Saturday, May 7, 2011

From Buda to Pest

I like to look for the magic in places and things. There can be alchemy when you least expect it......around the corner, behind a door, in a taste, with a combination of certain people or just over a bridge. In the airline business we are almost always working with different people and going to different places. Some people and places we know, some we don't. Each trip is anew and open to the magic. Crossing from Pest to Buda over the Chain Bridge during a warm spring day felt like undoing the first ribbon of a bow from a present.A funicular is in sight that takes you up to Castle Hill. The innovative funicular was first opened in 1870 and was sadly destroyed in the second World War. It was rebuilt and opened again in 1986, and still has its original appearance. It almost seems a ride in history as you take the short trip up the hill. Walking around Castle Hill there is beauty made and natural. And the view over to Pest is stunning. Buda has a much different feel from Pest. When the cities combined into one, they became more than the sum of their parts. Another depth was created. Buda has old world charm with its colorful architecture and new world dining. My friends and I decided to stop at Café Pierrot for appetizers, and thought we'd sit outside along the street. Instead we were ushered inside to a courtyard filled with stone walls covered with vines, while the sounds of chirping birds filled the air. After a full day, the the lights of the city appeared in the gloaming of the evening. Not many cities transform as beautifully in the fall of sunset as Budapest. The funicular entry looked like a jewel box in the night. We decided to walk down the steps instead of taking the funicular. Along the precarious descent, the view of the Chain Bridge looking over to Pest takes your breath away.St. Stephen's Basilica is lit with a golden glow just beyond the bridge. You almost don't want the night to end but, of course, it does.

A new day begins, and does a day begin much better than with handmade sour cherry strudel that is warm out of the oven.
I think not. The Elsö Pesti Strudel House makes their own strudel while you watch. I was curious about all of the flavors and asked about the cabbage strudel. I was told it goes well with beer, Hungarian beer. Then we were given one to try...minus the beer! It is a good thing this is so far away from my home in Massachusetts, I think I could easily make their strudel a habit.

Pest has its share of places and grand architecture, too. The Four Seasons Hotel is a palace that was built for the Gresham Insurance Company in 1906. They felt it was a safer place to invest their money than the stock market. Very wise. It is a fine example of Art Nouveau in the Vienna Secessionist manner. At first impression the modern glass chandelier in the lobby looks like a Dale Chihuly work of art, but the artist was Hungarian.
Ironwork with peacocks adorns the windows throughout the hotel. There is a quiet elegance here. Several blocks away is St. Stephen's Basilica which looks very different in the daytime. It was named after Stephen, Hungary's first King (c 975-1038). His mummified fist is housed in the reliquary. Around the corner approaching the square, things become lively. A group of young men had their own choreography as they jumped for joy in front of the basilica. No mummified fists here.I sat with them and they jumped while I snapped a few pics and I was glad they didn't ask me to return the favor. Inside the basilica belied the activity going on outside. The quietness was stilling. At the top of the basilica steps you can see over the river to Buda. A short walk away is Gerbeaud, a coffeehouse located along the Vaci utca pedestrian street. It is hard to decide what you might want among the many pastries and confections. I bought a little surprise for my daughter for when she comes home this summer (yes, it will last.) You can dine inside the grand building or outside on the plaza where there is sometimes a little music being played. Before the weather gets warm, many of the cafés offer coverlets that are draped over the chairs outside. Very civil. Walking further down Vaci utca and over a few blocks from the touristy fray is a restaurant, Bor la Bor Restaurant and Wine Bar. It is downstairs with a wine cellar decor. The chandelier is cleverly made from glass wine making containers. A seltzer bottle sits on the table and the food is purely Hungarian with a home cooked flavor. Naturally, the wine menu is extensive. For dinner I had a veal stew with gnocchi. It was interesting to compare Hungarian gnocchi with the Italian gnocchi my son and I make. It was more like sptäzle, which is smaller and shaped differently. If I had had a Hungarian grandmother, I know she would have made something similar and just as divine. We were with a native Hungarian friend who said he uses a special pan to make his gnocchi. And like the final unwrapping of the present, he ran up to his apartment and gave one of his pans to me to take home. Magic.

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