Monday, 27 September 2010

FINALLY back to even - Wrapping Budapest...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. The Land’s End Challenge ratcheted up another level today, with Sam logging 12.5 KM’s (7.8 miles) in 1:04:49. It was a great route, as it took me over both the Tower Bridge and London Bridge – what a view! Throw in an AFD for good measure, and you've got a picture of health on this fine Monday.

Okay, so tonight, I FINALLY get all caught up and back to even by presenting Budapest – the rest of the story…

Saturday: Wandering around with Anita…

So Team Taylor popped up quasi-early this day for one of the “must do’s” on our list – the Pest walking tour. These tours (Buda and Pest alternate days) are FREE with your travel card, and I am happy to confirm that they were GREAT – 2.5 hours of laughs, information, insight, and fresh air.

Prior to leaving the hotel, however, we stopped by the front desk to ask them for a recommendation for dinner. The conversation went something like this:

Sammy: “Excuse me. We want a really good, Hungarian meal tonight. Where would you recommend?”

New Dude at Counter (NDAC): “Ahhh, I don’t know. What kind of food do you want?”

Sammy: “Just hearty, traditional, Hungarian. Somewhere near here that’s not too expensive.”

NDAC: “Ahhh, I don’t know. There are lots of restaurants here.”

Sammy: “Yes – is there one you like?”

NDAC: “No.” (Full stop – he ACTUALLY SAID NO)

Sammy: “Any that the hotel recommends?”

NDAC: “No.”

Sammy: (DETERMINED TO GET HIM TO NAME A PLACE, EVEN IF IT’S McDONALD’S) “Can you think of a single place you’ve heard of that tourists have enjoyed eating here?”

NDAC: “I suggest you wander the big streets. There are lots of places there.”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? VERY helpful…

We arrived the meeting point with about 20 minutes to spare, and so we visited our own personal Nirvana – COFFEE HEAVEN. There, amidst the sounds of baristas hard at work, I had a white chocolate and coconut mocha whilst JT had a Hazelnut chocolate mocha. Dare I say it – SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD. But honestly, I almost went into a sugar coma 20 minutes later.

Our guide Anita (who was a HOOT) met us outside the visitor center, and from there we had a GREAT tour, walking past important buildings, monuments, and parks all over the Pest side. Some of the highlights included the Opera House and Andrassy Avenue (the only avenue in Pest), where we learned of the many festivals taking place that weekend. It was funny – we walked past the street festival at ~10:40 and they were STILL SETTING UP. Let’s just say that folks don’t get in any big hurry in Hungary – the day starts when it starts – NOT BEFORE.

Anita dropped us at the Pest Food Hall, where Team Taylor tackled these AMAZING strudels. I went for the dill cheese curd, whilst Puffin killed an apple strudel. And since that just wasn’t enough, we then went to a GREAT little café for lunch, where we gorged on goulash, sausage, and all the dumplings and cheese you can handle.

It was then across the Libertine Bridge and into Buda, where we made the 20 minute hike (STRAIGHT UP, for the record) to the Citadel. This spot, the location for 1 of only 2 Soviet memorials still in Budapest, is the highest point in the area and yields AMAZING views of both sides of the city (as well as the Danube and Margaret Island in the middle. We spent quite a bit of time up here, sitting on the benches and enjoying the sunshine. I mean, come on – look at that view!!!!

We then walked down (which was like coming off K2 – YIKES) to street level, where we had nice views of Buda Palace (now an art museum) and the Buda side, as well as gorgeous views across the water to Parliament (from this angle, it looked SO MUCH like Britain’s Parliament). We chose that as our crossing spot, and consequently we crossed off another to-do of the city’s Top 10 – walking across the Chain Bridge. It’s a very cool walk that affords pedestrians GREAT views of the Castle district (on the Buda side), including glimpses of St. Mattias Church, resplendent with all of its Hungarian tiles on the roof, Buda Palace, and Fisherman’s Bastion.

Upon crossing the river, we wandered down by Parliament, stopping at the memorial to the 20,000 Jews who were shot and dumped in the Danube during World War II. The site is marked by 62 pairs of shoes, and it’s a very haunting piece of work.

After that, we wandered first through a arts and crafts street festival (which was less than stellar, but there was a guy WEARING OUT a guitar – Dave Matthews/Tim Reynolds style (Ditty – that was for you). We left there pretty quick, wandering over to Andrassy Avenue and into the second festival. Before tackling the festival, however, we ducked into this CUTE little side street, where we chilled at Café Pausa for the last Hungarian beer on the list – Saproni. And whilst it was okay, it was a DEFINITE confirmation that, while Hungarians can cook food with the best of them, their booze has a LOOOOOONG way to go…

The second festival, we later found out, celebrated the opening of the Opera season. This shindig was definitely cooler (I mean, not Bulls Gap Street Dance, cool, but honestly, what is? Miller – speaking of, you should see the Tazewell Street Dance – now THAT is life changing).

We saw some RANDOM stuff along this wander, including:

1. A dude sitting in a bathtub and petting women’s heads at they bent down to take photos
2. Posters for the new production of “Mephistopholes,” complete with a naked dude COVERED IN BLOOD – riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight…
3. This CRAZY 10 minute dance montage about (JT and I assumed) violence against women. The movements were fairly violent, but the music and the strength these cats exhibited was just OUT OF CONTROL – Cirque du Soleil style.

The highlight of that festival was this set of 6 UBER bon bon’s that JT found. Seriously – each on of these took 14 months of our life, and they were each about the size of a walnut. Inside they were filled with fruit, peanut butter, Nutella, chocolate, and all kinds of rich goodness that should be illegal except in Heaven – WOW. I could eat another 45 of them right now. We actually ate 2 that night, saving the next 4 for brekkie on Sunday (who needs Wheaties? This is how we roooooooll…).

We had to walk about 56 miles for dinner that night, but we ended up with another GREAT meal. Again, whilst the wine was less than stellar (we tried red this time), the entrees were JUST DELISH. We then rolled home, where we passed out after another PERFECT DAY.

Sunday: The Beauty of Buda - courtesy of Anita (yes, the same one)...

We popped up the same time as Saturday, finished packing, and then left our luggage with the hotel (different dude than the cat who a) didn’t order my taxi or b) couldn’t think of a SINGLE restaurant in Budapest worth eating at). We then caught the #16 bus to the Buda side and hopped off at the Castle District. There we popped in for a coffee at Café Miro, where we paid about 39,000 bucks for a coffee the size of my thumb nail. Oh well, it happens…

Anita was once again our guide, and she was GREAT. We saw the Castle District (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the weather was good again (a few slight showers, but that ended quick). Granted, a lot of what we saw we’d walked through on Saturday. However, it was GREAT to get a little exercise, get some of the history, and see it all again.

It was actually an interesting day, as it was the ONE DAY all year that government buildings were open to the public. That meant that the President’s House, the National Archives, lots of galleries, you name it – all were FREE! Granted, we didn’t get a chance to take advantage of it (we had to catch a flight), but it was still cool to see.

After the tour (we actually ducked out early – we’re starting to make a habit of that – I BLAME YOU, ARMENA!!!), we rolled back to the Pest side, where we did a little shopping before hopping a taxi back to the airport. After that, it was an easy ride to the airport, where we caught our flight (more or less) on time and got back at a reasonable hour (for a change).

So that’s it – you now know Budapest. As I said before, you really need 4 days to do this city justice, and you could absolutely spend 5 if you wanted to do a day trip. I can confirm that Team Taylor will DEFINITELY go back, and more to the point – it now has a firm spot in the “Top 5 places in Europe you must visit before you die” list. How’s THAT for praise?

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

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