Back to Budapest
Fulfilling a vow to return to Budapest made on New Years Eve 2008, the 700km eastward drive to the Central East European city took 6 hours, past the Austrian cities of Salzburg and Vienna. It was like the drive to Venice we made many times before, albeit on the smooth running German and Austrian autobahns.

The capital of Hungary is in fact three cities: Buda on the hilly west bank of the Danube River with Pest and O'buda on the flat east bank. It's rich history began with being part of the Roman empire, surviving occupatian by Genghis Khan and the Mongolians, Turkish rule for 150 years, the Habsburg Empire, the Austrian occupation up until the second World War and finally Soviet occupation until the fall of The Iron Curtain in 1990. Destroyed several times over, Budapest is now the capital of a country that has been part of the European Union (EU) since 2005.

Despite being part of the EU, the Hungarian Forint (HUF or Ft) is its currency used, where 1 euro is roughly 260 forints. Famed for its Spas and Medicinal Waters, artifacts from all that history and Hungarian cousine (Hungarian Goulash soup, the salami and paprika to name a few) were on our list of things to discover and try out for the weekend.

Budapest Sights and Shopping
We spent most of our time on the Pest side of the city, in Vaci Utca, the main shopping street in Budapest. WestEnd City Center is also located on Vaci Utca close to the Western Railway station. It was at one time the largest mall in Central and Eastern Europe, until the Arena Plaza was opened, also in Pest.

We caught an hour long cruise off the docks close to Vaci Utca to view the evening city skyline sun before the night lights come on. Most of Budapest's historical buildings on land and in the hills can be seen on the cruise. Unfortunately, we were beaten to the last seats on the port side (right side) where photography would be better.

If you're not into walking, another great way to tour is via Segway. A mandatory familiarisation session starts the tour to avoid searching for customers and the segway in the Danube later.

Of course, one would be able to see more by travelling up close to the sights themselves. Places like the Heroes Square, the Great Market Hall and Budapest Szechenyi Bathhouse for instance can not be seen from the Danube.

Rotten Wine
Most of you would know that we do not take alchoholic drinks - no beer, wine, whiskey etc.. - but in Hungary, we made an exception and have taken a liking to the Tokaji Aszu. Tokaji is the name given to sweet botrytis infested wine produced from the Hugarian Tokaj-Hegyaja region. The Aszu is graded on the puttonyos scale from 3 to 6, but we have now found a further category Aszú-Eszencia, tasting more like nectar than wine. Priced up to 25,000 HUF it leaves you with a rich caramel, chocolate and nutty aftertase. It also leaves the 3 pottonyos Tokaji Aszu for dead.

The Danube Bend
Perhaps the highlight of our trip this time is not in Budapsst itself, but a visit to three towns along the Danube river in Budapest's norh, where the river bends eastwards. Although most get here via a boat, we chose to drive.

50 km northwards is the town of Ezstergom, working our way "round the bed" towards Visigrad, and finally to Szentendre, the City of Living Art. Only 16km from Budapest, Szentendre is a one of the more favoured day trip locations from Budapest. The highlight in Ezstergom was a grand Basillica and ride through the town (for only 500 HUF or about 1.80 Euro) on a "mini train car".

Hungarians are very friendly - ranging from the tiny Hungarian flies which buzzed around us in their thousands to this perfectionist Hungarian couple whom we've asked to take our picture. They weren't satisfied, getting us to change poses, taking lots of pictures until perfection was achieved. They then advised us which vantage point to get better pictures.... all in Hungarian!

A castle perched on top of a hill was worth photographying in Visegrad - not to mention a strange but unique view of a rather large nest of storks built on top of a power pole - but Szentendre was filled with art stores offering arty things and the ocassional bric a brac, buskers and eateries of all sorts. Just be aware that the hilly cobblestone pathways can be rather challenging to your ankles and any breakables you happen to be carrying.

We saw a bus load of Japanese tourists but no familiar sight of Chinese tourists. Perhaps, Hungary is one of these cities yet to make it to the worlld scale, as far as tourism goes... at least, not yet.

Hungarian Salami
Our experience of Hungarian food has been limited to the Goulash soup, Salami and the Paprika. This time, we sampled the Dragon Bouillon, an exotic name given to beef consomme with vegetables and beef slices, served with a baked bone marrow on toast. The steaks with spiced potatoes, goose liver with apple discs, starfruit and vegetables plus their Kurtoskalacs (KürtÅ‘skalács), a traditional Hungarian cylindrical dough based pastry. Although the meals do not have the complexity in the South East Asian blend of spices (apart from the Paprika), herbs, preserves and aromas or sexy names we can relate to, we found the meals well prepared and simply delicious, the goose liver being especially sweet while it melts in your mouth.

A couple of things we learnt about Hungarian food are that servings are pretty large as they come with large quantities of vegetables, much larger than we're used to getting. Our steak came with a large dollop of mashed potato, fried zucchini, squash, tomatoes and mushrooms. At lunch, the 950 HUF doner plate we ordered came with lots of fries and a healthy helping of salad.

We enjoyed ourselves on this trip over the long weekend: the sights, history, great scenery, friendly people, new experiences and great food. We probably didn't do enough justice to Budapest in not visiting the Buda side... but as we thoroughly enjoyed the Pest side and the Danube Bend, we will be back for more!

We hope you enjoy the pictures.

Jeanette and Raymond Han
June 2011.
Munich, Germany

 

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