Beauty in Budapest

Budapest is a beautiful city. A transformative city. The architecture appears far beyond its years, embracing blemishes and turning them into part of the larger breathtaking scenery.

Buda with its hills emphasizes Castle Hill and the surrounding churches and monuments. While across the limestone soaked Danube, Pest holds the Parliament and sprawls out into flat geometric patterns of city streets. Each side meldingĀ Roman, Turkish, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Classicist and Art Nouveau architecture.

We arrived just in time to celebrate St.Stephen’s Day, the national holiday celebrating the birth of the Hungarian Christian nation over 1,000 years ago. The holiday meant two days of enjoying “The Street of Hungarian Flavors”, crafts, concerts, parades, and processions. Lee was adventurous and tried rooster testicles in a red peppery stew, which he liked. I much preferred the national birthday cake winner of apple, cheese, and poppyseed cake.

Following the holidays we went to the ancient Szechenyi Turkish baths in central Pest. The endless maze of warm, cool, hot and cold baths of all different shapes and sizes kept us guessing and relaxing for over 5 hours. We also tested out the various showers, saunas, underwater gysers, and medicinal baths. The arching ceilings, sculptures, stained glassed windows, and cavernous hideaways were beautiful and carried you into another time. Aquarobics class was even included and we enthusiastically joined as our Hungarian teacher silently dictated the proper movements from on deck. The aroma sauna was another treat, pumping out soothing peppermint in a room set to 104 degrees, lulling you into a dream state. Needless to say, I loved it all! (incompatible water camera means Szechenyi photos will have to be shared later)

Wandering through Pest, we found “the most beautiful cafe in the world”, which we were hoping to visit sooner or later. The self-proclaimed accolade did not disappoint as New York Cafe felt more like a palace than a place to rest your feet and enjoy a cup of coffee- but we did just that. We enjoyed every royal moment amongst the plush red velvet, shimmering gold, and hand-painted frescos lining the domed ceiling.

To take in some of the best views, we went on several city hikes up the Buda Hills. The Citadella, built in 1848 as a fortress (though never used as such), is topped with a unique female statue proudly holding a bird feather above her head and can be seen all through Pest. In addition to liking the pure form of the statue, it felt as though it was erected just for Alexis- the brave free spirit!

The other statue which really spoke to me in Budapest was one of a little girl wearing a glorified bath robe and paper crown atop her head. “The Little Princess” has a special place in the hearts of Hungarians as she was the first statue placed in Budapest in the post communist era (1989) and represents the hopes and dreams of a brighter future.

Each night we spent camping in the Buda hills. The campsite was run by what we considered to be typical Hungarians: direct, stern, friendly, and very accomodating. We slept on tiered plateaus carved into the hills and ate the locally made goulash. Several nights we awoke to the sounds of a wild boar trampsing through the woods looking for food, but luckily we were on the right side of a fence that seperated us from the too wild wilderness. Since we stayed in Budapest camping for 12 days, we made good friends with the campsite folks and were given a bottle of white Hungarian wine and a jar of red pepper paste (Lee’s newly found favorite condiment!) for our journey ahead.

Just before leaving, Lee also made sure to buy two Turo Rudis, his absolute favorite candy bar that is a sour orange flavored cheese covered in milk chocolate. He ate at least one every day since the discovery on our first day in Budapest.

And when we had to depart with several $20,000 bills (roughly $130 US) we felt like we owned a kingdom!


The Dessert Spy

Departing Germany we caught a 1st class train (because we purchased tickets several days in advance and because we got lucky, the price for 1st class was the same as 2nd class) and rode 5 hours through Austria before arriving in Sopron, Hungary.
This border town eased us gently into the new Hungarian way of thinking, with most signs and menus in both Hungarian and German. The city center of Sopron is found through a maze of circular alleyways lined with alternatingly beautiful and crumbling stone buildings.

Some alleys carry you deeper into the old town, while others dump you into sunken bazaars with more walkways crisscrossing above you and street stalls in every direction. While exploring one of these alleys, we spotted a sign for a free art exhibit inside and up a winding staircase. Climbing the stairs we heard lights beginning to click on and were greeted by a smiling Hungarian man who proceeded to walk through and explain the entire exhibit to us. His excitement to utilize his English and explain complex ideas expressed through art was contagious. The whole exhibit was completed by a single artist, though you would have never known it looking at the 5 rooms of drastically different styles (pointilism, abstraction, surrealism, use of a single inked line, etc.).

After meeting our friendly art purveyor, we continued to explore the rest of the town, including the Roman ruins where life used to be bustling with a forum, church, and gladiator games (when the city was known as Scarbantia on the commercial Amber Road).

Walking through town and back to our hostel, we heard a low sputtering engine and the next thing we knew there was a bright green + yellow plane flying 60 feet above our heads, fluttering all the tree leaves and momentarily flustering the two of us. With nobody else in the town so much as turning their heads to the sky, the plane continued canvasing the city, seemingly following us on our path back to our hostel. Lee joked they were on to me, “the dessert spy”, since I try to get a glimpse of all the sweets wherever we go!

With all its charm, you can still readily feel Hungary’s past of wars fought and lost, and communisms grip slowly fading since 1991.