Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Budapest - Day 1

Ahhh Budapest! We loved it so much! If any of you get a chance I highly recommend it! It is actually quite inexpensive - once you get there! Flying or taking the train inside Europe isn't that bad either - our flights were only $150 each from Zurich! (That's cheaper than flying from Raleigh to Atlanta:))

Anyway, so sorry for the delay in the blog post. We didn't take any electric devices except for my ipod! We a crazy concept. I don't think we have been any where without Nathan's laptop since we go married over 9 years ago! I loved being "disconnected", but I am also happy to be back online!:) So let's start at the beginning!

We flew Malev Airlines from Zurich to Budapest around 10 am on Friday morning. I haven't flown within Euroe yet and was surprised that I didn't have to have a baggie w/ my 3 oz liquids - they don't care. I guess it is just the U.S.? Hmmm - not sure what you can do with 4 oz. of liquids but I was hoping it would be safe enough:) The flight was okay but would have been A LOT better if the man sitting next to me would have showered in the last month or so. And why did he have to keep raising his arm? Awful!

Thank God it was a short flight (1 1/2 hours) and we made it out of the airport quickly as there were no customs or passport check and we carried on our luggage. Okay - SIDE NOTE HERE - so yes - I, MANDY BECKER, used carry on size luggage for a 3 day trip - I am turning into such the European as I had planned to possibly have to wear some of the same clothes twice depending on the weather:) Our Australian friends would be so proud after the 50+ pounds I carried to Australia:) Not really that important but I was impressed with myself and it's my blog so there you have it!:)

Anyway, we did buy the Budapest Card before leaving the airport b/c I had read about the advantages, discounts, etc. I would HIGHLY recommend it! You can buy it for 48 or 72 hours. I think the best part was that all public transportation was included with the card - and believe me they DO check for tickets! It was nice to not have to have the correct amount of money for the ticket, figure out how much the ticket would be for where we were going, etc. We just hopped on the buses, trams, and metros without thinking twice! Very nice!

Because we had the Budapest Card we took public transport from the airport to our hotel. Easy enough but it took about 45 minutes. I took a picture of the train b/c it just looked like (to me) a train that had been built and used by a Communist Government. See for yourself. Definitely not Swisslike that is for sure.

Actually, the public transportation was very nice and easy to use though. I could tell before we even left, just from research on the web (almost every website I visited was written in at least 3 languages) - that this was a country that appreciates the tourists. They want people to come to their beautiful country. A lot of signs were in English, and if not, they make the signs easy to decipher. I took this photo in the metro to show how easy they made it to travel - as long as you knew wehre you were going. Which also was very easy with a Budapest Transit Map(located everywhere).
But also signs were in German, Italian and many other languages. The country as a whole was very friendly. The few people we met on the street and tried to talk to for directions or something were so nice and they all spoke great English! After speaking with one gentleman I said "Thank you" and his response was "With pleasure" - so cute! I was a little surprised by this as I thought the language barrier would be tough, but it wasn't at all. Wonderful people the Hungarians!

So onto our Hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Astoria, which Nathan found online at CheapHotels.com - it was only 82 euros a night - and buy 2 nights get 1 free! It was a "4 Star" Hotel, but what I've found is that the Europeans use a different starring system than the U.S.:) But it was a nice room and very clean (which is really my only concern). And the bonus was, that once we got there we found out that it was right on the Metro 2 line! It was also a stop for many trams and buses - very good location in City Centre. I feel comfortable recommending this Hotel to you guys!:)

Once we got settled and ready to go out and explore it was about 2 pm so we decided to spend the day on the "Pest Side" of the Danube - where our hotel was located. First stop the view from Elizabeth Bridge.

Then on to St. Stephen's Basilica. The church was built with neo-Classical architecture and is Absolutely Beautiful! Here are some pics - the inside is especially beautiful as it is real 23 karat gold that the walls and ceiling a painted with.

Next we walked down Andrassy Utca. When we arrived at the Opera House the first tour (3 pm) had just started and we didn't want to waste 30 minutes waiting for the next tour (at 4 pm) so we vowed to come back. The next site we came to was the House of Terror Museum. This museum is a memorial to the victims of two tragic periods in 20th century Hungarian history: Arrow Cross and communist terror. The museum was built in the building which used to house the secret polce of the Nazis in WW 2 and also the state police of the Communist regime. It is very sobering to see a place like this where thousands of innocent people were held captive, tortured and killed.. The basement was especially moving as you could feel "death" in the air. It was very sad to think what those people must have gone through. I thought they did an excellent job with this museum - HOWEVER, I will say not to buy the audio. Maybe it is b/c I am married to Nathan who has the attention span of a gnat when it comes to museums or anything cultural for that matter.:) We basicaly only heard half the audio b/c Nathan kept saying - let's go, let's go:) It was like bringing a 4 year old on vacation:) Anyway, they do have write ups in every room that I am pretty sure are the same thing that the audio was saying - SO I would recommend the museum - just not the audio. Also, the pictures on the wall in the second photo are of the people who were victimized in this building.

After that we finished walking up Andrassy Utca to Heroe's Square which is at the entrance to City Park (or Varosliget). In the center of the square is a 36 meter high column with the Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian Holy Crown and apostolic double cross. Also the Tomb of the Unknown Solider is positioned in front of this monument.

The City Park was cool too. This is where the Szechenyi Spa Baths are located - Budapest is known for their natural Thermal Springs and going to one is a must on any sightseers list (at list that is what I was told!). We didn't have our swimsuits so we didn't go to this one but there are lots. However, I did hear this one was cool. The City Park also houses the Zoo, Amusement Park, and Vajadahunyad Castle.

At this point we were tired and I think we had walked MILES so we headed back to the Astoria. All the travel sites and blogs talked about two well known (read expensive) Hungarian restaurants, Gundel and Karpatia, for the best "Hungarian Experience" - well we had to do that right? Gundel was in the City Park (kind of far from our Hotel) and the Karpatia was within walking distance! Perfect! We had a nice dinner there, but I have to say that I'm not a huge fan of Hungarian food. Basically just meat and potatoes - no great spices or fancy dishes or anything. However - Hungarian has a lot of vineyards and some really great wine! Who knew? Apparently, they ship some wine to the US (more of the crappy stuff) and only export the good stuff to Europe. Either way - it was really good and I had several glasses at Karpatia:) Here are two of the musicians serenading us with "Gypsy Music".

So I wasn't sure if I was going to write about this on the blog - to protect the innocent - but I have to, so I will just be vague. One of the two of us had our passport in our back pocket and it fell out during dinner. Why would we be carrying our passports you ask? To GAMBLE - of course! So after we left the restaurant and headed to the Casino we were almost there when one of the two of us realized our passport was "missing". Where could it be? The restaurant? Why would it be there? B/c it probably "fell" out of said person's jeans. Okay. So back to the restaurant. So one of us (the one that lost our passport) - is one lucky S.O.B.! It just happened that when they found the passport the person sitting at the table next to ours was from the US Embassy so they gave him the passport and he took it back to the Embassy. We missed him by less than five minutes they said:( But they had his business card, so the restaurant called the guy, set up a meeting, called us a cab, and we were off! 15 minutes later passport was back in hand! So what did we do then? Gamble of course!:) The Casino was small but fun - it is always fun meeting other travlers at the table. Luckily I didn't spill any red wine on the blackjack table (actually Nathan forbid me to drink anything colored) so the night turned out great!

Great first day in Budapest! (I am going to go ahead and post this blog and move on to day 2 later - I have to go make dinner and I just want to publish this!)
love ya! mandy
Here is a link to all the photos if you want to see them:

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