How to Soak Up Old School Opulence in Budapest!

Budapest sign in Heroes Square!
Budapest sign in Heroes Square!
THE LITTLE SCOOP: [THE BULLET POINTS]
EAT & DRINK:
Chicken Paprikesh and goulash at Ladó, get a drink at the New York Cafe – called the most beautiful cafe in the world! Get a snack (and some paprika to take home) at Great Market HallFamous desserts are also cold cherry soup and palacinta (crepes!) Check out one of the cool ruin bars. 
New York Cafe – seen on my Instagram @neverbeenswissedblog if you aren’t already following!
STAY:
With an abundance of rewards points, we were able to stay at the super-luxe Marriott Boscolo in Pest- the most sensational hotel I’ve ever had the opportunity to stay. Fantastic service and just a gorgeous spot. It’s in the same building as the New York Cafe!
PLAY:

Walk around Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church on the top of the hill in Buda and overlook a great pano of the city and the river  in the Castle District! Soak up the public bath scene with locals, visit the iconic Parliament building in Pest, and enjoy The Hungarian Opera – great reviews and even better ticket prices!

THE BIG SCOOP: [THE WHOLE STORY]

After a wonderful weekend in Germany (here and here) my in-laws and I flew from Munich to Budapest (my husband had to go back to work!) – a place one of my dearest aunts visited in the 90s, of which she always spoke fondly.  (Hi, B!)

Budapest was a city we all knew quite little about, but found really intriguing as it a city which is a true master of reinvention. As of late, it has also become a Hollywood hotspot for filming.

We learned that Budapest is actually two cities laid across the sprawling Danube River – Buda and Pest which joined in the 1870s. Buda is the hillier side with more of the “Old Town” feel with the castle, St. Matthias Church, and Fisherman’s Bastion, and Pest is the more populous, commercial area.

Views of the Chain Bridge
Views of the Chain Bridge which links Buda and Pest from the Buda side

Budapest’s culture is somewhat undefinable, mostly because is a combination of cultures across the original founding Magyars from Central Asia, to the Turks, Germans, Slavs, Austrians – and many more. Furthermore, it has been governed by a myriad of systems – an empire, fascism, and communism.

We could hardly believe what a grand place it was for a relatively small country (10 million residents vs. 320+ million in the US!) mostly attributable to their past as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire (1860s until the end of World War I.)  While I haven’t been yet, anecdotally, Austrians love their opulence!

Parliament Building from Liberty Park
Parliament Building from Liberty Park

 

We also learned that many of the massive capital improvements were done in celebration of the millennial celebration of 1896 (the Magyars settled the area in 896) and made Budapest a truly modern city – complete with a London-inspired underground system, memorials, statues and museums. The tradition continues today – no building can be higher than 96 meters!

Views of Parliament on the Danube!
check out the height uniformity along the “skyline”

Nearly a century later, Budapest, while part of the former Soviet Union, was able to enjoy a sort of “communist-lite” version of Kremlin rule – blissfully far enough away to enjoy some Western pleasantries. A major proof point – Budapest was the first city in the USSR to open a McDonald’s in 1988is there any better indicator of incoming capitalism than golden arches?  In appreciation for the work done to free the city from the Cold War’s oppressive rule, Hungarians built a statue in Liberty Square honoring President Ronald Regan on his 100th birthday. He never visited the city, but is near and dear regardless!

Bob with Ronald Reagan
My father-in-law with one of his buds!

If you are interested in the city’s communist days, you can visit nearby Memento Park, where all of the statues honoring the years under Moscow are still standing together! For the darker side, the House of Terror Museum showcases the torture experienced by suspected spies during Nazi-occupied fascist years, and the Soviet communism which followed.

While a modern city now, we really enjoyed visiting Matthias Church, built in 1015 by Hungary’s beloved king St. Stephen in Buda as well – there was a beautiful choir singing as we climbed the stairs to check out all the ornate colors throughout the building. It is beautifully splashy in the best way!
Visitors should also check out the Loreto Chapel which holds a famous statue made in 1515 of of the Virgin Mary and Christ.  It has a really interesting story – the church changed hands a few times betweens Christians and Muslims and during one Ottoman seige, locals frantically plastered over the area which held the statue to protect it. The church was taken and converted into a mosque, but the ruling Turks never came across the statue. More than 100 years later, an explosion at the nearby castle brought down the plaster and revealed Mary’s face – which startled the Ottomans so much, they abandoned the building entirely.
Do walk around and enjoy the views from Fisherman’s Bastion and a truly stunning panoramic view of the Danube after you leave the church.
Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion
Please excuse this brief commercial break to enjoy our below family photoshoot.

Like my dear mom, I am one of those rare folks who enjoys grocery stores and as result, I love to check out markets when traveling. The Great Market Hall did not disappoint – such pretty interiors! Reminded me of course, of Reading Terminal in Philly! Watch your spending of course – while a member of the European Union, Hungary is on the HUF (Hungarian forint) instead of the Euro, and at present, 1000 forint is less than $4 USD. Spending 1000 on a coffee always makes me feel crazy, whether or not I’m at Starbucks!

Great Market Hall
Having the USSR on the brain, we somewhat assumed Budapest would be cold but learned it’s sitting atop natural warm spring waters that make the climate always fairly mild. It was more than 70 F when we visited! I foolishly packed my bag without a bathing suit so I MUST return for their famous baths – the most famous is Szechenyi, over a hundred years old. People of all ages and sizes come here every single day!
Szechenyi Baths – most popular in town!
Vajdahunyad Castle
Vajdahunyad Castle near beautiful City Park – another 1896 addition!
On our last night, we were thrilled to enjoy goulash and chicken paprikesh at Ladó, with wonderful live music playing, and happy to retire after a nightcap at the New York Cafe. It was restored in 2006 after many years of disrepair, but a celebrated past as a haven for writers and artists during during the Austro-Hungarian Empire years. The frescoes and gorgeous Venetian glass lamps were spectacular.
Budapest was really a thought-provoking, lovely city – from Central Asian roots through Austro-Hungarian rule, to fascism, to communism, it’s truly a Madonna of cities! 
WHEW! If you made it to the end – congrats! Coming up soon – Stockholm!

 

Advertisements

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Bob Ford says:

    A great summary of a fabulous 2 day in Budapest!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.