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Central Europe Trip Report (Hungary, Ausstria and Czech Republic)


Aug 5th, 2012, 05:41 AM
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Central Europe Trip Report (Hungary, Ausstria and Czech Republic)

We recently returned from 17 days in Central Europe – Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. We put a lot of planning in this trip and thank you to all the Fodorites who provided guidance and advice. It really helped make this a special vacation for us.

Friday July 13 – yes, we are not superstitious; we traveled on the 13th and no bad tales. It took 3 flights to get us from Columbus, Ohio to Budapest or about 18 hours. As I have described in other posts, I am somewhat walking challenged and was very glad I requested wheelchair service at each airport. While I probably could have made it on foot for the first two, there is no possible way I would have gotten through Schiphol in Amsterdam in time for our connection to Budapest. While our luggage was checked all the way through, we were required to go through immigration and there was quite a line and I would have had to stand for a long, long time. We only had 45 minutes for our connection. We traveled Delta round trip and there was an agent who met us at each gate, on time and with no complications.

We arrived in Budapest on Saturday July 14 very tired from our overnight flight. We didn’t get much sleep on any of the flights and the time change hit us hard. We had done a lot of research about where to stay in Budapest and rented an apartment from Budapest Vacation Rentals in Pest in the 6th district. This turned out to be a very good decision for a lot of reasons. John from BVR turned out to be a terrific source of information for Budapest and gave us lists of restaurants, places to visit and even recommended a driver for us. We had booked his driver to pick us up at the airport and it was a relief to have no issues, after such an arduous flight. We were surprised that arriving in Hungary, collecting our luggage and leaving took about 30 minutes, there was no immigration.

The apartment we rented was on Henszelman Imre Utca, a lovely residential street across from Karolyi Kert (a small park). The building is about 100 years old and like others in Europe, doesn’t look like much from the outside. The area reminded us very much of Paris, the apartment block very much like the Hausmann style buildings there. Upon entering the building, you could see the lovely courtyard around which the apartments are centered. There is the usual European tiny wrought iron elevator, just large enough for our luggage and 1 other person. The apartment was very secure, with an outer wrought iron gate/door and another front door. We had chosen this apartment as there would be 3 of us – my two young adult daughters and me. It has one large bedroom, a very modern, updated bathroom, a totally modern kitchen with dishwasher and m/w, a very large living room – all the necessities of home.

We have traveled to Europe before, and knew ourselves well enough that we had made no plans for the afternoon. We unpacked and took a walk to orient ourselves with the neighborhood. At the end of the block was a bank ATM, very convenient for us and a small commercial area with several restaurants, including Café Alibi, where we visited quite a few times over the week in Budapest. We never actually went inside Café Alibi, as we preferred the outside café where we would stop in the afternoon and have a snack. Overall, we were extremely satisfied with the location of the apartment, a few steps away from the Astoria metro stop and on the path of many buses and trams. Our bodies’ still had not re-set to local time and we were not hungry for much food on Saturday.
Sunday July 15 – I had made plans prior to departure to have brunch at the Hotel Gellert and spend the afternoon at their baths. Thinking that this would be a really good way to spend the day since I knew we would be tired, I didn’t count on our bodies still not adjusting to Europe time. We woke up in the late morning, but with no appetite. Kind of pointless to go to a buffet brunch if you aren’t hungry. We decided to do some sightseeing and perhaps our appetite would return.
The apartment was very centrally located, and if you have good feet, would have been very easy to walk just about everywhere. However, it’s difficult for me. We decided on a Hop On/Hop Off bus tour which included 2 days worth of transportation and 2 Danube river cruises, one during the day and one at night. It was a 5 minute walk from the apartment to the Astoria metro stop on the corner of Karolyi Korut and Kossuth Lajos Utca, which is where we started our tour. There are a couple of different routes and we decided to do one on Sunday and save one for Monday. We like these type of “orientation” tours, as you can see quite a bit of territory and decide which sights you want to return to in greater detail.

We were very lucky with the weather during our entire stay – all sunny, clear days albeit some very hot ones. Our appetite returned mid-afternoon and we stopped at a café not too far from the funicular on the Buda side for lunch. A traveler’s tip – don’t walk around with lots of big bills from the ATM and no small change. I had to use the WC in the restaurant before we paid for our lunch and was dismayed to find out the attendant demanded 50 forints (about 25 cents) from me, which I didn’t have. I speak Hungarian and fortunately was able to explain I would pay her as soon as I paid the restaurant bill, otherwise she was screaming at me.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 05:50 AM
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Happy to see that your trip went well,"Bloom"...waiting for more..on Vienna and Prague.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 06:05 AM
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me too. we have only seen Budapest and Prague in mid-winter so I'm looking forward to discovering them in the summer.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 06:11 AM
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We spent Sunday afternoon viewing several Danube bridges, the palace, the Parliament, downtown Pest and lots of other sights noting places we would like to return. After a refreshing snack at Café Alibi, we returned to the apartment to rest and think about dinner. While we could have easily cooked our own meals, the apartment was superbly equipped, it isn’t a true vacation for me if I have to cook. Our “MO” for renting a condo or apartment on vacation is to breakfast on site and eat the remaining meals out. From a long list of restaurants we had researched, we chose the Gerloczy Café in Pest, http://www.gerloczy.hu/rooms_delux/. This place is a small hotel as well as a café. From John, our landlord, we had learned that the Gerloczy had been used as a movie set to represent a typical Parisian café in a Stephen Spielberg film. It is indeed lovely and has a large outdoor component as well. On this particular night, we chose to sit inside as it was a little chilly by the time we were ready for dinner.

OK, this is where I get to stand on my soapbox – I resent the European custom of paying for bottled water and a service charge for bread. Tap water is very drinkable in Budapest and everywhere we went in Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic the only option was to buy it. Grrr… water cost more than beer or a glass of wine, neither of which I desired.

We had a delightful meal. Hungary is extremely affordable, of the 3 countries we visited, it was the least expensive. We spent $50 on our dinner for two in a lovely white tablecloth café and had 3 courses. We chose from the daily specials – goose liver pate, veal rib chops and an apple strudel for me. DD had a salad with grilled squid and some wine. There was live music, a piano player and a young woman who was singing. All in all, a lovely evening.

My second daughter arrived on Monday morning from Denver. We had arranged for the driver to pick her up and by 9:00 a.m. she was sitting in our apartment drinking an espresso from the lovely coffee machine. DD2 is a world traveler, having been to 12 countries already. She decided to tough out the day and go sightseeing with us, rather than head for bed. We had lunch at a café 3 minutes from the apartment, Ruben Restaurant, http://www.rubenrestaurant.hu/ This was definitely our cheapest meal of the trip, but very delicious. They advertise a full menu, but every day they offer a “worker’s special” lunch for 799 forints, about $3.50. I had a lovely vegetable soup, delicious chicken paprikash with dumplings, and some cookies for dessert. The irony was that the bottle of water the 3 of us ordered cost more than my lunch. There are a lot of places like this in Budapest and we found that if you were adventurous, you could eat very well for cheap.

As for speaking Hungarian, yes, it was easier for us to converse with people because I speak Hungarian. However, all of the restaurants we frequented had menus in English and my children felt comfortable everywhere and were able to get with speaking only English.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 06:11 AM
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Aug 5th, 2012, 06:14 AM
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Enjoying your report and looking forward to reading more - we were in Budapest in 2010 and were in Prague & Cesky Krumlov last week!
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Aug 5th, 2012, 06:35 AM
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We did the funicular up Gellert Hill on Monday and finished our HOHO tour. We had booked a dinner reservation at Rosenstein, a Jewish oriented restaurant near the Keleti train station. OMG, if you go to Budapest, you must visit this place. It is definitely a taxi ride, as it’s not really near any of the tourist sites, nor will you be able to find it, as it’s tucked away almost out of sight. The good news – taxis were dirt cheap in Budapest, don’t think we paid more than $10 for the 3 of us to go anywhere. Back to dinner – I had heard about this place from Chowhound and checked out the reviews on TripAdvisor. It’s a very nice place with white tablecloths, waiters in tuxes, etc. There were 3 of us for dinner – we ordered a bottle of wine and had some first courses – a poached bone marrow with toast dish for me, DD1 had a cold cream of cucumber soup which was excellent, DD1 had escargot. Their menu is extensive and DD1 decided to be adventurous and order a wild boar dish she really liked, DD2 had salmon and I had wiener schnitzel. For dessert we shared a chocolate and sour cherry mousse. I would go back there in a heartbeat. It was delicious and again dirt cheap - $100 for all of that including tip. They must have thought we were nuts because we kept taking pictures of the food we were served. Those crazy Americans!
Tuesday we decided to do Jewish Budapest. Our family had a particular interest in this as my father (born in Satu Mare, Romania) had been hidden for a period during WWII at the Swedish embassy with Raul Wallenberg. We had seen the actual Swedish embassy sight on Buda and it moved all 3 of us very much. The trip to Rosenstein via the Keleti train station was also a marker for us – my father had been rounded up by the Nazis in 1944 and was at Keleti en route to Auschwitz. As he had blond hair and green eyes, he easily passed for non-Jewish. He managed to escape from the train depot by undressing and removing his shirt with the star of David, grabbing a water bearing device (steam engine trains) and mixing into the crowd of locals servicing the trains. While my family didn’t really have any association in Budapest, there were many stops we made to memorialize my father’s stories.
We visited the neighborhood just east of the Dohaney St. synagogue and the Jewish shops and bakeries. We took lots of pictures of the Holocaust memorials and said Kaddish for the many who died. On our tour, we had learned that over 800,000 Jews had lived in Budapest prior to WWII and only a couple thousand survived the war. It was very moving to us to view these places and I am really glad my girls got to do this.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 07:11 AM
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Wednesday we started the day off with breakfast at Gerbeaud, http://www.gerbeaud.hu/en. This place has been an institution in Budapest since 1858. It’s located in Pest, not too far away from most of the 4/5 star hotels. This place is definitely not for the bargain set, anything but. Breakfast for 3 was more than $75 with tip but very much a destination meal. Was it worth the price? Well, we had better pastry at the Jeg Bufe or August Czurada, but Gerbeaud is lovely and a place to consider a sight by itself.

The plan for the day was to visit a couple of museums – we had investigated which museums we wanted to visit in greater depth and decided to do the Hungarian National Gallery of Art, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_National_Gallery. It’s located in Buda Castle. Again, knowing I have difficulty walking, my kids insisted on getting a wheel chair for me. I had called in advance and reserved one with a specific time. There were no problems when we arrived, it was waiting for me. The museum was heavy on medieval, Renaissance and art prior to Impressionism. In Europe, typically the person in the wheel chair is free as well as the one pushing it. We rented audio guides as well and set off on our own tour. We spent about 2 ½ hours touring the museum and ended up on the terrace in their café, which was lovely. It seemed in Central Europe that lemonade can come in many different flavors and we had elderberry and cherry lemonade, different but very refreshing. Another favorable point for our apartment choice – we had available to us a local mobile phone, which came in extremely handy so we could call for a taxi wherever we went. It is advised against hailing cabs on the street and this way we didn’t need to ask local establishments to call for us. A very good point indeed! We took a lot of taxis.

From here we returned to our neighborhood to visit the Hungarian National Musuem, http://www.hnm.hu/en/fooldal/mainPage.php. Again, I had called in advance and reserved a wheel chair in addition to making arrangements to view the Roman lapidary stones, which are not normally available. Boy, am I glad I did this, as the steps along (2-3 floors worth) would have prevented me from even entering the museum. DD1 did the scouting and we got in via a side door which was opened for us on the ground level. The museum staff could not have been nicer. We were given a guide who spoke fluent English and received our own private tour of 90 minutes through all the floors including the Roman exhibit.

Side note – the curator of the Roman Stones also hailed from my father’s home town of Satu Mare, Romania. While she is not old enough to have personally lived through WWII, she recollected her Christian family talking about hiding some of the Jews during the war. Could it be possible her family helped save my father? Some things that happen in life just can’t be coincidence. I thanked her on behalf of our family and we hugged each other. The girls were thinking this was pretty strange, but entirely possible.

We had dinner that evening at Voros Postakocsi Restaurant, http://www.vorospk.com/, they offer very good traditional Hungarian cooking. A good meal, not terrific, but solid at a decent price.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 07:36 AM
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thank you LB for your lovely report and for sharing some of your family's history with us too.

we really enjoyed the hungarian food we had - the fish soup we had in a bar near the Cathedral was probably the best i've had anywhere.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 09:00 AM
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Really enjoyed the first parts of your report and am looking forward eagerly to the next installments. Thanks for sharing the trip and your family stoires.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 09:32 AM
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Great start, sounds like you had a great trip. Looking forward for the Prague and Austria segments, we'll be there in 2 weeks.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 10:39 AM
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Very much enjoying your report LB. Budapest is one of my favourite cities in Central Europe and I've already visited it 4 times. I know the city and neighbourhoods quite well by now and have visited almost all the sites you have mentioned, but there is always more to learn as evidenced by your very good restaurant suggestions and localities. Thanks again and looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 12:45 PM
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We had made arrangements in advance to hire a car and driver for a day trip into the Hungarian countryside. We wanted to see something besides Budapest and chose Lake Balaton. We used the services of Alajos Pulai, http://budapestairporttaxi.com/Welcome.html. He was the driver recommended by our apartment owner and Alajos was very reasonable and dependable. I didn’t want to have to deal with renting a car in Budapest, the city transportation system is so good it wasn’t needed and I have trouble driving a manual transmission auto, because of feet issues. Alajos picked us up at the apartment around 8:30 a.m. in the morning. We had made breakfast prior to leaving (I miss all delicious Hungarian pastry – turos tashka – literally cheese pockets, poppyseed buns, croissants, etc). and packed bathing suits, sunscreen, cold water and some fruit. We traveled mostly by very well maintained highway to the eastern end of Lake Balaton.
We were curious to see that the Hungarian countryside reminded us very much of our own rural Ohio in geography, which may be why my parents chose to live there. From what we saw, lots of hay, wheat, other types of crops growing and prosperous looking farm houses with tile roofs. Plenty of McDonalds and other American style fast food joints at the gas stops we saw along the highway. Obviously, signs were all in Hungarian, but it didn’t look too much different from home.

Alajos took us to a lovely public beach after a 2 hour drive from the apartment. It had clean changing facilities and several snack bar facilities. The only necessary charge was a parking fee. The girls were kind of surprised at the water. Lake Balaton is the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe, often referred to as the Hungarian Sea. There was no sand, grass went all the way up into the lake and the lake didn’t appear very deep as there were people out seemingly 20-30 feet deep into the lake. We sunbathed until late morning and then drove around the western side of the lake to a car ferry. We crossed the lake using the car ferry at Tihany and visited the town of Siofuk. Siofuk reminded me of a typical tourist town anywhere. It was a very, very hot day, easily in the 90’s and we had lunch in a lovely outdoor café that featured an open air grass or reed covering that provided shade. Alajos ate lunch with us and helped us choose some local dishes. Even in this remote town, albeit a tourist location, the menu was printed in Hungarian and English. We bought some souvenirs – dried wreaths of paprika, some hand made dolls, etc. We visited another private beach in Siofuk for a couple of hours and found our way back onto the highway in the late afternoon.

We made a stop on our way back to the city at Memento Park. Memento Park is an open air museum in Budapest, dedicated to monumental statues from Hungary's Communist period (1949–1989). There are statues of Lenin, Marx, and Engels, as well as Hungarian Communist leaders such as Béla Kun, Endre Ságvári, or Árpád Szakasits. Instead of destroying all vestiges of communism, Hungarians sent their statues to this park, which sits in a suburb of Budapest. Very weird to see indeed.
Our day out was a big success, we were tired by the time we returned at 6 p.m. and glad we had a full kitchen. We had laid in supplies from the bakery; cold cuts, fruit, and cheeses from Central Market; and had a lovely meal sitting on our terrace overlooking the park.

Friday was to be our last day in Budapest and we spent the majority of the day at the Széchenyi Baths. We didn’t get started until lunchtime at Central Kavehaz, where we had eaten several times previously. “Our” waiter knew exactly what to bring and we topped off lunch with sharing a couple of pastries. We took a taxi to the baths. We had read online the procedure for paying and entering the baths and were familiar with the “drill”. We rented a cabin and paid for 2 single admissions for the 3 of us, which worked out well. As to the disability issue, we had quite a fight with them over getting a cabin on the main floor, they wanted to send us down several flights of stairs, but luckily my Hungarian managed to convey our need. Also, giving the manager some forints. That helped too. Taking in one of the thermal baths is a definite must-do in Budapest. Be warned – there is very little shade and we were there on an extremely hot, sunny day. You pay to get in, you pay to use the lounge chairs, you pay for snacks. Just bring lots of money and you will be OK. We had bought rubber swim caps to cover our heads as we had heard online of the necessity for this. We didn’t need them. No one was wearing them in the outdoor or indoor pools we visited. That isn’t to say you won’t need them.

We spent a lovely afternoon playing Goldilocks and testing out all the pools. The baths are very old, probably 100 years, but pretty clean. We did run into a lot of people smoking on the deck, and the European thing of not bathing often or using deoderant. But hey, it’s a new experience and overall we had a very good time.

We ate dinner on our last evening in Budapest at Rosenstein, another outstanding meal and again a very high recommendation.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 05:02 PM
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what a wonderful report. We will be in Budapest in early October, for the first time. Looking forward to following many of your suggestions. Cannot wait for your Prague report
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Aug 5th, 2012, 05:07 PM
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Great report. I am putting it in the Budapest file. Thanks.

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Aug 5th, 2012, 05:27 PM
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I am following this also but in my usual quiet way

Was in Budapest last year.

You make no mention of:

Buda Castle
Matthias Church
Trinity Square Fiserhman Bastion
Parliament Building

The Citadel
St.Stephen Cathedral

If you went to Széchenyi Baths, then you also had to go to Heroes Square.

Waiting for Autria and Prague.

Thanks for the report so far,I am enjoying it.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 08:38 PM
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Lbloom - thank you for sharing! We were In Budapest in July for a few days and absolutely loved it. Was transported back to the 4 plus days we were there.
Got horribly cheated on the taxis but overall found the broad shaded boulevards of Andrassy, the Castle, Heroes Square, St. Istvan and the Danube Cruise, especially in the evening when the lights come on delightful. Having come in from Prague (a lovely tourist trap and way too crowded), we really enjoyed Budapest. Foodwise, Gundel was our highlight and fave dish was the pike perch from Balaton.
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Aug 6th, 2012, 05:27 AM
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Percy, if you read my report, then you would realize that the art musuem is part of the Buda castle complex.

We did not visit the inside of Parliament, were content to see it from outside, on the street as well as via Danube river cruise.

We covered The Citadel as part of the HOHO bus tour. We viewed churches from the outside, visiting them from the inside is not interesting to us. We did not visit the fisherman bastion.
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Aug 27th, 2012, 11:39 PM
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Nice to read about good tour to europe. Unfortanately, I can't say the same think about my trip to Prague. Our guide was boring and rude and he almost screw up our vacation. So in futury me with my husband sworn to hire only private guide, for example, from here http://www.private-guides.com/guide-...-235/index.php and never buy this tour again!
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