Sunday, February 23, 2014

Budapest: A new old city

We spent this past weekend strolling the streets of Budapest, which little r so sweetly calls "Boody-pest." This exotic and amazing city has been on our big "list" for quite awhile, and we loved that we were finally able to make the trip. We found cheap airline tickets from Munich to Budapest, locked in a great little apartment in the Jewish Quarter on airbnb.com (amazing resource for cheap travel!), and with the great exchange rate, we were able to do a fun weekend in this beautiful city under budget. This is the first trip we've taken since baby c was born that didn't involve driving (other than the trip to and from the airport).  So, we didn't have to lug the carseats along or navigate around crazy city street in a foreign country, and there were many instances I was thanking my lucky stars I wasn't driving because the drivers were nuts!

Hungarian is actually a fairly complicated language, so we were relieved that most of the people we needed to talk to spoke English really well.  The transfer from the airport to the apartment we rented for the weekend was super easy with the great directions and advice we had received from everyone.  The transit system in Budapest is great.  From the airport it was a bus connection to the end of a metro line, and you are downtown in less than an hour.  This was our first time using airbnb.com, and I have no idea why it hasn't worked out for us to use it before.  Guess we have been somewhat partial to our cute B&Bs.  The apartment was cozy, and our host was there waiting for us when we arrived.  It was later in the evening when our plane landed, so we focused on getting settled and putting the boys to bed so that we could start things bright and early the next day.

little r in the courtyard of the apartment building
our apartment was on the top floor - can you see us?!
One other thing that was a little different about this trip was that I was busy with homework every day that we were there.  Kind of annoying, but we made it work.  Amazing how productive I can be with a glass of wine in my hand.  Just kidding...kind of - haha.

We started our trip with a trip on the retro Yellow line to downtown Pest.  Budapest is rich with history, but much of the city as it is now is relatively new with most of the core of the city developing in the mid to late-1800s.  It's divided into two areas - Buda and Pest - and you can get around much of the city by foot, but public transportation is a huge way to save your feet between sights.  I made sure to go to the library to grab Rick Steve's guidebook for Budapest, and I'm glad I did because it's one of his best in my opinion.

On the first day we headed to Leopold Town in Pest to get tickets for a tour of the Parliament, took a stroll through Szabadsag ter to give a nod to the U.S. Embassy and the statue of Ronald Reagan, and stopped at St. Istavan's Basilica where we had to climb to the top of the dome to get incredible views of the city.  We sauntered down the touristy shops along the Vaci Utca, and ended up at the Great Market Hall to take in the Saturday morning bustle among the meat and vegetable markets in the vast indoor structure.  We had the best meal of our trip at one of the vendor shops on the second floor in the Great Market - stuffed cabbage rolls, chicken and rice paprika, and beer (of course).  Then we headed back up the Danube River, crossed the Chain Bridge, did the short 15 minute hike up to the Palace (opting out of the long lines and high costs of the funicular), before heading back to the Parliament for our tour.  
A view of the Parliament in the morning sun
eclectic Budapest architecture
little r and ronnie
Szabadsag ter
St. Istavan's Basilica
the organ inside St. Istavan's
ornate decor inside St. Istavan's Basilica
beautiful pulpit inside St. Istavan's
a view of Budapest from the dome
more beautiful views from the dome
a smile as we descend the steps from the dome
more funky architecture
a view of the city through my eyes
little r got a ride on our backs as well -this boy is getting heavy!
colorful produce stand inside the Great Market Hall
a view across the Great Market Hall
lunch - yum!
a symbol of the city of Budapest
views from across the river Danube
a stroll across the Chain Bridge to Buda
a pause on the bridge with my boy
If you travel to Budapest this year be prepared for all of the construction around the Parliament.  To be honest, it's kind of a pain, and the huge square in front of the building is being completely redone so it's blocked off to the public.  When you walk out of the metro station, you have to go a little out of the way to get to the ticket office, but what's more interesting is that the waterway is also blocked off.  We found this out the hard way as we walked along the river from the Chain Bridge.  Instead of rerouting tourists, they decided it would be more fun to make us scale the wall.  I wish I were joking, but we literally played frogger to cross the busy street, and then we climbed a sketchy wooden ladder to scale the wall.  We weren't the only one shaking our heads. It was a little nuts.  Little r, of course, thought it was super cool.

i mean, seriously?!
The Parliament building is a beautiful structure with an immaculate interior that is still actively used for the Parliament today.  I could go on and on about the history of the building, but you can read all that online.  Just know that it's worth the tour and I think a must-see in Budapest, so put it on your list when you visit.  We took the metro back across the river to have dinner on Castle Hill.  It's a little more pricey because it's a touristy part of the city.  We ditched all of the guidebook recommendations and ended up finding a place that was calling out our name.  Well, the sign at the door said, "A meal without wine is called breakfast." Yeah, that was exactly where we belonged.  Dinner was followed by nighttime stroll along the Fisherman's Bastion where Big R stole some incredible pictures of the city at night.

inside the Parliamentary chamber
welcome to Castle Hill!
ain't that the truth?!
nice casual dining at the PestBuda 
the nighttime views of the city were spectacular
Matthias Church on Castle Hill
a city view at night from Fisherman's Bastion
a view of the Parliament by night
lions guarding the Chain Bridge
our view of the Chain Bridge by night
The boys were DONE, so we made our way back to our apartment by walking through the Jewish quarter to peak into a few of Budapest's infamous "ruin" pubs (which we quickly determined were not a good place to walk into with kids in tow).  At this point little r was done walking, so Big R put him on his back in the Ergo.  We got more than a few stares from people for carrying our kids instead of using a stroller, but hey, that's just how we roll... Holy cow were our backs a mess when we finally walked in the door though.  Yikes!

After breakfast the next day, we made our way to the Szechenyl Baths.  Budapest is literally sitting on a thin crust covering a vast reservoir of hot water.  There are Hungarian baths all throughout the city, but Szechenyl is probably the most popular and most highly rated bathhouse.  Visiting a bath house might seem a little daunting to some people, it was a no-brainer for us because there was no way we were going to miss it. The water was so warm, and the boys loved the swim despite the 40 degree outdoor temps.  Big R and I also got to sneak in a back to back 30 minute massage for an equivalent to $12. Guess you could say we had a pretty incredible morning.

Szechenyl Bath - my favorite stop on the trip
another view of the baths
Lunch was langos and gyros at the outdoor vendors followed up by a horse ride for little r and a saunter back to our apartment through Heros' Square and down Andrassi ut, Budapest's main boulevard lined with trees, shops, embassies, cafes and locals.   After a short breather at the apartment, we headed back into the Jewish Quarter to see the Synagogue.  Our hope was to find a cozy wine bar to relax with the boys and a glass of wine, but we didn't have any luck.  We headed to our chosen dinner location that came recommended by some good friends only to find out it was closed for the evening, so we took a walk up Andrassi ut, checked out the Opera House and walked through the Boulevard district in an attempt to find a good place to eat.

he was insistent that he ride the BIG horse and not the pony
Hero's Square

a stroll down Andrassi ut
artistry was all around us
The Grand Synagogue
Jewish Memorial behind the Synagogue
Budapest's Opera House
He was hoping to catch the opera!
inside the Opera House - so fancy! wish we had caught the tour...
We again shunted all of the guidebook recommendations and ended up at a cozy restaurant that served what we think was Hungarian cuisine.  That's when things started to really get interesting...  Have you ever witnessed a baby throw up?  Me neither, until I was wearing about a liter of vomit.  It was fantastic.  Poor baby c woke up from a deep sleep on my chest only to lose the entire contents of his stomach all over me and him.  I swiftly got up and made my way to the bathroom where I was thankful I dressed in layers.  But man, nasty... He recovered really well from the event only to do it all again at the grocery store on our walk back to the apartment.  This time I was down to my bottom layer on both of us, so getting home became much more urgent.  We stripped down in the bathtub and the poor little guy screamed the entire time we tried to take a bath in a huge bathtub with nothing but a shower head wand and a plug that didn't trap water.  He was not a happy camper, and I can't say I was ecstatic either.  That wore us all out though, and we slept hard until morning.

poor baby c after his stomach surprised him
Our last day in Budapest we lost our brilliant sunshine and got nothing but rain.  We never seem to be prepared for rain even though we spend a lot of time traveling in it.  We had breakfast downtown at a Starbucks (I know, but some old habits die hard...), talked for awhile with a tour guide from Bosnia, and then walked in the rain to see the Holocaust Monument, which was one of the most moving monuments we have seen.  We made our way back to Castle Hill and decided to take the bus because at this point we were all completely soaking wet.  Visiting the sights is no fun when you are wet to the bone, so we tried to warm up and get dry walking through Matthias Church.  It was renovated in 2010, and it was probably one of the neatest churches we've seen.  The walls and ceilings throughout the church were decorated by stencil, and it had a beautiful effect.

ready for our last day in Boody-pest!
we used public transit to escape the rain
Starbucks and Rick Steves' = a great way to plan adventures for the day
our sweet boy
this picture makes me giggle

Most touching Holocaust Memorial we have witnessed
children's shoes - I was speechless
a stroll with daddy in the rain along the Danube River
stenciled decor inside Matthias Church
isn't it beautiful?

The church got us out of the rain, but didn't do much to help us get dry.  Before we knew it, we had escaped another downpour by ducking into a cafe off the main street with a friendly waitress and a cozy seating area.  After a couple of amazing bread bowls of soup cooked Hungarian style, we were dry, warm, and ready to head back to the apartment to get our things together for our flight home.

cozy cafe with old antiques
Hungarian soups in bread bowls = heaven on a cold rain-soaked day
our final view of Castle Hill 
This is where things got interesting again.  All our bags packed, we straightened things up and walked out the door.  I was half a beat behind Big and little r, so they held the elevator door for me.  Before I got to the door, it slammed shut.  Not just closed, but freaking SLAMMED shut.  I heard little r scream and then start crying.  Yep, they were stuck, and the elevator was busted.  As if it's not a spooky situation on its own to get stuck in an elevator, but to have this happen on the way to the airport to catch a flight just adds a whole new layer to the whole situation.  I kept hearing Big R calm our 4 year old as he was so unsure how they were stuck inside.  I quickly called our host and told her the situation as I found myself constantly running up and down the stairs for reasons I'm not sure of anymore.  Turns out this elevator had done this before, and while I was talking to the neighbor about it, the elevator door suddenly flew open and Big R was throwing little r out the door at me, and tossing our bags as he escaped just before the doors slammed again. Crisis averted... adrenaline pumping we hiked down the stairs with our bags and started our trip to the airport.  Later we found ourselves being blamed for breaking an elevator that was clearly already busted.  Long story short, we won the negotiation (only to them be blamed for a wine stain on the wall in the apartment - seriously, does this ever end?).

Despite the last minute adventure and our house being plagued with a horrendous stomach virus the day after our return, it was actually a pretty incredible trip.  All in all, Budapest is a great city with friendly people, beautiful architecture, and really great food.  Of the places we've been fortunate to visit, it doesn't rank terribly high as a good place to travel with kids, but we think it would be a pretty incredible place to go as a couple without children. We hardly saw any kids while we were there, and we got the impression that the Hungarians really didn't go out much with their little ones. They weren't awkward or rude about it, but we definitely felt like we stood out most of the places we went.  That said, if you get a chance to go to Budapest even with kids, you should definitely cease the opportunity to experience this fascinating place.  It has a lot to offer and you can do so much within a small budget.







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