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Monday, July 8

Budapest, Hungary

I’ve long waited to write this post. I contemplated skipping it all together but that didn’t seem fair. I didn’t want to write it because the night before we left, I was sick. Stomach bug or ill and I had to go to the bathroom every couple hours. We chose to rent a car for this journey, a 7 hour car ride. Imagine the horror on my face that morning when I didn’t know if I could sit for more than 2 hours at a time without using the bathroom. Instead of 7 hours, it was closer to 8.5 hours with multiple breaks.

So here it is, one of the first trips we took after moving to Germany.
Budapest is divided by the Danube. Budapest is two cities: Buda and Pest. Buda is quieter and residential while Pest is the busy, party area of the town. We are no party animals but we stayed in Pest and found it very convenient. There are bars on the river boardwalk that were crowded in the evenings, sadly we didn’t make it out to hang with the cool kids.

The most impressive sight is the parliament. They offer tours in Hungarian and English but be prepared to wait in long lines. We arrived early for the 10am tour, not early enough, because that tour was booked; the security told us to keep waiting. An hour later we were. The waiting que and admittance is haphazard, some individuals were allowed to enter for unknown reasons and some were sent to the back of the line. (Obviously, people in group tours with prepaid tickets were admitted first.) The building is something of a monstrosity from inside and out. Since it is the 3rd largest parliament building in Europe, the tour covers only 10% of the interiors. The rooms and furniture are preserved with the country’s history in mind. The tour was 30- 45 minutes and worth the price.
I highly recommend a boat cruise on the Danube; seeing many of the city’s sights from the water is breathtaking. The hike up to Castle Hill in Buda is rewarding with spectacular views of the parliament and city of Pest. Same can be said for the steps to the top of St. Peter’s basilica.

Budapest is like a forgotten stepchild of the European uncle. A city once suppressed and the voices of its people silenced, Budapest is suspended in pre-iron curtain days and trying to recover. It is part of the European Union but the needs time to repair. It has more graffiti than we had ever seen in public space. (That opinion is altered because we’ve visited other European cities.)

Although we drove we used public transportation around the city. Some street trams were dated while few were modernized. The wires on the older tram lines had electric sparks, a sign of much needed upgrade. When we tried to buy tickets for the tram, the dated machine took our money and didn’t print a ticket. There are certainly signs of the city’s resiliency and of people ready to embrace the modern times.

Speaking of people, they are some of the nicest people we encountered. For instance, when we asked for clarification on various Hungarian paprika sold in the Central Market, the vendors were eager to answer our queries. One morning we ate Langos for breakfast at the Market and the locals eating at the same stall were generous and friendly. The vendor explained in her broken English what toppings are preferred by Hungarians. Langos is deep fried bread dough topped with sour cream and cheese. It is the perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack! Having traveled in Europe, we’ve experienced snooty Western European cities (and people) while Budapest (and Prague) offered memorable hospitality and customer service.

At the market, we bought 1/2 kilo each of Hungarian sweet paprika and smoked paprika. They made great gifts. And on shopping, everything was much cheaper comparatively to Germany. I don’t know the reason, but we were delighted with the low prices on food, shopping and hotels.

However I was disappointed in a restaurant recommendation from a taxi driver. The restaurant was upscale and geared to the high spending tourists especially because the food was average. There we tried Goulash. I was equipped with a list of places the locals frequent but it didn’t work in our favor to try any of them.

I am glad that we went to Budapest; it is a true eastern European city. If we had more time here, I would go back to try the amazing food it has to offer. And hopefully the 2nd time around, I won’t be sick.

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