Monday, February 4, 2013

Head East Young Man!

We took the night train east from Munich, groggily arriving in Vienna (which certainly looked cool) around 5 AM and then Budapest, Hungary around 8:30 AM. Unfortunately, the day we left Munich was also the first day of summer vacation for German kids, so there was nary a bed to be had on the train and we "slept" upright in a passenger car, where were awoken every hour for ticket checks.

Luckily, after arriving in the somewhat grimy part of town, Budapest didn't disappoint for long. The view from our hotel room balcony:

Our first of two nights (and three days) in Budapest, we stayed at Lanchid 19, a trendy (or hideous depending on your perspective) designer hotel on the banks of the Danube. Budapest was actually two cities until the late 1800's, Buda on the north side of the river and Pest on the south, which were simply combined into Budapest. Our hotel was on the older, fortress-like side of the Danube in Buda, home to the old(er) city. After dropping our stuff we went in search of lunch and soon found an awesome locavore three-course lunch with wine for a steal: 4,770 forints! At 217 Hungarian forints to the dollar, it was one of the best deals on the trip. Unfortunately, rich Hungarian food, two hours of sleep, and 95 degree heat soon put us in a stupor and we stumbled through scenic old town in a haze. See Jenny succumbing to the heat here:

Luckily, a quick nap put us back in the mood for a walk around the old city, including the Matthias Church, 

the funicular railway,

the Lanchid Bridge, known as the Chain Bridge (and our hotel's namesake),

and the "Hospital in the Rock," a hospital dug into the Buda hill that served allied soldiers during the siege of the city in World War II, which appealed to my cave-philic personality.

Walking back down the Buda hill, we were pleased to see that Hungarian art has a sense of humor:

After grabbing bread, cheese, fruit, and wine for a picnic dinner on the Danube we got our first view of the Hungarian Parliament, a Death Star of a building, across the river in Pest. Magnificent indeed:

After dinner, we retreated to the hotel, where, being the party animals that we are, Jenny and I crashed by 9 PM.

Day 2 started with a hotel migration- with so many awesome (and relatively cheap) hotels in Budapest, Jenny and I couldn't merely stay in one place, so we packed up our stuff and rode the bus across the river to the Brody House in Pest. On our bus ride, we stopped in the middle of the road and waited for nearly ten minutes, when a tank suddenly came driving across the bridge forcing cars to swerve out of the way!!! I saw the camera about five seconds later and realized they were filming an action movie (British I think). Whew.

After our surprise delay on the bridge, we arrived at another one of the trip's highlights, the Brody House, a quirky hotel next to the Hungarian National Museum on the south side of the Danube. Here's a shot of the lobby,

and our door-themed room. A steal for $50!

Our first stop on the Pest side of the river was the Dohany Street Synagogue, an awe-inspiring Synagogue built in the 1850's in the Moorish Revival ( style. The Synagogue also has a Jewish cemetery and this beautiful monument to the 400,000 Hungarian Jews killed by the Nazis, a Jewish population that has never recovered in Hungary.

Eager to get our fill of religion for the day, our next stop was St. Stephen's Basilica, where we did the American thing, and climbed the tallest thing around to take in the city.

For dinner we headed out to Heroes' Square for some traditional Hungarian food, and while chicken liver isn't my thing, the Heroes' Square was worth the trip.

We ended our day with a ride on the world's fourth-oldest subway (sorry New York), which was absolutely sweltering and required a night walk along the banks of Danube to recover from. See the stupefying hot subway and the beautifully lit Buda Castle below:

Day 3 dawned hot- surprise (not)! We spent the day walking around Budapest, highlights of which included, a close-up of the Parliament building in all its glory:

And the tomb of Ottoman Dervish Gul Baba, ruler of the city when the Ottomans controlled it for roughly 150 years starting in 1541 at the height of their power. It was a shady retreat from the smoldering city.

And, it was a hint of things to come...

We spent the rest of the afternoon stocking up for our overnight train ride to Bucharest, Romania, and headed to the train station for our 7 PM departure.

A special thanks to our remote city guide, Ariana (Jared's sister who studied abroad in Budapest), who gave us the scoop on the best spots and told us how to properly pronounce the city (buda-pesht).

Onwards to the east (and south)!

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