April 15th – April 18th 2012
Sure, I’m always down to go a country where you kiss on the cheek as you arrive or leave and your greeting is… well, let’s just say it’s sort of like the word ‘hussy’ but with a ‘p’ instead of an ‘h’. Figure it out? Don’t quote me on that spelling, but that’s what the salutation sounds like. So should you ever pass through Budapest and someone says that to you, don’t slap them. Just say it back with a cheek kiss-cheek kiss and keep the convo going.
It was up to Castle Hill when we crossed over the Chain Bridge to Buda. There were stalls with little Hungarian dolls and paprika hanging in bright red bunches. After stopping for photo ops (of course) with the view of Pest behind us, we headed in to see the Matthias Church. The church’s outer walls seemed cold and unwelcoming, perhaps because it was a drab cement colour as if unpainted and I noticed that the actual structures were not as detailed or intricate as others I’ve seen.
The roof, however, was the complete opposite with it’s diamond patterned tiles in bright colours – it stood out against the gray sky.
Fisherman’s Bastion wrapped around the church and the view of the Danube and the whole city would have only been better if it were a sunny day.
Over on the Pest (‘pe-scht’) side, we drove up historical Andrassy Ut passing impressive homes, luxury boutique shops and places for fine dining. At the end of the avenue, we stopped to see the historical Heroes Square (Hősök tere), which is nestled between art museums on either side with the City Park just behind and the Szechenyi Thermal Baths not far away. These are credited with being the largest baths in Europe, so I’m a little disappointed that I opted out of going.
We toured the Parliament Building and that was truly impressive. It felt a lot like a castle to me (more than the other actual castles I’d been to) because it seemed as if everything inside was shiny and golden. There were crown jewels locked away in a glass case in a large centre hall, protected by the constant watch of surrounding guards. The building exterior certainly wasn’t as bright as inside, and the cloudy skies made it seem a bit gloomier than perhaps it really was. But the grounds were well kept with colourful flowers everywhere that made it seem more spring like despite it being particularly cold that day.
Of course, we couldn’t NOT sample the street fare. We wound up in the square in front of St Stephen’s Basilica and there was a gentleman selling flatbread/tortilla wraps that were so good. I may have to attempt to recreate it myself, with some tortillas, proscuitto and arugula. There was some kind of cheese, mozz maybe? And sour cream? Or cream cheese? Clearly it’s sounding like my experimenting may not result in any kind of successful Hungarian street food replication. However , my food-A.D.D kicked in when I walked into the little chocolate shoppe next to the tortilla cart. We were in Budapest, but all I have to say is warm Belgian waffles + pistachio gelato = heaven.
I guess I ought to also mention that we went into St. Stephen’s. Sadly, it’s getting harder to describe each church/dome/cathedral/basilica aptly enough to give each it’s due credit. It’s easier to say I wish you could just see it all for yourselves to truly understand the grandeur of these buildings. Old architecture, golden accents, gothic features, stained glass windows, magnificent views and ridiculous detail in everything. This one in particular is the home to the right hand of King Saint Stephen, which has apparently done it’s fair share of travelling sans the rest of the body over a number of years (to say the least).
There was no slacking on the night life here in our last city together. I’m pretty sure there were shots of Bacardi 151 in the mix somewhere, some night at a little hole-in-the-wall bar that was dark and eclectic with it’s random pieces of furniture, cars and hanging bicycles for decor under an open ceiling. We wrapped up the Hungarian capital with pizza for dinner on Raday Ut and headed out for one last club night – the all-nighter that was a blur of dancing and drinks. Then the next morning felt like the last day on an episode of the Real World – everyone in the hotel lobby, tired and hung over, waiting for cabs to the airport to take us back to our own parts of the world. I’m glad I had that day to see everyone off and an extra night to recover. Worst part of vacay, but it was (as I knew it would be) an amazing two weeks with the best group of people yet. 🙂