Thursday, May 11
The four of us (MerriAnn, Ken, Alan, Karen) took a train from Kosice to Budapest. Here is where we learned firsthand that train did not always mean train. This was an important fact that helped us later.
Midway during the train ride, we had to get off the train and carry our suitcases and get on a bus. There was work on the tracks going on, so we had to be bused around the track work.
When we finally arrived at the train station in Budapest, the first order of business was to get some money from an ATM. Although Hungary is part of the European Union, it hasn’t yet satisfied all the terms of membership, so it does not yet use the Euro for its currency. So we had to get the local currency (Forint, denoted as HUF). The exchange rate was about 365 HUF to $1.
There is one very important reason to have HUF, many public restrooms in Hungary have bathroom attendants whom you must pay in order to use the facilities. The cost is usually 200 HUF.
After getting local currency, we decided that we could walk to our hotel. We decided this because Google maps indicated that there would be less than a 5 minute difference if we walked versus getting a cab. MerriAnn and Ken were staying at a hotel closer to the station, so we left them there and continued on to our hotel. Although the walk was longer than we would have liked, we arrived at the hotel without any problems.
Once we had settled into our hotel room we took off in search of dinner. We found it back around the corner from our hotel, through an alley, and just off the little opening where the alley came out. Manu’s pizza was fabulous. After we shared a pizza there, we walked down into the underground passages that connect streets and the subway system, and we bought a yummy cinnamon chimney cake for dessert. A good first night.
Friday, May 12
Some basic Budapest information: the city of Budapest (prounounced: Boo-dah-pesht) was created in 1873 from the unification of Buda, Obuda, and Pest. It is still considered to be two unique parts: Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube River. It has a population of about 2 million. Our hotel was on the Pest side of the river.
We had booked a day-long tour of the city through Viator. Since we were staying in a different hotel than MerriAnn and Ken, we made sure to ask if that was going to be a problem. The answer was of course was that it would not. However, when our guide arrived, he was unaware of the situation. This didn’t turn out to be a huge issue, but MerriAnn and Ken missed our first stopping off point, the Dohany Street Synagogue.
In 1944, the Dohány Street Synagogue was part of the Jewish ghetto for the city Jews and served as shelter for many hundreds. Over two thousand of those who died in the ghetto from hunger and cold during the winter 1944-1945 are buried in the courtyard of the synagogue. Right behind the synagogue is the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial, it resembles a weeping willow whose leaves bear inscriptions with the names of victims.
After viewing the synagogue, we went and picked up MerriAnn and Ken for the rest of the tour.
Our guide was telling us about the Hungary National Anthem and said it was possibly the saddest national anthem ever. Our guide also pointed out the House of Terror Museum. It contains exhibits related to the fascist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary and is also a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building. We did not go to the museum on this trip.
We also saw the old communist headquarters building. Our guide told us that nobody will take it over because of its history, so it remains in ruins.
We visited Heroes’ square, with its iconic Millennium Monument that features the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars. MerriAnn’s niece’s husband and their son are both named after two of the Chieftains.
We visited the Opera House. The architecture in the lobby (we weren’t allowed to enter the theatre at that time) was incredible! One of the things Karen was fascinated with, was the “cobblestones”. These were not real cobblestones but wood sections so that the horses’ hooves would not make as much noise when a carriage approached the front entrance.
We visited Liberty Square. There is a monument to the Soviet liberation of Hungary in WWII from Nazi Germany occupation. The US Embassy is along these streets as well as statues to both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
After this we drove over the bridge to the Buda side of the Danube River, to visit the Castle District.
We were running a little late, so we rushed through lunch to ensure that we made our boat ride on the Danube on time. The boat had a clear covering, which was fortunate because it had started raining. It was a nice relaxing ride and we were offered drinks as the boat glided along the river. After the boat ride, we walked back to our hotels.
Once we’d rested a bit we went out in search of someplace to eat authentic Hungarian food. It had been raining off and on all day, so we were ducking under and out from under awnings. We most certainly weren’t going to be eating al fresco tonight! After walking about a mile, we were tired and about to give up and just get a pizza (which could be found everywhere) when a gentleman holding a menu walked up to us in the rain, and asked if we’d like to come in to his restaurant and have something to eat. We looked at Nagypapa Konyhaja‘s menu and saw that it was authentic Hungarian food! Yes, please. He led us upstairs and we had a very nice, simple meal which included langos. A fried dough with loads of cheese sprinkled on top. OMG.
We walked the streets back to our hotel, admiring how pretty everything looked after the rain.
Saturday, May 13
The only concrete plan for today is to get to our next hotel which is by the airport. So we walked around all morning. Our most memorable stop was Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial. This is a memorial to honor the Jews that were massacred by the fascist Hungarian militia in WWII. They were ordered to take off their shoes (they were valuable and could be resold) and were shot at the edge of the water so that the bodies fell into the river and were carried away.
Then we walked to the Parliament building. Stopped for a rest at a Burger King, of all places, then walked on to the ferris wheel. We rode the ferris wheel taking in the views of the cityscape.
We strolled through Fashion Street so Karen could get a photo for her niece. We continued on to Saint Stephen’s Basilica and the Fat Policeman statue, then stopped at a Hungarian/Israeli restaurant for a late lunch. Finally we visited the Metal Sculptures museum, which was quite unique.
We had probably walked five miles today by the time we returned to the hotel. After getting our luggage from storage, the front desk called a cab for us. The cab picked us up and drove us to the Ibis Styles Hotel near the airport where we checked in and rested before meeting our photographers group at 7:00 for a dinner meet and greet.