Pearl of the Danube Day 1 and 2: Budapest

Jeff and I were extremely lucky to have been given a trip to Budapest. The company he works for celebrates certain colleagues every quarter, and Jeff was selected to go to “Rackstar.” Clever, huh? Rackstar, rockstar…? Anyway–After waking at 445a for the flight, we made it to the Pearl of the Danube bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

As the other Rackstars all came together and off we headed to our hotel, I realized how much I love how Jeff and I usually travel. We pack light, make our own way on our own timetable and soak it all in. But there is something to be said for hassle-free transportation and letting someone else make all the decisions.

As we drove the half hour from Budapest Airport to our hotel, I couldn’t help but notice the dilapidated state some of the city was. I didn’t realize that Hungary was a communist country until the early 90s. Communism, socialism, and even the Nazis seem like ancient history, but looking at the state of Budapest, it is far from it. There are so many indicators of the war and the damage it caused from the economy and sheer lack of smart phones to the shrines for the fallen all over the city. It almost felt like a ghost town haunted by the recent past rather than a city going toward a bright future.

2014-11-14 14.47.51We dropped our bags and headed out for a tour of the Danube. Much like London these days, the sun sets around 4p, so we had just a couple of hours to enjoy the sunlight. We walked along the river bank and first came across the famous Shoes on the Danube Bank. These are dozens of pairs of leather shoes worn by Jews who were executed on the river bank in 1944 and 1945. It was quite surreal to see in person. There were flowers and candles lined up in honor of those killed.

We continued along the bank and passed along the incredibly large and glorious Parliament building. We couldn’t go 2014-11-14 14.55.43inside, but the building was Gothic in its architecture and just stunning. It actually is the largest building in the country of Hungary, and the tallest building in Budapest. It just seemed to go on forever, much like the Houses of Parliament here. But the main difference was the big bulb on the top of the building that almost represented the State Capitol buildings of the states.

Smack in the middle of the Danube is a small island that breaks the water. We decided we would walk to the very tip of it and then cross through the island on the way back to the hotel. It was just beginning to get dark as we finally made it, but it was a trip well worth the view. The island was so quiet and beautiful. That was the place to be for serenity. Nestled inside was a miniature zoo, which Jeff was thrilled with, a small Japanese garden, and huge parks and pitches for soccer/football games.

2014-11-14 16.35.47On the other side of the island, we came back up for the Budapest air to see the blue sky had turned a deep navy. The city lit up and was definitely more beautiful than it was during the day. I was finally grateful for an early sunset.

That night, we were whisked to a very fancy meal at Spoon. This is a restaurant on the river in a boat. It was absolutely lovely with some really wonderful food. I stayed safe with the grilled sole and white asparagus which Jeff indulged in the rack of lamb with pumpkin soup. After dinner, they served dessert wine (my first time) and then shots of Sambuca with espresso beans floating in the clear liquid. Now that we were limbering up for a night out, the group hopped into cabs and made way toward a club called Trafiq.

Now, if you know me at all, you’ll know I’m not really the club type. There may have been one period in my life where I lived it up after the sun went 2014-11-14 23.52.20down, but that time has passed and I go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Not this night. The music was loud and piercing, but we had access to a full bar and private VIP area. I played it cool with tonic water and a seat watching the flapper dressed girls and men in top hats (random) gyrate to the music. As I was slowly falling asleep at the bar, Jeff finally said we could go back to the hotel.

2014-11-14 14.36.12But rest was not for the wicked. We woke up early for a company scavenger hunt that had us roam all around the city. We got to see the famous Chain Bridge, which is only one of the several bridges connecting Buda and Pest. So, that is a fun fact that I did not know prior to arriving. Buda and Pest are separate locations divided by the river, but since it’s a ten minute walk across, it is known as Budapest. But also, there is an incredible photo of this bridge during WWII with half of it underwater. It was completely surreal to see that picture and then see this bridge that has lived to connect the two cities again.

Our little tour brought us to the Opera House, which is quite famous in the city. But instead of being able to go 2014-11-15 11.58.35inside and see the much talked about glory, we were put into a Segway tour. I’ve never ridden on said machine, so was absolutely terrified, but after about five minutes and some hard lessons in stopping, it became second nature and we toured all around toward St. Stephen’s Basilica, which I will talk about in the next post. I do wish we had been able to go inside the Opera House, but that will have to be for another trip.

2014-11-15 12.50.50We then headed to Hero’s Square. This is an area dedicated to the Seven Chieftans of the Magyars and many other heroes including the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Flanked on either side of this square ware two art galleries, which again, we couldn’t go into due to time. I would have loved to have been able to see the Hungarian art, but instead, we were put on a Beer Bike to circle around the park. We were the English/American tourists blasting classic rock, drinking beer and screeching the tunes.

We then had a late lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, which was not my first choice of place to go, but alas, it was a free meal, so who am I to complain?

I will end this entry here and continue what we did that evening and the next day on our wonderful trip in the next post. Keep reading to find out more about the food, culture and Turkish baths.

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