December 18, 2016
Travelling from sunny South Africa, in the midst of summer to Central East Europe in December is not for the faint hearted. Our departure was at midnight on the 18th of December and we had quite a long commute, via Amsterdam and Vienna, finally taking a train from Vienna to Budapest.
As usual, despite our best efforts, we were not travelling ‘lightly’, so looking at our suitcases, I knew it was going to be a bit challenging moving from place to place with suitcases, jackets, but we were off and that was all that mattered!
December 19, 2016
We arrived in Amsterdam Schiphol airport tired, after our overnight flight, but with time to spare before our connecting flight. We had something small to eat at the airport and perused the shops, making mental lists of what we wanted to buy at duty-free on the way back…alas, that never happened, but that is a story for another day. Anya did get a pair of gloves (we never wear gloves in South Africa, like in never).
We arrived in Vienna and hastily made our way to the train station for the train to Budapest. We finally arrived in Budapest after 8:00pm on the Monday evening and was immediately met by a bunch of taxi drivers at the train station, offering lifts. The plan was to take public transport to our hotel, but we were tired, with heavy luggage and I decided to just go with the taxi. And in so doing, fell into the number 1 tourist trap (according to our walking tour guide the next day), which is taxi’s. The number 2 and 3 tourist traps in Budapest are taxi’s and taxi’s too….in case you were wondering.
We paid an equivalent of EUR28 for a 3km trip, whereas 3 single tickets would have cost about EUR3.50. The silver lining is that after that, most things felt fairly cheap in Budapest! Dinner, breakfast the next morning, were all cheaper than the taxi…
December 20, 2016
We woke up to a cold and foggy morning, but energetic and looking forward to the day. I found a popular breakfast spot in the Pest side, close to the Vörösmarty Square, but being a popular spot, it looked very full and we didn’t have much time, so we decided to go to a little cafe on the corner, Cafe Hilda. Breakfast was fresh and inexpensive and we were even treated with these little complimentary Christmas rolls filled with walnuts and poppy seeds. I think they are called Beigli.
With our tummies filled, we were ready for the walking tour. We went with Free Walking Tours, a local company, claiming to do the original walking tour in Budapest. The concept of a free walking tour is fantastic, as you normally get a local guide and as they are not being paid upfront, they are paid with tips, so they have a lot of incentive to do an excellent job. Our guide, Andrais was fantastic. He not only gave us a lot of information about the history, and local culture but also gave lots of tips on food, drinks to try and places to visit. After the tour we were given a little flyer with more information on food, restaurants, eateries and other local information.
The walking tour started in the Pest side of Budapest (on the eastern side of the Danube river) and continued to the Buda side, walking over the Chain Bridge, where we walked up the Castle hill to the Buda Castle. We strolled around at the top of the hill, seeing the Sándor Palace (or the White House), the beautiful Matthias Church with its ornate roof tiles and ended off with a glass of mulled wine a the Fisherman’s Bastion.
Afterwards, we took a slow stroll back to our apartment in the Pest side, taking in the local scenery in, doing some shopping at a local vintage shop and browsing through interesting shops. Lunch was fresh bread rolls, ham and cheese from the supermarket around the corner. Later in the afternoon, we set off in the direction of Vörösmarty Square again where the biggest Christmas market in Budapest was located. The atmosphere was very festive, with live music and the smell of pastry, mulled wine and meat in the air. We were craving the local ‘chimney cakes’ or kürtőskalács, and decided to share one.
We did some shopping and Anya found a wooden cut-out magnet with her name on it. Very impressed, she told the shopkeeper that it is her name, spelled correctly, after which he informed her that anya is the word for mother in Hungarian! Who would have known? This coincidence was enough to convince her to buy the magnet!
After a dinner of hungarian goulash, which came with complimentary Rákóczi Túrós, a sort of ricotta cheese cake traditionally served at Christmas, we decided to take a walk towards the river to see the lights. The Castle at night was absolutely beautiful and we were very lucky to see one of the trams that was decorated in Christmas lights as well.
December 21, 2016
The plan for this day included a visit to Szechenyi baths, a mineral bath close to Heroes’ square in Budapest. The guide for the walking tour recommended going early when visiting the baths, so avoid the crowds, so we got out of bed early, armed with our swimming costumes and towels in sub zero temperatures! We could only enter the baths at 9:00am, but took a walk around the area (in light snow), taking a walk to the Heroes’ Square before our entrance. It may sounds a bit crazy, but the baths were a great idea, and definitely something different to experience! We couldn’t stay too long as we had to check out of our apartment, but we thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
After sort of drying, we went back to our apartment, checked out, left our luggage and went out again.
After a light snack and hot chocolate at the Christmas market on Városháza park, we walked to St Stephen’s Basilica where we bought tickets to go up the tower. The view from the top of the tower was amazing! You can walk right around the tower and have an awesome 360 degree view over the city. Afterwards we had a look in the Basilica which was also very impressive with its domed ceiling.
After our visit to the Basilica, we needed to rest our feet and stopped for coffee at Avenue Cafe, close to our apartment. I wanted to see the largest Jewish Synagogue in Budapest, the Dohány Street Synagogue, but unfortunately it was closed when we arrived, so we walked around the outside. The synagogue is the largest and Europe and the fourth largest in the world.
We walked to the most famous ruin pub in Budapest, the Szimpla Kert in the Jewish district, with very interesting decor but not much to offer in terms of dinner, so we took a long route back to a restaurant close to our accommodation again, which served delicious Italian food, the Panificio Il Basilico.
Finally it was time to collect our luggage and make the trek towards the station (via public transport this time!) as we had an overnight bus to Krakow.
We loved our short stay in Budapest, and I would love to go back again one day, hopefully in summer. I googled all these magnificent spots to take sunrise pictures, but alas we were not to see the sun on the days we were there, We did, however have some light snow, which ended up being the most snow we had on our trip…. So, as a final picture for this post, herewith our almost snow selfie!
Next up, Krakow!