Saturday, November 24, 2012

Budapest, Hungary - A Beautiful City

June 11, 2012
From the Budapest airport, I take the metro to the old city, the Pest side of the city. I walk up the flight of steps to the sidewalk, and my jaw drops. The buildings, the architecture, are amazing; everything is so regal and beautiful. Andrassy is a beautiful street that runs for many blocks until it reaches a park, and I stroll along its sidewalk, my neck perpetually craned upward to see the windows, crown moldings, and adornments. Everywhere I look is gorgeous. I can’t get over it. I literally have to refrain myself from approaching random people and exclaiming, “Isn’t this city amazing?!?” 

The telephone was invented by people speaking Hungarian. When testing the invention, the person answering the phone would say, "Hello," which means, "I can hear you." This is where our greeting originated!

June 12, 2012
“We have the same map,” a voice chirps from behind me as I’m walking along, trying to figure out where the oldest synagogue in Europe is located. I turn to find a woman near my own age that is indeed carrying the same map. It is not long before we have decided to spend the day with each other. Sometimes it’s just that easy. You can be walking along, completely on your own, and then all of a sudden you found a friend of yours that you didn’t even realize existed.

A very old synagogue

It's good luck to rub his knees. ;)
A view of Pest from across the Danube River

The Parliament Building

The drizzle that began hours ago has turned into a steady rain. I’m grateful for my umbrella, but it only does so much. My feet are soaked, and I don’t have a proper jacket to keep the damp chill away. We pause from our sight seeing and escape to the cozy, fancy atmosphere inside Gerbeaud, the oldest cafe in the city. 

Budapest is well known for its many bathhouses that are naturally spring-fed. We choose to visit Szechenyi Baths, supposedly one of the fanciest. The warm water feels nice after the chill, damp day. The sauna, on the other hand, at 100 degrees Celsius, feels like I’m inhaling fire. My throat and lungs burn, and I barely last one minute. A man wants me to share in how he enjoys the baths, which is to plunge into a small bath filled with frigid water immediately after the sauna. I shriek at the shock to my system and immediately clamber out.

In Erzebet Square, there is a metal structure with padlocks all over it. Lovers put a padlock on a bar and throw the keys into the Danube River as a testament to their love. 

Eating in Budapest
Fatal - Having no idea where to eat, a man working at a souvenir shop recommended this restaurant. I order the stuffed cabbage and am served a huge bowl filled with deliciousness. The stuffed cabbage is swimming in a thick, tomato broth with slices of cabbage. It is so good that I eat two servings worth, and I am still sad to leave some behind.
Street: Vaci Utca 67

Konia - I met a couple girls from Canada on the street and had dinner with them here, recommended by their hostel. My garlic cream soup is really good, and I also enjoy bits of their pesto gnocchi and cheese croquettes. We share a bottle of Tokadji, a Hungarian wine.

Gerbeaud - This is the oldest cafe in Budapest, and it’s quite grand. It’s also pricey compared to other cafes, but I think it’s completely worth it. Elizabeth and I share two absolutely amazing and decadent desserts - a Hungarian sponge cake (somloi galuska) and chocolate cake with ice cream and apricot sauce (Gerbeaud kehely).
Street: Vorosmarty Ter 7-8

Central Market Hall - This place is a lot of fun to visit, even if you’re not looking for food. The bottom floor is all the meat and produce, cheese and baked goods, paprika, and wines. The top floor has lots of souvenir booths, but there’s a section of food stalls, too. Here I found langos, a Hungarian fried dough snack. I topped mine with garlic, but there are plenty of variations.

Paprika is used often in Hungarian cuisine.

Palinka is the national liquor, a Hungarian fruit brandy

Tokaji is a Hungarian sweet dessert wine

Langos topped with sour cream, cheese, and garlic

Frici Papa - My tour guides recommended this restaurant as a good place to try a typical Hungarian dish - chicken paprikash with dumplings. When I tried to go there for dinner, I learned that they stopped serving food at 10 pm (I guess not all European countries follow the stereotype of eating late). So, I tried again at lunch the next day. I have to say, it wasn’t my favorite, but I’m glad I tried it.
Street: Kiraly Utca 55

One night I passed a very bright and colorful candy shop that also sold all sorts of wonderful-looking cakes. I couldn't resist choosing a confection at the Sugar Shop.
Street: Paulay Ede Utca 48

Activities in Budapest

Free Walking Tour - I think this is one of the best things to do. You learn history, current culture, and useful information about the city while you are led by two friendly and knowledgeable guides. The guides work for tips only, but they are not pushy about this at all. I found myself so appreciative of what I learned and saw that I was happy to leave a tip. There are a few different times and versions available, and it lasts for about two and a half hours. To join, you just meet at the designated spot at the starting time.

Thermal Baths - Budapest is known for its bathhouses, of which it has six. Some are mixed (men and women together), and others have certain days or times when it's not mixed. I visited the Szechenyi Bath, which was very beautiful. It had two large pools and numerous, smaller baths as well as saunas.

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