Destination: Budapest, Hungary

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Chain Bridge at night (April 2016).

Our final stop along the Danube was in Budapest, aka the Hungarian capital and home to one of the most populous cities in Europe at around close to two million people. We would be staying two nights in the city, exploring what we could with the limited time we had. Ever since I’d seen photos online of Budapest’s famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge, I had been interested in visiting, and I was glad to have finished off my holidays last April over there.

From Bratislava, our cruise ship sailed into Budapest after dinner: my parents and I clambered up to the top deck to check out the Széchenyi Chain Bridge lit up, taking photo after photo of it as we passed under it. We also saw in the distance the Buda Castle, as well as other landmarks which we would get to the following morning during our one full day there.

Interestingly enough, Budapest is the combination of two former cities on opposite sides of the Danube River: Buda and Pest (pronounced “pesht”). Whereas Buda is the hillier, richer, and more historical part of the city, Pest is the more modern one, being on flat territory and with more things happening in terms of bars, restaurants, and shops. Both areas, however, are connected by seven or so bridges, one of them being the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. A novel, but impressive contrast, since I hadn’t visited a place quite like Buda(and)pest before then.

Similar to the other cities we’d visited along the Danube, we had a half-day sightseeing tour before we were given free time for the rest of the day to explore the city on our own. From the river, we took the sightseeing tour bus to the city center at 8h30, beginning on the Pest side.

Our first stop was at Heroes’ Square, which featured seven statues along arched columns which represented the famous Hungarian kings and heroes from back in the day (including St. Stephen, of whom we’d seen countless of times in other cities we’d visited beforehand). There was also a single, towering column (“The Millennial Monument”) in front of the statues, and altogether they were to commemorate the one-thousandth anniversary of the city, back when it was founded and established by people all the way from Asia. It was a lovely square, spacious and all, but what wasn’t so lovely was the fact that there were hagglers roaming all over the place as we were trying to take photos and listen to our tour guide explain the history of Hungary. From shoving anything– sweaters, postcards, guidebooks–in our faces, the hagglers were quite persistent; it was only a matter of ignoring them that they left us alone. Thank goodness.

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Heroes’ Square with the Millennial Monument.
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“Budapest” sign. Impossible to get a photo alone!

On the sightseeing tour bus, we also passed by the famous Széchenyi thermal bath, considered one of the largest in Europe and a popular tourist attraction. While I would’ve loved to go in and perhaps dip my toes into the medicinal water (healing powers, much?), I was on a tour and I knew it would have to be for another time, another visit.

Shortly thereafter, we left Pest to venture over to Buda, where we would visit the eponymous castle grounds. It was more of the historic-quarter side of the city, and we spent some time there checking out Matthias Church (lovely inside and out), along with the Fisherman’s Bastion just adjacent to it, a wonderfully-designed terrace from which one could get views of Pest. From what I learned, it’s named after the fishermen’s guild from back in the day, who protected it from enemies. That, along with the Matthias Church, were probably the most beautiful monuments in Budapest: it certainly helped that it was a sunny day (very warm, even!) for some great photo opportunities with it.

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Fisherman’s Bastion.
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View of Pest from the Fisherman’s Bastion.

After a brief visit inside Matthias Church, we concluded our sightseeing tour around noon. From there, we were given free time for the rest of the day to explore Budapest on our own. My parents and I descended the Buda hill and made our way back to Pest, crossing the Széchenyi Chain Bridge with massive, glorious lion statues to boot.

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One of the lion statues on the Chain Bridge.

Having done some research beforehand, my parents and I had found a restaurant which served Hungarian cuisine, something we were curious to try out. Considering that our tour guide had told us that the Hungarians love to put spices like paprika into cooking, we were interested in giving it a try!

We arrived at the restaurant, where we were warmly welcomed by the waitress. It appeared to be a family-run restaurant, and soon enough, we were given menus and a few suggestions on what to order.

Now, I knew for sure that I wanted to try the Hungarian goulash and compare it to the Czech version I had back in Prague. At first, I wanted a main dish with paprika in it, but the waitress actually told me to get the pork loin, since her logic was that the goulash would already have paprika in it, so getting another paprika-based dish would be redundant. Although hesitant at first, I decided to give the pork loin a try, and I’m so glad I did! The meat was wonderfully tender and not dry at all and served with cabbage dumplings (which resembled that of mini egg noodles, for some reason), it proved to be one of my favorite dishes I’ve had whilst traveling in Europe. The Hungarian goulash was hot and comforting, more watery than the Czech version, but more flavorful with, of course, the paprika infused into it. Came also with couscous-sized dumplings, which were a lovely, but appetizing surprise!

Finished off the lunch with dessert, and I decided to go for the apricot-cottage cheese cake. Usually, I’m not a fan of cottage cheese, but in cake form, it was very good! In fact, it didn’t have that weird, lumpy consistency that I associate it with, but rather a smooth, creamy texture that reminded me, well, of actual cheesecake! It was both a delicious and refreshing way to complete the trio of plates for lunch. We were offered complimentary pálinka (plum brandy) shots in the end, which proved to be very strong, but not bad-tasting. Although I needed some water to wash it down in the end…

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Hungarian goulash.
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Pork loin with cabbage dumplings.
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Apricot cottage cheese cake.

After lunch, we wandered a bit in Pest, checking out St. Stephen’s Basilica before heading over to find the Grand Market Hall, but somehow didn’t end up find. Instead, we came across a large, outdoor market where lots of food and souvenirs were being sold. We pottered around from stall to stall before deciding to head back to the ship for the day.

Budapest would be our last destination our cruise stopped in, and from there, we would disembark the following morning. The cruise staff organized taxis for us to take passengers to their hotels or airports, which was really nice of them: plus, I’d heard that getting into a random taxicab in Budapest was risky business, because some of them don’t turn on the meter and might otherwise rip you off. At least with the cruise staff getting taxis for us, we wouldn’t be overcharged, for sure. #blessed

My parents and I were both heading to the airport, so we took the same taxicab over to Budapest Airport, where my parents would catch their flight at noon to Prague and I would catch mine back to Paris later that afternoon. Said goodbye to my parents at the airport, and from there I waited for my flight. However, it ended up being an hour delayed, which was super annoying, but eventually I got on the plane, it took off, and I arrived in Paris the early evening. Rushed over to the train station to catch the train back to Normandy, where my colleague waited for me and took me back to my small town. It was perhaps past 22h00 when I finally made in back to my flat. Again, #blessed. 

While it was a roller-coaster of a ride during last year’s April vacances (six countries in sixteen days!), I was glad to have had a snippet of each place I went to, as means of making mental notes of where to go back to in the future (I have my eye on you, Budapest…). Plus, traveling with my parents was nice, especially since I hadn’t seen them since September. True, I would be seeing them just a few weeks later, after my assistante contract ended and I returned to the the United States, but all the same, it was good company…and a great way to get away without paying for my travels. And that river cruise certainly wasn’t cheap!

Thanks for reading about my April vacances from last year! I’ll be putting up posts about my current ones this time around, so look out for them soon! Until then, à bientôt.

 

— Rebecca

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