Our three days in Budapest was a great photo opportunity. Every time I turned corner another building with interesting facades and statuary caught my eye. And we turned quite a few corners on the tour bus Alex wrote about in her posting. I’m still a rookie with the camera, but I did try stay aware when I looked up and saw dramatic clouds to frame a shot, or interesting light on the Danube river, the Castle, or the Parliament building. So, I give Budapest high marks for the photo ops – even a rookie can get a few keepers.
The best description I have for our apartment is “tired”. Although we were situated in a great part of town, 2 blocks from the river and right in the middle of a very fashionable pedestrian shopping area; the apartment itself had a kitchen big enough for one person to stand – but not turn around. The place was pretty dusty and water leaked from the shower and filled a corner of the bathroom floor. The owner was pleasant when he came by to collect the rent and gave us some useful local information to get us started in our exploration of the city. However, the apartment was not provisioned with any simple consumables (bath soap, sugar, salt/pepper, hot pads, laundry soap, etc). Usually owners of apartments have some of these low-cost basics in the apartment so the renter don’t need to buy a whole box of laundry soap or bottle of cooking oil for a couple of days stay. We also had a little ant problem, and Patrick suspects the little buggers bite. Anyway, let’s just say that this was not our favorite lodging to date.
We were in Budapest for a few days and only had time and energy to explore the main tourist sights. However, we did get out of the touristy area when we took the subway a few stops to buy our train tickets to Prague. The train station was bustling with travelers, many college age kids with backpacks and Eurail tickets. The area is what one would normally expect around a train station. After walking through this neighborhood Patrick confided to me, “Dad, I wasn’t comfortable walking through that area”. I admitted that there were some hard looking characters just outside the station and told him “You’re right, that is a good instinct for you to have. When your gut tells you something might be wrong, listen to it and stay extra aware of things around you.” This was a hard-earned lesson that my brothers and I learned while traveling when we were in college. Dan and I ended up in a knife fight in Spain, but that is another story. In this case the apartment owner informed us that the area was OK during the day, but to stay away at night. Sounds like most of the BART stations in the bay area. We ended up walking a few blocks from the train station to a very nice Hungarian restaurant across the street from the castle grounds. This time Alex went for the trout – she was surprised when it showed up with the head and tail still attached – but she ate and enjoyed it. Patrick ordered venison with a potato bread in gravy and cranberry sauce, I ordered the goulash. I think we have occasionally surprised wait staff of several restaurants when the kids order the more full flavored dishes, and the adults go for goulash or soup. I’m convinced the willingness of our kids to try the more interesting dishes is a result viewing of Iron Chef America and Chopped on the Food Channel. After tasting the dishes Suzanne and I sometimes get narrative on dish presentation , the amount and type of spice, or taste undertones provided by a sauce or garnish. Patrick owes you readers a few written reviews of the dishes he has tried so far – it is part of his road-school curriculum. Feel free to send him a motivational email at Patrick@Sherrys.org.
Besides exploring the citadel on the Buda side of the river, we took a bus ride to Hero Square on the Pest side and checked out the public baths. The Budapest area was originally settled by the Romans around 1 AD, and one of the reasons for siting their fortress was the natural hot springs that make for good bathing. The baths we visited were constructed in the 1800’s when a “public plunge” came with a little more artwork than today. The highlight of our swim was a swimming ring in the middle of the pool where water jets create a small track with a strong current to sweep a crowd of people around in a circle – sort of like a mash-up of rushing rapids and a water merry-go-round. Suzanne and I took several laps around the ring before we retired to sit under a fountain, relax, and watch the kids ride the ring with the rest of the crowd for an hour or so.