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Trip Report Budapest Long Weekend

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I’ve traveled a fair amount in the last 12 months, and because of anniversaries and “special trips” have spent far more than normal. After returning from Italy in early June we decided that we needed to be far more sensible, and there would be no more excursions until the New Year.

Personally, I blame Groupon (far better that than my lack of self control). One of the Emailed offers to a work colleague promised 3 nights in Budapest for two, including flights and accommodation for less than £300. The accompanying photographs looked stunning , and better still, I have an enhanced salary cheque due because of extra work I did over the period of the Olympics.

As is so often the case, the deal was not quite as it seemed – and it was fortunate that I had phoned the travel agents before signing up. The advertised flights and accommodation were both full on any of the dates that I inquired about, although all could be arranged for significantly more money. Unwilling to abandon a plan, I looked around at various online agents, and noticed that they all seemed to be using the same flight times – from here it was pretty straightforward to track down the provider (Ryanair) and book everything myself.

So, Thursday morning found us at Stansted airport, with bulging day backpacks and coats full of electronics, fighting for seats on an exceptionally full flight. Boarding quite late in the queue I ended up in a middle seat next to what I presumed was an Eastern European drug addicted Skinhead – twitching and wide eyed – this was going to be fun :-(

The Flight was actually uneventful. My skinhead turned out to be a very pleasant, polite young Hungarian who just happened to be a terribly nervous flyer . The hyperactive cabin crew relentlessly trying to sell you drinks, food, duty free, scratch cards and pictures of cabin crew in lingerie (the official Ryanair charity calendar) is just part of the price you pay for cheap flights.

I must confess to being horribly under prepared. I have skimmed a 20 year old pocket guide on the city which makes much of the Communist past (the Berlin wall had only been down a year when it was published). I had downloaded a few walking tours and “essential guides” on PDF, but had them on a tablet as yet unread.

I had been told that the 72 hour public transport pass was a must (and this was exceptionally good advice) , but was unable to find the vending machines that supposedly sold them. Asking at a Tourist information site, I was told that the only place I could by this was at the post office – and was supplied with directions, only to find on arrival that it was shut for lunch.
After a short delay, and exactly as advertised on the door, the post office reopened. Behind the counter sat two large, stern faced, imposing female clerks in uniform ; exactly the stereotypic image of cold war bureaucracy to my mind. Again, absolutely wrong – I asked about travel cards, received a large smile and was immediately given the cards plus a quick explanation of their use.

The public transport system proved superb – we used bus, train, metro and trams extensively over the next few days , never having to wait more than 5 minutes for any connection. Some vehicles were crowded, some dated – but as a means of getting around it was great. The 200E bus took us from outside the airport to the Metro station at 'Kőbánya-Kispest', from where we took the metro into the centre of the city. The total journey took just under an hour.

One problem that became apparent - written Hungarian , to my ears, seemed to bear little resemblance to the spoken language. This meant train announcements proved of limited help, resulting in desperate hunting at stations to find the name boards to check our progress. I was puzzled that we seemed to passing through “Kijárat” for the third time before it was pointed out that this meant “Exit”.

As it was lunchtime, we decided to stop off at the Central Market hall (Nagy Vasarcsarnok), so got off at the Kálvin tér metro station and walked down towards the river in perfect sunshine. We were extremely lucky with the weather - it remained almost cloudless for the four days we were here, and the temperatures approaching 20 degrees Celcius were almost perfect for walking,. The first sight of the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) meant we felt compelled to walk across, and take in the view along the Danube. Initial impressions were of a very beautiful city.

Into the market hall – a huge hanger like building across several floors. We went on the balcony like upper floor and bought sausages, fried potatoes and beer from one of the stalls – very tasty and reasonably inexpensive. After lunch we wandered for a while along one of the streets running parallel to the river, I think it was probably Molnár Utca , mostly getting orientated, but being badgered by restaurateurs inviting us to eat. Finally annoyed at the pressure we headed back towards the river. Emerging next to the Elisabeth bridge (Erzsébet híd) we sat for a while in the small park next to the inner city parish church (Belvarosi Plebania Templom) . Watching the world go by we decided to head towards our hotel and drop our bags before venturing out again in the evening.

More to follow but there are some photographs here
http://tinyurl.com/c29ekdf

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    ^^^I was puzzled that we seemed to passing through “Kijárat” for the third time before it was pointed out that this meant “Exit”.

    Love self-deprecating travel reports! I'm signing up for the duration.

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    Getting to the hotel took us longer than anticipated. We started walking along the river, but decided it would be quicker to hop onto the number 2 tram heading in the right direction. As we passed near to the parliament buildings, we noticed a Line 2 Metro station , so got out of the tram , and headed down the escalaters at Kossuth tér (Lajos Kossuth Square), before deciding we needed the trains in the direction of Déli pályaudvar (Southern Railway Terminal).

    On arrival at the station, and after a 15 minute hunt for the correct bus stop, we were able to catch the 139 bus as advised by the Hotel. Their website has a detailed set of directions including the phrase "get off at the Törökugrató stop (watch the display in the bus)".

    I watched the display on the bus for nearly 10 minutes before it dawned on me that it wasn’t working. Beginning to panic, I activated the satnav on my phone – without a proper destination, but looking for a place where the road layout matched my paper map. Fortunately this tactic worked, and we got off at very nearly the right bus stop.

    The Villa Korall pension had been highly recommended on Trip advisor. This proved justified as although simple, it was spotlessly clean and comfortable, and the staff were exceptionally friendly and helpful. That it cost less than €40 a night, breakfast for two included was a huge bonus.
    The travel distance from the city centre might put some off, but I don’t think the journey ever took us more than 30 minutes, changes included.

    Back on the bus, and this time we traveled to Széll Kálmán tér hoping to walk up to the Castle Hill (I was going to type Varhegy, but am going to stop the Hungarian because I think I may have got the "Why I battled with the language” point across)

    Navigation was not proving a strength and it seemed that any attempt to find a road heading up, resulted in turning a corner and heading down again until we eventually ended back where we started at the metro station.

    Unperturbed we set out in another direction, only to become lost again , but more by luck than judgement eventually emerged alongside the river near the Magrit bridge just as the sun was beginning to set. This allowed us to stroll along beside the water, and get great views across at the Parliament building.

    On reaching Batthyány tér (tér means square!), we admired the facade of the Church of Saint Anne and decided we would grab a quick beer before finding supper.

    After relaxing for half an hour or so, because we were tired, we thought we would try and find something quick and unadventurous like a pizza for supper heading away from the river hoping to find some eateries.

    This proved unsuccessful and we ended up climbing up some steep streets. My beloved, feeling weary after a long day, was unimpressed: We had just about given up and deciding how best to get back down when we turned the corner and spotted the illuminated spire of the Matthias Church only a little way above us.
    Once we were up onto the walls of the Fisherman's Bastion, all was forgiven as the views were incredible. The Bastion itself and the ornate church were beautifully floodlit. Looking out from our high vantage, the Pest side was spread out below on the other side of the river – the Parliament and bridges all Illuminated . Words like Breathtaking and magical are overused, but probably appropriate for the views on offer. We snapped away for ages – taking far too many shots in the hope that some would come out well. After nearly an hour of gawking, where we had the place very nearly to ourselves, tiredness and hunger called.

    We followed some other tourists down through the uneven and poorly lit paths through the trees down onto the roadway by the river, then crossed the Chain Bridge to the pest side.

    Attempts to eat were thwarted as we failed to find a restaurant that wasn’t already closed, or in the process of closing even though it seemed early to us at around 9:15pm.

    We decided to call it a day as we saw a Spar supermarket next to a metro station. A quick shop bought a few provisions, and we set off back to the hotel. We had had a great first day in Hungary.

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    We slept very well that night, waking around 9am. Breakfast was a typical continental: rolls, cold meats, cheeses, yoghurts, serials etc. Eggs and bacon were also available.

    We’d discovered a minor glitch – our small tube of toothpaste had leaked into the toiletries back – and left us just enough for the morning . We headed past our normal bus stop, down the road a few hundred metres to where we had seen a large Aldi (a useful marker for anybody staying at the same hotel looking for the bus stop – it is the first one after you have passed Aldi).

    Fortunately the toothpaste tubes all had pictures of toothy smiles – I’d have hated to buy glue, or preparation H by mistake.

    Back into town and we first stopped at the metro stop near the Parliament building. It is quite magnificent, even with scaffolding around some of the walls., we then walked down alongside the river until we were back near the Liberty Bridge. Sitting for a moment on one of the benches nearby, we observed one of the beggars who was accosting tourists crossing the river. He obviously hadn’t seen us, as thinking nobody was around , in less than a second he transformed himself from a shambling palsied wreck of humanity, hid his stick under a bridge support, and strode off in the direction of the market.

    When we had stopped laughing, we followed and meandered around the stalls for a while. Jenny buying a smart Australian leather hat for about half the UK price. At lunchtime, still full from breakfast, just stopped at one of the bars for a beer.

    While drinking we got talking to an English expat who advised that we should climb up to the Liberty statue on top of Gellért Hill . This proved excellent advice as the climb was not as taxing as it looked, there were plenty of benches and lookout spots and the views across both the Buda and Pest sides of the city were inspiring.

    We took a slow walk down from the monument and citadel, and stopped briefly in the garden of philosophy. This is a collection of bronze statues representing different cultures of the world.

    From the top of the hill, we could clearly St Stevens Basilica across the river, so we slowly headed in that direction. We arrived just as the bride and groom were leaving their wedding. It was "interesting” - the wedding car was a vast eight wheeled stretch hummer, already full of assorted bridesmaids, page boys etc. A fierce tattooed woman, who I suspect was the Bride’s mother, was ordering everybody around.

    There were a large number of imposing, heavily muscled bodyguards keeping everybody at arms length. The newlyweds did seem exceptionally happy throughout proceedings.

    The Church itself was very grand – The dark red marble interior particularly impressive. Well worth a visit if you like religious architecture. We came across another striking building as we stumbled across the Synagog a little later in the afternoon. Particularly beautiful, and moving, is the weeping willow memorial. The names of the victims of the Holocaust are engraved on the leaves.

    As evening approached, tired from our walking, we found ourselves at a corner bar near Deak Ferenc Square. The major transport Junction in the city. Again we struck up conversations with some locals. The Hungarians we met were all exceptionally friendly and keen to make conversation – so unlike my fellow countrymen.

    After a couple of beers, and a gentle walk back towards the river, we stopped for supper at a restaurant called Cyrano.

    It was a case of "I wish I’d read reviews beforehand”. The service, food and wine were all really good, but the portions were tiny, and the prices significantly higher than the average (to be fair, it does have a Michelin star). As we walked away, Jenny asked if we could walk down via the street market and get something else to eat, as she was still hungry. This is why, after an expensive and tasty meal, we found ourselves sharing an enormous (and very tasty) hot dog on the streets of Budapest.

    Although it was still early at around 8:30 we decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel.

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    Saturday morning, after another hearty breakfast, we set out to the city park, changing from Metro line two to Metro Line one at Deac Tér and then getting off at the Szechenyi furdo stop. On the way we had to giggle at the large advertisements for the Hungarian edition of Fifty Shades of Grey – is there no escape anywhere?

    The park was moderately busy, and there seemed many families on the metro getting out and heading towards the zoo or the funfair. We walked around the exterior of the Szechenyi baths, and took photos of the statues and impressive mosaics within the entrance foyer, but did not actually go into the baths themselves – possible next time.

    From here we walked down to Vajdahunyad Castle, which looks ancient, but was built in the late 19th century as venue for an exhibition, but is nonetheless very picturesque . In the courtyard is a large statue of Anonymous, the unknown 12th century author. It was the focus of a large group of tourists, many draped over the statue posing for increasingly lewd photos. My distaste must have been obvious as one of the locals walked past me, and quietly muttered "Russians!” at me in a derisive tone.

    From the castle, across to Hero’s square – a pantheon of Hungarian heroes from a thousand years – maybe it is a little over the top, but some of the sculptures are great, especially the Huns around the central column. After wandering back around the duck ponds, we returned to the city centre via the metro , stopping briefly at the market.

    Pondering what to do over another beer, we decided to head toward Margaret Island, taking one tram across the Liberty bridge, then another to Batthyány tér from where we walked onto the Margaret bridge, then onto the Island itself.

    It proved a very pleasant walk along the shore, and numerous families were visiting – with the children almost as fascinated as I was with the fountain where the music appears to be dancing to classical music.

    After getting to the end of the Island, our cumulative walking over the previous few days caught up with us, so we "cheated” and caught a bus back from the Arpad bridge, connecting back to the metro with the intention of going back to the market for a late lunch. It proved too late as the market had already shut.

    Walking back down Molnár street in search of food. We saw a place advertising a tourist menu of Goulash soup with either Paprika chicken, or Hungarian sausages. The food proved both reasonably priced and very tasty.

    During our meal we were discussing what more we wished to do, and my beloved wished to do a boat trip before we departed. An evening cruise seemed preferable, so we headed down to the riverside and managed to onto a trip organised by Legenda boats. By the time we boarded, it was very busy, but we found a seat at the stern, albeit without the audio commentary. This didn’t really matter as we were more interested in the sights.

    The beautiful buildings looked even more stunning when seen from the water – all illuminated. Very few of our attempted photos worked because of the movement of the vessel, but it was a memorable end to the day.

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    Sunday morning, we checked out of the hotel and as we walked towards the bus stop, were met by a cat who looked like Hitler (or a cartoon of Hitler) a white face with a black patch under the nose, and a triangular black area of colour across the forehead. It was very pleased to see Jenny, and rolled around demanding cuddles -. It made very guttural sounds in its throat, while obviously enjoying the attention. “Do you think its purring in Hungarian? Jenny asked.

    Because we needed to carry our backpacks and cots all day, we decided to take things quite easy. We took the bus up to , Széll Kálmán tér – and having the satnav app on the phone this time found Castle Hill without any problems. It was a huge contrast to the first night we were here, as busloads of tourists kept arriving, and every rampart and stairway of Fisherman’s bastion seemed packed.

    We stopped at a cafe for coffee and cake (it seems strange to me when a double espresso is almost twice the price of a beer) , then taking a side street we found ourselves on a broad walkway with good views over Buda , and followed this all around Castle Hill. The changing leaves and sunshine made for a colourful and pleasant walk.

    We ended back at the Castle/palace itself, and admired the rather baroque statues and architecture, but didn’t really have the desire to pay the entrance fees to see the museum and interiors.

    We slowly made our way back down the hill to the river, and walked back to the Pest side via the Chain Bridge. Wandering aimlessly, but mindful of the time, we stopped at the Castro Biztro for a beer in the late afternoon sun. The menu looked interesting, so we ordered a local pasta dish and a meal of onions, peppers and sausages in rice called Letcho . The food was good, and very reasonable. I stuck to one beer as I knew I would be driving in about 8 hours.

    Wanting to ensure we had plenty of time to get to the airport for our 9:30 flight, we strolled down to the river for one last glance at the city. As the sun set we stood in the middle of the Liberty Bridge, gazing back up towards the Castle and in the direction of Parliament.

    We got back to the airport in plenty of time and our flight home was uneventful and on time.
    I really like Budapest. For pure visual impact very few places are as impressive. I realise that the city suffered much damage during the war, and there has been considerable reconstruction, but this didn’t detract from the experience. I found the people very friendly and welcoming. I would certainly like to go back and explore more.

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    willit - a few years ago we went to Budapest for a few days between Christmas and New Year and loved it despite the cold, which was wicked. you did a lot of the things we did but perhaps spent more time outside than we could - how we appreciated those well-heated museums and galleries!

    thanks for bringing back some good memories!

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    This was a great read, willit. It brings back memories of my 4 days there in 2010. DH and I also really liked Budapest. I hope to return again some day. We found the people to be very nice as well. Glad you had a good time!

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    Thanks, willit, great report. We visited Budapest a year ago, stayed at a lovely apartment and enjoyed the city and its friendly citizens. One exception: taxi drivers. Got ripped off twice. Oh, well.

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