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August 6, 2010 / agrove19

Travel: Budapest

So awhile back, my friend Brittany started obsessing about Hungary. She fell in love with images of the small country via the internet and made it her goal to visit the country one day. I, never one to turn down a travel opportunity, decided to accompany her on her quest to visit Budapest, with Prague as an addition.

However, I must admit, I knew absolutely zero about Hungary and less about Budapest specifically. I was curious but unsure at the same time. My vision of the city was blocked by my misperceptions about its history. I knew the country was a part of the Soviet Union, so most of my interests were in seeing how that affected its development. I expected to see a lot of uniform, block housing that lacked individuality. Thankfully, I was wrong!

Budapest in an awesome city. One of my favorites in the world. It is charming in a way that few large cities could ever hope to achieve. It has beautiful architecture (ok, so most of it is reproduction as the originals were destroyed in World War II) and beautiful scenery to boot. It also has a history and culture that not only survived but have thrived since their Soviet Bloc days.  If a city could be termed as approachable, that would be Budapest. Everyone was friendly and helpful and I attribute this to the fact that it is somewhat off the tourist beaten path. Communication was a cinch as well. Everyone spoke English (in fact, Brittany and I joked that when someone said they spoke only a “little” English, that they  actually spoke it better than most Americans!) and transportation was a breeze. Get your bus pass and you are good to go!

Budapest is actually two cities combined in one. The two sides are separated by the Danube river (or the Duna river if you are in Hungary). The Buda side is hillier than the Pest side and less commercial. It has Buda Castle as well as many historic sites. The Pest side is the bigger city of the two. It is more commercial and flat and has a lot of the business of the city. Most of daily life happens on the Pest side but a lot of tourist sites are on the Buda side. At least that is how it felt to me. Now on to those sites.

Here are a few of my favorite places of  and things about Budapest:

Gerbeaud:


This place is heaven. Pure and simple heaven. Its interior is reminiscent of a nineteenth century parlor, decorated to the nines with lavish wall paper and gorgeous chandeliers. As you sip your hot chocolate, you feel as though you are truly experiencing something, almost as though you have been transported to another time. You have to remind yourself that this is, indeed, your life. I ordered the Dobros Torte and Hot Chocolate and it was a delicious as it looks. If I ever return to Budapest (and I will), Gerbeaud will top my list.

This picture makes me want to go back to Budapest stat. Mmmmm….

Gellert Hill:

I am pretty sure we would have made our way to the top of this hill somehow, but it would never have been so easy without a little help from our Hungarian friends (hmmm… sounds like a song title). We had a couple of friends that helped us out a lot getting around Hungary and on our first day, they took us to see Gellert Hill. This is a giant hill on the Buda side of things. History says that a monk, named Gerard, was thrown from the top of the hill to his death. So of course, it is extremely popular. Nevertheless, after about a mile hike (Budapest is for walkers) we made it to the top. It was definitely worth it. You could see the entire pest side for what seemed like miles. The view was unbeatable. See it for yourself:

I need a better camera if I am going to continue seeing so much pretty.

Cruise the Danube:

On our first night in the town, I insisted that we go on a cruise of the Danube. I thought it would be a great way to see the city and get our bearings. The Danube is one of the rivers that historians salivate over. Take your pick: Several of Europe’s capitals are located on the Danube, the Blue Danube Waltz by Strauss and it was the dividing line in Budapest between the Germans and the Russians during World War II. I love this stuff. So we took our tour and it did not disappoint. We got some great pictures and a quick history of the city. It was also relaxing, as well were pretty tired our first day. Here is just one great shot out of many:

Parliament from the Danube.

Labyrinth of Buda Castle:

I like spooky. Ask Sarah Walker about the vaults. So, randomly, one day Brittany and I stumbled upon the labyrinth after previously deciding it wasn’t worth it. However, we had some time to kill, so what the heck. That was the greatest decision on the trip. When I say this was amazing, it is an understatement. We walk downstairs to the entrance, which is a cave looking room that is low lit. We pay our fee and are handed, get this, a lantern. Now, this is not a battery powered, Disney, we live in America so we sue  lot lantern. This is a real oil lantern. That is right, people who do not even know me, entrusted me to not set myself or Brittany aflame by providing us with a real lantern. Or maybe they just really don’t care seeing as how I am adult, my safety is really my concern. I am going with the latter. So, with no instructions, Brittany and I stepped into the dark with our lantern to make our way through a series of caves. Yippee!

Being a Budapest Millionaire:

On our last day in Hungary, we realized we had a lot of extra Forint (Yep, they have their own currency. No Euro here peeps!). So did we convert it, no. We spent. We spent like we had nothing to lose. We went to the Opera. We also went to the fanciest dinner at the nicest restaurant I have ever visited. I am a teacher so it is not too surprising that I have to go to a foreign country where our currency is more valuable to get a good meal. When we entered the restaurant, they took our coats. There was a pianist. We also had wine (and not the cheapest, might I add). It was nice feeling like I could have whatever I wanted no matter the cost for just this small moment in time. Ahhh…luxury.

I really am that posh.

So there were some of my favorite places, now for a few we didn’t get to see. Of course, I plan on getting these in next time.

Gellert Baths:

Next to the aforementioned hill, sits the Gellert Hotel and Baths. It is a famous landmark in Budapest and functions as a luxurious hotel and spa. I had some interest in the baths but I am always a little shy about jumping in my swimsuit and diving in a public body of water. Let’s say water parks rank high on my least favorite places list. But I do wish I had pushed my fears aside and jumped in (literally). However, next time I will be all about it. Canonball!

Parliament:

If you have looked at my pictures, you are probably saying, “Wait a minute, you have a million pictures of Parliament.” Well, you are correct. However, I only have a million pictures of the exterior. Unfortunately, we visited on a national holiday and did not get to see the interior. And, according to several sources, it would have been worth it. The money spent on building the Parliament could have also been used to build a small town. I love opulence for no reason, so it  was quite a bummer to not visit.

The Surrounding Countryside of Budapest:

As we left Budapest on the train, we passed several small towns that looked so awesome. While the city was great, I definitely would add a day trip if we went back. The scenery was gorgeous (Robin Hood (BBC version) was filmed outside of Budapest) and I think you can really get a feel for a place and culture when you experience life outside of the big city.

Szentendre

Koros-Maros National Park

Orseg National Park

My experience in Budapest was amazing and I really would like to go back someday soon. I highly recommend it as a European destination as it is inexpensive yet culturally rich.

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