And a good evening you again from across the Pond for the special edition of "Travel with the Taylors." Okay, as promised, here's the recap of Budapest, a city that can ABSOLUTELY endorse as one of the BEST places to visit in the whole of Europe, and perhaps the continent's best kept secret.
Thursday: Where do I buy the Nike Shoes? (T-Rowe - that was for you, brother)
So we left work and rolled to Gatwick, where JT and I met outside of Malev's air's check-in desk. This is Hungary's official carrier, and it was voted "Best Eastern European Airline of 2009." Personally, that's kind of like winning the award for fattest person in a Miss America pageant, as it's not like the competition is all that fierce. All the same, we hopped on board for the start of our adventure.
The flight was good, but we got our first indicator that booze in Hungary was going to be less than stellar when th wine they gave us was practically translucent. This would have been fine by itself, but the cheese sandwich they gave us with it solidified my opinion that Malev air did NOT face British Airways or Luftansa style competition in the former Eastern Bloc. All the same, we arrived about 45 minutes late and were fine and dandy - at least until we wandered out to meet our taxi driver...
We had pre-booked a taxi with our hotel, but homeboy was NOT present. More to the point, despite 3 phone calls, 1 email, and 30 minutes of waiting, he STILL had not shown up. We had been told that, once booked, we would DEFINITELY owe the fee. However, as I was madder than a wet Hornet (props to Alice Ann for that one), we stormed out, got a taxi, and rolled to the hotel. When I told the front desk that the guy never showed, it went like this:
Dude at counter (Dac): "Yes, there are taxis at airport."
Sammy: "Yep - a bunch of 'em. But not the one we ordered. I want to ensure it's not on our bill."
Dac: "You just call us, we make taxi."
Sammy: "Okay, but you didn't make one when we landed. So no charge, right?"
Dac: "You tell us and we will book."
Consequently we rolled up stairs and PASSED OUT. Despite the hiccups, we were in Budapest, with 2.5 days of immortality in front of us. I am happy to report that, after those initial speed bumps, it was ALLLLLLLLL good.
Friday: Pest - all you need for a perfect day...
So we woke up to rain, but we wandered out into Pest with high spirits (note - Budapest is divided into 2 cities - Buda and Pest (clever, huh) - and we were staying on the Pest side. They are joined by 7 bridges and were incorporated together in 1867 to form one of the "twin capitals of the Hauptsburg Empire - Vienna was the other). We walked through the "fancy shopping district," somewhat surprised to find that we were the only cats out and about. Realizing that the world wakes up late in Pest, we went and had brekkie at this GREAT little spot called Fresco's (the omelet was so guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud).
We then caught the tram up to Parliament (the world's 3rd largest, for the record), where we learned that we'd just missed the noon tour of the building. However, upon discovering that there was a 2 PM tour, we hopped back on the tram and rolled down to the Cathedral of Pest - St. Stephen's. In a word - WOW.
Now I think it goes without saying that Team Taylor has visited A LOT of churches during our time in Europe. However, this one is WAY up there. 55 kinds of marble (54 of which were from Hungary - the white marble was from Italy), gorgeous frescoes, amazing lighting, and plenty of history made this church a MUST SEE for anyone who visits Budapest. Dedicated to St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary and the man responsible for converting (meaning slaughtering anyone who disagreed) the nation to Christianity, his right hand is STILL ON DISPLAY in a side chapel (but you have to pay $1 to see it lit up - CLASSIC). He ruled from 1000 to 1038, and apparently he and his gal Gisela were a fearsome pair (just like JT and I...).
After visiting the church, we rolled back to Parliament, where we joined a (rather chaotic) tour through the capital. It was GORGEOUS and DEFINITELY worth the visit, but we did feel a bit like cattle being driven along the Sante Fe Trail. The tour was in 2 languages, which helped us because whatever I missed during the English presentation I was usually able to catch during the German bit. If nothing else - it was good practic (Frau would have been so proud). The highlight was the old seating chamber and the crown jewels, including the scepter from the 10th century (from Egypt) and the original and only) crown in Hungarian history (all 55 kings wore it).
After that, we wandered into City Park (stopping at the ENORMOUS Heroes Square) before dropping in for the highlight of the day - THE THERMAL SPAS, BABY!!!!! So we roll in, pay our money ($15 each - CHEEEEEEEEAP), and are given a cabin to change into bathing suits. Only then does it occur to us that we DON'T GET TOWELS AS PART OF THE ENTRY FEE. However, I have a t-shirt, and I ain't skeered. Instead, we roll out barefoot and in our suits into the indoor spas, soaking and pruning almost instantly.
This place was AWESOME, complete with 15 pools and a sauna that got up to 70 Celsius! That's about 150 or so Fahrenheit - OUT OF CONTROL. The classic moment, however, was when, after searching (clearly not very hard), we concluded there was no outdoor pool. I went to the frigidarium to cool off, and someone asked Jenny (in another hot tub) where the outdoor pool was. When she said, "Oh, there isn't one," he looked at her as though she were from Mars. Sure enough, his friend comes back and says, "Follow me." 30 seconds later, we are staring at an outdoor pool THE SIZE OF PANTHERS STADIUM. I mean...come on...
It was AWESOME. There was this central jet area that pushed you around like a lazy river on acid. Seriously, the space was built for about 10 people, and we had about 7,000 in there. More than once I was actually rocked OUT of the whirlpool, where I almost always collided with some huge German dude with loads of back hair wearing nothing but a Speedo 14 sizes too small. GOOD TIMES!!!!
The other cool thing was the chess boards. There were boards set up where folks could just sit and soak, playing chess whilst drinking their beers and relaxing in the water. All in all, it was an AMAZING WAY to spend 3 hours. We had so much fun, in fact, that we almost got locked in, as we didn't get out of the water until we had 8 minutes to spare.
Having no towel to dry off, resorted to option B - steal about 10,000 paper towels from the bathroom. You could tell the staff was less than pleased, but hey - it helped to get rid of us quicker, so they didn't complain.
Dinner that night was in the Jewish Quarter (where we saw the largest Synagogue in Europe and second largest in the WORLD), where we had an AMAZING meal. They advertised live music, which was basically a dude sitting by a Casio keyboard singing music from Dirty Dancing ("she's like the wind, in my dreams..."). The music was okay, but the food was AWESOME. I had "Dream of Harem Ladies," which was roasted chicken stuffed with cheese and fried banana rolled in flour and then fried again before being stuffed into potatoes covered with cheese - SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peeeeeeeeeepy cheekies). JT had paprika chicken, also off the chain.
What was NOT off the chain, however, was the local liquor - palinke. Knockout had warned me about this stuff (her quote was "It's like drinking petrol"), and she was NOT kidding. We got the plumb flavor - I actually wanted to rename it to "post-apocalyptic charred whale flavor." YUCK...
After the great meal, we wandered home, where we passed out after another GREAT DAY recorded in the books.
Okay, I know that's not all, but hey - I've gotta keep something for the coming days! That's enough news fit for print - chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny