Saturday, May 19, 2007

Budapest and Szentendre, Hungary

From Budapest

A couple of summers back, we met with some friends of Alice's who were out from Hungary visiting another of Alice's friends. We had a good time chatting with them, and they mentioned we should try to make a trip out to Hungary some time. I also remember that a past W3C conference was held in Budapest. At the time I was thinking that might be a strange place for a W3C conference, but I didn't know much about the city. A couple of folks I worked with were able to make the trip to the W3C conference and came back saying that Budapest was a pretty nice place. So, a few weeks ago, Alice and I went out for a long weekend to Budapest.

I didn't really know what to expect. I knew that Hungary has some nice wines, such as Tokaji, and that good Hungarian paprika is really, really good. I knew from history that Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. When I was in Grad School, I knew Gabby, who's parents came from Budapest, and she told me that Buda an Pest were really two cities (or three if you count Obuda as well). But I didn't really know all that much about Hungary. This was all to change.

Looking out the window of our airplane, I noticed that the village structure dramatically changed from the clustered villages of Austria, to more linear villages in Hungary. The sky was overcast when we landed, and the weather didn't clear up until later. Arriving at the airport, I thought about how things must have changed with immigration and customs formalities. I did have to go through the 'All Nationalities' line, while Alice sped through the 'EU + CH' line, but that was the biggest challenge we had at the airport. Although the customs officials had stern looks on their faces, no one said anything as we walked through the green 'Nothing to Declare' line as we only brought chocolate and some hard candies for our friends.

The drive into town went through some of the more industrial parts of town, which looked dreary with the overcast skies. Immediately upon leaving the airport I noticed a Tu-154 and an old Tu-134 at an open air airplane museum, which looked like it would be interesting to visit. Our airport bus whisked us to our hotel. However, the hotel we had booked had problems with some water pipes, so the had arranged for us to stay in the Marriott next to the river. Turns out the Marriott is a pretty famous building, as it was the first 'western style' hotels built in Budapest. The Marriott was also where the Warsaw Pact was disbanded. On top of all that, it also had great views of the Duna (or Donau/Danube/Dona) River.

Alice and I checked into the hotel, dropped off our bags and proceeded over to the Castle Hill in Buda. After looking at the huge line waiting to take the funicular up the hill, we decided we could walk up the hill. Which was a great idea, as we got nice views all the way up. More importantly, we got some exercise as we decided it was time to find some lunch. The first outdoor cafe was pretty busy, so we decided to keep on walking. By the time we walked to the next restaurant, we were pretty hungry, so we decided we could eat there. It had a really nice little courtyard, and when we arrived, it wasn't too busy (by the time we left, however it was packed). Unbeknownst to us, we had just walked into what our DK Budapest guidebook described as being one of the best restaurants in Budapest, the Rivalda Cafe & Restaurant. It certainly lived up to its reputation. I had pork in paprika sauce with dumplings. Alice had the Mediterranean chicken wrapped in bacon, filled with goat cheese in a cream sauce. We both decided that the apple crepe with cinnamon ice cream sounded great. This was on the daily menu, and the waiter talked me into trying the local Dreher beer, as he mentioned it would be about a Euro cheaper with the lunch. The food was all wonderful. The apple crepe was amazing. The staff there was very professional and friendly, and between them all they spoke English, German, French and Italian. If you're ever in Budapest - Go there for a meal.

After lunch we wandered all around Castle Hill, looking at Matthais Church, the Fishermen's Bastion and the Buda Castle. We didn't go into any of the museums as the weather was too nice. Then we headed back to the hotel.

For dinner we decided to head over to the Mirror Cafe at the Astoria Hotel for a light meal. Alice had a nice roasted duck salad, and I had beef goulash with spaetzli. My meal also came with a really nice marinated cucumber salad. We enjoyed the jazz band there, a three piece consisting of a guitar player, string bass player and a really talented hammered dulcimer player.

The next day we met up with our friends who live in Budapest, and they took us out for a ride to Szentendre (Saint Andrews), which is an artist's colony just north of Budapest. First we went to the Margit Kovacs museum. Margit Kovacs was a clay sculptor. Her sculptures are quite amazing. After that we walked up to the top of a small hill with a couple of churches on top. From there we had a nice view of the village and the surrounding area. We were tempted by the gelatti shops we saw, but as we hadn't had lunch yet, we decided to wait to have dessert.

From Szentendre we headed west to the open air museum. This museum is like the museums in France and Switzerland where they have houses from various parts of the country and have relocated them to the museum. It was amazing to see the craftsmanship of the houses. There was a church that was built with very few if any nails, using wooden pegs instead.

We had a huge lunch at the museum. The food there was quite good. I had chicken with paprika potatoes on the side. Alice had a mix of grain (bulgar wheat or barley) and peas. We started with soup, I had bean with bacon soup and Alice had a cold fruit soup. Lunch was big, so we looked at more of the museum afterwards. After we finished with the museum we headed back, but on the way we had a stop to make. Our friends had mentioned a bakery on the way out, and on the way back we stopped for some tasty desserts.

We were then dropped off at the hotel and bade our friends adieu. Alice and I headed back to the room to relax a bit, and decided we didn't need much for dinner. Now, in Hungary, lunch is the main meal. Dinner is usually cold cuts bread. There are delis everywhere open for dinnetime, and there was one across the street from our hotel. So, we headed over there, picked up some cold cuts, cheese, bread and a bottle of wine for dinner. Then we had our dinner overlooking the Duna.

On our final day we decided we wanted to walk up Gelert Hill to see the big Liberty Statue up close. We'd been looking at it from a distance the past few days. While we were at the open air museum we saw a post card of a wonderful looking market. We found out that it was in Pest, and so we headed there after looking at the statue. The market was huge, and wonderfully interesting. It was good we got there early, as it closed after lunch. I had plans to get some paprika...lots of paprika. And I got it, about 1 Kilogram, or two pounds. I got some of the stuff without seeds (both hot and sweet) and about 500 grams of the sweet paprika. And we got some saffron just for good measure. We went out again for lunch, and had some wonderful desserts. Then we headed to the airport and back to Switzerland.

From Budapest

From Budapest
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