Four days in Budapest

Love those four-day weekends!

Jewish Quarter

Day One (Thursday):
We got up really early (partly to finish packing) and took the train out to Nürnberg via the BayernTicket. We transferred at the Hauptbahnhof to the U2 subway line and caught our plane with plenty of time to spare. It would seem that the people behind the BayernTicket always seem to know just what the most convenient train times are — and set those trips up to be EC/IC/ICE. That forces us BayernTicket travelers either to take a train too close to departure for comfort or get moving much earlier than otherwise would be necessary. Oh well.

We took a taxi from the airport. The taxi stand guy said 4800 HUF, but the driver politely insisted upon 5000 HUF upon arrival. Guess who won? At least it was less than one euro. But still, it’s the principle of the thing that annoyed me there.

our hotel

Our hotel on the south side of Pest was a little hard to find on foot (the first time, before we figured out the tram system, coming from the subway station), but easy for our taxi driver. We got checked in, dropped off the stuff we didn’t need to schlep with us and moseyed north along the river a bit. We found a tourist info office, got a free map (not the world’s greatest for small, innercity pedestrian streets and the metro/tram lines are not clearly marked marked at all) and kept going north into the Jewish quarter. We sought out the Hummous Bar for a falafel and hummous lunch — thank you Frommer’s — this place was awesome. Great lunch, which introduced us to skhug. We are so going to make our own. If you have a recipe, please share it with us.

Dohány Synagogue

Peacock Menorah (blue)

Dohány Synagogue

From there we continued to the world’s second biggest synagogue (it is the largest one in Europe). We took the last guided tour of the day in English and visited the attached museum. It was short, and kind of expensive, but our guide was informative and open to questions. The tour included a visit to the museum, which was beautiful and interesting and somber and moving all at the same time in a very simple way.

For dinner: we sought out cheap Indian at Bombay Express (oh how I miss the former Bombay Express restaurant near our old apartment) near Oktogon. Also good, as far as cafeteria-style Indian goes. Cheap and tasty, if a little weird. We’re not used to Indian food in that setting.

Day Two (Friday):
Castle District

After breakfast, we walked north from our bridge to the Chain Bridge and crossed it on foot. Took a funicular from there up to the top of a hill featuring some churches and government buildings in their own little town. The view down to the rest of Buda and across the river to Pest is fantastic. We had lunch at a cafeteria apparently unbeknownst to tourists; it was practically hidden (thanks Frommer’s!) and there was no English anywhere, but the chef spoke German, so that saved us.

We split up that afternoon after (relatively) expensive, fancy coffee at the Gerbaud coffee house. It was overrated, according to Frommer’s, which was an accurate assessment, but it was right there and it felt nice to be a little fancy. I was in search of a network cable since I couldn’t get our laptop working with the WLAN at our hotel; the ladies shopped. I found nothing, took a nap and waited for them to come get me.

For dinner: back to the Oktogon area for a great duck-themed dinner at M. What a great meal at an odd little restaurant. Frommer’s gets the credit once again. I’m glad we heeded their advice for every evening meal to get a reservation — each time, it was absolutely necessary.

Fisherman's Bastion

Inside Fisherman's Bastion

We had:
Elderberry sodas to drink

cold cucumber soup
cabbage soup with duck
salad with duck breast

duck breast with redwine-raspberry sauce and mashed potatoes
lamb-filled cannelloni
gnocchi veneziana (gorgonzola sauce!)

and to finish it off: banana cheesecake. The bananas were great, but sadly, it was a ricotta/Italian style cheesecake. We were hoping for NY style. Could have been worse!

Day Three (Saturday):
Took the subway out to Hero’s Square and walked around the park there. There was some kind of food and drink market there, but it didn’t really ever look like it was in full swing. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the flea market, but found it had been cancelled (more on that later). Instead we headed back into down and tried to visit a very small museum dedicated to the life and works of Miksa Róth — but after tromping around in intense heat and numerous detours due to construction in the area, we arrived several hours before they opened (Frommer’s kind of left us hanging there a bit). So instead we checked out the outside of the Parliament buildings. We didn’t want to pay for a tour that would have been free to European Union passport holders and didn’t want to feel like chumps asking for them to waive it given our residence permits for Germany. We’d decided that in preparation for the feast awaiting us that night, that none of us really needed a full lunch. So we went back to the Hummous Bar to split a falafel plate.

Sarah got tired and needed a nap, and Monet and I made our way back to the Miksa Róth house. It was worth it just for the peace and quiet. Aside from the caretakers, we were the only ones in the place the whole time. It was eerie, standing in the artist’s home, his bedroom, his living room, admiring the furnishings and mementos and in general the 1880s atmosphere INSIDE the apartment and casting a glance just outside the window to the world of 2009’s construction projects and KFC just down the street towards the train station. Then Monet and I made our way back to the hotel to do a little touristy shopping (your postcards came from that expedition), pick up Sarah and ask the hotel to confirm our reservation at an AYCE restaurant way out at the end of one of the subway lines.

That was kind of an adventure itself; when we got off the subway, we found the restaurant immediately, but were dismayed to see busloads and busloads of people waiting out in front of it. It looked like there was a troupe of Polish tourists and some kind of racing team who had also made their reservations there that night. But you know what? They sat us on time and the food and drinks were of good quality and amazing quantity. Soups, salads, breads, prepared dishes, meats and fishes grilled to order, dancing chefs and waitresses putting on a show, live 3-piece fiddle-bass-guitar music, and desserts galore. Absolutely worth it. Frommer’s for the win!

Buda Castle by Night

Freedom Bridge to Fancy Hotel

Flea Market Booty

Day Four (Sunday):
We went back to the flea market a second time and hit pay dirt. Monet haggled a bit over some ceramics, but Sarah and I just marveled over the spread and selection. We rewarded ourselves for our perseverence with a trip back to the Hummous Bar for one last lunch and were astounded to find that it was on the same street as the M restaurant from Friday night, near the Franz Liszt house. Our gracious hostess there seemed a little disappointed that we wanted the exact same meal as the previous two days, but why mess with perfection? She also gave us the scoop on the skhug.

Our hotel kindly let us check out and store our bags with them (even with claim checks, which was nice) until it was time for our departure. And they even arranged a taxi trip for us to the hotel. This time, the price was exactly as quoted. But this time, it was a grandmotherly-type lady and what appeared to be her private vehicle (no meter, no radio, etc.). But the ride was smooth and easy and though she spoke little or no English, she was a safe, conservative driver who seemed pleasant and smiled a lot and we liked that.

In summary:
Budapest is very easy on the eyes and mouth, even if a little rough on the nose at times in certain areas. Our Frommer’s Budapest & Best of Hungary guide rarely let us down. We marveled at the language even as we were continually bewildered by it. After three full days though, I was ready to return to home to Regensburg. Monet is a travel trooper, never once needing a nap or even a break from eating (how does she do that?!). Sarah did a great job in the prep work. I did my best to look up and snap photos; we read in the book that if you don’t keep your head pointed up, you’ll miss a lot of Budapest, and I certainly found that to be true.

Here’s the slideshow: