Thu June 9
This post begins with a recommendation and some advice.Let’s start with the advice: Take the free walking tour in any major city as soon as humanly possible. It is a great way to meet people and get oriented to the city where you’ll be spending your time. The recommendation is for Free Walking Tours here in Budapest – I took their general tour and the Jewish quarter tour as well.
The general tour was the best introduction to the city I could have asked for. We started on the Pest aide of the Danube and got a brief overview of Hungary’s tumultuous history before winding our way through the streets. Once we crossed the Chain Bridge into Buda, I was already enamored with the city. Climbing up the hill to the Royal Palace grounds was worth the effort. The whole of Pest opens up in front of you from this high vantage point and the pictures don’t do it justice.
At the end of the tour we decamp to a local canteen with our guides for some home cooked Hungarian food. Both guides translate the menu as we go .. for some 30 people. The lunch is delicious and the portion is huge here in this cafeteria style eatery. Sausage and barley and some sort of ratatouille for me, with a side of my new favorite thing: pickled salad (there has been a serious withdrawal from pickles this year spent abroad).
I walk off the calories on the Fisherman’s Bastion. I hope because I’m walking against strong winds and shivering that I burn twice as many. I left the house with a tank top to combat the 90 degree heat and was rewarded with a cold and windy day with the threat of rain. A coffee to warm me up in a park on the Pest side and I horde some additional calories with a massive shortbread cookie on my walk back to the apartment. This country is delicious.
Fri June 10
Late start. Back to the train station to pick up my train ticket to Prague for next week. Thankfully the station is not nearly as stressful this time. A side note to fellow travelers. Think twice before you buy those Eurail passes. My ticket from Budapest to Prague was only 13€! It’s on an InterCity train that leaves at 5:25am and takes approx 7 hours to reach Prague. Conversely, my RailJet from Salzburg to Budapest was 73€. I’m not built for buses, it was worth it.
Also worth it – some online research on secondhand English bookstores. This is how I found Red Bus Bookstore on Semmelweiss utca on the Pest side. I peek my head into the store and then dip into the cafè down the street for a homemade raspberry lemonade and the last few pages of Everything is Illuminated (thanks, Lizzie!). I received 300HUF for my book and picked up I Was Told There’d be Cake and the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime for 1200HUF – approx 4€.
After a quick lunch I head to Vorosmarty Square for another free walking tour, this time for the Jewish quarter. While not as enjoyable as the first tour, I have to admit I’m really not paying attention because I’ve struck up a conversation with some fellow Americans. Well one is a Canadian but who’s counting? We check the main sights off of our list: the Synagogue, the weeping willow memorial, the residential area that costs 2200€ per square meter for a flat. We get a look inside the ruin bars which are a wild conglomeration of flea market junk and sidewalk treasure in a bombed out shell of a building. Before long the tour has ended and it’s time for me to go to the opera.
I have a cheap seat (1000HUF) in the third tier that suits me just fine. So it is here in the Hungarian Opera House where I see the Barber of Seville: an opera that takes place in Spain, written by a Frenchman and performed in Italian. The Hungarian subtitles look absurd in comparison to the Italian flooding the auditorium. The show is nearly four hours with a brief intermission and by the end my fellow viewers and I are ready for bed.