Friday: Flew Manchester-Budapest with Jet2.com with hand luggage only, 10kg only, of which 4kg was the bag! After the indignities of security checks etc and the very crowded flight with everyone trying to ram everything in overhead were very happy to find that we arrived 30 minutes earlier than the scheduled 17.05 arrival. Met up with taxi driver (arranged through the hotel) with a Mercedes minivan to take the five of us to our hotel in the Castle District through Friday night rush hour traffic. He had some difficulty locating it so we had a pretty good look round the area which looked wonderful.
Checked into our hotel, the Buda Castle Fashion Hotel which was perfect, comfortable rooms and very helpful friendly staff. Quick turn round then back into the van to the State Opera House, on Hotel Receptionist recommendation she had booked a table for us later at Arancy Hordo restaurant very close to where we were staying for after the ballet.
We arrived just in time for 7pm start of performance of ballet La Fille Mal Gardee (Frederick Ashton ballet) which was superb. We were also taken with the beauty of the building and also the elegance of the audience who make more of an effort than we usually see in UK these days. The performance was excellent, lead performers particularly so, and a large and enthusiastic company dancing their hearts out. In the interval we explored a bit, hadn’t managed to organise ourselves with drinks but admired the bar which is a spectacular room and the main staircase. Beautiful decorated ceilings. Met up with our taxi driver as arranged afterwards and he took us to the restaurant, en route we were amazed at the illuminated buildings and bridges, where we were introduced to Hungarian cuisine. I tried the Goulash Soup which was delicious and quite different from the Goulash we have here, followed by a Veal Stew. Very hearty portions! We had a delicious Pinot Noir with our meal, the five of us polished off two bottles in pretty short order but none of us could manage a dessert. We split the bill 5 ways, including service and ‘rounding up’ so they got a second tip we spent 10,000 HUF each which we considered very reasonable. Walked back to our hotel getting quite lost but loving the views of the area, St Mathias Church and the Holy Trinity Column – sparkling white stone under the lights.
Saturday 25th February: Up bright and early, bit bemused to find one had to handhold the shower head to have a shower, however managed. Good buffet breakfast. We were booked into the English speaking tour of the Parliament Buildings at 10am, and had to be there at 9.45 so asked the helpful receptionist to book a taxi for us. We took our EU passports for free entry. We thought this a very interesting tour and a sensational building. We then walked along the river bank (somehow missing the Shoes, we were the other side of the road) to the Central Market Hall which we knew closed at 2pm. Had a good look round there and bought paprika, scarves, bits and pieces and had lunch upstairs at Fakanal, again very big portions but quite acceptable. When we had finished there we walked up to the Museum of Applied Arts, beautiful building undergoing some refurbishment and only first floor open with a fascinating and lovely selection of exhibits. No Turkish carpets though.
We then walked back to have a look at Vaci Street which we had heard was a shopping street but either because it was too early in the season or the credit crunch was having an effect we weren’t too impressed, apart from Philantia which really put a smile on our faces. From there we walked to and over the Liberty Bridge to the Gellert Hotel for a reviving cup of tea at the Espresso Cafe which was a pretty uninspiring place with po faced service. We had a look in the spa which seemed to be a very comprehensive wellness centre, but not a lot for tourists to look at. We crossed the road to see the Rock Church but it was closed for Mass so gave it a miss. Then walked to the Siklo Funicular to save us the climb up the hill to the Castle District. Great views from it and by the station at the top. It was getting dark by then and the lights coming on, what a superb display!
Quick turn round and out to Hilton Hotel for cocktails, the view wasn’t as good as we had hoped but the cocktails were, and the girls in the bar were very cheerful and friendly, such a contrast to the Gellert! Reflected in the size of tip. Then a walk down the steps below the Fishermans Bastion, which is the most incredible sight at night, the view from the top of Budapest, and also the view of the Bastion from below, out-Disneys Disney by a mile. We were heading to the Hunyadi Restaurant, rated as No 3 or 4 on Tripadvisor and well deserved, lovely restaurant, great people and wonderful food, our best meal in Budapest. Again we could only manage two courses, I had a tomato and feta salad to start and duck breast with cabbage to follow (and two bottles of wine, a very nice Merlot), and again to keep the maths simple spent 10,000 HUF each, the Patron gave us a bottle of sparkling wine to take back with us! Highly recommended.
Sunday 26th February: Another energetic day – out for photo stop at St Mathias Church, Fishermans Bastion, down stairs, over Chain Bridge, Josef Attilla, Andrassy to Heroes Square. A bright clear day, many photo opportunities on the way. We were stopped in our tracks at the Terror Museum with the displays of photos, candles etc. We didn’t go inside, but can see the human cost, so many of the people died so young. We went to the Museum of Fine Arts, a very nice selection begun by donation from the Esterhazy family (that would be an interesting subject for research) with some treasures – and a very nice cafe! There was also a temporary exhibition of Egyptian mummies. When we left there we had a wander to the Muksarnok Gallery and its shop and to the park, but some renovations were going on there. Back down Andrassy looking for somewhere for a ‘light lunch’, and instead found Lukacs and afternoon tea, tea as it should be, in beautiful surroundings. Highly recommended. In fact we over ordered somewhat and had our leftover cakes boxed up for us. We then had a look at St Stephens Basilica, it was a bit dark in there, and down to the river to see the Shoes, coming across a vagrant with his trolley of ‘stuff’ and presented him with the box of cakes, the expression of amazement and joy on his face was something to see! The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a heartbreaking memorial to those shot in WW2 by Fascists, another reminder of the tragic and complicated history that is Budapest’s.
Back to the Chain Bridge and up the Funicular (900 Fts well spent) and waited for the 6pm tour of the Underground Hospital under the Castle. A very interesting tour and as ever lovely people there, some thought provoking photographs and film of 20th Century history, WW2, Hungarian Uprising and Iron Curtain, this was a secret Nuclear Bunker until 2002, just yesterday!
Back to the hotel and discussion about dinner, a few places were closed on Sunday so our ever helpful receptionist booked us into Kiraly nearby, no cocktails that night as we had our bottle of sparkling wine! I will post a review, however this was our least successful and most expensive dinner in Budapest. It was old fashioned style, with photographs of dead celebrities on the wall as you come in – always a sign to me that their glory days are over. The menu looked interesting, but then when we started to order all the fish was finished, the first wine we chose was also finished. Our starters were very good indeed, I had venison ham with porcini mushrooms and rocket; the waiter went through a whole routine with the wine bottle, including taking a small glassful away which we thought a bit cheeky. When we asked for a second bottle we told him to just open it and leave it. The second courses were a bit too heavy, I am not sure any of us finished them, and we were treated to music and singing, and then the musicians coming round for a tip and then trying to sell CDs which we thought pretty tacky. The music was good, and there was an interesting instrument, a sort of stringed xylophone, the name of which escapes me now. I would only recommend the place to anyone looking for old style Hungarian dining. Splitting the bill five ways came to 12,500 HUF each with unsmiling service included, and bizarrely a 10% discount for cash over credit card.
Monday 27th February: Our last day, we arranged a taxi to pick us up from the hotel at 3pm to take us to the airport and stayed in the Castle District. Being Monday a few things were closed, however we started by walking around the walls, views over to the Buda hills, round past the military statues, past some houses with little gardens overlooking Pest, then turned into Mihaly Tancsics Street, which is so beautiful and historic and well worth exploring. We went into the Koller Gallery and admired its serene statue garden, and then climbed up to the Atelier of Amerigo Tot, another subject worth researching!
Went into St Mathias Church which is in the process of comprehensive refurbishment, the outside is almost finished with new stone which is so impressive when illuminated at night. The inside was very dusty and noisy with drilling going on, there was an interesting museum showing the items being refurbished, however it would be worth revisiting in a few years when the work is completed.
We had a coffee in the Pierrot Cafe, and were sorry we hadn’t dined there, it looked a good place with a terrace and good facilities, however they didn’t offer a ‘light lunch’ which was what we were looking for, so went to Pest Buda cafe, which was a bright fun place, service a bit slow, but okay for us. Tried the fish soup which I wasn’t crazy about, I am probably more used to fish from the sea than from a river, however the apple strudel and a glass of dessert Tokaj wine was excellent!
Back to the hotel and the taxi to the airport, to find flight was delayed... however spent some leftover HUFs on duty frees etc.
A great weekend, a beautiful city with wonderful people in it, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it certainly exceeded my expectations.