Flying from Athens to Budapest via Ryan Air we really had to watch our packing. The value of the battery operated lb/kilo scale we ordered from Amazon is a must have when traveling via air to multiple locations. Whether you’re like us and pack to the limit to reduce laundry needs or because you like to shop, this gadget is totally worth having so you don’t have to sort and repack at the airport when a bag tips the scale! Ryan Air is known as a low budget airlines and has limited baggage weight allowance to boot. We actually found the airline to be totally satisfactory especially in consideration of the savings in comparison to other airlines on this same route. A complimentary drink was served as well. We did have to be creative with distribution of items between carry ons; personal items and checked bags, however. A word of warning if jumping from city to city using various airlines, they really do have a variety of allowances; check the website and check it again right before you’re ready to travel! The airlines do make changes to their own policy regularly. #reducethestress
Our flight for the seven night stay in Budapest was a late arrival and we got a pretty awesome in air sunset.
need to transfer bus to train had made us decide to book the miniBUD which was an easy, efficient system. We were dropped at Bastion Hotel on the Pest side of the Danube in less than an hour. Note that all airports we experienced in Europe (Rome; Athens; Budapest;Paris) are a serious trek from the city and depending on time, capability to handle your own bags and price point, due diligence ahead of time to figure out your transportation to and from is important. If you need to stick to your budget this can really be an area that cramps your style if you are ill prepared!
Check in was smooth and easy and the clerk gave us a quick rundown on activity, dining and transportation recommendations and offered help whenever we needed. The staff on all shifts at this hotel went out of the way to provide extensive, friendly service. We dropped our bags to our room where we were pleasantly surprised by the luxury of some space especially in the bathroom which had a tub! Concerned about finding a place open for a bite to eat, we were starving, we headed right back out. Just at the end of our quiet little street we found Pointer Pub. Later in the stay we realized this is a local chain with several locations around the city. As was common throughout Europe we found sets/combos/formulas. A combination of starter, entree and dessert or drink amd whatever the specialties of the region and the restaurant chooses at a perceived discount much like fast food chain meal deals but in sit down/full service establishments. On this night, we went ala carte, as we most usually did and started with a Caesar salad with shrimp (steady greens were a challenge for us throughout most of our European travels), Hungarian goulash and Chicken Paprikish, with a local brew. All was tasty, affordable and hit the spot. In Budapest we found credit cards easy to use and they have their own currency, the forint, as well as most businesses accept the Euro. We found it best to go with the Forint when using cash for the friendliest rate. The service here kicked off a window of true attentiveness. There is not a single time we were dissatisfied in this city by the service standards. There was not much life on the streets on a Monday just after midnight so we headed straight back to our very comfortable bed.
Opting out of hotel provided breakfast when offered but not included is the best solution for us. We simply do not get our value. We do not care to eat as soon as we shower for the day but love to start slowly with coffee. This room was equipped with a Lavazza machine and extra cups were ours for the asking…probably because we never indulged in breakfast in the hotel; it was closed by 9am daily and food that we really don’t want to eat yet was just not enough to tempt us even though it was included in this stay and we heard from other guests and staff that it was great. Anyway, long story short, we’re night owls and 9am and food don’t mix for us. However, if you are an early riser and a breakfast eater, the best value in these European stays by far would be found in these inclusive room deals.
Our first full day in the city found us at a coffee shop off the square for a light bite to start our exploring and just one more coffee at a spot called Lipsott Pekseg. Again, a language that does things it’s own way (don’t try to use a computer keyboard easily here) with dots and swooshes above some letters creating different sounds. I certainly did not grasp it on this first exposure! The coffee, pastry and sandwich were certainly good though!
With the luxury of seven days in this city we chose to take this first day to simply orient ourselves, get a feel for the people, places and things and stumble across whatever was in our path. If someone would pay me to do this rambling, I would do it every day until I exhausted the possibilities in one locale and then I’d move on to the next and be happy as a clam. I am so grateful for my good health, my strong muscles and bones, good shoes and all the other factors that allowed me to follow this dream so many times in this Spring Fling! On this day, we never consulted a map or sought out specific things or even inquired names when we spotted something that had to be a landmark. We simply took them in for the beauty we saw in them. It was a magical day. Churches, buildings, statues, roadways, parks, bridges, eateries, bars, waterways, shops, transportation modes, indoor markets, parks, we drank it all in. We even found a Tropicana Casino, a sister casino to where we first met when we both worked at the Trop in Vegas. A fact to note is if this is a stop you want to make you need your passport to get in, no other identification is accepted. As a precautionary measure we leave our passports in the room safe unless we know we need them. Ironically enough, even though I carried our passports almost daily after that we never got back by to see the inside of this casino. Yes indeed, an awesome excuse to return 😉
We stopped for “linner” at a bar called BB’z. A kitschy place with a cool vibe. On the tables was both a dog and a people menu and cool hand signals painted on the walls provided the decor. The staff wore shirts with the restaurant motto “It’s cool to be nice.” And nice they were! We ordered a Chicken Parmesan plate and a lightly grilled vegetable crudité and bread crisps with a variety of dipping sauces as well as specialty cocktails which were fresh and crisp and cooled us down from the walk in the 80 degree sunshine. Every bite was delectable! Once again the service was top notch!
About eleven, we felt the need for a little something to top off our earlier shared items so we headed out again and went to a spot that welcomed us with its dark motif. A pizza to share is what we decided on at a great spot I cannot remember the name of! I try to take pictures of menu covers as a resource but somehow this one escaped me. The pizza, simply called the specialty of the house was possibly the best we ate in Europe. I was game to try a couple drinks that had been explained to us as the “drinks of the country”. I inquired if they were meant only for after dinner and the waiter laughed and explained, “After dinner, before dinner, with dinner even maybe for breakfast, we drink all the time.” Alrighty then one Palinka (made from distilled fruits) and one Unicum (think Jaegermeister). A variety of flavors and strengths of the Palinka were available, we chose wild cherry as recommended by the waiter. Those items and a local beer to share and our night was complete. Again, all extremely tasty and great service! We went back to the hotel under the growing three quarter moon, once again marveling at what there was to explore and finalizing our plan for the next day.
Walking was again part of our agenda so we started with a stop at Prima Pek Bakery a short distance from our hotel and enjoyed cappuccino, 1 with an extra shot; 1 chicken sandwich and 1 poppy seed streusel for a whopping $3.69 U.S. We found everything to be affordable here in Pest. We never really actually ate on the Buda side. We were headed for the Buda Castle and its outlying buildings that rose above the river on the Buda side. We passed beautiful sculptures on our way to the Chain Bridge to cross to the opposite side of the Danube. We decided against the funicular and opted for the shuttle because the steps were feeling intimidating after our extensive walking the day before. The beauty of the village at the top of the hill was impressive. The Mathias Church sat perched gloriously on the edge as did the Fisherman’s Bastion. A site that caught our eye was the Labyrinth of Dracula. The imprisonment of Vlad the Impaler lasted fourteen years in the caverns under these streets and it was open to the public. We were in. These caverns were damp and dark and made chills run up our spine. Whether it was fear of the truth of the legendary vampire, the cold and dampness of the space or a portion of the self guided tour that took us through total darkness where our only guide was a rope strung along the wall, the place spooked us out! There was a holding type cell in part of the cavern that literally was not tall enough for my honey to stand and the shackles on the wall and the iron door were enough to make us question how anyone could maintain their sanity in such a place. There were not many other visitors, maybe a dozen or so in the six miles of the underground prison, making for an even scarier experience. By the time we took in the wax figure depictions of the people and the times and read the narratives on the wall and wandered the pathways said to be the prison of this fabled vampire and climbed back up to the sunlight we felt quite shaken. We went to one of the outdoor restaurant spaces for a fresh squeezed lemonade packed with orange, lemon and lime slices, refreshing! We inspected the exteriors of the remaining buildings and peaked into a few of the shops but skipped the museum inside the castle. If for no other reason than the views of both of these sides of the city, a trip to this Hill is certainly worthwhile! We caught the shuttle back to the base and made our way to cross the Liberty Bridge.
Salon care for my hair had been feeling like a necessity since about the time we boarded the ship so with some time before we would be ready for dinner I popped into a shop just across from the Central Market Hall once we got across the bridge. Angela my stylist was friendly and the condition/cut/style was less than $20 American. We headed back to the hotel after to freshen up, we were starving!
Rostelyos was our selection for dinner on this evening. We sat outside and once again were provided first rate care. We enjoyed a Hungarian wine with Duck breast and Wiener schnitzel. We started with a chicken soup for my honey and tomato soup for me and for desert we had a delectable Sacher torte.
We were off to check out a couple of the Ruins pubs after and enjoyed our “clubbing” experience. These spots are all the rage in Budapest, quite cool, located in abandoned buildings and no longer used parking lots and decorated either not at all or with eclectic vintage finds. And they’re cheap! We stayed out way too late but had good conversations and great fun.
Gellért Baths was the perfect answer after a late night on the town and the package my planner arranged through Expedia for our next day was supreme. It included three hours in a private bath followed by a couples relaxation massage followed by as much time as we wanted in the public baths before our scheduled dinner cruise on the Danube! We were checked in efficiently by the front desk staff and provided an overview of our day and then guided to our private bath. Such a mild word for space larger than any room we had in Europe! It included a beautiful sunken tub that we could fill with the miracle waters at our whim, separate shower and toilet stalls. An 84 degree Fahrenheit sauna, a day bed and a living room with settee and a pair of arm chairs and to top it off a bottle of champagne and fresh fruit. Heaven! We luxuriated in our space until it was time for our massages. One hour of care provided by Vivien and Koppeny was simply devine. After a refreshing shower we made our way to the public bath area. I have pictures of the entry and the private area but none from the public baths but trust me the tile work and adornments were exquisite and even taking in the design would be worth the entry fee.
After soaking for another hour or so hopping from pool to pool and enjoying the varying water temperatures it was time to get dressed and head to the meeting point for the dinner cruise. We were seated at a table with three other couples and offered wine or cocktails. Soon, we set sail to enjoy a buffet dinner, strolling musicians and the sites rolling by. This ended up being the only view we got of the Parliament building and many conversations we had with the locals lead me to believe that both it and the Citadella which we also saw from a distance are probably worth our next trip back 😉 We were exhausted by the time we pulled back up to the dock but enjoyed a leisurely stroll back in the drizzly rain that had started while we were on board.
Excessive relaxation and clocking lots of miles by foot convinced us to catch a few landmarks we were missing by taking advantage of the hop on hop off to kick off our last days in Pest. We chose the three day option and could use bus or boat. It really was an awesome way to learn more of the history of the city and see and identify some sites we might not have been able to otherwise. The place that we decided to hop off on this day was the House of Terror. This museum on Andrássy Avenue pays tribute to those who lost their lives during the oppression and torture of the Jews in this very building. This was a totally worthwhile stop but daunting without a doubt. It’s hard to absorb man’s inhumanity to man. After, we were shaken a bit so we decided to walk instead of hop back on. We walked taking in more of the city until we decided it was time for some dinner. We found a spot with a rear garden area with outdoor seating and enjoyed more traditional Hungarian fare. We called it a night after enjoying a walk under the moon light.
The following day we lazed around our room and then decided to check out the Great Market Hall. It is a major market for locals and tourists alike selling fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, cheeses on the main floor with souvenirs and hand made goods of the country on the second level. We walked down the street a bit after and found a place with great looking burgers and decided to have one. This country is proud of their beef and advertise “famous grey cattle” on many menus.
Heading back to the hotel I could feel my excitement. We showered and dressed for our evening at the ballet. I was sadly disappointed to find out when we purchased our tickets that the Hungarian State Opera House was undergoing a remodel but the show must go on so they were utilizing the Erkel Theatre for this performances of A Streetcar Named Desire. We had front row seats and the performance was outstanding. I later heard my husband tell the story that when the ballerina pounced on the bed that was in front of our seats you could actually feel the breeze of her action. Truly close enough to reach out and touch. This was opening night for this performance which was excellent and the crowd cheered for several rounds of bowing by the cast
Saturday night, the Rudas Baths do a late night opening from 10pm-4am and so we had dropped our swim attire in my bag and headed to partake of more healing waters following the show. It was a beautiful evening and this location had a roof bath, as we sat there the moon perched perfectly in the hands of the statue of “Sissy” sitting atop Gellért Hill. Because we were in the water I had no phone. I surely wish you could climb inside my memory and see the picture. It was simply beautiful. Here she is later on our walk home though after the moon had already moved on its way. The late night walk home was magnificent as well.
Sunday arrived way faster than we wanted. It was already our last day in this beautiful city. We rode the hop on hop off for one more round and went on the line that included Hero’s Square. This dedication to the trials and tribulations on the steps to freedom for the Hungarian people and it’s dedications to labor, war, peace, art and science was worthwhile as was the park area surrounding it.
Our grand plan was to catch the boat part of the hop on hop off to carry us further down the river than we had yet been. Ugly Kid Joe, live in concert at the Barba Negra Track would be our destination and our finale in Budapest. Live music is one of our favorite things and although this is not a band we were totally familiar with it was a good enough excuse for us to take in a live show at an outdoor venue in a foreign country! Sadly, we did not realize that the last sailing of this boat was at 5:30 pm. We barely missed it, but indeed we did, so we decided to make our way there on foot. We enjoyed the opportunity to take in more of the Buda side after we crossed the Danube via the Chain Bridge. We had ice cream in a beautiful park on the way that was hosting the Hungarian Open. The venue was located under the Racoczi Bridge and offered seating on a small grassy embankment or standing with beer and food sales. Beers were a $1.50 American. As we have found throughout our travels, unlike sport, concert or special event venues in the US, other countries that we have visited just simply do not price gouge at events. The music was actually great and we had fun partaking of it with our fellow Hungarian attendees, seeing their enjoyment habits very similar to ours. Over and over in our travels our theory, “people are really good, people are just people, regardless of their origin”, proves true.
Sadly the following morning we packed up our bags and headed to the airport. It didn’t take long and the sorrow changed to excitement. After all, Easyjet airlines was carrying us to Paris, France!