Tuesday 5 August 2014

European Adventure: Day Eight - Budapest. Hungary

Because if the late hour we got back the night before we made plans to meet for a late breakfast. Neither group liked the breakfast offerings at their timeshare property so I found as a local hotel that served an extensive buffet. It was pricey for the area (it was a spa hotel) but we had limited options in Heviz and didn't want to wait until Budapest. The breakfast was great - a lot of variety and options to suit everyone - and it fuelled us for another full day in Budapest. The drive in was long but we made a few stops along the way to stretch legs and get drinks. It was almost 1:30 when we reached the city. We again parked at the InterContinental and walked down by the Danube to one of the bus stops. Our plan was to do the yellow bus line since we had managed to complete the red line and nighttime boat cruise the night before. This line looped more around the city bypassing the main attractions which were mostly in the centre of Budapest. Seriously - Budapest is huge! We could have spent a week here and not seen everything.

The first place we got off the bus was at the bottom of Castle Hill. From there we rode the Funicular up to the top where Buda Castle is located. Strangely enough the Royal Palace there today was never occupied by the royal family! Over the past hundreds of years it was a site for castles and palaces with various rulers and royalty living there - but those all were destroyed. The present castle was commissioned by Maria Theresa of Austria as a good will gesture. Over the next hundreds of years it continues to be built and re-modelled and while Royalty did use the castle and stay there it never became a formal residence.  In the past it was used as a nunnery as well as a university and now various museums, galleries, offices, exhibitions and libraries fill the castle walls. 

The view from above 

We walked along the upper and lower parts of castle hill taking photos and enjoying the spectacular views it offered of Budapest. I took a few minutes and sat by a fountain just to take it all in. I was surprised when I saw groups of children climbing all over this statue/fountain that is hundreds of years old like it was a jungle gym. Their parents just sat there ignoring them, while one kid got all the way on top of the head. Not only was it disrespectful to the grounds but crazy dangerous for the kids. Even when the police came and told then to stop the parents did nothing and as soon as the police walked away the kids went right back up. I may not be a parent and I am not one to usually judge but I think that is terrible.

We walked along to the other side of the castle (I think what would have been the main entrance) and Brian, Iva and Ivan tried to get into an exhibit on book burning during Nazi Germany that was showing. Sadly the poster was outdated and it had ended a month prior. We stopped at a small cafe called the Buda Terrace that overlooked the Pest side and gave a great view of the chain bridge. We sat for about an hour having water (it was boiling hot out) and caffeine. There were these amazing cooling fans blowing a misty breeze which made it an excellent place to sit in the hot sun. 

View of Parliament 

We took the Funicular back down and boarded the bus. We had stopped for some gelato but the Nutella flavor I ordered ended up just being a scoop of Nutella. Seriously? People can eat that straight?!? I ended up giving it to dad to mix in his. 

We took the yellow line around past the Parliament building which was massive, stately and slightly over the top. The audio guide told us there were 365 spires on the exterior, it cost enough to build a town for 60,000 people and it's only half used because they now only have one house of parliament. We also passed the University, Margaret Island and the two famous Hungarian Bathes which are open to the public. The tour gave us an excellent guide to the city and the history.

Our final stop we got off at was Central Market Hall which was a large two story building that housed a market of local meats, cheeses, vegetables, pastries, and other goods. We had planned to stop for a light snack there but the options were limited as the main booths only consisted of foods you would take home and use. I did fall in love with a handmade wooden Santa but decided against it because it was a bit pricey. 

We did eat upstairs at a small eatery - I had fried zucchini and everyone else had schnitzel (not exactly the snack we had planned on). It wasn't the greatest food but it was quick and inside the marketplace. After eating we split off into two groups - Dad, Ivan and Iva opted to walk the pedestrian street back and look at more shops and booths whereas Brian and I decided to take the bus back and stop for coffee. Dad, Brian and I were spending our last night right in Budapest at the Marriott so Brian and I knew it was something we could come back to that day along with anything else we wanted to see.

We caught the last bus which dropped us off about 20 minutes from where we parked and Brian and I had a bit of an argument about which way to go. It was hot and we were both tired and worn - plus I was starting to come down with something, so circumstances worked against us. Finally I took the lead and got us back. Maybe his way also would have led there but mine definitely worked. We sat in the bar of the InterContinental and had a drink while we waited for everyone else. They came about 30 minutes later and also ordered some drinks so we spent a little time sitting and relaxing and using the free wifi. So far I have had awesome luck with free wifi in these cities. I may have to pay to use a washroom, but the wifi is free! 

Once leaving I navigated us 30 minutes out of the city and into Szentendre which is an artists area that is recommended to see. Once we were in the city centre (according to the GPS at least) we got a bit lost as there was nothing much to see. It wasn't at all like I was expecting and anything in the GPS attraction list was in Hungarian. Dad opted to turn down a small street at random where we came to some water. It looked like nothing so he drove forward but it ended up being a small creek! The car stalled a few times and Brian and Ivan jumped out to look. The car was so far in that going forward was the best option so he kept pushing forward and finally got through. Of course being the joker Dad is, he took off and left Ivan and Brian there. About 5 minutes later he went back where they were happily stretching their legs and having a cigarette break.

We programmed in a Cajun restaurant I had read about went toward it. Pulling into the area was a strange experience because it looked like some abandoned village. Ivan and Brian made a few jokes but it was super creepy. We parked and walked toward the restaurant and finally found the main town square - with people! I guess this village is more popular during the day as all the artists and musicians weren't out and the museums and shops were all closed, with only a few caf├ęs and restaurants remaining open. We passed a closed Christmas Museum which was sad because that was something I would have loved. There weren't too many people walking outside but there were a few in the restaurants. Dad and Ivan picked one that was family owned (the Cajun one was empty and no one wanted to chance it) and got us a table while the rest of is walked down to the lake. If I am ever back in Budapest I would definitely come back to this town during the day because I think it would be amazing.

Dinner was excellent. Dad and I had chicken that had been cooked on a lava stone (something Dad said he had a lot of in Israel) and it came with tomato and mozzarella. I thought that would be on the chicken but it was actually done as a salad which was better. Everyone else had a chicken stuffed with feta which was remarkable. That's something I am going to try and make when I am back home. 

Our drive back was once again long and late - this time dad put on the audio book of Gone Girl. I had already read it and no one else seemed interested but it kept him awake - and as he said, the entertainment that was supposed to be coming from the back was silent. Eventually the entertainment at the back woke up and after hearing one part of the book made a number of Delaware jokes.. Jokes that would last the rest of the week. 

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