Birthday in Budapest

When we made our initial list of places we wanted to see in Europe, Ryan’s choices were mainly in Eastern Europe.  So, I surprised him with a trip to Budapest for his birthday.

It was a quick 90 minute flight to Budapest, late on a Friday night after work.  When we arrived at the Kempinski, the receptionist offered us a cheap upgrade to a much bigger room with spa access and inclusive mini-bar.  How could we not? The room was lovely and the mini-bar was well stocked!  As we started our taste test of Hungarian wines, we made a list for the following day.  There was a lot to see!

The next day we headed to breakfast, which is when we realized that “breakfast” in Budapest means croissants and rolls with various types of jam and honey.  We found the first place that served omelets and took a seat outside to enjoy the warm sun.  After breakfast, we walked to along the Danube River bank and enjoyed the view.  Next, it was time for a little shopping.  We took a taxi out to the antique market on the outskirts of the city.  This was an impressive antique market.  I’ve never seen so many old telephones, cameras, swords, glasses and silver.  There was also quite a selection of books, records and coins.   I had planned to take lots of cool, artsy pictures of said antiques but since I apparently left my camera on the table at breakfast, the iPhone pictures will have to due.

After the antique market, we walked by the American Embassy and a few other regal-looking buildings on our way to the very modern American-style mall to do some shopping of a different kind.  We had to replace the camera that our waiter was sure to be selling as soon as he left work.  We were lucky to find a Sony rep who spoke excellent English and helped us pick out the perfect camera.  This was an interesting ordeal in a Hungarian mall.  The salesman took the items we were going to purchase to the register for us.  We had to sign several documents that neither of us could read but it was my understanding that one of them was a warranty of some kind and I believe we can take the camera back to the store if it breaks but since it’s in Budapest and we’re not, I didn’t think a proper translation was important.

After our long day of shopping, we decided on a square that had several bars and restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating.  We enjoyed some delicious cocktails. Every one better than the last and not just because we were tipsy.  Bartenders in Budapest really know their mixology.  We ended the night with a stroll along the Danube River again. It looks like a different place at night.  All of the beautiful buildings are lit up and the lights glisten on the water.

On the second day, we walked to the Buda side of the river to see the Buda castle, an underground labyrinth and a beautiful view of Parliament from across the river.  The labyrinth was certainly Ryan’s favorite part and it was a welcomed sight to see inside while it rained.  We walked about six miles this day over the Chain Bridge and back to the Pest side where our hotel was located.

That evening we decided to go back to a sushi bar we had seen earlier in the day.  We eyed the sushi from afar and it appeared to have actual fish.  We figured it had to be better than the rice rolls we got in Germany and it was!  We both stuffed ourselves like we hadn’t eaten in days.  Next, we thought we would take in a little Budapest nightlife.  While walking off the sushi, we stumbled into a “folklore festival.”  There was a fire show just beneath the Chain Bridge so we stopped to watch for a bit before walking to the Buda side just to see the lights.  This was no ordinary fire show, this would never happen in the states.  In the picture below, you can see how close they are to the spectators, including children and at one point, they ask for audience participation.  It was a pretty incredible display for festival under a bridge!

The next day it was time to relax.  After reading some pretty horrible reviews of the baths in Budapest, we opted for a slightly more luxurious bath in the spa at the hotel.  After spending a couple of hours in the various steam rooms, saunas and the cold pool, we got a couples massage before taking a walk to get lunch.  Luckily we found an amazing cafe-bar for lunch because we were rained in for quite a while.

I’ve never seen it rain so hard.  We watched the people run for shelter and fumble with umbrellas, which didn’t seem to keep anyone dry, while we sipped on cocktails and a drink we discovered called “Melange.”   It’s coffee with foamed milk and honey and it’s delicious.  With the extensive list of cocktails and coffees, we could have stayed here chatting all day but the rain subsided so we continued our walk down Andrassy Road.  We were told this was the Champs Elysees of Budapest.  The Champs Elysees, it was not.

That night, we went out to a beautiful dinner for Ryan’s special birthday dinner.  It felt more like an anniversary that Ryan’s birthday.  While we were sitting in the square in from of the cathedral,  a jazz band near by began playing our song.  Of course, we had to dance.  It was our song!

The restaurant seemed to be small and informal but charming little tables were deceiving.  This place was amazing.  The sommelier brilliantly paired an amazing wine (and only around 18 Euro) with my vegetarian dish and Ryan’s foie gras with caramelized apples, which was quite possible the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten.  I didn’t expect to enjoy the food in an Eastern European country so much but Budapest has some fantastic restaurants.

The next day was our last in Budapest and we spent it walking to see the sites and relaxing on Margaret Island.   On the way to Margaret Island, we took the long route and walked along the Danube River so that we could stop to see the Shoes on The Danube Promenade.  This simplistic memorial consists of 60 pairs of cast-iron shoes designed in 1940’s styles for men, women and children.  It marks the spot where 60 Jews were shot into the river during the Holocaust.  It was a remarkably moving memorial.  While we were there several people had just stumbled upon and asked us what it was.  You could see there faces change as they realized what they were looking at and the horrible things that took place in that very spot.

After taking some time to reflect, we continued our walk past Parliament to Margaret Island.  This was an unexpected little oasis on the river between Buda and Pest. Tired from the walk, we rented a peddle cart to explore the island.

Our last stop was at the St. Stephens Basilica.  This exquisite basilica took over 50 years to build.  The exterior shows the mark of the various architects who contributed but the interior is flawless.

Budapest is an unforgettably beautiful city and it was the perfect choice for Ryan’s birthday. If only we had a few more days…

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