We've just spent the last 3 days in Budapest. The architecture of Budapest more than rivals Prague and is quite unique, maybe due to the Turkish influence...... but what would know? We had heard that a good and cost effective way to see the main sites along the Danube was to take a number 2 tram as it runs for about 3 klm's along the river and passes a number of major sites such as Parliament House and Chain Bridge. The ride unfortunately started a little short as there were major road works taking place around Parliament Square. The 75% ride did give us some perspective of the city and enabled us to establish some main land marks for future reference. Using my considerable skills learnt over the last few weeks, I was able to navigate my way around Budapest using the very efficient metro system. On day one we went to Heroes Square that has the statues of the 7 tribal Chieftains who led the hungarian people into the Carpathian Basin in 895. The monument was opened in 1900 and also has statues of most Hungarian Kings through the ages. The Square is used today as a space for political rally's etc. We also went to the Museum of Applied Arts and to the Jewish Quarter where we visited a display highlighting the plight of Jews during WW2. There was memorial wall with the names of the thousands of Hungarian Jews murdered in the concentration camps.
Day 2 we took a short boat ride along the Danube. The ticket entitled you to another ride within a 24 hr period. The attendant recommended an evening ride so we could see the lights of "beautiful Budapest" at night. He said it was very romantic. I'm not sure where the romance went as we settled for a toasted cheese sandwich in our apartment and decided to have an early night. Day 2 we also went to a place called the hospital in the Rock. it was on the Buda side of the river. After a near vertical climb we eventually found the Hospital tucked away in the suburbs. This Hospital was built in the 1940's into an already existing cave system. It operated throughout the war treating Hungarian and German soldiers and civilians (Hungary was at least initially an Ally of Germany during the war). For about 10 years after the war it was abandoned and used only as a store. During the Cold War the Soviets thinking that it would make a really good nuclear bunker, reopened the facility as a "secret" hospital and bunker. It operated as such until the early 1960's. We had a full guided tour through the underground facility where there were static displays of wards and operating rooms etc representing the 2 periods that it was in operation. There was the wash down and initial treatment area for management of casualties from a nuclear event. It was the only place which we have visited so far that forbid any photography... I can only assume just in case they want to reopen it as a "secret" facility again ......well hey, I know where it is!
On day 3 we went to the Budapest market. The whole ground floor was fruit, veg and meat. There was a whole row of shops just dedicated to the sausage and salami.... It was like a temple to a beginning sausage maker like myself. Some of it looked a bit dodgy, so I thought better of buying any. All the locals however were out in force buying their supplies. The upper floor was mainly items for tourists. This was also where the food stalls were. Like we expected the main fair revolved around sausages, mince (mostly pork) of some description and 10 ways to combine this with cabbage and potato. I chose what I thought was the least fatty snag on display and thought it would be safe to have it with a salad .... mostly raw cabbage of course. Jane avoided the snags and instead went for a dish which main ingredient was potato. Despite thinking she had chosen wisely she had to resort to the antacid tablets and a Zantac later. Maybe we haven't tried top shelf Hungarian and Czech food while in Europe, but from our limited experience I don't think either country are giants of the culinary world. For our last night in Budapest we thought it would be safer to try a Turkish restaurant and avoid Hungarian altogether. While we didn't suffer afterwards, I noted there was still the Hungarian influence. While the so called Turkish salad had the usual tomato, lettuce, red onion and cucumber, at least 50% was raw cabbage and polski ogorki (that Eastern European dilled pickled cucumber).
Despite what I had read and been told by other travellers, we have found the city quite clean and most people in restaurants, shops and Metro ticket offices speak at least some English. We were warned that Budapest is the worst place for pick pockets as well. While we have had no problems I suppose they don't go around with signs on their backs saying... "Hey look at me I'm a pick pocket". We did however come across one bloke who said in broken English "do you want buy iPhone"....and then revealed to us (still partly covered) a silver coloured iPhone. Either it was just a fake or some poor unsuspecting tourist had only recently been relieved of it .... I suspect the latter. At least in the areas we visited there was an absence of beggars. In places like Prague and Paris they are always in the main tourist spots either begging or with some scam to relieve you of a few Euro. Even the Budapest Gypsy's try to at least sell you a posy of flowers... which I suppose then doesn't strictly make it begging. Some upmarket Gypsy's even tried on 2 occasions to sell us a lovely set of swiss knives, all colour coded for every conceivable kitchen use.....and "for very good price". While I was wondering whether I could get away with putting them through as checked in or carry on luggage, Jane reminded me that they were unlikely to be genuine swiss made knives.
We did notice a number of homeless people bedding down at night to sleep, but we never were asked for money. Outside one Metro there was a guy who urinated up against the wall.... He didn't seem to mind that there were people everywhere, but to be fair the people didn't seem to take much notice either. At least he had the decency to have his back to the crowd. When we returned to the same Metro after yet another museum experience, I noticed the puddle of urine had got bigger, so clearly this was "his spot". The homeless guy had his bed around the corner from where he had relieved himself.... so at least he knew it was better to not pee too close to his bedroom. Jane has a radar for urine in the streets. Her rule of thumb is....if it hasn't been raining then any wet patch is most likely urine and therefore best to avoid stepping in it. Until the other day, I had assumed it was just dogs.
Saint Stephens Basilica was about 150 metres from our apartment so we decided that we could leave that visit to the last day.... that being Saturday. Our timing was either right or wrong as there was a wedding ceremony just about to conclude. I say right or wrong as on one hand I didn't mind seeing the blushing bride...but on the other a fair bit of the basilica was roped off, I assume because of the wedding. This meant that all the tourists streaming in were squashed into only about 10% of the Basilica and limited everyone to long range photography. I am was however amazed at the way Jane can slip through any crowd to get to the best vantage points. Either she covered herself in lard so she could slip easily through, or she just didn't care and pushed all those aged tourists on their Kirkland's tour out the way just to get that "perfect shot". While the wedding party was on the steps of the Basilica having photos taken, I said to Jane that I thought I'd like to surreptitiously have a photo taken with them, much like that serial pest from the UK who without permission used to get himself into all those photos with English soccer and cricket teams. Her joke for the tour was..... Then you would really be a Buda...Pest. She thought it was funny. I attach a photo of the wedding party and me as my farewell gift to the the happy couple and to Budapest.