Budapest

Budapest

Budapest is a city of stark contrasts– a beautiful city center aside very old weathered neighborhoods. The current city is three old cities that have grown together. Buda is situated on the hilly side of the Danube, opposite of very flat commercial Pest. The third, Óbuda is the site of the ancient roman settlement, Aquincum.

Modern, post-soviet Budapest (1991–present) is in the midst of a high-pace revitalization. The areas closest to the river are all rebuilt.   As of right now, there remain many visible markers from the past.  On one stretch are 150-year old mansions (some are currently undergoing restoration) dating from the Austro-Hungarian empire. Not far away you can still find buildings with bullet holes from the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

In ways more apparent than in other European cities, the sidewalks are littered; the homeless sleep in doorways; and there are tell-tale signs that some of the buildings are aching for repair– such as a sign alerting pedestrians to falling rock near Keleti train station.

We enjoyed the city and the mix of sights!

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Király utca

Király utca connected the square where we stayed to the sights, so we seemed to walk this street a lot. Bars and restaurants are densely located within the area.

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Astoria + Katona József utca

We stopped at Bomo Art, A handmade paper store in the Astoria neighborhood. That morning we had trekked across town to Bookstation, where they sell new and used English language books.  The book seller pointed us toward a section of Hungarian writers: Sándor Kányádi is a Hungarian poet, —- the other is a book of short stories, many involving food, written by Gyula Krúdy set in Budapest in the 1900’s.

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 Antiques at Falk Miksa utca

We detoured along Falk Miksa utca, a street lined with Hungarian antique shops.
The trinkets and textiles were seen at Anna Antikvitás.
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Hungarian Parliament

A few monuments near Országház, the Hungarian Parliament—–

The white wave sculpture lists the bracelet numbers of Hungarians who died in concentration camps—-a unique piece of public art and beautiful commemoration. The plaque near the Shoes on the Danube Bank reads “In Memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross Militiamen in 1944-45” .

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Szent Istiván Bazilika

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Sunday morning at Szchéneyi Baths budapestszc3txtWhen the Romans first settled Budapest they discovered underground thermal springs and created the first thermal bath in the area. We visited Széchenyi fürdő  on Sunday morning, it was cool– about 55° and rainy. When we walked in we could see the steam rising from the outdoor bath. Inside, are beautiful rooms with steaming baths, saunas and hot steam rooms – and even cold pools to refresh! After going in and out of all of those different temperature pools I felt so clear and rejuvenated. Many people stay up to 3 hours!
We didn’t notice the smell of chlorine; Afterwards we spotted a sign that chemicals are not used to treat the water. The water is boiling when it leaves the thermal spring and is cooled at various temperatures. The pools are intended to be naturally healing. Yes, it really is a bath!

They suggest a hot soapy shower before and after.  The hot springs are the reason Budapest was settled by the Romans and the spas are a must see! We knew in advance that the baths were among the few places open in Budapest on Sundays. They are also open through the winter.

 

Várhegy, Castle Hill
Our last night in Budapest, we walked across Szecheny Chain bridge, to Várhegy, Castle Hill.  Buda is considered quiet and residential compared to Pest. It is the site of the royal palace and offices of the Hungarian president. You might have seen Budapest and didn’t know it– It is in the Katy Perry Firework video. It was shot in Budapest and the dance scene is in the courtyard of the Buda Castle.

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Language

We didn’t know just how much Hungarian we would need to find our way around. It turned out that the city was easy to navigate as an english speaker. The Hungarians were encountered were impressively multilingual. The Hungarians we interacted with (such as our Airbnb host) spoke perfect conversational english.

One thing that we found interesting, related to language— is that Hungarian is similar to Finnish. The languages are Uralic, derived from the ancestral proximity to the Ural Mountains.  Many older Hungarians speak German, and the younger crowd speaks english. I still tried to learn a few new words on the train,  and the numbers 1-10.  

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Our trip to Budapest greatly intrigued us for future visits to other Eastern European cities. It will be a complete (and welcome) surprise if we are ever back in Budapest, and we greatly enjoyed the city.   The train from Budapest was nine-hours to Würzburg. It was a long train ride, with one brief transfer at St Pölten, Austria. The weekend was a fun change of pace for us.

You can read about our Airbnb apartment in Budapest  here.

 

Links

We booked tickets the day after Easter, thanks to this must read article! My European Ritual / NYT.com

More photos and an overview of Széchenyi Baths

A good (and humorous) YouTube video tour by a likable American tourist

A top music hit in Germany in Austria (On the radio every five minutes) on Bayern 3–
this song by George Ezra – Budapest Music Video

Katy Perry’s Firework Music Video

 

 

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Budapest II

We had fun in the neighborhood where we stayed in the city. Budapest is divided into 23 districts.  We booked an apartment for the weekend using Airbnb. The website allows travelers to search for a private rental and book online. We have found some great, unique accommodations. Like this apartment in Budapest!

We stayed in District VI: A neighborhood outside of the center, but not far from the main sights in District V and within walking distance of Budapest Keleti train station.

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We have been relying on TripAdvisor and our travel guide for recommendations, and it has given us plenty of good, established places. When our host, a local, offered us a few of his favorite restaurants, we were ecstatic.  We have been missing our usual standby, Citypages, the Twin Cities weekly entertainment newspaper.

At the time we traveled to Budapest, the exchange was 221 Forint = 1 USD. 36 hours of food (and alcohol) in Budapest ran us about 28,000Ft (~125$USD). Which was significantly more favorable than the euro.

 

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We went to a couple places in trendy Gozsdu Udvar which was recommended by our host: Budapest Spiler and Kolor. 

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One of our favorite places was Szimpla Kert, a “ruin” bar, is in a dilapidated apartment building in what was once within the walled jewish ghetto of Budapest.  There are several bars in the area that follow this counter-model, but Szimpla Kert is easily the most well-known.  It is a combination bar, coffeeshop, music venue and cinema. And it is sort of a retro-funhouse filled with soviet era miscellany. One room felt like a 60’s beauty salon, another with old tv’s playing 8-bit 80’s video games. Throughout the venue were reel-to-reels with old films spliced together. (A guy planting a tree, a tour of Prague in the 70’s, folk dancers).  We had A LOT of fun at this bar—  It is huge, and felt pretty much like it sounds: walking through a dilapidated stone building where every room is a quirky new lounge.

 

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Sunday- after our deep soak at Széchenyi baths.  I had been looking for a place to try Lángos, Hungarian street food:  A deep-fried dough topped with cheese and sour cream.

 

 

The Markets
Budapest is known for Nagycsarnok ” Great Market Hall” with seemingly endless stalls of produce, pastry, cheeses and meats on the ground floor.  Above are Hungarian trinkets and souvenirs, and cooked food.

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The neighborhood we stayed in had a small market  which felt a lot more improvisational than the Great Market, and more true to where Budapest locals actually shop.  We had eyed a sketchy building across the square, which we thought was abandoned.  The morning we left I went out early to see more of the neighborhood and discovered it was a weekday market!

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Links

Make Langós
Make Somlói