Saturday, July 09, 2005

Six days in Budapest

Day One - We fly to Budapest. We knew it was going to be good when Malev, Hungary's national airline, served real food on the 90 minute flight from Pristina. The hotel was absolute luxury and after 7 weeks in the Balkans your appreciation of things like hot showers, potable water and Frette sheets is heightened. I could have spent six days just in the room! It was heaven coming "home" every evening to a soft bed, hot bath and fresh ice in the bucket.

Day Two - We explore the Buda Hills Castle District. We took the furnicular (what we called an incline in Pittsburgh) up to the top of the Hill which provided us with a beautiful view of the city. The Castle District is unique because there are no castles, but lots of beautiful gardens, museums, churches and other fascinating architecture. It also has the Budapest Labyrinth, which runs along the old tunnels beneath the Hill. It's part history, part Disney, part tongue-in-cheek spoof. We had ice creams (for D) and coffees at a lovely cafe at the top of the hill. In the evening, we walked over to St. Stephen's Basilica, which was just a few blocks from the hotel. There was a choir singing inside and the setting sun lit up the building. It was so moving I actually cried a bit.

Day Three - We see the City Park. We woke up terrifically late today, probably because of the ultra-comfortable hotel room. Even D slept until almost 9 in her little rollaway bed. After we got moving, we had breakfast at Gerbaud's - mine included brioche and a banana "omlette" which was actually sliced bananas atop a decadent whipped mousse atop a shortbread biscuit. Yumm. We then took the metro out to Hero's Square and the City Park and walked for miles through the park and the different neighborhoods. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped by the Farmer's Market, which is housed in this fantastic old building. As with all the Farmer's Markets over here, the wares ran the gamut from produce to sausage to meat to folk art and other goods. The building was breathtaking though, as is so much of the architecture in Budapest.

Day Four - We visit M's old school. Wednesday, after a quick lunch for D at the local McDonalds, we took the Blue line metro (as D calls it, the "quiet one") out to see M's old school. It is in a working class neighborhood outside of the city. This is where M taught English to 4 - 8 graders back in the mid-90s. Since it was summer holidays no one was around, but it was neat to see where he worked. We had lunch in the metro stations at one of the street food vendors. Pogasca are popover-type muffins with either cheese or ham or plain and they are cheap, filling and delicious. I ate about a dozen as we walked around the city. The rest of the day we spent souvenir-hunting and then had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. I had Shrimp Scampi, my first real shellfish in seven weeks. Note: I did have prawns in Slovenia, but they were whole prawns, complete with shells, claws, eye-stalks and innards, and they were a lot of work to eat and so I tend to think of them as something other than shellfish.

Day Five - We go swimming. On Thursday we spent the day at the Szechenyi furdo (thermal baths). The pools are located in the main City Park, in their own beautiful baroque building. We had quite an adventure just getting in. After buying the tickets, D & I were herded down to the ancient, decrepit locker rooms. It was like an 80-year-old school locker room, complete with 80-year-old naked ladies dressing and drying. We were completely freaked. When we finally emerged on the pool deck, M told us we had actually paid for a private family cabin - sort of like a cabana - in the updated, clean and remodeled part of the locker rooms. Thank goodness for someone who understands the language! Anyway, the rest of the day was fabulous and D really enjoyed the hot and cold pools, playing in the thermal springs and the "wave pool," which was actually a large circular current which spun you around and around a small pool. It was an amazing day and really made us feel part of the city. We had dinner at Goa, which serves great fresh, modern Hungarian, Continental and Asian food. It was odd to see stir-fried shrimp and bok choy on the same menu as Chicken Paprikas, but somehow it worked. I had a starter of grilled Cyprus cheese and blood oranges, then followed it up with papardelle (my new favorite noodle) with beef tenderloin and mushrooms. Mmm.

Day Six - We celebrate D's birthday. We had arranged for the hotel to bring up a birthday muffin for D, complete with candle for a birthday surprise. M took some great video of us singing Happy Birthday and then her blowing out the candle (I helped a bit). I hope she remembers some of this trip, but if not she'll enjoy looking back at the video.

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