Thursday, 2 October 2014

A weekend in Budapest

Friday afternoon and I took the train from our village of Harpenden to Luton airport, only 1 stop and met Pete after work for a late afternoon flight to Budapest. 2 hours flying time and we had arranged for the Airport Shuttle Bus to meet us and transfer us to the Zenit Budapest Hotel located 1 street back from the famous Danube river. Our first impressions of Budapest were really breathtaking. Cities always look nicer at night but this one is really something special. Buda and Pest are linked with spectacular bridges, all very different from each other and even though it was nearly 10.00pm before we reached our hotel, we couldn't resist the urge to meander along the edge of the Danube taking in the views of this magic place. Right next door to our hotel was a quirky little wine bar - DiVin Porcello which stayed open until midnight, so after our walk in the fresh night air, we stopped for a bottle of wine and a platter of local cheeses and ham. Along with the meal came a dialogue of what we were eating and from where it came - a lovely way to start our weekend.

 Budapest Museum at night
Chain bridge linking Buda to Pest
DiVin Porcello - our wine bar for our late night munchies

             Pete enjoying his wine, ham and cheese   .......  not sure what the background translation is!
Up early the following morning to start the day at the Central Market Hall, much like the Queen Victoria markets in Melbourne, stall after stall of beautiful fresh produce, cheeses, salamis and meats, paprika in every form and then the souvenirs of embroidered wares and Matryoshka dolls. After a breakfast there of crepes and hot chocolate, we spent the next couple of hours walking up Gellert Hill and the Citadel,  Budapest Museum, Budapest Castle, Heroes Square and the Fisherman's Bastion with its spectacular coloured tiled roofs.
The city centre is a network of paved roads littered with outdoor cafes and market stalls, hanging baskets of flowers from every street lamp and live entertainment never far away. And with an Indian summer happening, everybody was out and about.
As they drive on the right hand side of the road, we had to remember to look left before crossing - something that takes some getting used to after being conditioned all our lives to look the other way.
After lunch, we spent a couple of hours at the Gellert Baths, one of the many thermal baths in Budapest. Ornate ceilings in colourful mosaic tiles, thermal pools ranging from 18 degrees to 40 degrees and saunas up to 70 degrees. On weekends the baths are mixed and swimming costumes compulsory as opposed to weekdays where males and females are separated and costumes are optional. Thank goodness it was Saturday !!!!

                                The view from the citadel looking south over the Liberty Bridge

                                 Looking north over the Elizabeth Bridge and the Chain Bridge

The view down the Funicular Rail from the Museum

                                   Impressive coloured tile roof of the Fisherman's Bastion

A beautiful city to explore on foot
Sunday morning we headed off to Szimpla Kert markets. Around the turn of the century, old tenement houses and factory buildings that were doomed to destruction were revamped with rejected furniture from old community centres, cinemas and attics giving them a real retro feeling. They were soon called ruinpubs and became very popular with the locals and tourists alike. One of the more famous ones is Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden) and on Sunday mornings it becomes a market of home made wares - jams, marmalades, relishes, cordials, soups, home grown veggies and herbs as well as fresh breads and cheeses. The d├ęcor is very eclectic and looks like it has been put together from the selection of a 2nd hand shop selling electronic devices, prehistoric toys, old bikes and even vintage cars. You name it and it has been recycled into usable things - my chair was a singer sewing machine base with a tractor seat on top. A great atmosphere with local music playing and just the place to sit upstairs, have a drink and soak up the atmosphere.

Szimpla Kert Markets

After checking out of our hotel, we took the underground to the Szechenyi Baths for the afternoon - probably Budapest most famous baths. It is the largest medicinal bath in Europe and its water is supplied by 2 thermal springs - 74 and 77 degrees Celsius. Set in an acre of land, there are 18 different pools, 3 main outdoor pools and the rest indoor heated pools. We systematically made our way up one wing jumping from 18 degrees all the way up to 40 degree pools, and then sauna and steam rooms the warmest being 70 degrees. An hour outside in the large pools where strong jets would pummel your feet or in another pool a whirlpool is created and you are carried along and quite a good speed and can actually find it hard to exit.
The famous Szechenyi Baths of Budapest

Inside one of the many thermal pools

                                The large outdoor pool with the whirlpool section in the middle

A late night flight home and crawled into bed some time after midnight but what a wonderful city to explore. "Koszonom" - "thank you" - the only Hungarian word we learnt - 'Koszonom Budapest for an awesome weekend'.


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