This was the first day of a two-week August trip to Hungary. Our trip would take in two days in Budapest before heading east, to Beata’s homeland before exploring the surrounding region.
This was to be a family vacation, Beata and I were accompanied by Nina. Nina for those who wonder is my daughter from a previous relationship. She lives an hour from Dublin so I visit her once weekly and we spend holiday times together. This was her first trip to Hungary, and the tenth country she has visited by the age of eight. At this rate she puts me to shame.
For Nina this was an introduction to Budapest. Budapest is my exploring nemesis. With a huge volume of activities to do my fleeting visits over the last few years have barely made a dent. So it was to be this time too.
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The currency of Hungary is Forint for those who aren’t familiar. Exchange rate usually fluctuates around 300 Forint to 1 Euro. On this trip it was around 315-320:1 so a little welcome stretch on our euros. With such a large multiple things often seem expensive until you do a little calculation and realise the opposite.
Our flight from Dublin was at 7:30 but was delayed for an hour due to overcapacity on Dublin airports singular runway. The Ryanair pilot referred to the system as “unique” but I suspect he had a different word on the tip of his tongue. Arriving at 1pm, we collected our bags and took bus 200e from Airport. We would have paid the 300 Forint but the driver gave out to us for standing and trying to pay him. So when the bus filled up and we couldn’t make it back up to him, we didn’t bother because of his attitude. Tickets can usually be bought from the machine or on the bus outside the arrivals terminal.
Guided by Google Maps we switched to the metro at Kobanya-Kispest station. Tickets cost 400ft each and we had to travel 6 stops from here. We then had to walk eleven minutes from the metro stop at Kalvin Ter to our hotel. In the heat and with all the exertion it was an arduous trip into the city. We deliberated to find a different route back to the airport.
Where we stayed
We had booked our hotel the Three Corners Hotel Anna Superior which is located near the Jewish Quarter through booking.com. Located in an elegant building, the welcome was warm from the receptionist. Thankfully our room was ready when we arrived and we received the bonus of being upgraded from a triple to a family room. Lucky us. Room was super spacious with 2 large bedrooms and a large bathroom. The room was clean throughout and perfect for a few nights in the city, especially if one wants to visit Pest. Not sure if the room would suit those with a fear of spiders, the lights were suspended from black cables that looked like spider legs. But I quite like our arachnid friends.
A walk through Architecture
After a little rest following the torture of dragging about fifty kilos with us, we set out to find some lunch and explore our little corner of Pest. Budapest is split between Buda on the west side (this is the more tourist side with the castle and Gellert baths and Hill) and Pest the more commercial side to the east of the Danube. Pest has its own spectacular monuments from St Istvan Church to the Parliament building. It is also the location of many secession style buildings. This was an architectural movement developed at the turn of the 20th century as first Vienna, then Budapest seeked some identity away from the style of the rest of Europe. It’s these buildings that evoke a familiarity in my mind, the city has the style of Paris but the flair of Barcelona, and slots somewhere in between.
Finding our way to Rákóczi Ut we passed by quite a few poor homeless souls. Always a feature of large cities unfortunately. The first church we came across was not a church at all, but the Saint Rokus Hospital, one of Budapest’s oldest and an attractive building. Turning on to Rákóczi Ut we crossed over to catch the shade. This street is lined with some excellent architecture. From the art nouveau Urania Movie Theatre, to the Volksbank occupied Stern House, the street grows prettier and prettier till it reaches the Saint Francis Church. We encountered our first sightseeing problem as we tried to visit the nearby University library which was closed for the summer.
Starving we stopped in Fornetti, which is a bakery famed for its little pastries and one of Hungary’s greatest capitalist success stories.. After some sausage rolls and pizza (how inventive) and some cheese and apricot pastries we were ready to push on. Dining on a pavement bench we admired the upper floors of Brudern House and the Buddha Bar occupied Klotild Palota. I adore the architecture in this city.
Our plan for this day was to take it easy, after the early start and to adjust to the heat. It was sweltering in the city. The idea of a cruise on the Danube fit in perfectly with this plan. We had picked the Legenda cruises company for no reason other than we liked their flyer and the look of the boat. They dock at dock seven which was a further fifteen minute walk from our lunch. The cruises are 3900 ft for an adult and last about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Children are surprisingly free and the addition of a drink of your choice on the way out and a glass of lemonade on the way back seal a good deal.
We were early but their waiting room gave us some welcome respite from the heat. It was 33 degrees in the city (strangely all the way through the holiday each day has consistently been 32-33) and we hadn’t adjusted to it yet. The cruise boat had a capacity of several hundred and there was an upper deck. The cruise itself was very pleasurable and the view took in most of the city’s sights. Strangely two of the crew girls had to recite a minute long welcome greeting in all of the languages that the boat supported. We were impressed as that amounted to about fifteen languages including Hebrew and Japanese. We took the offer of a glass of champagne. It was of local origin and the bar manager in me wondered how they could call it champagne.
The boat sailed south as far as Petofi bridge before heading back north past Gellért, the Castle, and the main attraction that is surely the Parliament building. It’s a beautiful river and it’s another great way to see the city. It didn’t help on my crossing Budapest sights off my list, in fact, I learned of a few new places I’d like to see. Five great bridges cross the river and the boats route sailed under all and around the 2.5 km Margarit Island. The island is the realm of the fit, joggers make full use of its circumference and activities include swimming and bike renting. Legenda cruises offer you the chance to alight and explore the island. You can make your way back to the city by yourself or wait forty minutes for the boat to return.
We choose to stay on, exercise wasn’t high on our list of priorities and Nina had made friends with some other kids on the boat and was thoroughly enjoying it. Albeit not for the views. Here is a selection of images from our cruise.
Sightseeing by Tram
Arriving back on land Beata suggested we take Tram 2 which runs from just beside the dock. It takes a scenic route along the Danube before cutting inland and rounding the Parliament building. It’s the perfect option for those who want to take a sightseeing tour by the parliament but don’t fancy the walk. We alighted at Margarit Bridge for a view over Margarit Island.
A relaxed evening
I reigned in my own spirit and accompanied the girls back to the hotel. Making our way back along Rackoczi Ut we came across Levendula a famed ice cream shop in Budapest. Their interesting flavours brought them acclaim with lavender being the mainstay if their menu. I tasted the lavender flavour and it was awful. This is why lavender isn’t in food. Nonetheless I opted for raspberry and lavender and it was still a little weird. The jury is out. Nina was mesmerised by her coconut and Nutella though.
We took some downtime in the hotel before considering what to do for dinner. It always surprises me that by 8pm it’s already dark. So used to Irish evenings stretching past ten. After much deliberating we decided on the safe option of Il Terzo Cerchio, an Italian restaurant five minutes walk from the hotel. The restaurant was busy and after a ten minute wait we were shown to a cellar table. The restaurant appears to be an old pince (a wine cellar) with high curved ceilings and vaults. It has an attractive main room of wood and stone but the downstairs area is more barren. All it was missing was that cold air and the damp smell of the cellars in Tokaj and Eger.
We stayed safe as we opted to share two Campagnola pizzas and a cheese board. Pizzas are regarded as their specialty in their online reviews and they delivered. The cheese board was the perfect accompaniment with a selection of local products. Exhausted after our early start we called it a day after dinner.
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