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Trip Report Boozing and Bathing in Budapest!

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I'm recently back from a week long trip to the Hungarian capital which was a (very generous) birthday present to me from Tommy. It was a big birthday with a zero and that is all I am saying on the matter of age.

We loved Budapest and I have much to tell of palinka and pinball and Putin and patisserie. I will split the report by day as per usual and start you off with photos. Please come along for the ride :-)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/albums/72157689299530735

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    As you will know if you have read any of my previous trip reports I am not a huge fan of flying, and having completed eight flights late last year in the space of just three weeks to/from and in and around Thailand and Vietnam, I decided I’d make my way from the UK to Budapest by train instead. This meant taking Eurostar to Brussels, then getting an onward train to Germany, then a choice of overnight trains, either direct or via Vienna. I’ve done enough train travel round Europe to know to leave reasonable connection times so this all went very smoothly. Although much of the journey is overnight, I did have some fabulous views from time to time – crossing the border from Germany to Austria at Passau with the hills shrouded in mist, and on the return leg when the train followed the Rhine for hours – castles and chateau abundant in the hills, ferries and cruisers running up and down the river, and fishermen perched on the bank or little islets in the water. On the Austrian leg of the journey I splurged for first class, which meant seat service on the train, and use of the lounge in Vienna (excellent coffee and brioche!) My recommendation for a quick bite in Brussels Midi is ExKi which despite the carrot symbol in the logo is not veggie, but organic. They do a wide range of sandwiches, quiche and soups, plus sweet treats like pastal de nata.

    I arrived in Budapest not long after 2pm and caught the metro to Deak Ferenc. It was just 3 stops from Budapest Keleti station with no changes, so a very easy final leg of the journey. The ticket machines speak English(!) and you have a wide variety of purchasing options from single tickets to carnets and passes. The only slight confusion I had was finding the orange ticket validating machine where you punch the single journey tickets. I’d repeatedly read that the machines are located at the top of the escalator and are usually manned by ticket inspectors, but actually not all of them are ‘upstairs’, and at my departure station the machines were down on the same level as the trains. Exiting Deak Ferenc I saw I had a text from Tommy who’d already checked into our apartment and was trying to get a charger or adaptor of some sort in Vodaphone, as the one he’d brought wasn’t working properly. I said I had an adaptor on me so he abandoned the quest and we met on Kiraly Utca.

    The area we were staying in was in Pest, ie east of the river, in District VII, abutting the Jewish Quarter, no more than 5-10 minutes walk from the river. Basically there are a number of large streets running parallel here - Andrassy Utca, Paulay Ede Utca and Kiraly Utca, and connecting them crosswise are a warren of alleys and smaller streets full of exciting looking bars, cafes and markets. Our apartment was part of the Park Residence complex and I think it was just off Hollo Utca. Right outside we had a number of Serbian restaurants and bars (it turned out to be a bit of a Serbian enclave) and a posh burger van, as well as access to one of the covered alleys full of restaurants, ice cream stands, breakfast cafes, and market stalls selling vintage crocodile bags, soviet era watches and 60s rhinestone jewellery. There were also from time to time artists selling ceramics, cartoons and felt or wool products. The apartment itself was really nice – a large lounge with cherrywood floors and a flatscreen tv, a decent kitchenette (with kettle!!), a dining area, bedroom with floor to ceiling windows, and two balconies overlooking mature gardens in a secluded courtyard. It was ideal being so close to the action but facing away from it as it meant we had endless entertainment options right on our doorstep but little to no noise.

    We dumped my luggage and headed out to a bar right on the corner of our complex – Publicum – where we drank beer (Tommy) and gin and tonic (me) and exchanged travel stories. Tommy had flown out with Wizz Air and the flight had been delayed by people sitting in the wrong seats and refusing to move. Also my birthday present from his mum had been unwrapped at security! The lovely sunny weather and the chilled vibe of the outdoor terrace we were sitting on soon soothed all angst though. We ordered ‘creams’ which were little spoonfuls of savoury dips to be eaten with bread. We had fun trying to identify the creams – one was tapenade, another paprika, a third tuna, and after that we got a bit stuck. One was possibly chicken and pesto, the last one went completely unguessed. It was very nice though, with our big basket of toasted bread. I also tried, and failed to order a cocktail. ‘No’ was the answer – either it was too early, or I looked under 18 (ha!) – we never found out the exact reason.

    After this brief refuelling, we headed off for a wander, passing a huge synagogue, interesting-looking antiquarian bookshops, little courtyard gardens and more bars and cafes. Yellow trams clanged past on the busier streets. Eventually we made our way down to the river. Here there were some really impressive art nouveau buildings fronting the water – one seem to have been inlaid with gold on the upper levels and the effect at dusk was breath-taking with the metal catching the dying sun. We walked across the chain bridge stopping to look up and down river or take photos from time to time. Banners and flags mounted along the bridge flapped in the early evening breeze. Looking to our right we could see the parliament building. Looking directly across the river, we could see Buda castle perched up on the hill, fed by winding roads and a funicular railway. Tommy informed me that the chain bridge had been designed by a Scottish engineer and I admired the vast stone lion stations guarding both ends.

    We headed back to District VII for dinner, stopping at a small restaurant on Paulay Ede Utca – I think it was called Vendeglo. It served good basic Hungarian food – I had pork with lecso – a kind of pepper and tomato stew – and Tommy had a casserole but I can’t remember if it was venison or lamb. It was good, tasty filling food and the staff were really nice, squeezing us in even though almost all the tables were reserved. Then back to a bar just outside our apartment complex where we sank a few cocktails – they did very good white Russians! It was lovely sitting under the awning with lamps and fairy lights glowing, knowing our walk home was going to be little more than a dozen steps!

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    Love your photos! Will be following along. We've been to Budapest several times for only for a few times each visit, this is motivating me to do a similar trip to yours.
    Waiting.....
    Waiting

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    Thanks everyone. I will try and do a post a day.

    Thursdaysd - I love train travel and have been to Spain, Italy and Germany using the European high speed rail network. On this particular trip I just had standard seating rather than a couchette - had I been able to afford a single cabin I think that would have been better. It's easy travel though - most staff at major stations speak some English and there are a great choice of food options in Germany in particular - love the little brotchen stands ubiquitous in most stations

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    I have slept in couchettes a number of times, don't think I would last all night in a seat! Never had a problem, and in western Europe they are single sex. The Caledonian and the Riviera night trains in the UK are high on my list. (I once traveled Scotland to Saigon by train, but am not so energetic these days.)

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    Thanks Okszi :-) I actually looked the restaurant up on Google earth before posting and that's literally all it says on the frontage - 'Vendeglo' - no specific name. We both struggled a bit with Magyar tbh - so few words resembled any other European languages that we knew.

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    Day 2: Sunday

    A particular feature of Budapest is the proliferation of Ruin Pubs – these are bars set up in dilapidated old buildings, usually decorated in an eclectic and Bohemian style, where in addition to imbibing, music, comedy and food are often on offer too. We’d read that one of the larger Ruin Bars – Szimpla Kert (which I think means Simple Garden) – was open on Sunday mornings for a farmer’s market, and we thought this might be a good place to visit for breakfast. It was just a short walk through the Jewish quarter, passing cafes and restaurants named (somewhat stereotypically) things like ‘Mazel Tov’, where men with peyot and black hats nipped in and out of shops, carrying briefcases or chollah loaves.

    We found Szimpla Kert quite easily, navigating the narrow passage-like entrance which eventually lead to an inner courtyard, partially open to blue skies. The décor here consisted of hand-sown fabric bunting and fairylights, with bicycles and garden gnomes strung from a sort of mesh false ceiling. The market was in full swing and we wandered round trying sugar-free jams (apple and almond), and truffle oils, butters and pastes, admiring stands of herbs and veg – red chillis tied in immaculate bunches. Upstairs there were many interconnected smaller rooms housing bars or games like table football, the walls decorated with graffiti and modern art (my absolute favourite being a painting of a winged jackel in a ballerina tutu!). Old cast iron bathtubs had been repurposed as seating. Working our way through the maze of chambers, we eventually came across a vast breakfast buffet that occupied an entire room –pastries and breads, meat and salami, pickles, salads, and eggs with great glass jugs of every fruit juice and smoothie you can possibly think of, as well as fresh coffee, tea and hot chocolate. We were sorely tempted by the buffet but it was quite pricy – I think around 20 euros if memory serves me correctly, and we decided we probably couldn’t eat our moneys worth, so instead headed back to a covered area of cafes slightly nearer our apartment.

    Blue Bird café had lovely tiled floors, tables decorated with fresh flowers, and mix and match china. Tommy opted for the traditional Hungarian breakfast, which consisted of cured meats, cottage cheese with paprika and caraway seeds (a millions times nicer than cottage cheese back home!) and dark rye breads and salad. The final item was an unusual crackling made from duck skin – he wasn’t sure about it but I thought it was delicious. My own plate was slightly less adventurous - I had bacon and eggs - and we both had coffee and fruit juice.

    After breakfast we decided we wanted to explore Buda, so wandered back down to the river and across the chain bridge again. We decided to catch the funicular up to the hilltop rather than walk, and this necessitated a short period of queueing. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies, and warmer than average for that time of year (high 20s), and part of the queueing was conducted inside a Victorian era glasshouse-like structure surrounding the ticket office, so it got even hotter once we were in there, but luckily before too long we were inside one of the old wooden funicular carriages working our way up the hillside. You couldn’t actually see much from the carriage as the seats were quite low and the front of the carriage quite high, but it was no more than a minute or so to the top where a vast terrace gave expansive views out across the city. We wandered the terrace for a while, taking photos back across to Pest with the Chain Bridge below us. The castle to our right looked to be closed for a wine festival – you could buy passes to the festival but it was barely midday and we honestly didn’t feel ready for alcohol that early on! People passed by in peasant costumes and a suitably cruel-looking moustached man cracked a long whip behind them to hurry them!

    Heading away from the castle and toward the old town we passed pink, yellow and ochre buildings with ornate double doorways, and a number of magnificent statues. I couldn’t tell whether the figures were biblical, crusaders or Eastern European persons of historical importance, but every single one was beautifully modelled with realistic expressions of anguish and suffering to match the gold arrows piecing their torsos or faces. Eventually we came to St Matthias Church – a huge building, pristine white, like a wedding cake, with knobbly spires and an amazing mosaic tiled roof. Again, there were wonderful views out across Budapest from a terrace alongside the church. We contemplated going into a small café at the edge of the terrace, as it looked like a prime spot for photographs, but the price of drinks was extortionate, so we passed. Interestingly, some days later when looking through racks of postcards back in Pest I saw a number that were clearly taken through the photogenic stone windows of the café at this exact spot!

    I mentioned to Tommy that I thought Ruszwurm was in the area – one of Budapest’s oldest cafes, famous for its cream slices and simple art nouveau décor. Google maps on my phone confirmed that I was correct and we headed off down a side street looking for it. In no time at all we were queuing on the doorstep with a few other customers. Ruszwurm has indoor and outdoor seating, but as both were full when we arrived we had to take whatever became available first. This turned out to be one of the pavement tables and a helpful waiter put a parasol up for us. It was really quite hot even with the parasol, so it might have been better to wait and sit inside with the blonde wood patisserie cabinets, sage green banquets and old cream woodburner, but the cakes were the same either way! We ordered a cream slice for me and a sour cherry strudel for Tommy, and coffees. (I think Mr M may also have had a beer). Amusingly, on the Ruszwurm website they state somewhat disdainfully that they don’t think their cream slices are all that – apparently they have an alternative version that they favour but in taste-tests the public didn’t like it as much, so they serve the original (inferior!) recipe, under protest. I liked it a lot, but if I am honest, Tommy’s cherry strudel was better.

    After settling the bill, we headed back to our apartment on foot, down twisty footpaths and steep flights of steps, back over the river and through St Stephens square past the imposing basilica. After a brief rest at home (uploading photos, freshening up) we found another decent-looking Hungarian restaurant in the covered passageway the other side of Hollo Utca. I honestly can’t remember the name of the place but I do recall what we ate. We shared a platter of cured salmon (in big chunks, very rustic), then I had duck with a lovely dark fruits of the forest sauce, and Tommy had steak or beef. I also had a cheesecake for pud which was actually more like a brownie on the base and Tommy helped by having the odd spoonful. We then had drinks at the Serbian bar again. I must say, this was a very good joint – at first I’d thought the drinks menu a bit uninspiring as they served only a tiny handful of classic cocktails, no signature ones whatsoever, but they were all extremely well executed. Our white Russians came with a creamy head not unlike a cappuccino and three coffee beans perfectly lined up on top! Egészségére!!

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    If I'm honest the train was quite tiring Stokie, due to the overall length of the journey and my decision not to go for a sleeper. But it was pretty much stress free compared with all the hanging around in airports.

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    RM67, thank you for posting. I'm currently planning my first trip to Budapest. Only 3 nights (we are going on to Croatia for family research), but I'm a bit of a foodie. So, I appreciate your mention of eateries!

    Enjoying the report and already getting a feeling for the city! Looking forward to the next edition! thanks!

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    Day 3: Monday

    Monday was Tom’s birthday and after tea and card opening in our apartment, I took him for breakfast at Café Gerbeaud. The café in its modern incarnation is close to 150 years old, and situated on Vorosmarty ter in a grand building with stucco ceilings, chandeliers and simple wooden chairs. However, we again opted to sit outside as the weather was so nice. We ordered ‘Breakfast for Two’ which is basically pretty much every breakfast dish you can think of in miniature, served on one long platter. Scrambled eggs with cheese came in ramekins topped with smoked bacon. Cured meats, peppers, cheeses and pickles were piled up at each end of the platter, and in the centre were two glass tumblers containing coconut tapioca topped with museli and fresh fruit. In a separate basket we had Danish pastries, brioche and French bread. Hot and cold drinks of your choice were also included – the tea and coffee served in eggshell thin porcelain cups. The price for this feast was a very reasonable £20 for two – or rather it would have been if I’d been given the right bill – it wasn’t until I got back to the UK that I realised I’d actually paid someone else’s tab. I don’t even think it was a scam attempt as that usually involves subtle addition of an extra item to the correct bill – this was a completely different order from a completely different table, and probably came as a result of the fact we flagged down someone other than the guy who had actually been serving us for the cheque. Learn from my foolishness dear reader!

    After breakfast we headed along Vaci Utca – a pedestrianised street running roughly parallel to the river. This street predominantly consisted of eateries, but there were a few unusual shops to peruse too – one selling nothing but hunting knives (most of which would have been illegal in the UK!) and another selling Cossack-style hats. Tommy desperately wanted to buy me a Cossack hat but I declined! We also saw huge gothic-looking buildings in this area, one a casino and another I think a very old shopping arcade, both undergoing redevelopment. I have a bit of a thing for old abandoned buildings and was desperate to see inside but the presence of the builders, although few in number, put me off. You could just imagine the grandeur that lay within though. We crossed a busy road, noticing the river just off to our right, trams rumbling along the bank, and on a corner, the Buddah Bar hotel, which looked very smart indeed. But our destination was the imposing neogothic building directly opposite – The Central Market Hall .

    Inside, the market occupies three levels. The ground floor is mostly raw produce, fruit and veg, and meat and fish. We saw epic displays of chillis in every shape and colour, including unusual foot long yellow ones, and alarming salamis with pictures of donkeys on (surely not?!). Paprika was sold in little metal tins with wooden scoops, or in teeny cloth sacks. Upstairs, the right hand side of the building was devoted to hot food vendors – grilled meats, and mediterranean roasted veg looking very enticing. Most of the counters also had gargantuan jars of pickles of all description. Moving round the top floor anti clockwise, we came to an area selling souvenirs – lace and Christmas decorations and Russian dolls and etchings of the chain bridge. I liked the Christmas decorations a lot – very ornate – although what I actually ended up purchasing was some cherry and plum palinka (fruit brandy) and paprika tins for family and friends. Tommy looked at fridge magnets, but resisted. I can’t remember much about the lower level – I think it was more pickles!

    We wandered back to Kiraly Street, avoiding ubiquitous segways and fat tyre bikes, and very persistant HoHo bus ticket sellers en-route, eventually stopping at a bar we’d passed a few times but not actually tried thus far – BBz. The bar was in an old building with vaulted stone ceilings and waxed wooden floors, and huge windows that opened directly onto the street. The décor had more than a few contemporary touches though – modern bar stools and high tables, an eclectic collection of art on the walls, and a huge stone relief of a face. The staff here were lovely – the bar’s motto is ‘It’s cool to be nice’ and everyone was in t-shirts carrying that meme. We started with lemonades. These fruit drinks were served in just about every pub, bar or café in Budapest, consisting fresh fruit, soda water, mint and ice. We encountered many variants including the familiar lemon variety, and apple, and peach, but our favourites were sour cherry (Tommy) and strawberry and basil (me). After the lemonades we progressed to the hard stuff – fabulous negronis – and then bar snacks. The bar snacks were a generous platter of cured meats, pates, pork fat, sausage and salad. After the meat fest our waiter unexpectedly bought us complementary fruit shots ‘to cleanse the palatte’. We really liked BBz!

    After a brief rest at home we ventured out to find another Ruin Pub to continue Tommy’s birthday celebrations, this time plumping for Kuplung. Through a doorway manned by bouncers we came to a courtyard with jellyfish lights hanging over the tables and a choice of bars, left and straight ahead. We tried both bars, having a ‘Swimming Pool’ in the first one (like a blue pina colada), and I honestly can’t remember what in the second. We didn’t stay long here as poor Tommy felt old amongst all the giggly young students in their skinny jeans and skinny tees!

    Next port of call was Rumpus, a tiki bar. The themeing had actually been done very well here, with native drums as bar stools, hawaiian masks on the walls, and glasses that looked like bamboo shards and witch doctor heads. The cocktails arrived with great theatre and fanfare, presented in little treasure chests on dry ice, but were actually a bit of a disappointment to drink. They were also the most expensive cocktails of the trip by far. We beat a hasty retreat to get something to eat.

    Zing burgers took our fancy and we plumped for Aberdeen angus and sweet potato fries. The food was delicious and I would heartily recommend this place, but we did have a slightly awkward moment when they duplicated our order accidentally and got cross when we wouldn’t collect the second tray. It didn’t help that they announce the orders by shouting out your name and got mine wrong such that we didn’t even initially realise we were being called up again. After that, I think we might have stopped at the Serbian bar again on our way home but it’s all a bit of a blur 

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    Day 4 : Tuesday

    We had breakfast at the BlueBird café again – continental for me with banana bread, croissants and fresh fruit, and I think an American for Tommy, with frankfurters and bacon and eggs, and then we wandered down to the waterfront to catch a tram to the parliament building. There are literally dozens of tram lines in the vast Budapest network, parts of which date back more than 150 years. The oldest trams running at the moment date to the 60s, though there are state of the art cars which have only been launched in the last 12 months or so too. In central Budapest you can use the general BKK tickets on them i.e. same as the metro. I can’t remember the route number we used but it ran along the river all the way to Kossuth Lajos tér.

    We alighted in a square outside the parliament and wandered up and down admiring the various aspects of the building. It’s a huge Gothic revival edifice, with multiple spires, fronting the water imposingly where it glows apricot at night under artificial lighting. On the day of our visit there were certain sections that seemed to be closed and a number of armed guards patrolled the terraces and water features around the building. We found an underpass that seemed to be the entrance and went down the steps to join a large queue of people waiting to get in. A few minutes perusal of the queue confirmed that it wasn’t really moving, so we instead entered a small museum accessed from the same underpass that detailed the history of parliamentary rule in Hungary. We had audio guides that drew our attention to artifacts such as inkwells and desks used in the drawing up of legislature, and posters from the communist era. The latter is a period of history that fascinates me – the iron curtain that came down across much of eastern and central Europe in the years immediately following WW2 – and the reactions of the various peoples to their mostly uninvited occupation by the Soviets. The guide referred to a number of unsuccessful attempts to resist or oust communism, including the occupation of a radio station, before the eventual fall of the regime in the early 90s. It was a small museum but an interesting and worthwhile visit.

    We left the parliament and headed back toward the city centre on foot. To do this we walked through some of the grandest areas we’d seen so far. I would guess this to be ambassadorial territory based on the scale and opulence of the buildings – some, very classic sweeping organic art nouveau with curved windows and doorways, others more Germanic – Jugendstil - with frightening looking cubist sentry statues on the rooflines. The trees still in full leaf were tall and old. At one point we came upon a monument with an eagle, and just in front of it, an area with discarded luggage and shoes and pictures of missing people. Small notices in several languages revealed that the eagle monument was an official memorial to the German occupation and is widely considered to be offensive in terms of both the wording (which was later revised) and the way in which it fails to centre on the victims of the war (and holocaust). The luggage and photos are an unofficial memorial left by the public who see this as a more accurate and fitting tribute. Alongside, children and tourists were playing in a small fountain – jets of water springing up from the pavement sporadically – many oblivious to the controversy a few feet away.

    Back in the city centre we nipped into Gelarto Rosa – a parlour where ice cream is cleverly fashioned into rose petal shapes using special tools and scoops. Although the weather was a bit overcast (our only non-sunny day) the lack of queues at this usually rammed café meant we couldn’t pass the opportunity up. I had salt caramel and bitter chocolate, and Tommy had pistachio and raspberry and a third flavour that I’ve forgotten. It was important to choose contrasting colours to get the full rose effect but that made it harder to pick combinations that worked, so there was a bit of dithering over options! We ate at the tables outside, wrapped up in warm jackets, but our tongues rapidly becoming icy!

    Using the Lonely Planet Guide and our phones we decided on The Terror Museum for out next port of call. We went on foot, as it was more or less a straight walk up Andrassy Avenue. Here there were more grand buildings, many housing some very posh shops (every premium watch brand you can possibly think of) and lots of cafes with enticing-looking patisserie in glazed cabinets. Tommy was amused at me losing my bearings every time we crossed a busy junction – it felt like you were going round a corner instead of straight on, but you weren’t! Some of the older buildings were propped up with makeshift wooden scaffolding poles or supports, which seemed wholly inadequate to support the vast stone balconies above. We saw an eclectic mix of cars – from Lotus and Porsche, through Fiats and SEATS, to old Eastern European models like Trabants, in beige or olive green, usually immaculate and obviously well cared for.

    As we reached the Terror Museum, for the second time that day we found ourselves standing in another long queue that hardly seemed to move. I think the inclement weather was responsible, encouraging everyone to focus on indoor pursuits. Tommy wasn’t very patient in the queue and kept trying to persuade me we’d be better of finding a café and troughing cake to pass the time. As a compromise I agreed that when we got to the entrance of the museum, if it turned out that the queue carried on inside too, I’d happily move on elsewhere. When we finally got to the two huge wooden doors that marked the threshold, Tommy sneaked a peek inside as the guard opened them to let someone out, and gleefully reported that a huge queue was indeed snaking round the foyer. So we cut our losses and headed for the nearest café. Sitting at tables on the street, watching the world go buy we ordered coffees, and a poppyseed and redcurrant cake for me, and a dark chocolate and raspberry mousse cake for Tommy. Both were excellent, though I had anguished a fair bit before ordering, repeatedly jumping up to check what was on offer in the glass counters rather than relying on the menu!

    We wandered home stopping at a sports pub that Tommy liked on Kiraly Utca – they had a light beer that he really loved, and I switched between lemonade (the home made variety) and Aperol Spritzes. Truth be told I am more of a Campari girl though, and feel it is somewhat unjust Aperol is enjoying a moment when it is clearly the inferior of the two bitters! That evening I magnanimously agreed to visit a Scottish pub – The Caledonian – so that Tommy could watch the Champions League game. We’d actually texted ahead to check that they were showing it and it was on the biggest screen in the pub to Tommy’s delight. The warm glow didn’t last long unfortunately as Celtic got humped. I probably had a better evening of it than Mr M in the end – enjoying fish and chips from the bar menu and a couple of very decent gin and tonics! :-)

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    Enjoying your write-up. THe ticket desk is about 15 feet inside the Terror Museum, and they do seem to take a bit of time with each person. We stayed with it, and did enjoy the museum. Some of the write-up's could have more English explanations, but you do experience a sense of doom and tragedy.

    I found quite a few interesting statues to visit, in addition to the Nazi Occupation (plus counter-display from locals, very moving), to the one with Prime Minister Nagy on bridge, Reagon, Columbo and dog...and you hit the jackpot with Memento Park.

    Budapest really is a fun city to wander through, can't wait to return.

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    If I go back I will try to revisit the Terror Museum - but I'll pick a sunny day next time and hopefully the queues will be smaller! Agree about Budapest being lovely just to wander....we liked coming across small bars and patesseries and market stalls and street art and so on unexpectedly. Btw, Memento Park figures in the next section of my TR, which I will try to put up later today.

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    Day 5 : Wednesday

    The plan for Wednesday morning was to make our way to Memento Park, situated in the hills just outside Budapest. It’s the home of many communist-era statues removed from the city centre after the fall of communism, and something I’d wanted to see for years. The journey was a very easy one, aided and abetted by the completion of a new Metro line in the last couple of years. Basically, we walked to Deak Ferenc metro, caught Line 3 to Kalvin Ter, then changed to Line 4 which we rode all the way to the end at Kelenfoldi Palyaudvar. Right outside the station we caught a bus (120E?) up into the hills and the entire journey – rail and road - took no more than 30 minutes. The bus actually sailed right past the entrance to Memento Park, not stopping automatically, but luckily Tommy noticed the gates, so at the next stop just down the road we hopped off and walked back.

    The entrance was crowned with a huge pair of boots which are all that remains of an 8 metre high statue of Stalin, the rest of the sculpture having been pulled down and destroyed. Buying tickets at the gate we picked up a guidebook in English and walked through an arch into a grassed area where the statues are cleverly arranged in small arenas or terraces, brick walls separating the different ‘rooms’, but often with windows in them, creating interesting peepholes through which to view the works. We wandered past statues of soldiers carrying rifles, children releasing doves, cloth-capped workers holding banners, giant hands protectively encircling symbolic balls, Stalin again, Karl Marx in cubist fashion, and a frieze with (red) star shaped portholes. Most of the figures were shown in a strident or triumphal pose and instantly recognisable as propaganda of that era. We read in the guide that the Hungarians hated most of the works and used to risk punishment by covering them with sheets when they were in situ in the city. There was apparently quite a heated debate on what to do with them after the fall of communism, and the park was proposed as a solution – nobody really wanted the statues to remain prominent in central Budapest, but at the same time, the historical significance of them was widely recognised, so it was decided not to destroy them. The park will never be added to because it is not a celebration of communist art per se – it is a specific historical record of that particular time in Budapest.

    We took a lot of photos walking round the park, and at one point I swapped the lens on my camera to a fish eye. To do this I had to put my guidebook down on one of the plinths so I had both hands free for fiddling with my camera, and when I turned back a few moments later the guidebook was gone. Tommy said it might have been a taken by a member of staff thinking it was litter but I didn’t see any staff wandering round so think it was probably pinched by a fellow tourist. We sat drinking cokes at a table by the entrance and I glared daggers at anyone passing with a guidebook in their hand or pocket, just in case they were thieves! Eventually I gave in and bought another guide from the kiosk (they weren’t particularly expensive) but the first one had been a present from Tommy so it was a bit of a shame nonetheless. Queuing at the booth to get my book I noticed some fridge magnets stuck to the glass and added one of Brezhnev answering the phone in his underpants as a surprise present for Mr M!

    Once we'd had our fill of communism, we headed back into central Budapest and made our way to BBz, where I had Caesar salad and Tom had a bowl of goulash (which was more like a soup) and both were delicious. More lemonades and then back to the apartment to prepare for our night out.

    As an extra birthday present, Tommy had booked a cruise on the Danube with wine-tasting included. Shortly before 7pm we headed down towards the river to pick up our tickets, which were held at the box office of a theatre or opera house (I’m not sure which but it had a grand staircase and red carpet) serving as a collection point for all sorts of online bookings. We picked up our tickets then waited outside for 10 minutes or so until our guide came to lead us to the boat. There were quite a few other people taking the same cruise and we and all the other participants followed the guide down to the waterfront, snaking through the streets like a school outing following teacher!

    Crossing the tram lines and going down some stone steps and through a small underpass, we came out onto the quay, then navigated a short gangplank onto the boat. Inside, I was a bit unnerved to find the ceilings quite low and claustrophobic, and the whole vessel really quite dark. I then noticed some sort of mannequin dressed in historical costume standing next to a waterwheel or screw propeller or some other antiquarian method of propulsion and realised the vessel was a lot older than I’d first thought. We were lead past the waterwheel and straight out the other side of the boat, at which point I realised this wasn’t our vessel at all – there were multiple boats moored side-by-side and we had to walk across several to get to the outer one which was our venue for the night!

    Our real boat was lovely, with panoramic glass windows that opened right up to let in a breeze or provide a better view of the bankside. We were seated at a private table just for the two of us, with paper placemats detailing the wines that were to be served and a large jar of breadsticks to nibble on. A small group boarded the boat quite late and didn’t seem happy with their seating and made a bit of a fuss, which resulted in the couple behind us being moved to one of the outdoor tables – Tommy though we were going to be asked to move too at one point but happily we were left alone – probably due to his thunderous expression. :-p Our sommelier came and introduced herself and poured the first of seven(!) wines as we pulled away from the quay. The wines were served in really generous amounts – small glasses, but each serving nearly a full glass. There were a mixture of reds, whites, roses, and I think possibly one dessert or sparkling wine – by the end I was too sloshed to remember :-) We were very pleasantly surprised by the quality/drinkeability, having not been that impressed with other central European wines we'd tried, like Czech. The views from the boat were great – all the bridges beautifully lit up at night, and every grand building expertly illuminated – the Parliament, Buda Castle, Gellert baths and even some contemporary-looking buildings in rainbow colours, which we presumed to be modern art galleries or theatres. There was live music the whole time we cruised up and down the Danube – a couple of fiddlers playing Viennese waltzes etc – if you’d described it to me beforehand I would have thought it sounded a bit cliched, but they were superb musicians and it was just right for the location and atmosphere.

    After a couple of hours we returned to our starting point and disembarked. We wandered slowly back through town to the Kiraly street area and our favourite Serbian bar again, where we stopped for fajitas (me) and some sort of kebab/meatball cross (Tommy) and cocktails and pear palinka (both). The palinka was a bit like pear drops (or acetone!) and very strong. You are meant to drink it down in one like a shot, but it was too firey and I couldn’t, which amused Mr M no end. Back at the apartment, Tommy obligingly found a film for us to watch on his tablet – Clerks – and it was very funny and a good end to a great day.

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    Day 5: Wednesday

    Wednesday was my birthday so tea and cards first, and then out for breakfast. We headed to our usual covered arcade, though gave Bluebird a miss to try out the place opposite - Bench Cafe. I should explain that most of the cafes and bars have young woman outside with menus trying to entice you in and we felt bad about saying no to the woman at Bench over and over again, so out of pure charity finally decided to give them a chance! We had eggs and toast and tea and fruit juice and it was perfectly ok, but not nearly as nice as Bluebird imho.

    The plan for Wednesday morning was to make our way to Memento Park, situated in the hills just outside Budapest. It’s the home of many communist-era statues removed from the city centre after the fall of communism, and something I’d wanted to see for years. The journey was a very easy one, aided and abetted by the completion of a new Metro line in the last couple of years. Basically, we walked to Deak Ferenc metro, caught Line 3 to Kalvin Ter, then changed to Line 4 which we rode all the way to the end at Kelenfoldi Palyaudvar. Right outside the station we caught a bus (120E?) up into the hills and the entire journey – rail and road - took no more than 30 minutes. The bus actually sailed right past the entrance to Memento Park, not stopping automatically, but luckily Tommy noticed the gates, so at the next stop just down the road we hopped off and walked back.

    The entrance was crowned with a huge pair of boots which are all that remains of an 8 metre high statue of Stalin, the rest of the sculpture having been pulled down and destroyed. Buying tickets at the gate we picked up a guidebook in English and walked through an arch into a grassed area where the statues are cleverly arranged in small arenas or terraces, brick walls separating the different ‘rooms’, but often with windows in them, creating interesting peepholes through which to view the works. We wandered past statues of soldiers carrying rifles, children releasing doves, cloth-capped workers holding banners, giant hands protectively encircling symbolic balls, Stalin again, Karl Marx in cubist fashion, and a frieze with (red) star shaped portholes. Most of the figures were shown in a strident or triumphal pose and instantly recognisable as propaganda of that era. We read in the guide that the Hungarians hated most of the works and used to risk punishment by covering them with sheets when they were in situ in the city. There was apparently quite a heated debate on what to do with them after the fall of communism, and the park was proposed as a solution – nobody really wanted the statues to remain prominent in central Budapest, but at the same time, the historical significance of them was widely recognised, so it was decided not to destroy them. The park will never be added to because it is not a celebration of communist art per se – it is a specific historical record of that particular time in Budapest.

    We took a lot of photos walking round the park, and at one point I swapped the lens on my camera to a fish eye. To do this I had to put my guidebook down on one of the plinths so I had both hands free for fiddling with my camera, and when I turned back a few moments later the guidebook was gone. Tommy said it might have been a taken by a member of staff thinking it was litter but I didn’t see any staff wandering round so think it was probably pinched by a fellow tourist. We sat drinking cokes at a table by the entrance and I glared daggers at anyone passing with a guidebook in their hand or pocket, just in case they were thieves! Eventually I gave in and bought another guide from the kiosk (they weren’t particularly expensive) but the first one had been a present from Tommy so it was a bit of a shame nonetheless. Queuing at the booth to get my book I noticed some fridge magnets stuck to the glass and added one of Brezhnev answering the phone in his underpants as a surprise present for Mr M!

    Once we'd had our fill of communism, we headed back into central Budapest and made our way to BBz, where I had Caesar salad and Tom had a bowl of goulash (which was more like a soup) and both were delicious. More lemonades and then back to the apartment to prepare for our night out.

    As an extra birthday present, Tommy had booked a cruise on the Danube with wine-tasting included. Shortly before 7pm we headed down towards the river to pick up our tickets, which were held at the box office of a theatre or opera house (I’m not sure which but it had a grand staircase and red carpet) serving as a collection point for all sorts of online bookings. We picked up our tickets then waited outside for 10 minutes or so until our guide came to lead us to the boat. There were quite a few other people taking the same cruise and we and all the other participants followed the guide down to the waterfront, snaking through the streets like a school outing following teacher!

    Crossing the tram lines and going down some stone steps and through a small underpass, we came out onto the quay, then navigated a short gangplank onto the boat. Inside, I was a bit unnerved to find the ceilings quite low and claustrophobic, and the whole vessel really quite dark. I then noticed some sort of mannequin dressed in historical costume standing next to a waterwheel or screw propeller or some other antiquarian method of propulsion and realised the vessel was a lot older than I’d first thought. We were lead past the waterwheel and straight out the other side of the boat, at which point I realised this wasn’t our vessel at all – there were multiple boats moored side-by-side and we had to walk across several to get to the outer one which was our venue for the night!

    Our real boat was lovely, with panoramic glass windows that opened right up to let in a breeze or provide a better view of the bankside. We were seated at a private table just for the two of us, with paper placemats detailing the wines that were to be served and a large jar of breadsticks to nibble on. A small group boarded the boat quite late and didn’t seem happy with their seating and made a bit of a fuss, which resulted in the couple behind us being moved to one of the outdoor tables – Tommy though we were going to be asked to move too at one point but happily we were left alone – probably due to his thunderous expression. :-p Our sommelier came and introduced herself and poured the first of seven(!) wines as we pulled away from the quay. The wines were served in really generous amounts – small glasses, but each serving nearly a full glass. There were a mixture of reds, whites, roses, and I think possibly one dessert or sparkling wine – by the end I was too sloshed to remember :-) We were very pleasantly surprised by the quality/drinkeability, having not been that impressed with other central European wines we'd tried, like Czech. The views from the boat were great – all the bridges beautifully lit up at night, and every grand building expertly illuminated – the Parliament, Buda Castle, Gellert baths and even some contemporary-looking buildings in rainbow colours, which we presumed to be modern art galleries or theatres. There was live music the whole time we cruised up and down the Danube – a couple of fiddlers playing Viennese waltzes etc – if you’d described it to me beforehand I would have thought it sounded a bit cliched, but they were superb musicians and it was just right for the location and atmosphere.

    After a couple of hours we returned to our starting point and disembarked. We wandered slowly back through town to the Kiraly street area and our favourite Serbian bar again, where we stopped for fajitas (me) and some sort of kebab/meatball cross (Tommy) and cocktails and pear palinka (both). The palinka was a bit like pear drops (or acetone!) and very strong. You are meant to drink it down in one like a shot, but it was too firey and I couldn’t, which amused Mr M no end. Back at the apartment, Tommy obligingly found a film for us to watch on his tablet – Clerks – and it was very funny and a good end to a great day.

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    A double birthday, and what a fun trip. (Though I'd skip the acetone shots. Lightweight.) I think you've done full justice to Budapest.


    I guess paprika would be the gift to get, wouldn't it, but hard to beat the underpants magnet.

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    Yup - one birthday on the 11th, the other on the 13th. We should split the difference really and have one cake, one party etc all on the 12th. :-)

    There will be more souvenir options coming up later in the report....

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    Even though we were not particularly smitten with Budapest, I am loving this report. So detailed and well written. Much appreciated.

    We brought back enough paprika to last a lifetime, and saffron, which I can never get enough of. Also a refrigerator magnet and some very colorful leather gloves.

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    Thank you very much :-)

    We saw some lovely leather goods - bags in bright colours like turquoise or mirror silver. Budapest also had a big Geox store which is Tommy's favourite place for shoes!

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    Day 6 Thursday

    Our plan for Thursday involved a visit to one of Budapest’s famous thermal spas. There are a number of these spas spread across the city, ranging from lido-style outdoor complexes to candle-lit Turkish rassouls, with segregated bathing, mixed sessions or both. We opted for Szechenyi baths, which are located in District XIV in a vast park of more than 300 acres. Using the website he’d previously booked the wine cruise on, Tommy bought day passes online, which, for around £30 allowed us expedited entry to the complex, private cabins for changing and storage of clothes (instead of just lockers), use of all the pools, and a short aroma massage.

    We decided we’d walk to the baths, rather than use the metro, so we could get breakfast en-route. After all the meaty meals of salami and duck fat and so on, Tommy was quite keen to get stuck into something less fleshy, so we kept our eyes peeled for a decent bakery or waffle house, eventually plumping for an American diner-style café with formica tables and film posters on the walls. Mr M had pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, and I had Belgian waffles with caramelised apple and crème chantilly. We got a banana milkshake between us (which we could hear being reassuringly whizzed up fresh in the kitchen below) and sucked from opposite sides of the glass with two paper straws, like that bit in Grease with Danny and Sandy just before Frenchie reveals her terrible beauty school dropout pink hair!

    The wander from the café to the baths was very pleasant, with more grand art nouveau buildings to admire en-route under a cobalt blue sky, and then the park itself, with vast flower beds, zoological gardens and a boating lake. There was also an impressive gothic-looking building just off to our right, turreted like a fairy tale castle. We have no idea what it was but we both agreed what an amazing place to live it would be, if it were indeed a private residence. The baths themselves were deeper into the park though, in a grandly colonnaded buttercup yellow building that we circumnavigated almost fully to find the correct entrance (there’s more than one way in but you have to use the main door with the pre-booked passes). Inside was equally opulent, with tall, arched windows, ornate plaster ceilings and heavy black iron candelabra. We were first kitted out with electronic bracelets that allow entry to the changing cubicles, then directed through a turnstile and down some stairs to the towel collection point, where we were handed white bath sheets. Then back upstairs again to get changed in the antique cubicles with their Kelly green wooden doors. A lovely Japanese couple showed me how to lock my door with the bracelet as I struggled a bit with it, then Tommy emerged from his cubicle, beach ready, and we were good to go!

    Our massages were booked for shortly after midday, so we first headed to the spa area marked on a small paper map that we’d been given on entry, and sat on a wooden bench waiting patiently for our masseurs to appear. A middle aged lady stopped to chat with us – she spoke very good English as a result of having run a bed and breakfast in Budapest some years ago – curious to know what we’d visited and where we were staying, and when I said near Kiraly Utca she helpfully corrected my pronunciation of ‘utca’! Her masseur appeared and led her off, quite intimately holding her hand, so I think she must have been a regular. Our masseur and masseuse also appeared shortly after, and, speaking no English, mimed for us to ‘clock in’ with our bracelets, then pointed the way to the massage rooms. Tommy’s masseur was a terrifyingly huge man who looked like a shot-putter, so I was very relieved to be assigned ‘Maria’ instead. A little disconcertingly, Maria whispered to me in Magyar all the way through the massage – she was probably just saying things ‘like your shoulders are quite knotty’ but it sounded much more poetic and lyrical than that in a foreign tongue! She had very good hands and my back got a thorough going over, such that I felt uber-relaxed by the time I rejoined Tommy outside. He’d thankfully survived Goliath unscathed, so we headed for the pools.

    There were 18 baths in total, some indoor, some outdoor, at a variety of temperatures, ranging from virtually unheated, right up to 42C. We started outside where there was a large rectangular pool divided into lanes for proper swimming, and two smaller semi-circular pools, with jets of water to pummel you, drench pipes and sprays overhead, and a current to swim with, or against. The current ran in a sort of spiral and it was a bit like being in a washing machine spin cycle! The walkways between the various pools were quite slippery and I wished we had flip flops after nearly going over at one point, but unfortunately you couldn’t hire them there, only buy them outright. We nipped (carefully!) from pool to pool, taking our towels with us as there were no free chairs or loungers to leave them on. At one point, Tommy saw someone fondling our towels, so from then on we tied them tightly round railings or pillars whilst we were swimming to make them less nickable! All around the outside of the baths were little kiosks where you could buy sandwiches or drinks, or beer or wine in plastic glasses. I briefly explored the kiosks, and then the indoor pools, salty and steamy and warm, before getting told off for trying to swim in the big outdoor lane pool without a proper swimming cap on (they blow a whistle at you!). I sheepishly returned to Mr M in the semi-circular pool where we chatted and swam in the sunshine until we were wrinkly and shivery and ready to go.

    Leaving the baths we spotted a metro station handily positioned right in the centre of the park, and caught a train back to Deak Ferenc. This line I think was probably the oldest in the city - the tracks were barely underground and the trains were noticeably smaller in scale and just 2 cars long. We nearly came a cropper here, initially forgetting to validate our tickets, but Tommy realised in the nick of time and we punched them just as the train rolled on to the platform. Back in the Kiraly area we found a restaurant for a very late lunch/early dinner, serving a set menu of dim sum, curries and almond cake. My curry was beef with cashews and Tommy’s a traditional Thai (I can’t remember whether it was green or red though) and both were very decent. After the curry we found out the almond cake had run out so took a chocolate version instead. This came deconstructed in a mason jar and looked impressive but was a bit meh truth be told.

    Our evening entertainment was quite an unusual choice and I feel fairly confident this won’t have figured in many previous Trip Reports, if any. Trawling one of my favourite travel websites, Atlas Obscura, I’d found reference to a pinball museum full of vintage and modern tables that you could play on all night. In a cellar beneath a fairly ordinary residential building almost 200 old arcade games have been lovingly restored – and not just pinball either, table football, ten pin bowling, shooting ranges and early videogames. We paid our one off entrance fee (I think about £8) and wandered from vault to vault as machines dating from the 50s to 90s whooped and clanged enticingly. One area was devoted solely to vintage pinball and these made a right royal racket as the balls ricocheted around the tables. I found a particularly intriguing version where you had to hit numbered targets at the head of the table, which corresponded to numbered racehorses at the foot of the table. Every direct hit moved a horse up toward the finishing line. I never managed to get any horse past the post before I'd used up all three balls though, which was absolutely maddening. Tommy was endlessly amused by a terrible German pinball table which ‘rewarded’ you for high scoring play by removing the top of a cartoon woman, and I spent ages trying to master a space-themed table where some sort of magnetic field sucked the balls toward the holes and away from the flippers.

    The star of the show however was an unusual variant on table football, where you had to try and score goals with a ping pong ball using numbered air jets. You basically had to be quicker than your opponent at identifying the right air jet to operate, then pressing the button that controlled it. Tommy got very ragey because one of his air jets wasn’t working properly, but one of mine, though technically still in full working order, was missing its all-important number, so was effectively useless, and thus rendered us even. I am ashamed to say we got horribly competitive on this game and there was a lot of shouting and fist punching and gloating. Later we restored harmony by sharing fruit sweets won from those grabby crane machines - Mr M scoring a huge haul under my tutelage (I was brilliant on those as a kid!). There was also a little bar with coffee and beer and Pringles, and you could buy souvenir t-shirts in a myriad of colours. It was a great place to while away a few hours, and the only reason we eventually tore ourselves away was because we both had backache from leaning over the tables all night!

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    The "castle" you saw was built as part of the millenium celebrations in 1896.

    http://www.vajdahunyadcastle.com/

    The metro line under Andrassy ut is from the same time period and is the second oldest in the world after London's Metropolitan Line.

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    Hi oksi, yes, I know, but I'm a Brit, lol.

    RM67 - Budapest is one of my favorite cities. I first went in 2004 before many tourists went, but I'm always glad to find other people who enjoy it. Don't know why StCirq didn't take to it.

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    Day 7: Friday

    I can’t remember where we had breakfast on Friday but I think it was probably BlueBird again. I do recall that after we’d eaten we headed for Szent Istvan Square as we’d read a Chocolate Festival was being held there in front of the basilica. Sure enough, as we arrived vendors were just starting to open small wooden kiosks and sheds offering all manner of sweet treats. As we wandered we saw truffles, marzipans, desserts served in little shot glasses, chocolate-covered strawberries, donuts, macarons, ice cream, chimney cakes, wines, beers and bubble teas. I tried taking some photos of pyramids of truffles and gold-foil wrapped candies, but these didn’t come out particularly well. I think it was probably due to the overhanging rooves of the sheds providing necessary shade for the chocolates against the late morning sun, but also throwing the displays into shadow in the process. Tommy bought some chocolate-covered cherry marzipan for his mum and the vendor boxed and wrapped them nicely, and I bought an ice cream delicately flavoured with pear. We also looked in a few shops on the main drag – Lush had just opened in Budapest that weekend, but seemed if anything to be more expensive than back home – and I vaguely recall boring poor Tommy by heading into Furla and drooling over bags.

    We didn’t spend long in this area heading back roughly in the direction of our apartment, although in no great hurry. At some point we tried to find a shop on Paulay Ede Utca that sold vintage posters – I was really hoping to see some from the communist era – but sadly when we located the store it was one of those ‘By appointment only’ places that you have to ring in advance. I would have ignored the ‘please ring first’ bit tbh and just gone in and tried to be sufficiently charming for the lack of an appointment to be overlooked, but the place was locked up and dark, so I suspect only opened if the owners knew in advance that clients were coming in. It was tantalising indeed, because I could see many lovely old advertising posters quite clearly through the glass door!

    Instead we headed for a little café that we’d passed several times on Kiraly Utca, sandwiched between a place selling horrible tights that looked a bit like gimpwear, and an emergency dentist with a neon sign of a molar. The café was called something like the Green Fairy or the Fat Fairy, and had a small but attractive-looking selection of patisserie. We made a short stop here for coffee and cake, the latter all looking so good that I dithered quite a bit, before eventually plumping for some sort of chocolate layer torte. Tommy very unsportingly went for a chocolate banana cake, despite me dropping huge hints that he should really get the pistachio cake, which had a fabulous green mirror-glaze, and would have looked amazeballs in my photos.

    Mr M then headed back to the apartment for a bit of a snooze – he hadn’t been sleeping as well as me as he found the bed a bit soft - so I let him have 40 winks to catch up, whilst I explored the covered market. Here, I bought an old Russian watch from the 60s as a souvenir (about £25), and a hand-made espresso cup and saucer for Tom’s mum from a jewish guy who was selling cartoons and ceramics. He told me that the cartoons were his own work and his wife did the ceramics. The cup was a lovely teal blue shade, and imprinted with all sorts of jewish emblems like hamsa, and a bit wobbly looking, which only added to the appeal imho. I also looked at stalls of miniature oil paintings in quite a pleasing naïve style, mid-century jewellery like fur clips and rhinestone brooches, and t-shirts of Vladimir Putin riding a bear! (I was really dying to get a Putin t-shirt for Tommy, but when we’d passed them earlier in the week he’d not seemed that enthused, so in the end I decided not to risk it).

    Back at the apartment I showed Tommy my haul and he admired the watch in particular and we discussed the exciting possibility that it might previously have belonged to a Russian cosmonaut. As Mr M drank tea and caught up on Facebook and Candy Crush Saga, I used the Touchnote and Postsnap apps on my tablet to make postcards from some of the photos we’d taken, then mailed them to family and friends back home, all from the comfort of the sofa. The Postsnap app was a bit sneaky, defaulting all my postcards to ‘extra large’ (read extra expensive!) but I couldn’t be arsed to change them all back and it meant we didn’t have to go out and find stamps, so probably was just about worth the extra cost.

    That evening we headed for a tree-lined avenue we’d walked down a few times previously (eg on the way to the Caledonian) where we’d seen some attractive looking restaurants with live music. One in particular – Komedias – appealed, as it had lovely belle epoque décor (red velvet banquettes and polished mahogany tables) and a pianist playing most evenings. We walked slowly, peeping into bars en-route to see what might do for a nightcap later on, as old-fashioned red trolleybuses glided past under a web of electric wire. As we approached Komedias we noticed that a stage was set up in the middle of the road just outside, with crowds starting to gather round it for some sort of impromptu performance. After a short wait, we were lucky to be seated at one of the outdoor tables overlooking the stage (many tables were already reserved) and perused the menu, as a variety of acts took their turn. To a soundtrack of pop, opera, and musical numbers we discussed what we might like to order. The problem was that we both wanted our last evening to consist (ideally) of typical Hungarian fare, but it was really quite warm and balmy, and thus the hearty goose and red cabbage we’d been eyeing up earlier suddenly seemed a bit inappropriate. In the end I had tapenade to start and Tommy had an egg salad with onion, and then I plumped for grilled chicken with rosemary and lemon and a large green salad, whilst Mr M took a chance on a heavier dumpling dish. The portions were huge here, and we struggled to finish everything – particularly the dumplings, which although quite small like gnocci, were an absolutely enormous bowlful. With Sauvignon Blanc to wash everything down we did our best but still could not manage empty plates.

    By now, a cheesy male-female compere duo had replaced the musical acts and yacked incessantly – Tommy said it reminded him of the worst aspects of the Eurovision Song Contest. Eventually some dancers in Rio carnival-style skimpy emerald-green costumes with feathered headpieces took to the stage, but the crowds were so dense we couldn’t see the performers unless we stood up. By the time poor Tommy had his camera ready the south american temptresses had already taken their leave! We noticed as we later wandered back toward Kiraly Utca that we were in the theatre district, and some leaflets we were handed seem to suggest that the free street show had been put on by graduating students of a local opera and drama school. It was not the piano recital we’d been expecting but for the most part it had been very enjoyable indeed and a bit of an unexpected bonus on our last night.

    Before heading for home we nipped into a bar we’d spotted that always looked enticingly dark and seedy whenever we passed by. Both of us hanker for underworld-like opium dens, with velvet drapes, smokey- voiced singers and some mixologist working their magic with a cocktail shaker, so we had high hopes for this enigmatic oasis. Unfortunately our late night watering hole fell somewhat short of expectations. Tommy drank beer and I had gin and tonic (there were no cocktails on offer after all) as underworked staff loitered in the gloom. A flatscreen tv playing an unidentified music channel allowed us to familiarise ourselves with a variety of previously unknown (to us) Hungarian pop acts, many of which were cheesy and unintentionally hilarious. One of the bar girls used the remote to flip channels every now and then if she didn’t like what was playing, even though it was obvious we were watching, and this unaccommodating attitude, I felt, went some way to explaining the lack of customers in the near-empty bar! If I could remember the name of the place I’d give them a suitably scathing review on Tripadvisor. Lucky for them I can’t…

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    Day 8: Saturday

    We tidied our apartment and packed, then headed for the reception area to check out. The Park Residence complex consists of a variety of apartments spread across 2 or 3 different buildings all clustered around Kiraly Utca and its environs, and the reception itself is completely separate. We handed in the key to the lovely smiley receptionist and left our bags in a store cupboard-come-passageway just off reception, as we had several hours before my train and Tommy’s flight. For a change of scene we headed down to the river for breakfast, where a number of restaurants and hotels have dining areas overlooking the water. Picking somewhere with outdoor seating we ordered omelettes and tea and coffee and fruit juice. The eggs came with a generous basket of bread and we ate in the sunshine with views of Buda castle opposite, occasionally obscured by ochre trams criss-crossing along the waterfront.

    After settling the bill we briefly explored the chocolate festival again then headed for a Seiko store we’d seen near the bottom of Andrassy Utca so Tommy could drool over watch porn. The shop had a tiny display of older watches alongside the newer designs and I tried in vain to convince Mr M to get a lovely Oyster-style 60s model with a green leather strap and the original box, but he was more interested in some of the current limited edition pieces. I searched for things with diamonds on whilst he and the salesman chatted knowledgeably about power reserves and snowflake dials and whatnot.

    Leaving Seikoland we spotted that Andrassy Utca was cordoned off, and a quick glance up the avenue confirmed that there was some sort of food festival in progress. We really didn’t have huge appetites after breakfast, but decided on a lovely window shop of the stalls nonetheless. There were vendors selling bbq steak and pork knuckles and skewers of veg, fruit beers and palinkas, and artisan breads and pretzels. We also saw a couple of very cute pop-up bars including one that looked like a lemon pulled by a bike! The lemon opened down the middle and allowed room for one person inside to serve as bartender. I hovered for a while but couldn't work out what booze was being served here. Just a little further on from the lemon bar was a large stall serving Hungarian specialities like chimney cake – something we’d seen on offer at various locations around the city but not actually tried. Basically a batter is poured onto a roller over hot coals and the cake cooks as the roller turns. You end up with a hollow cylinder shape that is dipped in sugar or chocolate to finish it off, and sometimes filled with ice cream too. At the same stall a couple were cooking gyros – potatoes cut into a long spirals then threaded onto a skewer and deep fried in hot oil. When they’re done they’re dipped in salt or paprika. We shared some gyros and thought them really good – like hot fresh crisps. Other stalls were selling home-made lemonades – a lady muddling fruit and mint and ice in giant jugs – or herbs and flowers tied in tiny bunches. The stalls lined both sides of the road, with tables and benches set out down the centre so you could sit and eat your purchases in relative comfort.

    The salty gyros made Tommy thirsty for beer so we headed to his favourite sports bar on Kiraly Utca and sat chatting about our best bits of the trip for the last hour or so. We both said how much we’d enjoyed Budapest and how we’d love to return. Sadly though our visions of a rematch didn’t seem to overlap that closely – mine being a glorious winter themed vision of ice skating and hot chocolate and frost and sparkling lights, and Tommy’s one long pub crawl with shouty, beery Glaswiegan mates! Plenty of time to work on him though... :-)

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