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Trip Report Budapest Trip Report - January 2011

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Four nights in Budapest, after arriving from Berlin (see earlier trip report).

General impression: I really liked Budapest. It's a beautiful place, especially along the river. I was also really impressed with the friendliness of the locals and quality of service. I expected communist style unhelpful bureaucracy but was pleasantly surprised. Only issue was a cab driver who tried to charge me 5200 to the airport when the real price is 3600. I pointed that out on the price chart and he noticed his "mistake". And he noticed the lack of tip.

Flight: Arrived from Berlin on Malev, which was surprisingly good. Flew out on BA via London to New York.

Weather: Some fog and rain for the first day or so, then got a little brighter.

The Budapest Card: I bought it for 27 euros for 3 days. You get unlimited rides on trains, buses and trams, and small discounts to most museums. But unless you really plan to visit everything, and that will be difficult in three days, the price is not worth it.

Public transport is pretty easy to use. Tickets are nearly always checked on entering and often on exiting. Sometimes on the trains as well. There are many stories of visitors not knowing they must validate their tickets and being fined, so be sure to do that before riding.

Visiting in January: An EXCELLENT option. Prices are lower and the sites are practically empty. Was perfect.

Hotel: Connection Guest House - on Kiraly St, about two blocks from the opera house. This is a gay hotel, but I trust everyone will be welcome. Nice room, good hot water, TV, free internet, excellent staff and all for 30 euros per night. AND the best part - I was the only one there for the first two nights. After that, there was one other bloke.

First Day: Walked across the Chain Bridge to Castle Hill on the way to the Budapest History Museum. Only I walked the wrong way and walked around in circles not understanding why I couldn't find it. Finally got there, but the modern history section, my entire reason for going, was closed for renovation. Saw Matthias Church and the Castle, then ate lunch at LP recommended Toldi Konyhaja, a friendly local place. On the other side of the river, saw St. Stephens's Basilica, toured the opera house, which is nice, although I'd like to have seen backstage. Then went to the House of Photography which was closed while they set up some type of exhibit. They suggested I come back the next day. I didn't. Took the metro back the other way, then surprisingly managed to find the right tram, only I missed the stop because the doors will only open if someone is getting on or off and I didn't know where I was getting off. Made it to the Rudas baths. OK experience, but not sure how hygienic it is.

Second Day: Decided to plan more carefully. Got to Parliament in time for the 10AM tour. If you're an EU citizen, it is free; for the rest of us it is a whopping 3400. Still worth it even if it's a short tour. Visited the Art Deco museum. Nice on the outside, nothing worth seeing on the inside. Then to the Terror House, which is excellent. Gives you a good sense of the 1945-1956 history and there were few other people there. Then stopped at a local place for lunch where there was no English menu but the lady at the counter was happy to translate for me. Then to the Holocaust Museum, which is a really profound experience and a must for any visitor. I've been to Holocaust museums before and have heard the stories many times but it was a an important dose of reality. And they present it very well. And for most of the time, I was the only one there. At night, headed back for a night view of parliament, the castle and the bridges, before stopping at a bar/restaurant for goulash and noodles.

Third Day: Saw the Great Synagogue, which is really beautiful, along with the Memorial Garden and small museum. Then saw the remnants of the Moorish synagogue. Walked a bit around the old Jewish quarter, where I believe my grandfather was born. Then ate at a kosher restaurant, which was fair. in the afternoon, walked around the Central Market, which is a great place for cheap eats, then took the tram across the Liberty bridge to the end of the line and slowly walked back. At night, met up with a Facebook friend who took me to a Serbian restaurant, some unbelievably smoky bars and then to see the Margaret (?) Bridge and the outside of the Ludwig Center.

In the end, I highly recommend Budapest. Especially in the off season.

Next trips: Colombia and Vietnam.

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