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Capers in Budapest

In Travels on February 12, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Yes, yes, I know I’m a bad blogger. I had such high hopes about blogging frequently, and then life just swept me up and carried me away. Our trip to Budapest is now three weeks past, and we’ve already moved to Venice. Nevertheless, this post, as promised, is about our wonderful trip to Budapest. I’ll fill you in on Venice in an upcoming post!

Our  trip to Budapest was great: the weather was nice (for January) and the city gorgeous. We drove in from Trieste (it was about a five and a half hour drive–not too bad) and arrived on Saturday afternoon. We checked into our hotel, which was a steal–4 stars for only 40€/night for 2 people, with breakfast included–I guess that’s what you get when you travel north into the cold in the heart of January! Then we spent the afternoon strolling the castle district, old town, and the extensive labyrinths system under the castle. (This was highly recommended by my parents, and the best part was that they turned off the lights and we strolled the catacombs with only one lantern between the two of us.) Our nice dinner out  was complicated only slightly by the fact that the credit card machine “didn’t work.” Unsurprisingly, it did work after I put my foot down and threatened not to tip… (the restaurant just wanted to earn cash, and the machine “didn’t work” because it wasn’t plugged into the telephone!)

The Budapest castle at night

The real highlight of the day, however, was going to the thermal baths in the evening. The Rudas baths open from 10 PM to 4 AM on the weekends, so we headed over after dinner, around 11 PM. This was my first experience at a thermal bath, and it was a great way to start our vacation with some relaxation. These baths were small (in comparison to what we saw on Monday–see below), but had various warm thermal pools at different temperatures, saunas, steam rooms, etc. We spent about two hours just relaxing and enjoying.

The Budapest Parliament as seen from across the river

Saturday was packed. We were lucky enough to meet up with Albert’s friend Peter, who spent the day with us. We visited the Parliament (the splendidly gorgeous building in the picture above), the Jewish synagogue and museum (I laughed when they brought us into the synagogue and asked us which language we wanted the tour in–they had 8 or 10 different language groups set up in different places in the pews), and the Basilica (where we accidentally took a tour of the scenic overview, which was apparently closed for winter–hey, it wasn’t our fault they didn’t lock any of the doors!). We had a nice lunch with Peter–I ate a traditional garlic soup which was served in an edible bread bowl (pic below)–before visiting a typical Budapest café, where I had quite the luxuriant coffee (you can see the layers of coffee, foam, and cinnamon syrup in the picture below, with Peter’s cake just peeking through in the background). To cap off the afternoon, we visited Heroes Square, which I didn’t find all that impressive–it was a big square with some statues in it. Perhaps the cold detracted from the potential to be inspired.

Traditional Hungarian garlic soup served in an edible bread bowl

Cinnamon caffe latte

The evening was also quite interesting. After bidding Peter farewell, we met up with a friend of one of my dad’s friends, Guszti, who we had met in Croatia with my parents a few months earlier. Guszti and his wife have a gorgeous home in the hills on the Pest side of Budapest (Budapest used to be two cities, Buda and Pest; the river divides them), and believe it or not, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt apparently rented out their home for a few months when filming a recent movie in Budapest. Yes, for real. We enjoyed dinner with Guszti and his wife Kristina, accompanied by a few delicious bottles of wine and an interesting multilingual conversation in English, some German, some Hungarian (we mostly could figure it out, in context…), and some gestures. It was a very enjoyable evening.

Monday was our last day in town, and we decided to spend it at the Szechenyi baths. They were quite different from their smaller companion we had visited on Saturday night. Located in the city park, these baths are huge and gorgeous. They had more different pools than we could count–literally, we kept discovering new rooms, new saunas, new steamrooms, pools at various temperatures, you name it. The real highlight, though, was the outdoor pools. Imagine this: in the morning, as we arrived at the baths, it was still snowing. We change into our swimsuits and soon after end up in the outside pools. Kept at temperatures of 28 and 30 degrees (Celsius!), these were warm and welcoming; they had bubbles like jacuzzis and numerous spouts of water; one even had a whirlpool section with a current. You settled in as the steam drifted over your head, off the water and into the cool air. We even spent an hour playing chess in the pool–they had about 5 different floating chess boards in the water. This was a blast–until a Hungarian man looked at us and said “finished” and cleared away the pieces of our game before we had actually finished. Oh well. At least neither one of us had to lose.

Albert took some beautiful pictures of the baths:

Whirlpool and jacuzzi at the Szechenyi bath

Steam rising off the water at one of the 3 Szechenyi outdoor pools

Incredible, isn't it?

After a quick but good lunch, it was time to head back to Trieste, our first Budapest experience over, but well enjoyed. Perhaps we’ll go back in the summer!

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