On our last day in Budapest (Wednesday) we didn't need to leave to catch our flight until 2pm, so we had a few hours to walk around after we packed and checked out. After a long walk searching for a new breakfast place (the one we found was terrible. Not many Hungarians eat breakfast apparently), we visited the Terror Museum. It was the location of both the Nazi and the Soviet "information ministries", which meant it was where they tortured (and eventually killed) people accused of just about anything they didn't like. It was a creepy but fascinating museum and we learned a LOT. We always used to just think that when WW2 was over and the Nazis defeated, everyone was free and happy. Not so for Hungary, who were run by just-as-bad Soviets for the next 50 years! The last Soviet soldier didn't leave until 1991.
21 July 2015
Our amazing dinner at Olimpia! It is a small, intimate restaurant that holds no more than 20-25 people and serves a fusion of Hungarian with Asian influences. There is no menu, only a list of potential ingredients based on whatever they got in fresh, and you choose either 4, 5, 6, or 7 course meal. We went with the 6 course and it was one of the best meals we've ever had!
In addition to the 6 courses, they also served a cheese course, pre-dessert, and an amuse bouche, for a true total of 9 courses. We also had a bottle of wine and 4 other glasses of wine, and the entire meal with tip cost exactly $100 total.
Gelato in a public square in Budapest, followed by a beer in the Jewish district.
Tour of Parliament, which was modeled after Westchester (but made slightly longer for bragging rights). 96 meters high, in honor of the founding of Budapest in 896. Beautiful building.
Hero Square, built by Soviets for public speeches. Currently being completely renovated and turned into a massive public park with a ton of amenities.
"Kiss. Love. Eat Burger"
Svechenyi Bathhouse, Budapest's largest public (hot spring) bath. Glad we did it because there's nothing like it in the U.S., but not our favorite thing to do. We had old grumpy Hungarian masseuses, and couldn't read any of the signs telling us what all the different pools were, and walked about 30 minutes to get there
Our apartment building. No A/C and a little rough around the edges, but perfectly located to everything we wanted to do.
20 July 2015
Eat&Meet! Dinner was a pop-up restaurant in a flat that looked out over the Danube. Our host, Suzie, is a culinary expert who gives food and wine tours of Budapest and decided her family's flat, combined with her parents excellent cooking skills, would make the perfect Hungarian-home-cooking experience. Our meal was palinka (Hungarian sprint made with Apricot), fresh local veggies, sausages, pork cracklings, several Hungarian wines, seared duck breast, and marinated cabbage. Other guests included an Australian couple from Dubai and their daughters, a British couple, and a lone US traveler from LA. Amazing experience!
After the walking tour we needed a cold beverage, so we made our way to Szimpla, the first and most famous of Budapest's many ruin pubs. A ruin pub is a pub that was opened in an old, crumbling building (that had been neglected by Communists) because rent was basically free. Instead of fixing up the buildings, they just covered up the crumbling walls with gaudy art they found in dumpsters. They became so popular and made so much money that now there are over a dozen in close proximity, and they are attracting booze-loving tourists from all over the world.
The final stop of our walking tour was at the top of the Buda side (other side of the river, on top of a hill), where we visited Buda Castle, Matthias Church (built in 1265), and found amazing views of Pest. The church was built in honor of the King of Hungary praying to God that he would give his daughter if they were able to defend the city against Genghis Khan's forces. They did, so his daughter was forced to become a nun as thanks.
This was a monument erected by the Russians to commemorate the Soviet rule of Budapest for nearly 50 years. It was placed right outside the U.S. Embassy, clearly as a middle finger to them. In response, the U.S. embassy had this statue of Ronald Reagan (the U.S. president the Russians dislike the most) placed right beside the Russian monument.
Svabadsag Square is an innocent-enough looking small square with a fountain in the middle, and a pair of sculptures on one end. The story behind the sculpture, however, is what makes this interesting. In 2014 it was secretly erected in the middle of the night (at a cost of approx $1Mil) by the Conservative party, with the evil eagle of Nazi Germany descending upon the angel Gabriel, representing an innocent Hungary getting invaded by Nazi Germany. In reality, however, Hungary allied with the Nazis, and willingly gave up their Jews, gays, gypsies, and other "undesirables" to be shipped to concentration camps. For over a year since this revisionist historic monument was erected, Hungarians have protested everyday by placing personal items in front of the statue as a reminder that Hungary was not nearly as innocent as their government is trying to portray them. Very touching to see all the personal items and notes of protest. Those who forget history are in danger of repeating it.
Next stop was St Stephens Basilica, a Catholic Church built to honor St Stephen. St Stephen was the first king of Hungary in the 10th century (I think), who after who death his descendants wished to make a saint. The Pope required he perform a miracle after his death in order to be made a saint, so 50 years after his death "Stephen's hand" was miraculously found still intact (not decomposed like the rest of him). That was miracle enough for the Pope, so he made Stephen a Saint. His now-mummified hand can still be viewed in the back of the church (for a small donation of course).
Slept until 11am! We had just had 3 nights of not great sleep, and it felt great to sleep in for the first time in months or even years. We grabbed coffee and a quick no thrills breakfast prior to meeting up with our 3-hour walking tour group. Met some very interesting people from all over the world on our tour (Poland, Italy, Columbia, Australia), which took us about 5 or 6 miles throughout the city. First stop, the Budapest Opera, built in the late 19th century because of Austria's love of music and theatre. (They were the newly formed Austria-Hungary at the time)
19 July 2015
After dinner, we walked the mile or so to the Danube River, as our airport transport drive told us the riverside is beautiful at night with all the buildings and bridges lit up. Boy was he right. Walked along the river and across the Chain Bridge from Pest to Buda, then decided we were ready to head back to the apartment after a long day of traveling.
Arrived in Budapest in late afternoon, got into our AirB&B apartment around 6pm local time. We weren't expecting it to be in the 90s without air conditioning, but once you accept the reality that all locals live like that, it's easier to get used to. Found a great square about 2 blocks from the apartment with a dozen restaurants, and chose to go to the most popular one for our first meal in Budapest. We sat outside on the patio surrounded by misters to keep cool. Brie got chicken paprikash (paprika) with dumplings and I got Hungarian-style duck breast with potato pancake (and Dreher, the local beer). Both were very good. The only thing we didn't like was that about 60% of people around us were chain smoking while they ate and drank. We wondered aloud what the lung cancer rate in Budapest was.