Monday, September 01, 2014

Budapest: a trip report

(warning, this is a long post, with a lot of photos ...)

Once a year I try to go on a trip with my (girl) friends. We all met through bookcrossing years ago, and our mutual love of books extended to a mutual love of travelling among other things. So when our friend M. moved to Budapest last year we quickly decided to go visit her.

I had been to Budapest many years ago (1991, I think) during my first inter-rail. I don't have very fond memories of that visit, especially because all I can remember is the terrible hostel we were offered to be taken to when we got off the train (a very ghastly place, and I was a teenager then so not exactly picky ...). I remember a short visit to the city, getting lost while trying to go back to the hostel (very few people spoke English then, and finally an old lady helped and put us on the right bus - we bought her a bouquet of flowers as a thank you gift) and we decided to not even stay the night and took the train to Prague that same evening (where we then stayed for a week).

This time my impression couldn't have been more different. I really enjoyed Budapest and the 5 days we spent there exploring the city. Our friend M. lived next to the Opera House (Pest side) so quite central and convenient. My absolute favorite thing ? The baths ... oh, how I loved the baths - we went twice and it was wonderful. If I lived in Budapest I'd get myself an annual pass and go everyday, I'm sure.

Anyway, here's what we did.

Day 1 - Explored Buda and the castle district. Loved the Fisherman's bastion, and the views from Buda castle. We didn't take the tram up there, but walked up the hill - not too steep and it's a shaded path most of the way. We then visited the Parliament area, with a stop at the Shoes in the Danube memorial.  In the afternoon we had tea at the Art Nouveau museum café, which I really recommend. Dinner at Hachapuri, a Georgian restaurant.

:: St. Stephen's Basilica
:: Souvenir shop near the castle
:: Fisherman's bastion
:: Shoes on the Danube memorial
:: Parliament
:: Museum of Art Noveau
:: Dinner at Hachapuri

Day 2 - Went to Gellert Hill, with a quick stop at the Great Synagogue first - we took the bus (too lazy to walk up the hill), enjoyed the views and then walked down to Gellert Baths. The views are quite nice from up there. We then crossed the bridge on foot and visited the Central Market where we also had lunch (touristy but worth a visit). On to Vaci street (not worth it, just a giant tourist trap filled with shops and restaurants), but found a vendor selling cinnamon rolls (or the Hungarian equivalent of it) near the Zara shop. I had tried this in Prague (it's called Trdelnik there) and it's one of my favorites. There's actually another vendor selling this near the Fisherman's Bastion but it was much more expensive there.  Later that afternoon we finally went to the Szchezenyi baths. The outdoor pools are spectacular and there's also a big variety of indoor pools - I loved it. We also visited the Alexandra bookstore and its beautiful café. Had dinner at Menza and explored Budapest by night (worth crossing the bridge to Buda for this), closing the day with a stop at the most beautiful McDonald's in the world for a sundae.

:: Great Synagogue
  :: Gellert Hill
 :: at the Central Market - buying paprika is a must !
 :: Kürtőskalács, or Chimney Cake
 :: Imre Nagy Statue, near the Parliament

:: Alexandra bookstore café
 :: Szechenyi baths
 :: the most beautiful McDonald's in the world
Day 3 - Szentendre - as a day trip from Budapest we decided to visit the charming village of Szentendre, one hour away by train. It's a nice place where we spent maybe a couple of hours walking around and doing some shopping. Also, it had the best ice cream shop we found during this trip, it was so good I had to have a second serving before we left. In the afternoon we had time to check out one of the yarn shops (Barka Fonal) and then had tea at the popular New York Café - it's impressive on the inside, and worth stopping by for a rest between sightseeings. Later we visited Heroe's Square and the City Park. Dinner at Most, where they served the best lemonade we had in Budapest.

:: the village of Szentendre

 :: Barka fonal yarn shop

 :: at the New York Café
  ::at the city Park
Day 4 - Shopping during the morning - we returned to the Art Nouveau Museum to get a few bottles of Tokaj (cheaper than we later found at the airport, and looked better than the ones sold at the supermarket), went shopping for tea at Demmer's and then to a bookstore looking for Magda Szabo's "The door" (I've read it and it's very good). We didn't have lunch because we had booked an afternoon tea at the Four Seasons hotel where we spent a couple of hours drinking lovely tea and eating way more than we should have. I wasn't able to finish all my cakes, but the sandwich and pumpkin scones were amazing.  And I'm pretty sure this is one of the most affordable Four Season afternoon teas in Europe. The hotel itself is worth visiting, it's located at the Gresham Palace and it was beautifully restorated (Art Nouveau décor).

:: afternoon tea at the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace

Day 5 - Before flying back to Lisbon we went to the Gellert baths for a dip, but although it was nice it was not as spectacular as Szchezeny. The outside pools were normal (the big pool was reserved for swimmers only) and not as much variety of indoor pools (and again the largest pool was reserved for swimming). Lunch at a nice thai restaurant in Andrassy street and then it was time to go to the airport, where we then waited over 8 hours for our flight, and arrived back in Lisbon at 6 AM. I had to work at 9:00 so you can imagine how zombie I was that day (we did complain, and after a few weeks finally got a compensation from TAP)

:: at the Gellert baths
 :: nice Thai lunch
 :: polka dot souvenirs