Oh Budapest! From first sight we were a little in love with the city. Maybe not as charming as Prague or as easy as Krakow or with as good of beer as Vienna, but there was something about Budapest that felt real, and comfortable, and yet, still very exciting.
So our entry to the city wasn’t the easiest but by the time we got to our Airbnb, right in the heart of the city, troubles stopped. We were greeted by the most enthusiastic host who showed us all the details about her cute loft apartment. After many recommendations and advice we finally had the place to ourselves. Again, we arrived late and were hungry so we immediately changed and headed out for dinner. On the bus ride over, I had read about this cute and authentic little Hungarian bistro with live music. I had tried to book a reservation on the website to find that they were booked out for a week. We thought we would still take a chance late at night. We arrived around 8:45 pm and were told there were no available tables. We asked if they might have any for walk in later and were told we could try. We had glimpses of the stunning lit-up Parliament building on our walk to the restaurant so we thought we would take that in and then head back to the restaurant. The Parliament is amazing, expansive and just down-right beautiful. The weather was perfect and we walked around the building and along the river before heading back to Hungarikum Bistro where we were pleasantly surprised that a reservation had not shown and were welcomed in to dine.
This was the nicest little dinner with the most interesting instrument being played right behind Bryan that added to the ambiance. We opted for one of their well-priced three-course dinners to share the 1st and 3rd courses and another entree. Bryan tried the local light and dark beer. We were brought out our first samples of paprika with slices of the spicy pepper and a paprika dip for the bread. Delicious! They split the first course goulash for us and it was light yet savory. The entrees were very delicious and for once, appropriately sized. We shared the roasted duck leg with potatoes and red cabbage and the pork tenderloin braided with bacon and served with dumplings (spatzle) and a paprika sauce. Both were amazing. To finish the night we shared their version of the apple pie. Once again, delicious, less sweet, and using grated apples. Bryan was offered a shot of the local fruit brandy; palinka, on the house and I got a sucker! A perfect night in Budapest.
Like every other city, we started this one with the free walking tour. We chose the 10:30 am start time as we had coffee in our apartment and had picked up items for breakfast in the apartment the night before. We had an energetic and interesting local tour guide who led us on the three hour tour. We started on the Pest side, taking in the cathedral, squares, history, and science building before crossing the lion bridge to the Buda side where we had a short break. We then ascended up the steps to the castle, which is no longer a castle but home to the president, museums, cathedral, and the cute ancient castle district. We ended with great views from the Fisherman’s Bastion landmark.
Bryan and I were ready for lunch and walked down the hill a short ways to a Michelin-star restaurant I had read serves a different three-course lunch for only $10 everyday. We settled in and each opted for the different entree choice. Service and food were Michelin quality. We started with bread and a pate. I don’t normally care for pate but this one was silky smooth and was delicious when eaten with the chewy bread. Second courses were both fantastic; Bryan got the prawn and calamari with homemade udon noodles and a dashi broth and I got the fried cauliflower served with greens and a mayo dressed bulgur base. Both were so interesting and so flavorful and so well executed. We shared bites and I just may have to try to recreate the cauliflower and bulgur dish. The last course was perfect; a zabaglione cream sauce with a scoop of strawberry ice cream and strawberries in it. Simple with the perfect amount of sweetness and refreshing. We left thrilled with our lunch find.
We were near the far bridge connecting the two cities and Margarite Park; an island park in the river. We walked to the park and immediately followed the other park goers by putting our feet in the fountain water with the fountain show doing its thing. It was a hot day and this really cooled us down, and felt good on my poor ankles and feet. After a while we continued on walking through the park which was lush and immense but too big for us on foot so we headed to the Hippie Island Bar on the island for a break. Bryan got a beer and we enjoyed the music and open air atmosphere of the bar. We finally set back out to our apartment with fear that we would be hit by the approaching thunderstorms, but fortunately were not.
Thursday night was a lazy one for us and after a while we went out to explore the Budapest nightlife, without much energy of our own. We walked towards the Jewish Quarter and headed to the butcher recommend by Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations. It was a bit chaotic when we arrived but we persisted in ordering marinated chicken and pork served on their grill top along with beets, potato salad and red cabbage, plus a beer for $10. It wasn’t until we left I realized they had goulash too and got some of that to go. The meats were delicious and we were a little more energized. We carried on to try one of the famous langos which is generally a savory fry bread topped with sour cream and cheese. We purchased one with garlic and cheese and it was delicious, greasy and filling.
We carried on through the alleys of the Jewish Quarter, which were certainly happening, before hitting Karavan, which is a strip of food trucks set up permanently. I ate my goulash and Bryan got a beer and we people-watched for a bit. Our last stop was one of the famous ruin pubs; Szimpla Kert. Vast, ornately decorated, yet clean, with people drinking, dancing, smoking hookah, and playing cards. It had it all and if we were there with a bunch of friends, or if I could drink, we would have stayed longer. But instead, once we explored all of the rooms we left and headed home for the night.
Friday morning woke up very wet! It was pouring out and we took a nice slow morning in the apartment. We enjoyed coffee and breakfast inside again and then finally around noon we braved the two minute walk to the bus stop to drop us off two minutes from the largest Budapest baths in the city; The Szechanyi Baths. It was a good thing to do on a wet morning. We shared a cabin to change and rented bath towels and headed unknowingly into the thermal baths under the roof first. I was restricted to baths under a certain temperature but still enjoying sitting in warm water watching all of the people. Bryan walked around to the saunas and hotter tubs, almost convincing me to do one of the beer baths. After about an hour of soaking, the sun was starting to poke out and we went outside to the large outdoor pools. We grabbed chairs before the rest did and really enjoyed the sun and laying for a bit. It was a relaxing morning at the pool. We showered before heading out to explore the rest of the city park on foot. On our way home we stopped at a Turkish place for a late lunch to share before home to rest.
Friday night was our last night in Budapest and we had another mystery shopping dinner at the local Four Season’s restaurant Kossaz. On our way to the restaurant we were surprised to find a free concert happening and watched for a bit.
At the restaurant, we enjoyed one drink at the bar, outside, observing the lit-up cathedral in the distance and the live music coming from the bar.
We then moved inside to start our meal. One more delicious meal! We were brought fresh baked bread with olive tapenade and the most delicious paprika cheese spread (a better version of pimiento cheese). I opted for the creamy morel mushroom soup and Bryan got the bone marrow with oxtail. Both were beautiful and delicious. For entrees, Bryan went with the recommendation to try the veal and was glad he did; it was so tender and served with house-made stuffed pasta and other delicacies. I wanted the scallops and octopus but they were out so the server recommended the rolled trout with prawns and lobster broth. It was delicious, especially with the lobster broth and the creative zucchini noodles as a base. For dessert, we chose the chocolate tart and the seasonal dessert of a white chocolate semolina pudding with berries and cream that was tart, light and summery. We left very full and happy.
Our last day arrived for the entire trip. We packed up our bags and were allowed to keep them in the apartment until we left the city later in the day. We set out on foot, first to explore the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We entered the cathedral to a choir singing music and that added to the feel of the church. We then bought tickets to climb the stairs to the top of the tower to take in the views and the noon church bells. We descended and headed to the Great Market Hall, an indoor market that has been going on for years. We bought strawberries and Hungarian Pick sausage (both that went uneaten for various reasons) and then bought a lunch to share from the vendors. I bought too much. I wanted to try the cabbage roll and the kielbasa, then the salads, Bryan got a beer, and before we knew it, our stomachs were so full we had ruined our plans to get an early dinner before heading to the airport.
Instead, we walked some of it off, saw the inside of the most beautiful cafe in the world; The New York Cafe, but without reservations continued on to first one outdoor bar patio and then another. We continued walking towards the apartment and picked up a few pastries to save for our flight. We collected our bags, returned the keys, and then set out on foot to meet the bus to the airport. All of this went smoothly and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time. We were able to sit outside at the airport, Bryan got one last beer, and we watched the sunset. Our flight to London Gatwick on Easyjet went fine and we arrived at the airport, took a cab to the nearby hotel Ibis for a shower and nights sleep.
We woke 11 pm Seattle time to catch the airport shuttle back to Gatwick. Our 10 hour flight to Seattle went super smooth and was not sold out so we actually got a seat between us to spread out in. We arrived at 11 am Seattle time, got home with our bags around noon, and set out for lunch/dinner at Eastlake Bar and Grill to take advantage of the gorgeously sunny weather before we passed out around 4 pm at home. Since, we have slowly been getting back to Pacific Time but it has been an adjustment. We were both up super early on Monday and Tuesday and have been a little tired during the day. Thank goodness for a four-day work week!
And so that ends our two week Central/Eastern European adventure. We have many memories, few regrets, and a lot of photos to carry us to our next adventure.