Mar 18, 2013

Budapest, Hungry - March 2013

What can I say about Budapest...........well, 1st they pronounce it Budapesht & 2nd it's two cities - Buda on one side of the river (in the hills) & Pest on the other side.  It has beautiful buildings & bridges.  This country has been destroyed & rebuilt over & over (Stalin, Hitler, Attila the Hun, Russia - seems like everyone has tried to rule there).  So there is a mishmash of styles - Andrassy Avenue was fashioned after the Champs Elysees. The parliment building was made to look like London's.  I saw Russian style block apartment buildings. I saw Vienna, Prague, London, Paris, St Petersburg - all mixed up into one.  The people seem nice, everyone speaks English - I felt very comfortable walking around, shopping & dining on my own.  The food was good - flavorful but not spicy.  I loved the goulash soup & Hungarian stew.  They use a lot of paprika - hot, mild, sweet, spicy.  I also saw a lot of poppyseed dishes on the menu - mostly desserts (ice cream, cake etc..).  Unfortunately, I was to full from all the goulash to try dessert :)

We stayed at the Andrassy Hotel - evidently Mikhail Gorbachev was known to stay there.  It's a great hotel with a good location.  The breakfast was decent.  The 1st day we did a walking tour of the city, I definitely think this is the best way to really discover a city.  We stopped for a late lunch at Gerbeaud Cafe - Empress Sissi was known to eat here whenever she was in Budapest.  It's was beautiful & food was great!  That night we ate at Menza - another place with really good food.  I tried the local white wine & it sweet, smooth, nice :)

The 2nd day we started with a bus tour through the city.  Then we went to the highest peak so we could get the best views & pictures.  We continued on to Fisherman's Bastion, St. Mattias's Church, hero's square & St. Stephens Basilica.  Something interesting about St. Stephens Basilica - is that they have St. Stephen's right hand (mummified) on display.  I think he was the 1st christian king who died in 1038. I have to say for a guy who died so long ago - his had is in pretty good shape (I know a little creepy).  Another stop was a museum of monuments & statues.  It's about 30 minutes outside of town & basically it's a field with old monuments & statues.  Whenever a new ruler came in - they would take the old ones down & put up new ones.  Instead of destroying them - they put them in the field outside of town.  The one of Stalin didn't fare well - they pretty much toppled him, all that was left was his boots.

After our bus/walking tour we had the afternoon free. I had decided to go to the spa.  Budapest is known for their thermal baths - the thermal springs were discovered back in 1879 & are supposed to be great for your health.   With this in mind - I booked a 30 minute aroma massage & built in extra time to soak in the pool.  I was told to spring for the cabin - so I did (the cabin is a place where you can change & leave your belongings).  Okay - do you feel a story coming we go. We (my friend & I)  I arrive at the spa & check in. One of the attendants said they would show us to our cabins - as we are walking there I notice some lockers on the left hand side.  Since I thought we were going to leave our purse in the cabin - I was wondering why we started slowing down. Yep - you guessed it, what looked like a locker was our cabins.  There was a bench inside but I'm not kidding you when you bent over to take your shoes off - you hit your butt on the door & your head on the wall.  Moving on - we are in a bathing suits & flip flops - we walk outside to the outdoor baths, it's about 1 degree celsius & we are walking around little snow mounds.  As I stand there - teeth chattering, I say to my friend - why are we doing this!  She says "it's a cultural experience, hurry up & let's get in the warm water".  We throw our flip flops & towels on a bench & jump in the water.  The water was warm (somehow I thought it would be hotter) - we saw a couple other people we knew & chatted for a while.  Then in the middle of the pool we saw a hot tub, surrounding the hot tub we saw a miniature lazy river.  Of coarse, we had to try that - it looked fun.  So we swam over & gently drifted in.  The lazy river turned out to be a raging cyclone - as I struggled to stay upright & laughing at myself in the process - I wondered how the heck am I going to get out.  The third time around (feeling like I'm in a Griswald movie - look kids Big Ben!) - I finally see my opening & jump/push as hard as I can.  The water spits me out - whew...I made it.  We had enough fun outside & decide to go inside (more baths in there), of coarse this takes about 10 minutes (because we don't want to get out because it's freezing).  We finally make a run for it - get inside, find another pool & jump in.  I assumed since we were visiting hot springs that all the pools would be hot - contrare, the pool we jumped happened to be a cold plunging pool :0   So, we jumped out of this one & continued on until we found another warm one.  We soak for a little bit - warming up until it's time to go get our massage.  Now - this is a huge place & we have no idea where we are going.  My friend & I are directionally challenged - so we asked someone to help us.   She leads us away from the pools to a maze of hallways - I'm starting to get nervous.  Have you ever seen a movie - where the girl gets kidnapped, they keep her drugged & put her in a nasty room & use her as a prostitute.  Now when the good guys, go to get the girl - they have to check all the rooms - as we were walking, this is what I was reminded of.  Doors, paint peeling, rusted bars on the top for air - I was thinking "oh dear God, please don't let her stop here".  I shouldn't of prayed that - because she didn't, she kept going.  As we entered the next room - there were 4 stalls, they looked like your bathroom from high school (grey wobbly metal - you can look over top & underneath).  The tiles at one time were pretty but now are cracked & chipped. As I open the door - I see a very scary looking lady, who points to the table.  Now at this point your thinking, run - turn around & run (but just like in the movies - I don't).  It takes me a second to realize she's not leaving for me to disrobe (there is no robe), she's not turning around - so I proceed to take off my swim top.  No way I'm taking off my bottoms - so wet from the pools. I lay down on a hard folding table, covered with a paper cloth.  There is no music - just the sound of a lady blowdrying her hair & some people laughing from the baths.  There is no candles, no aroma therapy & I think to myself -she is going to give me a shot & I'm going to wake up without my kidneys.  She starts by rubbing my calves for about 10 minutes, then works on my back for about 15 minutes & says finished and leaves (to be honest the massage - what little there was, was good).  I unclenched my hands, jumped off the table, threw on my top & pretty much ran out of there.  I found my friend & we left - as we were discussing our experience she said she got aroma therapy with hers (the scent, body odor  - nice!).  We decided that we would forget this ever happened & never bring it up again.

With that over - we rush back to join the others for dinner.  Tonight we are going to the New York Cafe.  It is magnificient!!  Wow - they pulled out all the stops on this one.  It looks like a museum, not a restaurant.  I needed a little comfort food & had pasta with mushrooms & white sauce - super yum!  With dinner finished we headed off to the river - where we were doing a night cruise down the Danube.  I have to say this was my favorite part of my trip!!  As pretty as Budapest is during the day - it is that much more at night!  Charming & breathtaking - although is was cold, I stood outside most of the time to get a better view & take pictures.

On our last day - we stopped into the Alexandra bookstore.  Not just any bookstore but another beautiful cafe!  We sat & had tea - it was wonderful!  From there we went to a little town about 40 minutes outside of town called Szentendre. It is a charming & quaint little town.  We saw a Serb Orthodox Church & then spent the afternoon shopping, I bought secret boxes for the girls. I took a picture of the man who was making them (basically you have to move pieces around like a puzzle to get inside the box). The girls loved them!!  Our last stop was a late lunch at a litter river front restaurant.  Again - with wonderful food (I had to Hungarian beef stew).

As my trip came to an end - I have to say I am glad I went to Budapest. It's like no place & every place I've been before.