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Report 1247: A Not-So-Slow First Trip to Italy and Budapest

By andasamo from Nova Scotia, Canada, Spring 2006

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Page 3 of 14: On to Budapest - And Now We Are Three!

photo by Andasamo

Mom and I in front of Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park

Up early the next morning to catch our flight to Budapest and meet up with L. We had a bit of trouble sorting out which bus to take to the airport – there are SO many buses at Piazzale Roma and we couldn’t seem to figure out which was which. Eventually though we made it to the airport in time to have breakfast before boarding our plane to Budapest. Our flight was delayed for an hour or so, so we missed hooking up with L at the Budapest airport (she was arriving from Halifax around the same time as our scheduled arrival from Venice.) L’s limo driver (arranged by the conference folks) was not able to wait, so she had to go along to the hotel before we arrived.

Mom and I gamely decided to take a combination of bus and the Metro into the city. Thank heavens for the kindness of strangers! The experience was much more disorienting than we anticipated since we are not very familiar with public transportation, nor had we ever ridden a subway. It didn’t stress us overly, but we couldn’t sort out where to get off the subway (there was an announcement at each stop, but we couldn’t match up the sound with the place names written above the door ... tough language, that Magyar!) An extremely kind girl (late teens or early 20’s) helped us out though, and even went so far as to walk us right to the door of the hotel. She didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Magyar, so all we could do was hope that our gestures and effusive “thank-yous” were understood. (She was gone before we could find someone at the hotel to thank her.)

We stayed at the Radisson SAS Beke (booked for L’s conference), which is quite grand and centrally located downtown. We had a boisterous reunion with L, and three of us set out for a walk as Mom and I recounted our Venice adventure. A light rain (turning to snow) fell upon us as we walked along the Danube but no matter, we were in Budapest and undaunted by the weather! The Parliament Building was massive and beautiful with snowflakes softly falling across the beams spreading out from the lights.

Growing ever hungrier, we paused in front of a place called Oroszalanos Kut Etterem-Gerbeaud Haz to peruse the menu. We peeked in the window and saw a very upscale decor. Since we were by then very bedraggled from the rain, plus wearing only jeans, we were about to turn away and look for a less formal place, when one of the waiters came to the door and politely asked if we wished to have dinner. We explained that we thought we were under-dressed plus dripping wet, but he waved our worries aside and escorted us in. This was THE most gracious and elegant dining experience I have ever encountered in my life (Mom and L felt the same). Our waiter was professional and very attentive, and at the same time completely unobtrusive. And the food – oh my, what a delicious feast! Aperitif, Hungarian Goulash soup, pork medallions with goat cheese, stuffed potatoes, wine, a sampling of traditional cakes, dessert wine ...

We left the restaurant completely satisfied and walked back to the hotel. We strolled along Andrassy Avenue, stopping to shake our heads at a boldly coloured building looking incredibly out of place amid the other gorgeous light stone buildings on this stately avenue. As we stared, the building changed colour – we thought, what is going on here? We were puzzled until at last we realized it was not paint at all. A laser light was being projected onto the building from the Opera House across the street, with the patterns and colours changing every minute or so. It was a neat display.

Over the next couple days, we explored St. Stephen’s Basilica (amazing how the natural light shines in), Matyas church, Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, City Park and Heroes Square. We were also lucky enough to see a Ballet Gala at the opulent State Opera House. The Basilica contains the “holy right relic,” or mummified right hand of St. Stephen, which can be lit up by dropping a coin into a box, as the guard enthusiastically points out. The stained glass windows were my favourite part, though. The walk across the Chain Bridge was thrilling, as was riding the funicular up the hill to see the Buda Castle. Matyas church felt so old, which it is, and was amazing both by day and night. Fisherman’s Bastion, on the other hand, is quite new, with spectacular sweeping views of the Danube. The Danube is gorgeous in the sunlight, and perhaps more so at night with the lights blazing from the bridges, the Parliament Building, St. Stephen’s and all the grand hotels.

I must say that there is quite a contrast between the beautiful tourist areas of Budapest, such as Andrassy Avenue and the Buda Castle district, and the loud, harsh, colourful and seamy Metro stations. I guess it that contrast exists in all cities, but I noticed it more here, perhaps because it was my first encounter with the underground.

I had bought advance tickets to a Ballet Gala at the Hungarian State Opera House. It was our first visit to a grand opera house and we were rendered speechless by the opulence and grandeur! What an incredibly magnificent building. The performance itself was also fabulous and we left absolutely giddy with delight.

While out exploring, we bought some lovely silver jewelry (really low prices), plus t-shirts all around. (I know, t-shirts are pretty tacky souvenirs, but my Budapest shirt is a major conversation starter – everyone wants to know if I’ve really been there and what was it like!) Everywhere the food was absolutely fabulous and very rich (sour cream sauces, goat cheese, goulash, chicken stew, yummy pastries); we even had a terrific pizza for lunch on our last day (L wasn’t up for more Eastern European cuisine so fortunately we happened upon a great little pizza and beer joint called the Korona Cafe.) All in all, Budapest is a beautiful city and I am thankful for the opportunity to visit.

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