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yk's Trip Report - 11 days of Art Nouveau in Vienna & Budapest Spring 2009

yk's Trip Report - 11 days of Art Nouveau in Vienna & Budapest Spring 2009

Old May 8th, 2009, 06:47 PM
  #41  
yk
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Finishing up the Vienna portion...

Day 7: Morning in Vienna
Kunsthistorisches Museum

http://www.khm.at/

Today is our last day in Vienna, and we only have half a day for sightseeing, as our train to Budapest departs at 3:50pm. The only place we visited today is KHM, one of my most favorite museums. In fact, KHM is the only museum/attraction that I am revisiting on this second trip to Vienna.

Admission is €10, but C & M got the Imperial Treasury-KHM combo ticket for €18. And as I have mentioned previously, I could have bought the Leopold-KHM combo ticket for €17. Oh well.

As I climbed the grand staircase in the main hall, I remember to look at the wall decorations. Some of which were done by Gustav Klimt early in his career. The 2 female figures next to the arch were done by him.
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3485.jpg

My first stop is the Bruegel room. There is nothing more magical than be surrounded by over a dozen of Bruegel paintings: just me and the paintings. On our last trip, we actually bought Bruegel painting placemats from KHM, so for the last 2.5 years, I have been looking at them every night during dinner!

The rest of the museum displays haven't changed since my last visit. I prefer Netherlandish/Flemish/Dutch Old Masters over Italian Renaissance, so I spent more time in those galleries. I also had a good look at Holbein's portrait of Jane Seymour, esp after reading Alison Weir's Wives of Henry VIII.
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3486.jpg

A small exhibition called "Room in Pictures" is on view, with Vermeer's The Art of Painting at centerstage. Since I went through the museum much quicker this time around than in 2006, I actually had time to visit the Greek/Roman antiquities section. English displays are few and far between in that section, compared to the painting galleries.

Another HUGE disappointment - The Kuntskammer (Sculpture and Decorative Arts) section remains closed. It was already closed on my 2006 visit, and still is, and not expected to reopen until 2011. This I already know about, but I was hoping that the famous Cellini Saliera would be on view. Well, it isn't. When I asked the lady at the info desk about it, she told me that it was on view last year for about 6 months as part of a special exhibition, but it won't be back on display until end of this year.

We were at KHM for 3 hours and left at 1pm. We went back to the apartment, ate lunch, packed, returned our keys to the owner, then walked over to Westbahnhof for our train to Budapest.

Impressions of Vienna
I enjoyed Vienna just as much as my first visit. What I like about Vienna is that it is: sophisticated, cultured, clean, grand, safe, orderly. An added bonus is the beautiful Spring weather and spring blooms.

There is so much to see and do in Vienna that I can easily spend a whole week here and not get bored. In 2006, we visited Belvedere, Albertina, Mozart House, Secession, Hofburg Palace/Treasury, and KHM; none of which I got around to revisit this time except KHM. I really would love to see the Klimts at Belvedere again, or the Rembrandt and Gerhard Richter show at Albertina on this trip!

Yes, Vienna is expensive, but staying in an apartment worked out to be a great way to curb the budget. Our 1000+ sq ft apartment for the 5 of us only cost €120/night! You can probably get just a double room in a pension for this price. Since the kitchen is fully-equipped, we (or should I say, the rest of them who are much better cooks than I) stayed in and cooked dinner every night. While I miss eating out, I do get my chance to do so for lunch.

In any case, I hope I can take DH back to Vienna some time soon, ie, not decades from now. I can see ourselves renting an apartment and staying there for a whole week.
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Old May 8th, 2009, 06:57 PM
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The Kuntskammer isn't reopening until 2011? I was upset to miss it in 2007, can't believe it's taking so long!
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Old May 9th, 2009, 02:45 AM
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Hi thursdaysd - Yes, I can't believe that either. Not sure what exactly they're doing that can take so long! I expect it to be some spectacular galleries when it reopens.

The reopening date is not mentioned on the English website, but is posted on the German version:
http://www.khm.at/de/kunsthistorisch...n/kunstkammer/

Die Kunstkammer ist wegen Vorbereitungen für die Neueinrichtung voraussichtlich bis Ende 2011 geschlossen.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 03:35 AM
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hi yk,

why would I need a guide book with you here to guide me? great, great job.

I have already downloaded the new map for trams 1 & 2, which includes Line D too, which should be useful for the trip I'm planning out to Nussdorf to visit the Heuriger. have you ever done that? the publicity blurb is interesting too - i dont quite get how stopping the lines going all the way round increases the access to the sights of Vienna, but perhaps I've missed something!

your information re the trip to Melk is useful too, though I think that we'll be visiting it by car on the way to teh Sazlkammergut; as we only have 3 full day, I don't really want to spend one of them outside Vienna.

you mention that the Musikverein was very hot - was that your experience of the opera?

finally, a bit cheeky this, could you review my outline plan for our three and 1/2 days:

Sat - arrive mid afternoon. staying at the hotel Austria in the Fleischmarkt. spend the rest of the day exploring the immediate area - Stephansdom, Graben, possibly the KHM.

Sun - am - hofburg, pm Nussdorf [walk] and the Heuriger.

Mon - am/pm - Schoenbrun, rest, opera in evening.

Tues - am - KHM/wiener historischemuseum/Belvedere [depends a bit on weather] plus shopping.

anything obvious that I've missed out?

regards, ann
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Old May 9th, 2009, 04:07 AM
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Hi ann- Tram D also goes to Belvedere. I think it's the 2nd or 3rd stop after it leaves the Ring. I have never been to the Heuriger in Vienna, because I don't drink. But it sounds like a nice way to spend an afternoon/evening.

you mention that the Musikverein was very hot - was that your experience of the opera?

It was comfortably warm. My first night there (for the opera), I was hot but that was after climbing up several flights of stairs and I was wearing a light cashmere sweater. I cooled off after the first Act. The second night (for ballet), I also had a light cashmere sweater on but I was cooler. If you wear a coat, it is mandatory to check it. I assume it should be cooler down in the orchestral stalls.

Sat - arrive mid afternoon. staying at the hotel Austria in the Fleischmarkt. spend the rest of the day exploring the immediate area - Stephansdom, Graben, possibly the KHM.

Sun - am - hofburg, pm Nussdorf [walk] and the Heuriger.

Mon - am/pm - Schoenbrun, rest, opera in evening.

Tues - am - KHM/wiener historischemuseum/Belvedere [depends a bit on weather] plus shopping.

anything obvious that I've missed out?


For your itinerary, I may switch things around a bit.

Saturday - if you are arriving in mid-afternoon, I would just hop over to MAK, which is just a few blocks from your hotel. Since MAK is free on Saturday, it will be a great place to check out for even an hour or 2. When you've had enough, you can then wander over to Stephensplatz, Graben etc (St Stephen's Cathedral is open until 10pm).

Sunday - When you mention Hofburg, do you mean touring the Imperial Apartments or just walking around on the outside? Since you are going to Schonbrunn, I would not visit the Hofburg Imperial Apts, as the rooms at Schonbrunn are much more impressive. However, if you want to see the Silver Collection and SiSi Museum, then you have to visit Hofburg. If that's the case, you should buy the SiSi ticket which includes Hofburg, Silver Collection, Sisi Museum, and Grand Tour of Schonbrunn.
http://www.hofburg-wien.at/en/plan-y...si-ticket.html

However, if you don't plan to tour the inside of Hofburg palace, you probably can fit in another activity on Sunday morning, eg, the Wien Museum Karlsplatz, which is free.

Monday - I think you can fit in a short visit somewhere after Schonbrunn. As I said earlier, you should be able to see Schonbrunn + Gardens in 3-4 hours. One site I see you're missing is the Imperial Treasury (in Hofbury Complex, but managed by KHM, hence a Treasury-KHM combo ticket available).

Tuesday - KHM + Belvedere. I would not miss Belvedere Palace for the Klimts.

Hope this helps.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 04:12 AM
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Hey, just skimming this and glad you enjoyed your trip. Sorry that you missed the Saliera -- I haven't seen it either (but at least we know it's back and no longer stolen).

I think that standing room at Musikverein is very much worth going to. The hall is wonderful. I've only been once, but it's the Vienna Philharmonic.

Plus it was Mahler 7 for you. I definitely would have gone. It's not one of the most popular or accessible Mahler symphonies, but it seems increasingly popular, and I'm sure that you had a fine introduction. And most likely the concert was sold out anyway.

Barenboim and Boulez are conducting the Dresden Staaskpaelle in the complete Mahler cycle in NYC. I guess Barenboim is sticking to his usual busy schedule. I'm not, however, planning to attend any of the Barenboim performances. I've heard Mahler 2 a few nights ago, and I'm planning on Mahler 8 next week. I've also heard two Bruckner 8s in the past few days (one in NYC and one in Philly).
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Old May 9th, 2009, 04:32 AM
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Actually, the Berlin Staatskapelle concert wasn't sold out, but the remaining tickets were too expensive for me. There was another Berlin Staatskapelle concert on during our stay, with Pierre Boulez conducting. I think it was still an all-Mahler program but different pieces. Not sure if we should have gone to the other one instead.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 04:57 AM
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Ah, I didn't realize that it was also Dresden. I found the playing in Mahler 2 a little uneven, actually, but there were some great parts. But if I were in Vienna, I'm sure I'd have opted for standing room myself.

I checked the Musikverein's schedule:

http://www.musikverein.at/downloads/...ts_apr2009.pdf

I think the night before your concert Boulez conducted Mahler 6.

Well I hope it's ok to tell you now, but that was probably the one you should have picked. There was an NYT article last week on the Mahler cycle and the review raved about a Mahler 6 by Boulez in 1972. His recent recording with DG is a little controversial (well Boulez and Mahler or Boulez and Bruckner = controversial, not surprisingly) but is generally widely praised.

After reading the article, I'm thinking of going to Mahler 6 too since it's the only one I haven't heard live, but I'm still think about it. Another consideration is Boulez is close to 85 so there will be fewer opportunities to hear him in the future.

I had done a web search a few days ago and someone had posted a bootleg recording of Mahler 8 from that concert at Musikverein a few days later. I haven't listened to it. It's better to be surprised in a few nights.

And if it's Mahler 8 you opted out of, I don't think I could forgive you. Mahler 8 is nicknamed "Symphony of a Thousand" because it requires a massive orchestra and chorus. It's one of Mahler's crowning achievements, but it appears in concerts more rarely. Of the last couple of concert seasons in NYC, I can only remember that it came up once with James Levine and BSO (apart from the latest with Boulez and Dresden).

It looks like they did a partial cycle with Dresden in Mahler 6-8. I guess it'd have been a feat to do a complete cycle in Vienna *and* NYC. As the NYT article mentioned, performing a complete cycle is like doing the Wagner Ring (in terms of duration), but obviously it's more spread out.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 04:57 AM
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Day 7 Onward to Budapest!

Our first experience with anything Hungary began at the Vienna Westbahnhof. Instead of the clean, modern, Red Austrian Rail trains, we boarded an old, Blue Hungarian train. We had a private compartment to ourselves. The train ... hmm ... has seen better days, to put it lightly. The entire hallway floor plus the floor in our compartment was extremely sticky, as if it hadn't cleaned for months. (Remember going to those old, dinosaur movie theatres in the US and your shoes stick to the floor? That's exactly how it was on our train.)

About an hour after the train departed, we arrived at the Austro-Hungarian border. The train stopped for several minutes for the crew change.

There isn't much scenery to speak of along the way. The train slowed to a crawl about 2-3 miles outside of Budapest. All we saw were old, crumbling buildings and lots and lots of graffiti. Can you tell that my first impression of Budapest is quite negative? We finally arrived about 15 minutes late (around 7:10pm).

I have pre-arranged a van service to pick us up at the Keleti station, since we need to go to the rental agency first (near Deak Ter) for our keys, then to our apt (near Oktogon). I was told that our driver would be holding a sign waiting for us at the station.

Well, we got off the train, looked around (very crowded station), and didn't spot anyone! I started to panic... oh no, I've been scammed and now our party of 5 has no place to stay for the next 5 nights!

I asked the rest of the group to stay put, while I circled the entire station. Finally, at the most obvious spot, I found our driver holding a sign with my name. Whew! What a relief.

Our driver, Maria, first took us to the agency office. Traffic was bad so we crept along. All I can say, was that I was less than impressed by the appearances of the buildings. Most were blackened with soot and in poor repair. I just have a hard time believing my eyes, since I've read so many +ve reviews about how beautiful Budapest is.

We got to the agency office, paid our balance (more about that later), and Maria drove us to our apartment in the VII district.

The apartment building, OMG, literally looks like it's falling apart. The common areas were dirty, paint was either peeling or had already fallen off, and lots of ceiling material (? concrete) have fallen off too, exposing the steel beams. I shuddered to think what condition our apartment is!

When the door to the apartment opened, whew! Another sigh of relief. While the common areas were in terrible shape, the apartment looks exactly like the photos - nicely done, clean and modern. After asking Maria the basics (Thanks to Fodorites who contributed to this thread: http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-qs-to-ask.cfm ), we settled in.

M & I then ventured out to get some basic supplies from a supermarket. Another adventure ensues......
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Old May 9th, 2009, 05:15 AM
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Great report, yk. I hope your impression of Budapest improves.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 06:48 AM
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hi yk,

thanks so much for taking the trouble to critique my itinerary.

MAK - Museum fuer angewandte Kunst - I've looked and found it over on the Stubenring. great idea as it's free; and it'll give us a chnce to look at the stadtpark which would be a nice place for a walk and a cup of tea!
your other suggestions look very good too.

regards, ann
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Old May 9th, 2009, 06:50 AM
  #52  
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Day 7
First Impression of Budapest


Just to recap, we took an afternoon train from Vienna to Budapest, found our driver (after an initial scare), got our keys and arrived at our apartment, located within a crumbling building.

Before I continue, let me make one quick point. We arrived the evening of April 30, which is a Thursday. I know that most supermarkets will probably be closed by the time we arrive, and all supermarkets will be closed on the following day, being May 1. Therefore, before we went on our trip, I did some research and found out that there is a "supermarket" called Rothschild at Oktogon which is open 24/7.

By the time M & I headed out for the supermarket, it was around 9pm. We stepped out on the sidewalk. Hmm... which way is Oktogon??? Fortunately, a young couple (just leaving a party in our building) noticed how lost we look, and offered to help. They were very friendly and pointed us to the right direction.

First impression: why is it so dark? The street lights all seem to have just a 40W light bulb. When we got the the inner Ring road and followed it up to Oktogon, why is everything so dark? These are supposed to be the busiest roads/area of town. With the exception of the neon signs of Burger King and McD, all the rest of the storefronts are pitch black.

We finally arrived at Rothschild. Calling it a supermarket is a gross overstatement. It is smaller than your neighborhood convenient store, and probably has about 10% of what you normally would find in stock at a 7-Eleven.

Have I mentioned that the Hungarian language is impossible to decipher? It really is unique... since it uses alphabets, you *think* you can read it, but I can't even take a guess with Hungarian (by contrast, I can usually make some educated guesses when it comes to French or German or Spanish or Italian).

Fortunately, some friendly locals helped us (so that I didn't buy sour cream for our morning coffee)! We almost left empty-handed because there was so little stocked.

Overall, I was less than impressed. The pitch-dark streets was a stark contrast to Vienna, where we had just left a few hours ago. In Vienna, every street is brightly-lit, stores leave their lights on so one can window-shop at night, streets are clean and bustling. At this point, Budapest reminds me of 2 places I've been to:

1) The somewhat seedy area around Rome's Termini
2) 1970s Macau (where I used to visit frequently as a kid)

Apartment Review
As I mentioned way back, I found this apartment here:
http://www.travel-library.com/apartm...orosmarty.html

It is actually managed by an apt agency called Central Capital Apartments and they rent out I think about a dozen properties. They have their own website but I always have a hard time loading it:
http://www.rentbudapestapartment.com/

Layout
Again, this is a 3BR/2BA apartment. It is 109 sq meters, which is almost 1200 sq ft. 2 of the bedrooms have Queen, and the 3rd bedroom has a Queen plus a daybed. So theoretically, 7 people can stay here. One bathroom has a shower, sink and toilet. The other bathroom has tub and sink, with a separate toilet.

The living/dining area is large and comfortable. Kitchen is modern, has a microwave too. However, it is not nearly as well-equipped as our Vienna apartment. It also does NOT have a toaster or toaster oven, but has a full size oven. So every morning we have to make toast using the full oven. It even has a dishwasher, but of course, no dish-washer detergent.

There is a washing machine but no dryer, but a drying rack is provided. Amenities provided is at a minimum, compared to the Vienna apt (we were really spoiled there!). There is barely enough dish-washing liquid for our 5 days. No paper towel, no laundry detergent, no basic cooking ingredients (such as salt, sugar etc). There are tiny bottles of shampoo and shower gel that probably can last for 2 days for 1 person, but not for 5 people for 5 days.

The apartment is clean, but some furnishings (such as carpet, couch) have old stains on them. Only the living room and one bedroom faces the main street, so the other 2 bedrooms are very quiet.

Location
It is located on Vorosmarty Utca, a residential street. It is 3 blocks south and 3 blocks east of Oktogon Sq. The closest Metro is Vorosmarty Utca on Line 1, which is a 7-min walk. Oktogon is a 10-min walk. Trams # 4 & 6 that run along the Ring is 3 blocks west (5-min walk). Trams #70 & 78 run along Kiraly Utca towards Parliament Sq, and the stop is a 3-min walk.

While it isn't really in the center of things, it is convenient enough to get around via public transport. Public transport is very efficient in Budapest, just like Vienna. The metro and the trams run every few minutes, and they are FAST! The apt is also fairly close to the 2 music venues we were going at night.

Price
The rates I quoted were in Euros, however, I think the amount was the converted rate based on Hungarian Forint. The rate was supposed to be €110 per night, and I had paid the first night's rate by CC in advance. When we arrived at the agency office, the invoice in Euros I got was much lower than what I had expected. I repeatedly asked the agents if that was the correct invoice (I was worried that they were giving me the wrong apartment) but they kept insisting it was right. So I thought perhaps the Forint/Euro exchange rate has changed a lot in recent weeks to our favor.

After I got home in the US and checked my CC statement against the invoice, I'm sure that they have made some kind of mistake. Our rate came out to only €87/night, which is really, really cheap for a 1200 sq ft, 3BR/2BA apt for 5 people! (We were charged €37 for the van pick-up/transfer, but normally it is €25 for a car if fewer people.)

Would I stay there again? I think the neighborhood is fine, but I probably won't use this agency again. Everything is okay, and they are quick to reply via email. However, the inconvenience of going to their office for key pickup and drop-off is a major hassle. There is no wifi in the apartment, and just the fact that it is a rental agency, the people who work there just don't *care* about the tenants as much as private owners, like the Vienna apt owner we had.

Photos of the apartment:
Bedrooms 1 & 2 (each with a double bed)
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3496.jpg
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3487.jpg

Bedroom 3 (double bed + day bed)
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3497.jpg

Bathrooms
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3488.jpg
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3492.jpg

Kitchen
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3490.jpg

Living/Dining room
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3493.jpg
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3494.jpg
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Old May 9th, 2009, 06:53 AM
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Thank you, thank you. I love Art Mouveau. I love Vienna. I love your report. I've got to get that guidebook.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 06:55 AM
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ann - I agree with yk that you should try to see the MAK (and eat in the restaurant, lol). Also, I thought the best part of the Hofburg was the crown jewels, the rest is definitely skippable if you're gong to Shonbrunn.

yk - yes, the trains really do tend to get worse as you move east. I, too, hope that you liked Budapest more as you got to know it! Nice apts with horrible common areas is not at all unusual in former Communist countries (you should see Russian homestays!). I think it's because people look on the common areas as everyone else's business, not theirs.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 07:07 AM
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Hi, yk. Thanks for your wonderful report. We're going to Vienna and Budapest soon, too, so all your information is really helpful to us. By the way, was the "dirty" train you were on from Vienna to Budapest 1st or 2nd class? I'm wondering whether or not it is worth it to pay more for 1st class.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 07:08 AM
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I can sympathize with your experience on entering Budapest. We took a Serbian train that was scheduled to go on Belgrade and this was during the American intervention in the Serb conflict. The train may have been a tad better than the Hungarian train you describe, and thank good ness we experienced no problems with the Serb conductors, etc. but the mess we encountered on the outskirts of Budapest was just as disheartening as what you describe. Not a good way to enter the city.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 07:11 AM
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JulieVikmanis - I've read your Vienna trip report before I left (I think I topped it too). I wish I could go to Steinhof Church but couldn't fit it in. You provided excellent directions to get there, so that will be handy for my next trip!

thursdaysd - Budapest is as far East as I have been to in Europe, except Moscow. What I found out later (from our driver Maria) about these buildings, is that in order to restore the common areas, all the tenants in the building have to pitch in. Since many of the tenants are old people with limited savings, there's no money for renovations. However, the Hungarian Govt does provide money for renovations of private residential buildings - but just a handful each year.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 07:44 AM
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jrjcolllins - We were in 2nd class, and apart from the sticky floor (which wasn't visibly dirty), everything was fine. The seats were clean, and the compartment didn't smell. We were joking if the floor is made of a special material that sticks to your shoes so that you won't slip when the train is moving (maybe that's true!). I don't know what 1st class looks like and if it's worth the extra expense. Personally, I was totally fine with 2nd class, though I have a fairly high tolerance to dirt (trained by many trips to China in 70s & 80s with squat toilets and no running water!).
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Old May 9th, 2009, 02:40 PM
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Day 8
May Day in Budapest
Museum of Applied Arts, Heroes Sq, Museum of Fine Arts, Szechenyi Baths


1 USD = 215 HUF

Today is May Day. Most shops and businesses are closed, but museums and the baths are open. We first went to Oktogon Metro station to buy our Budapest transport passes.

Budapest Transport Pass options
http://www.bkv.hu/english/jegyinfo2009/fares.html

Just like Vienna, there are several pass options in Budapest. Since we have 4 full days there (plus departure day), we decided to each get a 72-hour transport pass to start, at 3700HUF per person. The ticket itself says "3 day ticket" on it, but according to the transport website, the ticket is valid for 72 hours from the time you purchase. When you purchase it, the attendant handwrites the date and time on your ticket.

Single tickets are the most expensive. A cheaper option is the 10-ticket coupon book (2600HUF). In the past, one is not supposed to tear out the tickets, but the rules have changed and you now CAN tear them out. Therefore, more than 1 person may share it. However, if you use single tickets, you need to use a new ticket each time you transfer, with the exception of metro-metro transfer. For example, if you are taking a tram and transferring to the metro, you need to use 2 tickets. But if you want to transfer from Metro Line 1 to Line 3, one ticket is good enough (valid for 60 minutes).

There are no tunrstiles at metro stations. However, at busy stations, there are transport workers posted at the entrances who check your ticket or pass. If you are using single ticket, you need to validate it. Apart from the workers at the metro entrances, I have never seen anyone checking tickets/passes on trams or buses.

The Budapest Card, promoted by every single tourist brochure and guidebook, is a bad deal, IMO. The 72-hr Card is 7500 HUF, more than twice the cost of the regular 72-hr transport pass (3700 HUF). It only gives 10 or 20% discount for museum admissions (ie, 100-200 HUF off), therefore I can't see how one can really get his/her money's worth within 72 hours.
http://www.budapestinfo.hu/en/budapest_card

From Oktogon, we hopped on Tram 4 which goes along the Ring road and got off at Ferenc Körút to visit the Museum of Applied Arts (Iparművészeti Múzeum). The building itself is an art form: it is designed by Ödön Lechner, Hungary's equivalent to Gaudi in Barcelona or Otto Wagner in Vienna. The dome is covered with Zsolnay tiles.

[BTW, I have never heard of Zsolnay until March 2009 when I saw a Zsolnay pottery show at the Forbes Gallery in NYC. I wrote about it here: http://www.fodors.com/community/unit...omment-5526247

The pieces are so beautiful that I was completely blown away. You can watch a video excerpt here:
http://video.forbes.com/fvn/forbesco...forbes-gallery
Or a photo gallery here:
http://extremelyhungary.org/photo_ga...?gallery_id=26

I hope to visit Pécs in the future. ]

When we got off the tram, we initially can't see the building. But once we turned the street corner, we saw this amazing view:
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3501.jpg

Close-up of the Zsolnay tile roof:
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3504.jpg

The entrance ceiling is covered with tiles as well:
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3507.jpg

The interior central courtyard is of Moorish design:
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3513.jpg

This museum is the third one in Europe dedicated to Applied Arts. The first was London's South Kensington Museum (later became V&A), and the second was Vienna's MAK (mentioned earlier in this TR).

It does not have a permanent collection section. Rather, it hosts multiple exhibitions at one time. Fortunately on our visit, one of the exhibition is Collectors and Treasures of the Museum, which displays the best 400 pieces of artwork in the museum's collection. Admission fee varies: depending on how many of these exhibitions you want to visit. Each exhibition section ranges from 600 to 800 HUF, or you can see it all for 2000HUF. The Collectors and Treasures was 800 HUF. (There were many "visitors" who simply go in the building for a look and then leave.)

This "best of the best" show was well worth the 800 HUF admission. Each piece elicits a "wow" from us. From old furniture to Russian place settings to Zsolnay vases to a rare gold seashell/seahorse. Photography of the objects are not allowed, unless you purchase a photo pass from the museum. We spent close to 2 hours there.
http://www.imm.hu/angol/muz.html
http://www.imm.hu/angol/collectors.html

Search for lunch
We took Metro Line 3 to Deak Ter, thinking that there are more restaurant choices. We stopped by the tourist office, who suggested us walk down Andrassy Ut towards Opera.

Andrassy Ut, along with the Metro Line 1 running underneath, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I've read guidebooks comparing Andrassy Ut to Paris' Champs-Élysées . All I could think of was, "Are you KIDDING me?" The only thing remotely similar is that it is a straight road and there are trees lining both sides. But the shops along Andrassy are pretty pathetic, and even the nice buildings are covered with graffiti at their street entrances.

Since it is May Day, all the streets were very quiet, almost eerie given that this is supposed to be the main drag/thoroughfare of the city. Eventually, we found a restaurant behind the Opera House at the corner of O utca and Hajos utca. I think it is called Magic Restaurant though I'm not sure.

All of us ordered off their "Hungarian Specialties" section. I can't quite recall what others got, but I had goulash soup and a Mediterranean Salad. The restaurant was not busy at all, but somehow it took them over 45 minutes to bring the food out. And some of the dishes weren't even hot (more like lukewarm)! I liked my soup though I have nothing to compare with, and the salad ingredients were very fresh. However, we were so famished by then at we would have considered an old leather shoe to be tasty! Lunch was 12000HUF for the 5 of us.

After lunch, we headed back to Opera http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3517.jpg and took the historic Metro Line 1. This metro line is one of the oldest metro in the world. All the stations are kept in its original appearance, and the train cars are historic as well.
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3515.jpg
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3521.jpg

I have heard that lots of festivities take place at Heroes Sq and City Park on May Day, so that's where we were headed next. The metro line 1 runs very fast, and it actually feels more like a children's train than a real metro.
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3523.jpg

Flanking the 2 sides of Heroes Square is the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Mucsarnok (venue for contemporary art exhibition).
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3530.jpg
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3526.jpg

We headed towards City Park behind the Square. Oh my! So that's where everyone is! The park is literally a sea of people, no wonder Andrassy Ut is empty. A carnival has set up in one section, and a huge flea market in another. We could see the Vajdahunyad Castle in the distance.
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3532.jpg

We wandered through lots and lots of stalls, and I was tempted by every single food stall. Many of them sell some sort of German pretzel, and a pastry thing that looks like a big cylinder (or as I joked, a huge cannoli shell). Does anyone know what it is, or how you eat it?
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3533.jpg

Many more stalls sell Lángos, a local favorite. At first, it thought it was just like a funnel cake. But then I found out it is savory, with toppings like cheese, sour cream, garlic, even ham etc. Throughout my visit in Budapest, I really wanted to try one. However, it is so huge in size that there's no way I could eat it all, or even half of it (C offered to share one, but I decided a half piece of deep-fried dough is just too much.)

Then we passed by a marzipan stall, and I tried one (around 250HUF each). I thought it tasted better than the marzipans in Toledo.
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3535.jpg

As we wandered through the park, we unexpectedly arrived at Szecheyni Baths. Our plan was to go there later in the evening, so we decided to go check out the cost/procedure and double check the closing times. There was some discussion here before about the various entrances as one is much nicer than the other (http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...omment-4984046 ).

I don't know which entrance is the main one, as it has at least 3 if not more, but the first one we stumbled into (from the Park side), is the more ornate entrance, with a painted dome and mosaic fountain.
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3540.jpg
http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...9/IMG_3539.jpg

However, the sign at this entrance indicates it closes at 19:00, while my notes says the baths stay open until 22:00. After asking a few people, we were pointed towards the direction to the opposite entrance. We walked around the building, and this "main entrance" (faces the zoo and main road) is not nearly as nice, but does open until 22:00.

Basically, all entrances lead to the same pools but each has its own cabins and lockers. Only the main entrance's cabins/lockers stay open until 22:00. Satisfied with this info, we returned to Heroes Square to visit the Museum of Fine Arts (Szépmuvészeti Múzeum).
http://www2.szepmuveszeti.hu/

I wasn't in my best form for a museum at this point (I prefer going first thing in the morning so my energy/attention level is the highest), but if we don't go now we won't have time to come back. Admission is 1400HUF. The collection obviously pales in comparison to KHM where we were the day before. However, it does have a handful of El Grecos and Spanish paintings. But my main goal was to see Bruegel's Sermon of John the Baptist. Everything else was gravy to me.

The main galleries are located on the 1st floor (US 2nd), and for some reason, uncomfortably warm (this seems to be a recurring theme in Budapest, as we later find out.) Even the guards are fanning themselves. The 2nd floor has climate-controlled galleries for Dutch paintings, so it was considerably cooler there. However, IMO, they allow way too much sunlight (via skylights) into these galleries, and the glare is so strong that it's very hard to actually see the paintings. With these combination, we gave up after about an hour or so at the museum.

We headed back to the apartment for a brief rest, before M, C and I ventured back to Szechenyi Baths.
http://www.szechenyibath.com/

To be honest, I wasn't excited about it at all. I must have read at least dozens of threads here, and the "baths" section on every Budapest guidebook. The only reason I decided to go, was because I told M, "If you go, I'll go," and she replied, "If you go, I'll go." And since so many people said it was their best Budapest experience, we decided to give it a try.

We found our way easily to the "main" entrance given that we have checked it out earlier. I was a bit anxious, as all guidebooks plus trip reports said no one speaks English. I have read and memorized the "bath procedure" listed in guidebooks of visiting the baths.

In the end, all my concerns were unfounded. The woman at the ticket window understood and spoke enough English to sell us exactly what we needed - 3 of us wanted to share a cabin (can be shared up to 4 people). 1 was charged the cabin rate (3200 HUF) and the other 2 the locker rate (2800 HUF). We were given a paper receipt, plus a plastic card each which activates the turnstile to get inside.

Once inside, we were directed to the cabins section, and the attendant unlocked one for us. Then we headed out into the outdoor pools. By now, it was close to 7pm and cooling off. The water temperature of the outdoor pools is 30C. Though the water felt warm initially, soon we were starting to feel pretty cold. We stayed outside for perhaps 15-20 minutes, then M took off to check out the indoor pools. She came back out and gestured us to follow her. The indoor pools were much smaller but warmer. We saw 4 pools, with the cold one at 20C, and warm ones at 30C, 36C and 38C. We pretty much spent the rest of our time in either the 36 or 38C pools. Next to the indoor pools were sauna rooms at around 50C. We tried it for about a minute before I had to bail out.

I had my watch with me because we wanted to leave within 2 hours (you get 300HUF back). When you leave via the turnstile, it spits out another paper receipt. With that receipt, you go back to the ticket window for the 300 HUF refund (per person).

Overall, I'd say the baths was a fun experience though I won't say it's the *best*. I'm not sure if I felt any better after the soak. All I can say is that I'm glad I did it so that I can cross it off my list. Would I go back if I visit Budapest again? Probably not.

My overall impression of Budapest has improved a little after today. First, I had a great time at the Museum of Applied Arts. Second, I got into a festive mood at City Park. Third, seeing the locals, both young and old, at Szechenyi Baths was not half-bad.
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Old May 9th, 2009, 03:02 PM
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Gotta get my two cents in.
My first impression of Budapest, driving in from Vienna, was quite the opposite. We had been urged to see it by my wife's nephew, who had played there with a visiting orchestra. We were expecting, well, not much; I think my 60+ mind was tinted by 1950 TV shows about "Iron Curtain countries", so my mental picture was in black and white, with the occasional dull shade of gray. So, as we crested a hill leading into the Donau valley, Budapest appeared, in various shades of pastel. Somewhat the same feeling as seeing central San Francisco for the first time.
Since we stayed in a non-touristy hotel in Pest about 6 km from the Parliament Building, we saw a fair bit of the city. Someone told me that in the 1890's there were 10,000 multi-story buildings erected in Budapest. Having been raised in Detroit, urban architecture was familiar to me. What wasn't familiar was the variety of architecture, and what was obviously a successful attempt to make their buildings both interesting and nice to look at, when built. The buildings looked at least 80 years old, no newer, but they weren't decayed as the 1920-era buildings in Detroit were. Yes, Budapest isn't Paris, but then, what is? We totally enjoyed it, and would return in a heartbeat. We're just waiting for the right STIMULUS; hopefully someone in government will see how unfair it is that we have to watch our money, and will give us a grant.
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