Buda and Pest
01.02.2017 - 07.02.2017 -6 °C
We left Our Vienna apartment early and thanks to the efficient transport system, were at the main station an hour early. Devoured a disgracefully yummy chocolate croissant and apfel strudel and then went and stood out in the freezing cold waiting for the train to Budapest. By the way did we mention the cold? It does have its upside, beggars turn into ice art very quickly if they hang out in the streets, so no bother there.
Wrestled our way onto the train and then after being moved twice from seats that were reserved for others, found a nice Hungarian couple who happily allowed us to share their booth with a table. We immediately set to work on bringing our blog up to date, as the wifi on the train worked well. In no time at all we were rolling again through snow covered fields, whilst consuming a couple of beers, courtesy of the restaurant car. Before we knew it we had arrived in Budapest. The railway station resembled nothing so much as a Victorian railway building. Quite simple and we had in no time, deciphered the ATM, loaded up on cash and proceeded outside, where we found the stairs down to the metro. Cath sorted out the ticket machine once again, without needing to ask the kindly old chap standing ready to help, then it was down the escalators into the bowels of the metro. It could not have been simpler to follow the signs and there were guides there to help if required. So it was that we found ourselves once again ensconced in a lovely little apartment in Erkel UTC, just off the main drag. The wifi in the apartment was excellent, so we packed away our clothes, did a little computer fun and then dressed up for our first foray. Although we thought we had experienced a fair dose of snow in Vienna, Budapest really turned it on. Big flakes tumbling and swirling around. So much so that we retreated to our apartment for an early evening.
Budapest sits atop a massive thermal spring and there are a number of beautiful spas located around the city. As our second day was also our 4th wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves to a spa and massage package at the Gellert, a gorgeous art nouveau hotel and thermal spa. Although the weather continued to be inclement, we were able to cross under the river to Buda and pop up next to the centre via the metro, which, by the way, we should give a mention as it is a modern and highly efficient system. The Gellert was absolutely amazing; huge cupolas decorated with stained glass, floral plaster decorations adorning the walls, and the various thermal baths were surrounded by ornate carved columns. We opted for the 36 degree pool first, a semicircular affair which was constantly refilled by a couple of stone lion faucets. After that we wandered off to the 42 degree pool, which was absolutely glorious. There really was something marvellously decadent about lying back in an opulent, highly heated thermal bath, whilst snow and ice were piling up outside.
Next treat was an hour long massage for both of us, in the same room, if you don't mind. To be honest it was a bit weird, but like a couple of good soldiers, we forged on and allowed ourselves to be pampered, pulled and prodded for the next hour, by a couple of muscular young Hungarian women. Job done, they left us to dress and wander back down for another lazy soak in the baths, before reluctantly dressing and heading back out into the cold afternoon. Cath felt that the weather was perfectly balmy at 2 degrees, a huge change from -8. Another quick trip on the metro and we arrived at our lunch venue, the Cafe Intenza. We had researched it and it did not disappoint. Ian had a goulash soup for starters, which arrived with a small pot of chilli paste (or paprika, as they call it here) Ian couldn't help himself and put a large spoon of the paste in his soup. He was just about to add a second when the owner called out "Don't do that! Is very hot!" Suitably admonished Ian stirred the mixture and had to admit that one spoon was heat enough. Cath's first course was an unusual concoction of a potato pancake filled with pulled chicken, sitting in a kind of pumpkin soup. Sounds odd but it too was delicious. The mains were both excellent as well; pork medallions for Ian and a spare rib for Cath. A fine bottle of local red and a Baileys with ice cream for dessert, to celebrate our anniversary of course, rounded out the meal and then we walked it off with a stroll around the city. The snow had stopped falling and we were able to navigate our way through a heavy fog, to the river, before collecting some supplies and heading back to the apartment.
Ian was finally able to find his long wanted and not yet found traditional European sausage, at the Great Hall Market and whilst it was ok at the time Cath paid the price later, a night spent on the toilet. No more sausages! We found the food court in the Great Hall Market a disappointment whilst the downstairs area filled with butchers, bakers and vegetable stalls was a delight of food, unusual drinks and characters, but it was clearly not really the place where locals shop, or maybe we just managed to be there in non busy times.
Saturday morning was again spent lazing before heading out into what was supposed to be a sunny day; someone at Accu-weather may have missed the fog which had clouded the city and made the river Danube invisible. We had planned to visit the Parliament building, St Stephens Basilica and then head over the Chain Bridge to the funicular up the Buda hills and castle. Our unintentional quest to ride all Europe's small railways continued and being intrepid explorers we were not going to be put off by something as minor as a pea souper. Ian had failed to mention to Cath that crossing the bridge in fact meant walking across the bridge, no tram or train. Cath has an irrational fear of walking over bridges which induces an anxiety that she struggles with, however not one to be beaten; head down, lips pursed and a cracking pace saw us make the crossing to Buda and glorious sunshine. It was quite a special view of the Gothic and Classical Pest rising out of the fog, the layer slowly settling onto the river. We managed to avoid the ubiquitous tour touts at the bottom of the hill and were delighted to find a quaint little funicular to take us up the very steep hill. Buda is a delight of pretty coloured buildings, impressive castles, museums and ancient walls with fantastic views across the valleys to the surrounding hills and we spent a very pleasant early afternoon wandering.
As usual our stomachs alerted us to the fact that we had achieved our daily exercise goals, it really has become a habit to achieve our 10,000 steps before lunch and it was back across the river to hunt up lunch. Cath was feeling a bit loath to try anything but a basic meal and Janis' Irish pub seemed like the answer, Guinness being the cure for all evils, especially those related to the gut. We had a very pleasant afternoon in the pub, Ian having been converted to drinking the black stuff and we were happily tipsy when we arrived at the original Ruin Pub-Pouder. Ruin Pubs are a Budapest movement that started out with 'hipsters' a few years ago, otherwise ruined buildings are taken over and filled with mismatched furniture, art and general bric-a-brac and called pubs. It appears that Pouder has become a bit mainstream and most of the now hip Ruin Pubs are in the Jewish quarter, but it suited us fine as we were happy to share a very nice bottle of Portuguiser, a dry Shiraz like Hungarian wine, surrounded by the not so young and hip crowd, less then half a block from home.
We spent our week in Budapest enjoying walks along the Danube, watching the melting of ice on the sunny days and slight freezes on the cooler days, meandering in the city admiring more amazing architecture and planning the next stages of the Year of Living Dangerously. We were lucky to have a mix of sunny and snowy days allowing us to explore the city and have some downtime, relaxing in our apartment; much needed after a couple of months travelling, or spending a quiet Sunday in a sunny bar on the banks of the river, for a late lunch and coffee. It seemed on those sunny days that the locals were making the transition from Winter into Spring, as were we; finally leaving the house without thermals, scarves and beanies. We were again astounded by the beauty, grandiosity and yet decadence of the ageing city, the marks of neglect during the last century are obvious and yet somehow add a touch of reality to an otherwise fairy tale world.
We had read some horror stories of dealing with the Hungarian metro and other public transport services such as finding it difficult to get train tickets, staff being rude and always needing to have identity documents with you for the over zealous authorities and yet witnessed none of it. There are signs of recent refugee crisis in Eastern Europe, with people sleeping in train stations and ticket inspectors at every entrance, but they only want to see a ticket, glance at you and that's it. The staff at the international train station were very helpful when we purchased our tickets for the overnight train to Belgrade and everyone in shops, restaurants and markets have been friendly and helpful.
The more we travel the more it is obvious if you try to be polite, murder a few local phrases, so that the local people want you to stop using their tongue so poorly and instead allow them to show off their much better language skills, you can pretty much ignore sites like Trip Advisor and travel with very little issue. It appears that the only people who bother to make comment are those who want a whinge.
Our week in Budapest is coming to an end and as usual, we are ready for the next stage. Tomorrow night we catch an overnight train to Belgrade, arriving in the morning in time to catch the train to Bar in Montenegro, which we have learned is one of the most spectacular train trips in Europe.