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Leslie28 Mar 28th, 2008 11:48 AM

Prague and Budapest Spring Break Trip Report
 
My DH, 2 daughters (ages 8 and 12), and I spent a lovely spring break in Prague and Budapest. We flew Virgin Atlantic from DC/Dulles to Heathrow to take advantage of cheap airfare ($480 r/t) and the fact that we have friends in England we stay with whenever we fly through London. The flight was very nice (I’m a terrible flier, so any flight that doesn’t plunge into the Atlantic is a good one in my book), but Virgin Atlantic had really improved from the last time we flew them in 2005. Brand new A340-600 planes with fantastic entertainment systems, first run movies, decent food, and some actual leg room in economy. We arrived on time in Heathrow and were met by our friends. Spent the day at their house, recovering from the night flight and in the afternoon, we drove over to Hampton Court. Lovely palace, with interesting tudor kitchens and a fantastic maze that my girls loved. The gardens had started blooming and there were daffodils everywhere. The next day, we took Easyjet from Gatwick to Prague. This was a quick flight (around 1.5 hours) and very smooth. I love Easyjet – we use them all the time when fly through London and our experience with them has always been positive.

I had booked a shuttle service (www.prague-airport-shuttle.com) to meet us at the Prague airport since we’d heard such unpleasant things about taxis from the airport. For the 4 of us, with luggage, it was 600 CZK to our hotel in the Mala Strana. The shuttle service was great – on time with a sign with our name, an English speaking driver who gave us a nice overview of Prague on the drive. Our hotel, the Residence Mala Strana, was perfect. It is in a very nice location in the Mala Strana, walking distance to everything with a real neighborhood feel to the area. The room (a family senior suite) was great – a bedroom with Queen size bed, a nice bath with good shower, a large living room with two beds for our girls, and a little kitchen area (stove, refrigerator, sink). A really good value for 74 euros a night, including a very nice breakfast buffet that we enjoyed every morning. I would highly recommend this hotel, especially for families.

First stop was lunch. Walked over to the Café Savoy, two blocks away. This turned out to be one of our favorite cafes in Prague. The girls loved their omelets, DH had a beef dish with cream sauce and cranberries, and I had roast pork with my first dumplings. All excellent. They had a wonderful selection of pastries and we had our first sacher torte. I thought they were pretty reasonably priced –with 4 entrees, bottled water, beer, and 2 desserts, and 2 coffees the bill was less than $60.

After lunch, we strolled over to Petrin Hill to take the funicular up and get an overview of the city. The girls enjoyed the ride and the view from the top of the Hill was just lovely. It was late afternoon and the way the sun hit the rooftops of Prague made for some amazing pictures. We strolled down and headed to the Charles Bridge. It was very lively, always looked like a party was going on on this bridge. The lights had come on in the castle area and it gave the whole area a fairytale look. We wandered over the bridge and to the Old Town area, stopping in shops and ending up at the Easter markets in the center of Old Town square. I loved the Easter markets – great crafts, food, cute decorations, and a stage set up for various entertainment. After our large lunch, we found a little pizza restaurant in Old Town for dinner and had a couple of really good pizzas and more Czech beer. I was so impressed with how walkable Prague is – we only took a tram once the 4 days we were there.

The next morning, after a very nice buffet breakfast at the hotel (really good coffee), we bought our tram tickets from the hotel desk and set off to find tram 22 or 23 to the Castle. Easy to find, easy to board, nice ride. We got off at the stop closest to the Castle area and went immediately to the ticket booth area. We purchased a family ticket (they take credit cards) for the unguided, short tour which included the castle, golden lane, St. George’s Basilica, and Daliborka Tower. We went to stand in line at St. Vitus Cathedral and were a bit confused about whether our ticket covered the Cathedral. My husband went back to check and found out the Cathedral is actually free. The line moved quickly and while it was crowded, it didn’t really bother our visit. It is just beautiful inside and quite light for a cathedral. We spent a few hours wandering the Castle area (and freezing – it was very windy and cold at the top of the hill) and I really enjoyed the shops on Golden Lane, especially the one with Christmas ornaments. They didn’t seem badly priced (ornaments were less than $10). We made our way back across the main square of the Castle area and out the exit toward Nerudova Street. I loved all the shops along this street and it was my first real look at the all the varieties of Czech crystal. My DD (12 year old) and I found Cesky Granat half way down the street on the left and popped in just to look at the garnet jewelry. One ring and a necklace later, we emerged very happy with our purchases. While the garnets were not as inexpensive as I’d hoped (darn that dollar), they weren’t bad (the ring and necklace set in silver were around $100 for both) and the garnets are beautiful. The items that I found really expensive – and did not purchase – were the wooden nesting dolls and lacquer boxes carried in many stores. We continued down Nerudova Street and found what turned out to be one of our favorite lunch restaurants. We ate there twice. It was Pivnice U Glaubicu very near St. Nicholas church. Very good roast pork, amazing stuffed peppers, good struedel, and our first (but not last!) palacinka.

We wandered our way over the Charles Bridge again, in daylight this time. We found the statue of St. John that is supposed to be rubbed for good luck, with your left hand. Heaven only knows what happens if you rub with your right. It isn’t hard to spot since everyone is rubbing and taking photos. Even my DD’s American Girl doll is now very lucky. Spent the rest of the afternoon in Old Town Square. Watched the clock with its little performance, bought lots of painted eggs at the Easter market, and my girls fell in love with some type of hot, rolled dough at the market that they decided was even better than funnel cake. Such high praise.

I had planned to go to Kolkovna, a restaurant in Old Town, near the Jewish Quarter, but when we looked them up on the web, we discovered they had opened a new Kolkovna – Vitezno that was two blocks from our hotel in the mala strana. We loved this restaurant so much, we went twice and never did make it to the one in Old Town. Best roast pork of the whole trip and a really good children’s menu for my 8 year old. Also had my first glass of Moravian wine which was wonderful. I can’t say enough good things about this restaurant – friendly, reasonable, and great food.

To be continued …

travel2live2 Mar 28th, 2008 12:12 PM

Thanks for posting a report - it is an interesting read. As a big Prague fan I look forward to the rest! Have yet to visit Budapest but that is coming up...

takemealong Mar 28th, 2008 02:34 PM

Hi,

I'm looking forward to the rest of your report. I will be going to both Prague & Budapest in the coming year.

Leslie28 Mar 29th, 2008 02:15 PM

The next morning, we walked to Wenceslas Square. I have to admit this was not my favorite part of Prague. There was a small Easter market, which was nice, but the rest of the area was nothing particularly special or charming. The shops we did pop into seemed a lot more expensive than Old Town. We saw the statute of Wenceslas and then walked toward Old Town to find the Ceske Drahy office to buy our train tickets to Budapest. The office is on V Celnici, very close to the Municipal House. An adult ticket from Prague to Budapest was 1235 CZK (or around $75). A child ticket was 344 CZK (around $20). We paid an additional $20 total to get reserved seats, which are not required, but we really wanted to make sure we had 4 seats together since we were travelling with the kids. We stopped into the Municipal House afterward to have a look around and have a coffee in the café. We drank our hot coffee and chocolates while the snow swirled around outside. We did not take a tour of the Municipal House since they weren’t offered until late afternoon, but we did poke around and saw the bar in the basement which looked like fun. We climbed the tower next door though which offered very nice views into Old Town. The red roofs of Prague and the incredible architecture are so lovely from up above. By this time, the snow had stopped and it was bright sunshine with blue skies again. Crazy weather.

We walked (shopped) our way back to the Old Town Square to the market where we had a great lunch of bratwurst and kielbasa and huge grilled chicken sandwiches on large rolls, along with Czech beer and hot wine. Of course the girls had more of those hot rolled pastries. We watched the entertainment for a while – there were some teenage girl dance teams performing which my DDs really enjoyed. We couldn’t understand a word the announcer was saying except that the speech was constantly peppered with “hip-hop” and “disco”.

We spent the afternoon in the Jewish Quarter. We saw the Old New Synagogue from the outside, but didn’t go in because it was so expensive. Instead, we bought a ticket (cash only! No credit cards) that covered the 5 sites we were the most interested in – the Maisel, Pinkas, and Spanish Synagogues, the Old Jewish Cemetery, and the Ceremonial Hall. The Pinkas Synagogue was turned into a memorial to the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia that were murdered by the Nazis. The names of the victims are inscribed on the walls. There are 80,000 names and it is quite moving. Even more heartbreaking are the drawings from the children of the Terezin Concentration camp. The stark, childish drawings depict horrific scenes of death and simple scenes of trains and suitcases. Under the pictures are the names of the artist and year of their birth, and in most cases, death. It was a very sobering visit for my 12 year old. The Old Jewish cemetery is starkly beautiful. With so many bodies and so little space, the headstones are a jumble, one on top of the other. The Spanish synagogue is the most beautiful – perfect symmetry and not a bit of wall space left unadorned.
We walked back to our hotel, cleaned up for dinner, and went back to the Café Savoy. Another excellent dinner.

The next morning, we toured St. Nicholas church in the Mala Strana area. What an amazing church – it just gleams inside and out. I spent the rest of the morning finishing up shopping – finally deciding on crystal wine glasses and vases after comparing prices all over town. I also stopped back into Cesky Granat to get earrings to match my necklace. We were in the area, so we had lunch again at Pivnice U Glaubicu. This time I tried their stuffed peppers which were just the best I’ve ever tasted. The sauce was just so good. And, of course, more crepes.

We went back to Petrin Hill for the girls. They wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower replica that had been closed on our previous visit and to go into the Mirror Maze. They really enjoyed both and the maze and mirrors were a lot of fun. The view from the top of the tower is spectacular and worth the grueling climb. (Of course if you’re 8 and 12, you can just run up ….) I could even see the “dancing buildings” quite clearly from the tower. At the bottom of Petrin Hill, somewhat near the funicular building, is the Monument to the Victims of Communism. It is a series of disappearing bodies descending the stairs. It’s a really great sculpture piece and looks eerie at night, all lit up.

Our last night in Prague, we went back to Kolkovna. It was just so good, and two blocks from the hotel, so I didn’t see the point in trying somewhere else. I wish I could find that delicious Moravian wine at home. Although it was cold, I loved strolling at night after dinner to see Prague all lit up. It was just magical.

Next up – Budapest.


isabel Mar 29th, 2008 04:30 PM

Looking forward to your Budapest report.

lucy_d Mar 29th, 2008 04:59 PM

Great report, Leslie! Thanks for posting. Looking foward to hearing about Budapest.

jd_dallas Mar 30th, 2008 03:44 PM

I appreciate your post very much; we will be in Prague in June and staying at Residence Mala Strana, so your information about the hotel and nearby restaurants is especially helpful.

Leslie28 Mar 30th, 2008 03:48 PM

We arranged with our hotel for a taxi to pick us up at 6:30 am for our 7:30 am train to Budapest. The fixed fare was 300 CZK to the Holesovice station, about a 20 minute ride. The metro does run to this station, but it would have entailed a train change from the Mala Strana, and with kids and luggage, a taxi just made more sense. The station has a nice lounge to wait in with a helpful , English speaking information person. Around 15 minutes before the train was due, we all went up to the platform to wait (and it was cold). The train cars are pretty clearly marked and we found our seats easily. Luggage storage is overhead, so no need to worry about leaving luggage out of sight. I really enjoyed this train ride. We had brought on pastries and bottled water, bought coffee, and had a nice breakfast. The scenery was very pretty, with several stretches snow covered. The dining car was great – white table cloths, English menu, really good food (okay, I’m used to Amtrak, so anything is good by comparison), and amazingly cheap. They take credit cards, so need to worry about currency issues. I was so amazed that both times we stopped in – once just for a coffee and once for lunch, we were the only ones there. If they had that kind of service on Amtrak, they’d be mobbed. We rolled into Budapest right on time at 2:30 pm.

I waited with the kids while my husband headed off to find an ATM to get some forints. The machine is a bit hard to find, but there is one right inside the station. He came back saying he’d forgotten how many forints were in a dollar, but he had gotten 3,000, so he figured that was plenty. I got out my currency cheat sheet that I’d printed from the Oanda website and we had a good laugh when I told him he’d gotten out around $18. Back to the ATM to add a few zeros to the withdrawl amount. (By the way, since math is not my strong point, the currency cheat sheet was so useful whenever I was shopping in Budapest so I didn’t have to constantly try converting in my head.) We headed out side to find a taxi, focused on finding one from the fleets recommended in our guide books – City taxi, Fotaxi, Radio Taxi, etc. We walked through a whole line of taxis, each one practically dragging us into their vehicles, but not one was from the acceptable fleets. The way they were running after us to get into their taxis did not endear me to them, either. We headed around to the other side of the station and there we saw a FoTaxi and flagged him down. He was a nice young driver, who spoke almost no English. I told him the name of our hotel – the Budapest Ramada (yes, I was the poor soul who “won” this hotel on Priceline). He looked blankly at us. I then produced the written paper with the name of the hotel and the address. He indicated he’d never heard of it. Somehow I wasn’t surprised. I had no doubt I was the only tourist ever to stay in this hotel. He keyed the name of the hotel into his GPS. Nope, no hotel. Wow, I was getting more impressed with this hotel by the minute. Finally, I whipped out my Streetwise guide to Budapest and showed him where it is located on Tompa Street. He smiled, nodded and we were off. At every intersection, he and my husband studied the Streetwise guide and somehow the two of them navigated us to the hotel. Obviously this was not a hotel he frequented. As we arrived, he asks in his broken English where we were from. We told him Washington, DC. And he asks, incredulously, you come from the United States to here? I have no doubt he meant you come from the United States and with all the hotels in Budapest, you decided to stay here in the middle of nowhere?? Somehow I didn’t think a discussion of Priceline would make much sense.

The staff at the hotel was very nice. I had emailed them right after our winning bid, and asked for an upgraded room which I knew had a sofa bed for the girls. They upgraded us for an extra 15 euro a night, which was fine. The room was a decent size with a king size bed and a sofa bed, a nice bathroom, a refrigerator and a TV. We headed out for the afternoon, making our way to metro to buy a transportation pass. We decided to go ahead a buy a Budapest Card instead of just a transportation pass because each adult ticket included a child under 14 for free. Because the kids were free, and it included admission to a few of the sites we wanted to see, along with discounts at a few of the restaurants we planned to visit, we thought it made sense. I’m not sure we really saved much, but it was convenient. I certainly don’t think it is worth buying the card unless you have kids with you.

We were so impressed with the subway system in Budapest. Honestly, I think it is better and faster than any system I’ve ever used. Thank goodness, because the location of our hotel was just awful as far as I’m concerned. It was a 10 minute walk to get to the metro and then 3 stops to get into the central part of Pest. It just made it a complete pain to go back to the hotel at any point in the day to drop off packages, or change out of wet shoes the day it rained, etc.

We emerged from the metro and strolled out to the riverfront and I fell in love with Budapest. What a gorgeous city – the castle hill, Chain Bridge, and all the other lovely buildings all along the waterfront, with little sightseeing boats drifting along. There was a huge Easter market set up in the square in front of Gerbeaud’s, so we spent a little time looking at the Hungarian crafts and then stopped into Gerbeaud’s for a coffee and some incredible cakes. We spent a bit more time just strolling the streets around the market and walking a little of Vaci Ut, but had to trek back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. I had reserved the Spoon Café by email several weeks earlier. It turned out to be one of our absolutely favorite nights. The restaurant is a boat docked in the Danube with a beautiful dining room. Because I had reserved so far in advance, they had saved us the perfect table by a window with a drop dead view of the Castle and Chain Bridge all aglow. It was just enchanting. The food was delicious and they had a children’s menu that both girls loved. The only view better than the one from our table was the one in the Ladies Room. We had a great night and I’d highly recommend this restaurant and I’d definitely recommend reserving in advance to get a good table. We walked along the river for awhile after dinner, but we were pretty exhausted from our early morning so we headed back to the hotel.

Now, I’m already not loving this hotel because of its location, but when the fire alarm woke us out of a sound sleep at 4:30 am, I was really not loving it. I’m leaping out of bed, barely coherent, trying to find my clothes, dragging two sleeping girls out of bed and trying to dress them in coats while my husband is feeling the door for heat and checking for smoke. We’re on the sixth floor and I’m trying not to panic, but I have no idea at this point if this is serious. So off we go down 7 flights of stairs to the lobby. By the time we reach the lobby, the alarm has been turned off. We stand in the lobby about 5 minutes with a bunch of other people and we hear the desk clerks telling some people on the phone that it was just a false alarm. They never address the group in the lobby, never offer an explanation, and never apologize. We trudge back to our room and try to go back to sleep. I’m really, really not loving this hotel. The next morning I asked what happened and I was told that there was a “naughty guest” who pulled the alarm. I hope the “naughty guest” was arrested.

We decided to spend the morning at the Central Market and we thought we’d eat breakfast there as well. The market building itself is very pretty and the market inside is huge, with food and spices (oh the choices of paprika!) downstairs and crafts and a few restaurant type places upstairs. We headed upstairs, but there was really no place for breakfast. There were, however, several people drinking their early morning glasses of beer and wine. Hmmm. Not what I had in mind. We left the market and had breakfast at a little café nearby, then returned to do a bit of shopping. My girls just had to have a Budapest Box which was a little, handcarved box that had secret compartments to open and reveal a key to unlock the box. The other crafts – lace, beautifully painted eggs, tablecloths, dolls, pottery, carvings, etc. – were all very nice and most pretty reasonably priced. We left the market and it was a 5 minute stroll over to the number 2 tram that runs along the river. We took the tram to the stop by the Chain Bridge and then walked over the Bridge to the Buda side. It was very windy, but a lovely view over to the Castle area on one side and the Parliament building on the other. We stood in line for the funicular, which was pretty expensive – about $14 for the 4 of us, one way, but I really didn’t want to climb all those steps. So, we rode up and walked down.

We walked over to Fisherman’s Bastion, a very pretty castle-like building. It was a cold, clear day and the white of the building looked gorgeous against the blue sky. The view from the Bastion across into Pest, with the Parliament Building and St. Stephen’s Basilica, is just lovely. We then went to Matthias Church, but it was closed. A sign said it would be closed for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter – the 3 days would be in Budapest. We never did get inside which was a big disappointment. The exterior, though, is really unique with its diamond patterned colorful roof tiles and gargoyles. We walked along the little streets on Castle Hill, which really do look like a perfectly preserved medieval town. There were lots of cafes that looked interesting and a couple of pretty shops. I stopped into look at the Herend porcelain, but was a little shocked at the prices – over $200 for a small vase. It was pretty, but not worth the price to me. We stopped to look at the Buda Castle which houses all the museums. It was such a pretty day, we didn’t want to spend it in the museums and planned to come back later if it rained or we had extra time. We walked back down the hill to the Chain Bridge and back across to the Pest side. We walked toward St. Stephen’s Basilica and decided to stop in for lunch at Café Kor (www.cafekor.com), a restaurant that a friend had recommended. This was our favorite restaurant in Budapest. It felt very local, with lots of Parliament workers there on their lunch hour. A large board (in English and Hungarian) listed the specials and the menu itself was excellent. The manager was so kind to our children, making a special dish of pasta for our picky 8 year old and bringing her paper and colored pencils. I had the best Hungarian pork goulash and my DH had an amazing chicken dish with Roquefort sauce. I only wish I’d been able to eat two meals, because I was dying to try the chicken with apricots and caramel sauce, too. We had Gundel crepes for dessert, which are stuffed with nuts and raisins and covered with chocolate sauce. Really, really good. I’d go back to Budapest just to eat again in this restaurant.

We walked to St. Stephen’s Basilica, a block away. The incredibly ornate interior includes many types of marble, elaborate chapels, and a large bust of St. Stephen. The dome itself is a marvel. We paid a few forints (discounted with our Budapest Card) to climb the tower and the view from the top over the rooftops of Budapest is worth the walk up.
We left the Basilica and made our way to the Deak Ferenc metro stop to catch the yellow line out to the City Park and spend the rest of the afternoon at the Szechenyi Spa. We had packed a bag that morning with our swim suits and flip flops so we were ready. (We had, however, forgotten towels, so we had to rent them.) The spa experience is delightful, but a little confusing. We used our Budapest Cards to get a 20% discount, and paid for 4 people, without a cabine. They give you 4 plastic cards that you use to gain entrance. Because we didn’t have a family cabine, my DDs and I went to change downstairs in the ladies area and my DH went the other way to the men’s area. There are lockers, free of charge, in the locker rooms. I had to have someone show me how to use them, though. You put in your belongings, and then put your plastic entrance card inside the slot on the inside of the locker door, close it, and then you can remove the key. Don’t forget your locker number – it’s not on the key! And don’t lose the key – it costs a lot to replace it. We met my husband downstairs by the towel rental area. We rented two towels – and I use the term loosely – think twinsize bedsheets – and then we were off to the outside spas. It was freezing outside and we ran to put down our towels and shoes and jump into the first large pool. It was like plunging into heaven. The water was so nicely warm, the view of the gorgeous yellow baroque building was beautiful, the steam rising off the water made it seem exotic. The girls loved all the little areas of the pool that had water jets and there is a huge whirl pool in the middle that was so much fun to just drift in. The middle pool , which I did not try, was cooler and made for doing laps. DH went to do that and then my 12 year old and I went to the third pool which was really hot. There were several men playing on floating chess boards. It was quite a scene. We spent an hour or so in the pools and felt really good. Back in the changing area, we got dressed, used the hairdryers, and put our wet things in a plastic bag I’d brought. We returned our rental towels, showing the paper receipt they’d given us. No receipt, no refund, so don’t lose it! When exiting, we showed our plastic cards which I guess have a time on them and got more refunds for not staying the full two hours. Without a doubt, the baths were the highlight of Budapest.

We had tickets for an 8:00 pm performance of the Hungarian Folk Ensemble at the Budai Vidago, on the Buda Side. I’d ordered the tickets online ahead of time and we had to pick them up by 7:30. We took the yellow line back from the City Park to Deak Ferenc and switched to the red line to go a few stops to the Buda Side. We walked to the theatre and made it in plenty of time. (Of course, it would have been nice to have gone back to the hotel first to drop off our wet stuff, but since we were staying SO far out, we didn’t have time. Did I mention I hated the hotel location??) The folk dancing and orchestra were wonderful. My girls really enjoyed the dancing, especially the bottle dance where the dancers had bottles of liquid on their heads that never spilled! The costumes were gorgeous, the violin music lovely, the dancing very lively and the evening was a lot of fun and I was glad we went. After the show, we walked back to the subway area on the Buda side and had a couple of great pizzas. The view of the Parliament lit up a night from this area is just gorgeous. Then back to our hotel with hopes of an alarm-free night.

To be continued ….



lincasanova Mar 30th, 2008 04:34 PM

Nice report! i remember your priceline post!

you are so lucky to have gotten
into the hungarian dancers on buda. when i was there, (perhaps the week before you?..march 7-11th..) some company had bought the entire theater for several days.

i also love spoon. great place. great view. stopped by Kor, but too early for us to be hungry. looked very nice.

it sounds like you had a wonderful time with the kids.

waiting for the next installment!

mel1 Mar 31st, 2008 06:09 PM

Hi Leslie, this is a great report and very timely for me.thanks
We were wondering if doing Prague and Budapest in the same trip was too much of a similar cultural /gourmet experience, or if they are a good fit.
We were thinking 3-4 days in each, what say you?
We are going early Nov.

Leslie28 Apr 1st, 2008 07:39 AM

Mel1, I thought Prague and Budapest were a good fit. Prague is smaller, easily walkable and more set up for tourists, whereas Budapest is a large city with really interesting sites and restaurants. I didn't find the food too overlapping and never got tired of it. We just had wonderful, varied meals in both cities -- and my husband really enjoyed all the different beers. I'm glad we did them both in a single trip and I think 3 or 4 days in each place is sufficient. I do wish I'd had one more day in Budapest, though. I would have liked to do more of the museums. Always nice to save something for the next trip ....

Leslie28 Apr 1st, 2008 08:17 AM

Today was all communism, all day. We woke to gray skies with drizzle and off and on rain. We had plans to go to Statue Park to see the communist statues and decide to go regardless of the weather. We made our way back to the Deak Ferenc subway stop and found the large white bus marked “Statue Park”. (It is not near the public bus stop, but across the small park area near the tour buses.) It goes to the park daily at 11:00 am. I was surprised that it was nearly full given the bad weather. It was a 20 minute drive out to the park and the tour guide kept up a running commentary on the communist era in Hungary as well as pointing out various sites along the way.

The park was really pretty fascinating. The statues looked so odd, almost comical standing in a field as if convening a meeting of fallen dictators. The little attached museum gave a history of communism in Hungary, addressing the history of most of the statues, and the failed 1956 uprising. There was a really interesting movie about spies during the communist era (in Hungarian, with English subtitles). We spent an hour and half there, and arrived back in central Budapest around 1:00. At this point, the sun was out, but we made our way back to the hotel to change out of our wet and muddy clothes.

We decided to go back to City Park to see Heroes’ Square and to eat at Bagolyvar, Gundel’s little sister restaurant. We had no trouble getting in for lunch without a reservation. The restaurant was okay, not my favorite meal. I think the menu would have been a good value, but that day’s entrée was lamb burger. When I mentioned that I wanted mine well done, the waiter looked perplexed and explained that it was not grilled. We then discovered it was tartare. I’m not big on raw meat, so we ended up ordering off the regular menu. My DH enjoyed his chicken dish and the girls liked their meat crepe, but my chicken dish was only okay. The desserts, however, were delicious. After lunch, we made our way over to Heroes’ Square. The white millennial monument looked beautiful against the blue, blue sky. So glad it had stopped raining! We stopped to get a coffee at Gloria Jean’s coffee shop (which had so much better coffee than they make in the States) and wandered down Andrassy Avenue, enjoying the afternoon sun and hot coffee. (I have to admit, I don’t mind that American style coffee places with coffee to go has reached Europe!) The architecture of the buildings that have been redone is just beautiful and there is so much promise in the ones that have not yet been restored.

We walked to the Terror Museum and paid our reduced admission. I found this museum to be absolutely fascinating and chilling. The building was used by the Nazi’s in the 1940’s and the headquarters of the secret service in the communist regime. The video footage in the displays is just terrific and I could have spent hours watching it. There are descriptions of the rooms and what went on there in English. The basement includes many cells and instruments of torture, as well as pictures and names to honor the victims. It was really interesting in the videos to see the Statues that we had seen during our morning visit to the park in the background of various demonstrations.

We continued our stroll down Andrassy Avenue and eventually ended up near St. Stephen’s Basilica thinking we’d eat at Café Kor again. Unfortunately, on a Saturday night, they were completely booked. Instead we opted for a small café on the square, which was just fine. Because it was Holy Saturday, there was a service going on at the church. Suddenly, the doors opened and music started playing from large speakers attached to a nearby car. A huge procession poured from St. Stephen’s, with priests, parishioners, incense, torches, etc. It was quite moving watching it proceed across the square and disappear into the nearby streets.

The following morning, our last in Budapest, we made our way over to our favorite coffee shop – Coffee Heaven. It’s near the Ferenciek Tere stop and it was a great place for breakfast – huge coffees, great hot chocolates, and delicious pastries, all very reasonably priced. I know this isn’t the grand coffee shop experience in Budapest, but sometimes you just want a giant cup of coffee and a good croissant. It was Easter Sunday and I was surprised how much was open. Even the Easter markets were going strong. We decided it would be a good morning to see the Great Synagogue and museum. It was a nice walk from the coffee shop and easy to get tickets. The synagogue itself is lovely with Byzantine touches and it is huge – it’s the largest in Europe. The museum next door is very interesting and houses a room in memory of those who died in the Nazi era. The memorial tree behind the Synagogue is very moving – a silver weeping willow with the names of the Nazi victims engraved on each leaf.

We finished up our stay in Budapest with a lovely lunch on Raday Ut, a street that is very up and coming, with lots of new cafes. Our hotel had arranged a taxi for us to the airport. It was quite reasonable (around $20) and fast – around 20 minutes. I thought the Budapest airport was nice – small and easy to navigate. Our Easyjet flight back to Gatwick left right on time. At Gatwick, I’d arranged for a service to pick us up and take us to the Heathrow Marriott, another hotel I’d gotten on Priceline. The car service was fine and, for the 4 of us, cheaper than the National Express bus. It was a pretty long drive, the better part of an hour.

I loved the Heathrow Marriott. No mention of priceline – gave us a nice room with 2 queen beds which was perfect with the girls. We enjoyed a last evening of relaxing, swimming in the little pool, and watching English TV. We rode the Hoppa bus to Heathrow in the morning – paid 4 euros for the adults, kids are free. Our Virgin Atlantic flight home left right on time and we really enjoyed all the movies on the flight back – really made the time go by pretty quickly. All in all, a great trip.
Hope some of this has been helpful – I’ll be happy to answer any questions …


mel1 Apr 1st, 2008 01:08 PM

Thanks Leslie
THis has been so helpful and I have copied it and edited it down to take with me!
I will book spoon, too!
From what you say I am pleased, too, that we will do Budapest first then train it to Prague.
I have read so many awful stories about the night train, I think we will do what you did and take the day. It sounds lovely.
Again, thanks for the informative and fun post and so glad you and your family had such a lovely time.
Next trip....come to Australia!

bmetz Apr 2nd, 2008 01:15 PM

Loved reading your trip review....very timely !
Arriving in Prague on Sunday, 4/27...planned
3 days and nite train to Budapest for 3 more days.
Actually have more time if I need it once I get there.
What are the horrors of the overnite train ? I'm
traveling alone and want to be prepared....should
I change to the day train. Also, can't figure out
where to stay in Budapest....which side, what part ??
Prague was easy but B. is more complicated. Any
suggestions....want to be very close to places and
clubs etc. and would like to be able to walk to
as much as I can (I'm a lively Grandma) ...would
like nice accommodations but not touristy.
Thanks so very much ! Barbara

lincasanova Apr 2nd, 2008 03:47 PM

i would stay in pest, instead of up near the castle if you are ever thinking of using taxis because going up to the castle area compared to every other area costs about three times more than a quick taxi ride from, let´s say, the opera.. to your central pest hotel.

i have a report under my name about my recent trip and some websites i used to help organize it.

fun places to eat..
www.spoon.hu at night for the view.

www.belcanto.hu for the showy musicians

check also www.gtahotels.com for perhaps a better than usual rate that includes breakfast and tax.

you will find lots of infomation here for all the details. budapest is also very easy. keep reading and you will see.. its just there is so much to do.. you need to decide what you are leaving out with only three days!





Leslie28 Apr 2nd, 2008 06:15 PM

Mel1, Glad the report was helpful and Australia is definitely on my short list. Wish the airfare was cheaper!

Barbara, I didn't take the night train, so I can't advise on that. I definitely enjoyed the day train and felt perfectly safe. As far as where to stay, I'd definitely say the Pest side. I'd try to stay somewhere around the Deak Ferenc metro stop -- that seemed to be a very central part of the city. You should be able to walk to most of the major sites from there or hop on the great subway system and get virtually anywhere quickly. I loved the location of the Marriott Budapest and the Marriott Executive Apartments. Certainly wish I could have stayed there, but my Priceline bid put me at the Ramada (which I would defnitely not recommend for a woman traveling alone -- the walk from metro to the hotel at night was a little deserted and dark.) Do try the Cafe Kor (www.cafekor.com) when you're there -- we had such a great meal there. Budapest is just beautiful and very easy to get around. You'll have a great time.

bmetz Apr 2nd, 2008 09:31 PM

Thank you so much for the info....anything else would
be appreciated. I'll certainly dine at The 'Kur" and
take the ferry down the river. I still haven't decided where to stay. One modern 'boutique hotel' ZARA is on the Pest side and just across the river is the old time
Danublus Hotel Gellert which appeals to me too. It's fun planning these 'lone' trips, I'm free to do anything.

By the way I'll be spending at least a week or more in Vienna aat the end. My friend has a prestigious job there and a beautiful penthouse apt. so I'll be quite spoiled after all my running around.

Thanks again, Barbara



like_2travel Apr 2nd, 2008 10:30 PM

Wonderful trip report! I enjoyed reading it.

lincasanova Apr 3rd, 2008 01:40 AM

when choosing your hotel keep in mind public transportation if that is how you will get home in the evenings.

the gellert is not in a bad place, but i believe that bridge is under constructive maintenance to get across. i know one of the trams is/was interrupted in march.

taxis to there from the opera, for example, will be more than to "central" pest.. river, chain bridge area, andrassy blvd.

maybe you should start your own thread to get more answers...

"search" on here and you should be able to pull up the most recent threads on budapest.

Kajal Apr 8th, 2008 08:15 AM

Terrific report. Thank you very much. I am making a week-long trip to Budapest and Prague in 2 weeks with DH and 2 daughters (ages 10 and 13) so am eager to hear all the information.

Thank you again.

Kajal


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