. It seems that they’re all on tour. Gah!
As we walked the city, we stopped at the train station designed by Eiffel (of tower fame) and found a marvelous bakery. There are a lot of bakeries in Europe, but it’s actually kind of rare to find one that bakes it’s own unique bread. Always a treasured find! Near the bakery was a kids’ playground with a zipline. Oh the joy and happiness! We jumped on, weighing the thing down until it was about half an inch off the ground and pretended we were 6 again. Finally we wound up on the island in the middle of the Danube between Buda and Pest. The island was covered with trees changing colors, massive fountains choreographed to opera and ruins of old buildings and, of course, people making out on every available surface. Photo ops everywhere!
That night we returned to the English Pub (hahahahahaha….in Hungary) and had some Hungarian cuisine. I was skeptical that an English Pub could have good food, but they proved me entirely wrong. We had catfish in Paprika sauce and a great dish with tenderloins, sausage and goose liver. Wasn’t even expensive! Miracles!Saturday we climbed to the top of a hill just outside the city with a beautiful view. They have a “Lady of Liberty” statue on top of the hill that we climbed to and enjoyed the view of Budapest. Finally we met back up with our group and grabbed the bus back to Vienna. As you can see, Budapest exceeded my expectations in every way! Great city. Lovely people, gorgeous scenery, very modern and un-communist seeming. I would strongly suggest it to anyone spending time in Central Europe.