Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Budapest

In the days I traveled across the wide Canadian prairies on the Via Train I realised just how lucky I am to live next to and near so many countries and cultures. I am also selfishly worried about what implications the Brexit vote will have on cheap, easy European travel so have declared 2017 the year of Europe. I won’t able to visit it all but I want to tick off a few places.
I expressed this wish to my friend Juliet and she said ‘when shall we go?’ We both had some time off so booked return flights to Budapest, setting off at 5am last Tuesday morning.

It was a short trip – we arrived Tuesday lunchtime and left Thursday lunchtime but being planners and absolute keen beans { is there any other way? } we packed a lot in. Budapest is often described as the Paris of the East but the gorgeous architecture, incredible bars, restaurants and coffee culture Budapest doesn’t need a Western Europe comparison. For the record I absolutely LOVED it.

TRAVEL

Wizz Air; We flew out with Wizz Air which I do not recommend. Their take-on luggage size is smaller than an average handbag and Juliet and I with our wheelie suitcases had to pay extra to board { this is painful to type}. We checked in online but as Wizz Air did not send us a PDF of our ticket, we thought we’d print them at the airport then Wizz Air charged us £30 for the privilege. After a small hissy fit Ju and I just decided to pay the money and put it behind us. I will be writing a very strong worded email to Wizz Air to make me feel better.

Norwegian Air: We flew back with Norwegian Air and they were great; friendly, helpful. When we had a failed take off and had to change planes the cabin crew were still happy and polite and gave us hot drinks for free. I would highly recommend.

Fo Taxi; Our Airbnb hosts recommended Fo Taxi and so does Budapest Airport. You queue up at the kiosk, hand over your address they give you a voucher which you hand in to your taxi driver. No language and communication difficulties and they can’t rip you off.

Metro; We travelled on the Metro twice, it was easy to use and was exactly like the tube.

STAY

Juliet found the most amazing AirBnB. Our hosts Viktor and Kata were excellent, we couldn’t have asked for anymore. The studio flat was in the Jewish Quarter and close to the Metro Station Oktagon, though we only used the Metro twice. Viktor met us outside the flat and talked us through the heating, how to work the shower and window blinds etc. Viktor provided a map of the city and gave us some recommendation’s as to where to eat and what to prioritise. It was my first Airbnb experience and it was fantastic, a completely different vibe from staying in a hotel.

EAT

YES! Trying local food is one of my favourite parts of visiting a new place and thankfully Juliet agreed. We tried about six or seven Hungarian specialities including Goulash, Dobos Torte and to my regret Palinka.

The Vintage Garden; not the most Hungarian sounding name but this was delightful. It was a recommendation from a friend who’d visited this city a few weeks before. It’s the epitome of shabby chic. After days of cake and carbs we opted for big salads and a bottle of Hungarian white wine. It was called Furmint and was pretty damn good.

Ket Szerecsen; a recommendation from our Airbnb hosts and a fabulous one. A friendly restaurant that offers Hungarian cuisine, we had goulash to start followed chicken paprika for Ju and beef cheek stew for me. We washed it down with Hungarian beer and planned our sight-seeing route for the next day #geeks

Stika; Don’t you just love it when you stumble past something achingly trendy? Ju and I walked past this place on the way to the Gellert Baths on our last morning; our time conscious minds said ‘grab a coffee and go,’ but our hangovers said ‘ you need bacon and eggs.’ Bacon and eggs is exactly what we had and it was served in a way I’ve never seen before. First you fry the streaky bacon and then you fry the egg in the bacon fat, YUM. Stika serves this dish with a fresh salad which helped cut through the grease just a little bit ;-).

Grand Market Hall; a gigantic indoor market. On the ground and lower floor you’ll find greengrocer’s, butchers and Hungarians doing their day-to-day shopping. On the second floor you’ll find vendors serving ‘traditional’ Hungarian food, I say that though it’s entirely geared towards tourists but fun to try none the less. We ate stuffed cabbage and mangos, neither of which I would rush to try again.

COFFEE AND CAKELemme tell you straight, the Hungarians LOVE their coffee and they LOVE their cake. Francophiles look away now, Budapest is no longer the ‘Paris of the East,’ when it comes to cakes cos’ it might just be the new Paris.New York Café; now this is a bold statement but I think this just might be one of my favourite places I’ve ever been. Don’t get me wrong, it’s touristy but I can see why. The café is just jaw droppingly { think I just made that word up } beautiful. It was built 120 years ago for The New York Life Insurance Company though sadly it was badly damaged in WWII. Thankfully the Boscolo Hotel group bought it and restored it to its former glory. It’s not the cheapest place in the city but the setting and cake were divine. A Quartet would come out and play every 20 minutes, much to our amusement the violinist looked like Shaun Williamson aka Barry from Eastenders.

Lotz Hall Café, Alexandra Bookshop; the entrance is not as grand as the New York Café but this place is still wonderful. What I loved about Lotz Hall Café and all these special places in Budapest is that locals were using them like Starbucks. When Ju and I visited people were tapping away on laptops and a group of grannies were having coffee in the corner.

Ruszworm Café; you’ll find this on the Buda side in Castle Hill. I’m saddened to say that next door has become a Jamie’s Italian and as much as I like Jamie, I don’t think Castle Hill is the place for one. Anyway this 200 year café was circled on the Budapest guidebook left in the Airbnb, when we turned to the information page there was a big tick next to it. We took this as a good sign and it was. Rozsworn Café offered us refuge against the cold wind that whipped around Castle Hill, we ordered pots of tea and shared the Hungarian Dobos torte. The staff were super helpful and wrote down directions back to our flat.

The Sweet; in District VII next door to Vintage Garden this is one of the prettiest cake and patisserie shops I’ve ever seen. Romantic and really, flipping great for instagram shots, I got some macaroons and Ju got some cookies, though if you’d let us we’d have happily bought the whole shop.

DRINK

Before you read any further, if you’re going to Budapest you need to know about the ruin bars. Ruin bars are bars / clubs / pubs that have been set up in the ruins of buildings in the Jewish Quarter, the buildings were abandoned in WWII. The bars are unlike anywhere else I’ve been; there are no neon signs or trendy fronts, you simply walk through nondescript doors into old home or apartment blocks. Corridors lead through to an inner courtyard or a car park where projectors might be projecting old films or dj’s might be mixing right in the middle of the room on a stool. What’s ironic is unlike many bars and cafes the exposed plaster and copper pipework is completely original.

Szimpla Kert; as well as owning the best café in the world, Budapest is also home to one of the worlds best bars. Szimpla Kert is that bar and it is extraordinary. Each room is a different bar and there is absolutely no logic in its décor or layout. In one room people were sitting bath tubs and old cars and in the next was a Parisian style cocktail bar with parquet flooring. This place needs to be seen to be believed.

Double; I’m not sure how complimentary I want to be about this place because this is where I sampled the dreaded Palinka that gave me one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever experienced. We did however also two Hungarian red wines, Ju went for a lighter wine and I went for a full-bodied, we tried to act knowledgable and discuss the ‘legs’ and what ‘notes,’ we could taste but then we were offered Palinka What’s App videos our friends until we were asked to leave at midnight { in our defense it was closing, not because we were dancing / singing wildly – for one }

Kisuzem; another recommendation from Viktor our host this corner bar is always filled with local artists. I would like to give you more information on this bar but we bumped into our host Viktor who bought us some sort of alcoholic beverage – after the Palinka the night seems a bit blurry and all I can remember is explaining Ju and I weren’t lesbians { he thought we might be because we had matching nail varnish }. That and meeting one of Hungary’s most popular DJ’s apparently!

EXPLORE

Gellért Thermal Baths and Spa, Hotel Gellért; These Art Nouveau baths are set in the Hotel Gellért, this area has always been home to a thermal spa since the Turks in 15th century. If you’re a fan of ‘ I have this thing with tiles,’ on Instagram then you’re going to love this place!Szechenyi Baths, City Park; we were recommended these by a few people. Located in city park it’s one of the spa complexes in Europe. It’s co-ed so great for families and mixed group holidays.  I thought the indoor pools were a bit tired and could do with an update. The outdoor baths were fun and I can imagine this being amazing when they host the Spring through Autumn pool parties on Saturday evenings.

Dohany Synagogue, Jewish Quarter; the second largest synagogue in the world and the largest in Europe this building was very impressive. Built in 1859 it’s Moorish style is said to represent where Israelite people came from. The synagogue was bombed in World War II and heavily damaged in the Siege of Budapest. It was restored in 1991 with private donations, one of which was given by Estee Lauder as her parents were Hungarian Jews.

St Stephen’s Basilica; this is largest Church in Budapest, it stands at exactly the same height as the Parliament building { 96 metres }. The purpose of this was to show that spiritual thinking was equal with democracy. It’s home to one of Hungary’s most sacred items – the right hand of St Stephen; not my thing but whatever floats your boat. I highly suggest walking up to the cupola to get one of the best views of the city.

Hungarian Parliament Building; on our first evening we walked across to Buda to marvel at this building by night. We also Lajos Kossuth Square in the day and saw the changing of the guard. Before it was built an international competition was held to find the design. Imre Steindl won but the two runners-up also saw their designs come to life; one became the Ethnographic Museum and the other Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture. Ju and I saw similarities with the UK Houses of Parliament.

Shoes on the Danube; Sculptors Gyula Pauer and Can Togay designed this incredibly moving memorial, I think it is the most symbolic and touching memorial I’ve ever seen. If you have time you should read up on the atrocities against Jews in Hungary, I just researched it for about an hour and cried a bit at the sheer horror. The cast iron period appropriate shoes come in all shapes, styles and sizes; no-one escaped persecution. Simple and incredibly moving, if you see one thing it needs to be this.House of Terror; speaking of terror, this museum has exhibits related to the fascist and communist regimes. Critics says that the exhibitions portray Hungary as a victim and does not fully admit its own responsibility. It’s proved popular with tourists but sadly was closed for most of January for annual renovations.

Chain Bridge; officially this bridge is called Szechenyi Chain bridge as Istvan Szechnyi was a big investor. The bridge opened in 1849 and had a huge impact to social, economic and cultural life of the city. It was designed by an Englishman and building works were overseen by a Scotsman. It bears a lot of resemblance to Marlow Bridge { for all you bridge spotters out there aka my Dad }

Liberty Bridge; Are we in Budapest or in Hammersmith, London. If you are remotely interested in bridges or you just fancy a great insta snap opportunity #bridges this is a good’un. One side is the Gellert Hotel and the other side is Great Market Hall.

Castle Hill and Buda Castle; You can get the funicular up but Ju and I decided to walk up through the castle ground. Once you reach the vast castle grounds you get amazing views of the river and Pest.

St Matthias and Fisherman’s Bastion; This important church is on the Buda side of the river and hosted many Royal weddings and coronations. Interestingly it was also used as a mosque by the Ottomans. Fisherman’s Bastion is a net-gothic terrace that sits behind St Matthias church looking out over the river. Tried to get some good Lex Chapter snaps at this place but it was too cold at that point.

Andrassy Avenue and Hero’s Square; we nicknamed this Andre Agassi, this boulevard is a world heritage site and is one of Budapest’s main shopping streets. You can also find the Opera House, Ballet School and several galleries and museums along this road. It’s often compared with the Parisian boulevard Champs-Élysées. Hero’s Square sits at the entrance to City Park and houses many memorials. It hosts special historic Hungarian events.Graffiti Art; a bit like Bristol or places in East London Budapest has some amazing street / graffiti art.  There wasn’t a specific area it’s just dotted happily around the city, so look up!

If I had more time or when I go back I would had up to City Park and take some photos of Vajdahunyad Castle and the ice skating rink. I would also take some guided walking tours of the city and of the museums and art galleries.

Costs; Ju and I were looking for a prices guide before we left and couldn’t really find one. So here’s a really rough guide to our spending, I’ve overcompensated a little and it’s worth remembering we didn’t enter any of the museums as they were closed for renovations.  I would recommend downloading a currency converter before you travel as the numbers can be quite difficult to work out { especially after 50% Hungarian plum brandy }. We took out 50,000 HUF { £140 ish } which lasted us two full days.

Our taxi was approx 14,000 HUF { £40 } return, it’s about a half an hour drive
Breakfast / Coffee / Cake 800 – 2000 HUF  { £2 – £5 }
Lunch approx 2500 – 3000 HUF { £6.50 – £8 }
Dinner 4000 – 6500 Huf { £10 – £16 }
Drinks; beer 500 – 900 HUF   { £1.30 – £2.50 }, cocktails 1500 HUF  { £4 }
Metro; single journey 300 HUF { 80p }
Thermal Spas; 5300 HUF { £14 }

To conclude 

Budapest isn’t just the political and religious capital of Hungary it’s a nexus of Hungarian culture, Jewish culture, music, art and food with gorgeous architecture to boot. Budapest is composed of three regions {Pest, Buda and Óbuda} which either side of the Danube river, a number of stunning bridges link them together and make this place truly special. With friendly locals, world-class cafes and bars and reasonable prices it’s an incredible place to visit.



Posted by Alexandra Falleyn at 9:31 am 3 comments so far.