My Heart, My Budapest

Neil and I are not big on beach holidays, we much prefer a few trips away each year to different cities where we take four or five days to explore what they have to offer. This July we took a trip, along with some very good friends to Budapest In Hungary. It is a place we had never been to before but had heard a lot about, we spent time looking at things to do and researching restaurants and places to explore throughout the city. We set off at 3am on a Monday morning to Dublin and off we flew to Budapest with Ryanair. Sadly we can’t fly from Belfast but the two hour drive is hardly anything to complain about.

We had booked two apartments with booking.com, I find booking.com and other such websites good as you can read the reviews and spend some time over the decision of hotel or apartment. Our apartment’s were on the buda side of the city, When we arrived our driver informed us that the city has two sides, the Buda side which is older, has more hills and is the home of the castle, the fisherman’s Bastion and the fanciest spar shop I have ever seen! The pest side is the more modern side which has lots to offer including the houses of parliament, shopping plazas and the New York cafe, which I will tell you More about later on. Our apartment was called cozy studio at the castle, when I read the trip advisor reviews they were amazing, the apartments had such good ratings, seemed amazingly clean, the owner was described as warm and friendly, the reviews did not disappoint. Monica our host was just wonderful she was so welcoming and greeted us with such enthusiasm, before we travelled she had contacted me to organise transport for us from the airport which was extremely reasonable and was a great help as we would have had to take a bus, a train and a tram to get to and then a 15/20 minute walk to find it!

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Our love of selfies from the Fisherman’s Bastian

We had two apartments, one for our friends which had a balcony overlooking the garden, a bathroom and kitchenette. Our room was upstairs and was just fantastic, the room was on three levels, downstairs we had a kitchen, bathroom and living area, upstairs on the mezzanine balcony had our bedroom and then finally we had a third floor roof terrace which had an amazing view over the city. Our room had air-conditioning which was amazing as we arrived into Budapest in 34 degree centigrade heat!

Day one was spent exploring our local surroundings, after settling into our apartments we headed up the hill (and a lot of steps!) To the fisherman’s Bastion, this is on the castle hill on the Buda side of the Danube it is a beautiful neo-gothic style terrace that sits around Matthias church and has such picturesque views of the Danube and city of Budapest, with some lovely photo opportunities too.

 

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Matthias church in the on Castle Hill

Matthias church itself is just stunning, the architecture and style of the building is just so overwhelmingly beautiful. The roof tiles and surrounding are captivating and I found myself standing there just looking around like a complete tourist, but unashamedly so!

Following this we just started to walk, no where specifically and just saw some of the sights the buda side had to offer, beautiful buildings, an amazing view of the mountains, burger king hot dogs for lunch and we then wandered back down towards the Danube through some little streets and stopping off at Anjuna ice pops for an ice lolly. Neil (who was our food guru for the week) had spotted this as a must go place so we sought it out and were so very glad we did. They are a Budapest based brand and are relatively new, opening in 2015. They serve only plant based foods, vegan friendly and healthy alternatives to ice-cream and ice-lollies. We aren’t vegan but who could pass up an ice pop? They have so many flavours all made from natural ingredients I had mango and raspberry and Neil had vanilla and mango as did our friend Zenas and Andrew had beautifully coloured blackberry one, they were All delicious and it is a place we would recommend to anyone going to Budapest. After this we headed back and stopped into the local spar shop which was truly beautiful, it looked from the outside to be more like a theatre or old concert hall! They sold the biggest watermelons I have ever seen and apart form an extremely grumpy server it had everything for a weeks worth of breakfasts all for under £20… Bargain!

 

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The step strugge was real… but so worth the views

Our day concluded with a bit of a late dinner in a small restaurant about 5 minutes walk from our apartments called Ildiko’s kitchen. It was true Hungarian fare, we had some goulash and some beautiful chicken with potato and rice. It was a wonderful way to begin our food adventures in Budapest. After dinner we took an evening stroll along the banks of the Danube. Taking lots of pictures of the parliament building which is a truly iconic site of Budapest, we started our walk from the chain bridge which was our main crossing point for the week it was constantly busy due to the FINA world championships stage being set up for the opening ceremony just beside it. We walked along in the beautifully balmy evening and as we walked further we noticed there was some lightening in the distance, the further we walked the more frequent it became and we even heard some faint rumbles of thunder. As we got near the end of the path we decided to get back to the apartment as it was getting more and more frequent. Our apartment was at the top of a hill and as we reached the bottom it began to pour with rain, it was so heavy and I have never seen raindrops so big, the rain was so delightfully warm and we ran up the hill being soaked through as we went. When we got inside we headed to Balcony in Andrew and Zena’s room to watch the storm, it became louder and louder with fork lightening and huge booms of thunder which lasted well into the early hours of the morning, however we didn’t stay up to watch it all. We headed to bed around midnight absolutely exhausted form our travels and explorations of the day and full of excitement for the days that lay ahead and the plans we had made to fill them.

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Neil on our evening walk along the Danube

Day two Day two began with an early wakening at 7.30am and enjoying a beautiful cup of coffee on the roof terrace, after a breakfast of half frozen watermelon, yoghurt and warmed croissants, we set off for a day of sightseeing. We headed towards the chain bridge and across to the Pest side of the city, as we walked we had some beautiful views of the Danube and the buildings along the water side. Once there we headed to saint Stephen’s basilica, a beautiful open square with the Church at the end, the square was filled with tourists taking photographs and beautiful ( yet no so reasonably priced) restaurants and coffee shops surrounding it. We stood for a while taking some photos and listening to the bells on the hour which rang out with the most wonderful tune. We then headed off to our next designation! As I said Neil was our food guru for the week and he had told us about a coffee bar which we just had to visit, off we walked towards Expression Embassy for some iced lattes, on the way we walked past a place called Mr Funk which was selling the most unusual doughnuts and freak jars. We didn’t try the freak jars but decided we deserved a doughnut as we were on holiday! The coffee was beautiful and we’ll worth the wait in the queue and the doughnuts were so worth the calories! I had one high was decorated like a unicorn with almond and cherry flavourings … scrumptious!

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Dognuts in Mr Funk… They were amazing!

After this we headed towards the park to enjoy our coffee and doughnuts. We ended up sitting in Szabadsag park which is just behind the holocaust memorial. From there we headed off towards the parliament buildings and along the waterfront. The parliament is a truly iconic image in Budapest and it was just as impressive up close as it was from afar, they have such beautiful gardens and the architecture is just awe inspiring. We sat for a while in the sun and admired the view and just watched the world go by before heading on to our next stop…. The Colombo statue! The Colombo statue was one of the things we all wanted to see, mainly because it’s unusual and a bit quirky. It is on Falk Miksa Street which is named after Colombo actor Peter Falk, naturally we had to visit it! The statue is just at the end of the street and was a real tick on our Budapest bucket list. We visited the statue and obviously got some photographs, to be honest I think we were the only people making a real scene around it however being typically tourist was our thing that day so we didn’t care. I spent a good proton of the day taking selfies with inanimate objects, statues, buildings, flagpoles… Because why not?

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The Colombo Statue a must see on our Budapest Bucket List

Anyway, we headed form here towards the West-side shopping centre and on the way we stopped off at a street vendor to try some Gombi, they were odd but beautiful, they have a sweet and savoury version, they are, as far as I can tell, a cottage cheese based dough balls which are fried and served with jams, sauces, pickles and mayonnaise of your choice, we got one of each to try between the four of us. From here we ploughed onto the Westside centre ( and I was singing the score from West side story in my head as we went) the centre was massive and had many of the shops we had at home including a lush which we spent about half an hour on whilst I tried on different face cooling sprays and hand creams and Neil got chatted up by the sales girl.

They have a beautiful shop in Europe called Springfield. It is a men’s and women’s clothes shop which I love, I first came across one in Barcelona and fell in love with it so I always try to get to one when I’m in Europe, while we were here we decided to get some lunch and ended up in pizza hut where we got two individual pizzas and two drinks for around £6 which was pretty good really. After this we headed back towards our hotel walking back towards the Buda side and over the Margaret bridge and onto the tram to head back to the apartment for an hour of rest and a freshen up as the day had been rather hot.

We headed out again around 7pm and went to dinner in a burger bar called lucky seven, again another one of Neil’s finds and it was just delicious and another recommendation for Budapest, such juicy and beautifully cooked burgers. Our final stop for the day was down by the water to pier 11 where we boarded the boat for our evening tour of the Danube at 9.30pm. we sat inside the boat beside the open windows as we set off for our 90 minute tour. It was so much fun and we loved seeing Budapest by night from the water, it is such a majestic city and apart from a few flies it was perfect. You can do many tours on the Danube including a pizza and beer tour and dinner tours. As we had wanted to try so many food places we decided to go for just the late night water tour.

Day three Today started off a little confused due to the tram lines being changed because of works so we ended up walking a while to our destination, we started off with a journey on the cogwheel train up to the children’s railway. We had seen the children’s railway on channel 4’s travel man and thought it was something we had to experience when in Budapest. The railway was run by children, they sell the tickets, stamp them on the train and do most of the running of the train (it is driven by an adult though) the railway took us up the mountain to the chair lift. When we got off the train it was described as a short walk to chair lift but I would have described it more as a moderately long walk due to it being all up hill and in 32 degree heat! Before we got the chair lift down we stopped for some ice cream as a well deserved treat! The chair lift was very reasonably priced and we took it back down the mountain. It surprised me how quiet the chair lift was, we went down which took about 15 minutes and there was just complete silence, we watched the view over Budapest and the view of the trees beneath our feet. It was a truly wonderful site, romantic and complete bliss just outside the busy city.

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The Cogwheel Railway which we took to get to the childrens railway station

After this we headed towards the pest side of the Danube to the New York cafe for a late lunch. The new York cafe seems to be very highly rated in Budapest and was a place that we really had wanted to try. An opulent and romantic interior awaited us and we had such a wonderful dining experience. We ordered lunch, I had spaghetti and Neil had a goulash, for desert we shared a hazelnut torte, Neil with a beer and me, a latte. We had such a lovely time there, the food was beautiful, the experience was wonderful, the staff were so pleasant and attentive and I can see why it is such a Budapest icon. The cafe is attached to a hotel which we had a little look inside, it is beautiful and grand however we tend to preference quirky hotels and apartments over opulence in a hotel but I do imagine it is as amazing an experience as anywhere else you could stay in this amazing city. Following our very grand luncheon experience we headed towards Heroes square which is yet another must see of Budapest. The square has two main statues which epitomise the history of Budapest, celebrating its past and historical figures, the square is surrounded by two museums one for modern art and the other for classical art, we didn’t have time to visit them we would definitely give them a look over if we ever return to Budapest. Behind the square we walked over the bridge to Vajdahhunyad castle, it is known as a fairytale castle and is truly a beautiful place to visit, it has a small church, a lake and some exquisite gardens with beautiful sculptures to see. We later learned that the castle was never inhabited and was built to be a tourist attraction, it is based on castles from around Europe. We sat for a while in the grounds enjoying the view of the gardens and the lake. We then headed back on the metro and to our apartment.

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Selfie at Heros square with Neil (and one of his many amazing shirts!)

Day four Today was a more energetic day starting off at 10.30 am with a bike tour which lasted most of the day. It was a little cooler today at 29 Degrees so it was slightly easier to partake in physical activity where as the week so far had been in the mid 30s and extremely humid following the thunder and rain. We Met our guide Anna at Deak square, the tour was rather small, she told us she usually has 10-14 people for a tour but we had just 5, our group and a young man from Moscow Uri who was travelling in Europe. We set off to pick up our bikes and then our first stop was Elizabeth square. Elizabeth square is named after Budapest’s queen Elizabeth who gets the nickname Sissi. Anna had explained to us how vital she was in creating the Budapest we know today and how loved she is as a historical figure, she was involved in the politics of Budapest long before women ever showed interests in such thing. In the square there is a statue of Sissi and they have a big Ferris wheel, Anna had told us that is isn’t really something she would recommend as it isn’t high enough to see the beauty of Budapest. We then headed towards the opera house, hero’s square, Vajdahunyad Castle and we saw Budapest a famous Szechenyi Baths. After this we headed to have lunch in the park which was included in the tour we had Goulash, bread and some refreshing lemon water. Budapest is known for its paprika and they have a Paprika chutney they use in their goulash…. I am not the biggest fan of spicy foods and it almost killed me as it was so hot so I am advising caution! It was none the less delicious and we ate every bite. We then headed off again and passed the House of terror, sadly this is a place we didn’t get to visit but we are told it is an amazing exhibition of Budapest’s history through the war and their alliance with Germany and the siege of Budapest. It would definitely be a place to visit if we return. We then went to St Stephens Basilica across the chain bridge and up to Matthias church and fisherman’s bastion , up the hill on a bike…. Needless to say it wasn’t the easiest cycle of my life but it was so worth the view and the feeling of reaching the top was pretty good too! We then went across to Buda castle to see the fountain, and had a look over the Buda hills there, We then headed back down hill which was much more fun than coming up and we passed Gellert Monument, headed back over Elizabeth bridge and back to the bike shop! All in all around 5 hours of cycling and site seeing which was a truly wonderful way to see Budapest. Phew!

Our next stop was another one on our food tour of Budapest, again Neil had done his research and found a very highly rated waffle bar, never to be one to say no to a waffle we headed off to Ahoy for lunch, needless to say it was utterly amazing. They have a quirky menu where you chose your waffle and then pick your toppings, anything from sweets to savoury. I had a buttermilk waffle with Nutella, marshmallows and salted caramel sauce accompanied with a sour cherry home-made lemonade. Shear perfection!

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Waffles at Ahoy, complete and uttery delicious and a must visit in Budapest!

Our final stop of the day was one of rest and relaxation at the Hungarian baths, we chose to head to a local one rather than one of the more popular tourist spots and were so glad we did. The baths were on the Buda side about 20 minutes walk from the apartments. We had a lovely evening walk down to get there enjoying the calm, warm evening. The baths were called Kiraly Gyogyfurd and was just in the middle of a row of shops, we headed in not really knowing what to expect. The smell was the first thing to hit us and it was a smell which to be honest took a little getting used to. It was a sulphuric smell and was rather strong at first but dwindled as time went on. They have three pools, a 36 degree pool a 40 degree pool and a 26 degree pool. We started off in the 36 degree which had an amazingly ornate tap which was pouring the beautiful natural mineral rich water into the pool. We sat in there for a while and enjoyed the pool and the conversation was flowing, we then headed off to what we thought was the 40 degree pool but after dipping a foot in I realise it was 26degrees and we swiftly moved to the 40 degree one! After a while Zenas decided to get into the 26 degree pool and I decided to follow her in, it was freezing and yet so refreshing! The locals were coming out of the 70-80 degree heat of the steam room and jumping in which I imagine would have caused me to die of shock! It was lovely once we were in and made my skin and hair super soft and silky for the coming days.

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                 Taking pictures, of Neil taking pictures.

Our final day We decided for our last morning in Budapest to take a walk back up the hill on the Buda side and visit the hospital in the rock. This is a hospital that was built in the 1930s in anticipation for the second world war and is built in caves under Buda castle. To be honest it was a very sombre way to end our trip to Budapest but was really worth the visit. Our guide told us all about the history of the hospital and its use in the second world war and during the siege of Budapest in 1944-1945. The hospital was built to look after 300 people but they say when at its worst they had 600-700 people who had been treated there. Being a nurse myself I could not imagine the conditions of it in such a small cramped environment, the nurses and doctors who worked there were obviously so dedicated to their people and it really touched a nerve with me being down there. It is a time travel through their history of medicine and war. The hospital was later converted into a nuclear shelter and is obviously now a museum to remember those people who both used and worked in the hospital.

Following our tour we headed back for one last food stop and had a beautiful sour cherry strudel in Ruszwurm just beside Buda Castle. We had a completely wonderful time in Budapest the architecture is stunning, the food spectacular and the people are so friendly, I am having holiday withdraws already!

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