Monday, April 18, 2011

Budapest

I had never been to Budapest before this month. With its history as complex and spicy as a pot of Hungarian Goulash, I wasn't entirely sure of what to expect. In a country of just over 9 million in population, Budapest is the home to 1 million. I read and studied the guide books which show the grand architecture, tell of the layers of history and suggest hotels and restaurants, but you still need to be in a place to feel the vibe of it. I was glad I was there.

Historically, during the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, Budapest underwent an unprecedented civic development that is still seen today. The grand palaces, castles, churches and official buildings are awe inspiring. Geographically, Budapest is divided by the Danube River and became one city from the 3 cities, Buda, Pest and Obuda after the Compromise of 1867. It sits on hot mineral springs and the name Pest, comes from the Slavic word, oven. I can't wait to go to the thermal baths that are one of the main attractions of the city, and confirm that translation :-) There are many thermal baths scattered around the city with one of the more opulent being at the Gellert Hotel. Politically, Hungary shed its communist ruling in 1989, which in historical context is very recent. Then during the economic buildup of Budapest, the recent worldwide downturn put a big hiccup into the growth process. My airline is the only airline to once again begin flying into Budapest from New York year round. This should be a big economic shot in the arm to the city and the country. When we arrived on our first trip to bring the inaugural flight back to New York, we were met with excitement and respect. Our hotel sweetened the pot with trays of pastries and coffee to welcome us.
We then decided to take a bus tour of the city, getting off at certain spots to acquaint us to the lay of the land. It was the first bus tour I've ever taken of a city, but it was a wise decision. As we drove around, we passed by diverse architecture and stopped at certain landmarks. We couldn't stop and get out at Heroe's Square that day because they were preparing for visiting dignitaries and rolling out the red carpet. It was a windy spring day as we made our way to Castle Hill in Buda. Buda is very hilly versus the flat landscape of Pest. It was also the more affluent of the cities. From Castle Hill there are sweeping views of Pest across the Danube. A café sits at the edge overlooking the magnificent city. There is a Hilton Hotel on the castle grounds that appears so out of place. We were told that when Zsa Zsa Gabor was married to Conrad Hilton, she insisted on having a Hilton Hotel in her native city. Remnants of a monastery curiously abut the modern edifice of the hotel. The golden light of the castle reflects in the hotel's stark windows. After exploring the castle, we were coming near the end of our 3 hour tour. We resisted any souvenirs, and actually the vendors are few and far between. After this long day we were getting hungry and had been dreaming about Hungarian food and its spicy reward. Since we had only arrived earlier in the day, we weren't sure where to have dinner. We knew it wouldn't be the English Pub or the Sinatra Bar. We were looking for pure Hungarian food in this city that is eager to please the western palate. Being the first crew of our airline to layover in Budapest, we were at the mercy of our hotel for recommendations that evening. They suggested dinner at Tigris Restaurant. The atmosphere was bistro-like and the staff spoke English. We found that many people in the city speak English, which we were grateful for. Give me a French menu any day and I'll know what to order, but my Hungarian is nonexistent....I'll try, but don't bank on any fluency! Even with an English speaking waiter, I ended up with a chalkboard special of Stuffed Pepper which wasn't what I thought I ordered at all. Before our meal, we were brought an amuse-bouche of a celery mousse topped with diced duck, which was delightful. My friends ordered Beef Cheek Stew with Sour Cream Noodles that I was eyeing. They graciously let me taste it and I wished I had followed the group and made that choice, too. Ah, I will look for this again! I think next time I'll be searching for a little less refinement and a lot more local flair. I want to taste it all, because it's not just about the palaces and castles. I want to dig in and feel the pulse and heartbeat of this city through its struggles and not just the accomplishments. Although, walking along the Danube at night it was hard to not be dazzled by the majesty of the accomplishments. I'm glad I'll be back.

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20 comments:

La Table De Nana said...

How interesting..Fun for you..different also.
I had a Hungarian friend and her mom owned The Hungarian Social club in MTl QC..tasted a lot of nice treats at her home..

Really nice and plentiful pics too..Thanks so much Diane.x

lostpastremembered said...

I have always stayed away from bus tours because they take away your ability to stray... my favorite activity. Sounds like sometimes they are a good idea in a very new to you city. It's one of those places I've always wanted to visit... you are an excellent guide. I have always found the Hungarian love of the new world pepper is so interesting... they love them in everything!!! Great pics too.

Kate said...

Great tour! I have Budapest on my radar and hope to visit in the fall...

2 Stews said...

Monique...Hungarian cuisine is something that I have not been too familiar with, but am looking forward to getting to know. I'm hoping for a good strudel restaurant soon. Nice you got to know the food from a native.

Deana...Yes, I have always resisted the bus tours, too, for the same reasons. I reluctantly went along with the other ladies and was glad. Budapest is complex and it is nice to get you bearings in a large city. I share their love of peppers...I just need to be careful about what I am ordering!

Kate...Maybe you'll be on one of my flights!! Hopefully I'll have some insights for you before/if you go. I am learning it all by the seat of my panys.

Thanks for visiting.

Diane

A Feast for the Eyes said...

A lifetime ago, I was in Budapest...like in 1974. I can still recall the magical evenings of dining with locals, and being so impressed with how sophisticated the locals were. The food was delicious, and I feel in-love with the peasant food-- namely, "Langos" which is a deep-fried bread with fresh garlic cloves rubbed all over. That with guyas soup, it was so comforting. Thanks for the memories...

A Feast for the Eyes said...

A lifetime ago, I was in Budapest...like in 1974. I can still recall the magical evenings of dining with locals, and being so impressed with how sophisticated the locals were. The food was delicious, and I feel in-love with the peasant food-- namely, "Langos" which is a deep-fried bread with fresh garlic cloves rubbed all over. That with guyas soup, it was so comforting. Thanks for the memories...

Thibeault's Table said...

What an interesting life you live Diane. I love following your adventures.

Ann

Nicole said...

Great Tour! Made me feel very Hungary.

Sorry. Had to be said.

Beautiful photos.

Dianne said...

Thank you for the lovely tour around the twin cities of Buda and Pest - they look absolutley gorgeous with such a wealth of history and stunning architecture.

Anonymous said...

Ah Budapest is an amazing city! When I was last there in 2008 we had dinner here: http://www.alabardos.hu/ The food was fantastic if the mood was a bit stiff. It is also worth it to go out of the city to close by Karlstejn Casle and the village. Just beautifull! Wonderful breakfasts can be had at Cafe Callas next to the Opera house... oh it brings back so many memories! Hope you enjoy your next trip back. :-)

Susan said...

I was in Budapest in 2000. You brought back so many wonderful memories with your posting. Thank you.

Trix said...

I was in Budapest last year, but just for 24 hours ... it's so beautiful!! I really want to go back and explore it further, there really just endless things to see and do and eat. Here's the link to my post about it (I am not trying to be obnoxiously self promotional of my blog, I really think you might be interested!) http://tastytrix.blogspot.com/2010/04/hungarian-detour-two-frantic-food.html

I also have a recipe for langos in April 2010 and a really authentic goulash recipe I found in a March 2011 post. Thanks for posting this, I love travel posts!!

Jeanne said...

I love this post on Budapest
That is where my Grandmother was born

Love and blessings

Jeanne

Madeleine said...

You said:
"My airline is the only airline to once again begin flying into Budapest from New York year round."

Could you tell me the name of that airline?? :)

I love Budapest!!! :)

Nice post!!!

Brenda said...

I will be laying over there this Friday and couldn't be more excited! Like you, I am not one to do the bus tours but may make an exception in Budapest. So happy for us to now be flying there!

2 Stews said...

Wow...I loved hearing about everyone's Budapest experiences. I just returned from my 3rd trip there and am learning more and more about this wonderful city.

Nicole...yes, it had to be said, thanks!!

Trix...thanks for the link to your post. I was hoping to find some recipes so I'll have to give yours a try. Very interesting.

Madeleine...my airline is American Airlines. It has been a real experience working these trips. The passengers are so warm. They are all willing to interpret and look out for each other, which is refreshing.

Brenda...have a wonderful layover. We had dinner at Sercli (1053 Budapest, Veres Palne utca 7) the last 2 layovers. It is reasonable and very good. I would love to hear about your discoveries.

Thanks everyone for the lovely comments. I can't wait to share more :-)

Diane

Phil said...

Hi. I live in Budapest. I enjoyed reading your blog about the city! Where did you hear that Zsa Zsa wanted a Hilton in Budapest? I had never heard that before. Thanks.

2 Stews said...

Phil...the bus tour director told us that while we were at the Hilton. That is why I stated it as, "we were told." I was just at the Hilton again on Tuesday and thought about asking, but didn't. I'd love to know if you know otherwise.

Thanks!

Diane

Phil said...

Hi Diane,
I'll ask at the Hilton about Zsa Zsa. I like the trivia. :o) Did you know that Elizabeth Taylor celebrated her 40th birthday in Budapest. Richard Burton was filming a movie here. Stars flew in from all over the world, including Grace Kelly. Thanks for your blog. We're all excited about the new American Airlines flight here. I am American and have taught here for seven years. Wonderful city!
Best,
Phil
P.S. Would you recommend your tour for guests coming into town? Sounds like a good overview. Thanks.

2 Stews said...

Phil...what a great story. I love those types of connections, too. What power these women had!

I went into the Hilton Tuesday for a wine tasting (it was closed) and was quite impressed with the inside. The architect incorporated artifacts into the interior which was surprising considering the ultra modern facade.

Going against my usual ways of discovering a city, I think the bus tour really was helpful. Also, there are tidbits of info and history that pull it all together. The first day is usually spent a little jet lagged anyway, so a bus tour is nice. It cost about $37 US, so that is a factor. It left from the Intercontinental Hotel.

How nice you've been able to live in Budapest for 6 years. Please share any insight, if you like. I think it'll take me awhile to scratch the surface of this city, but it'll be fun trying.

Diane