March 23, 2011

Budapest Activities

As you already know, we had a great time in Budapest and wish we had more time to spend in the city. We only visited one museum, but spent much of our time walking around and getting a feeling for the neighborhoods of the city. It was a wonderful way to see the architecture and experience the city in its true life.

Rickety, rusty trains - but very convenient, timely and cheap!
After an adventure getting to our hotel via public transport, we had an easy night and then spent the next day doing things we loved: going to an art museum and visiting the city's famous baths. There are several baths scattered throughout the city, but we choose to go to the Szechenyi baths. You could soak in the pools of various temperatures ranging from 68 degrees F to 104 degrees F inside or out. While it's not quiet with people milling around or particularly sweet-smelling with the funky thermal smell, it's great fun to people watch and relax in the soothing waters. Greg especially enjoyed seeing the old guys playing chess while in the water.

Outside bath part of Szchenyi

On Wednesday, we met up with fellow teacher friends who had taught in Budapest before moving to Munich and they took us on a daytrip to Szentendre, a little artist's village not far from Budapest itself. They knew the best places to get ceramics, knives, glass and delicious Hungarian cakes. Dave and Henny also gave us so many ideas of great things to see in the city that we would not have done otherwise. After we came back to Budapest, we checked out the great synagogue and walked along the citadel walls on the Buda side of the city.

View of Parliament from Buda side
Church on the top of the Buda side
We later met up with Dave to check out a local kert, which was an old warehouse bar in the city (surprisingly clean) where people used to simply drink all night rather than risk being caught out after curfew. Now it's filled with students and old timers, a random assortment of chairs (supposedly there's even a few made from bath tubs that have been cut in half and legs added on) and a movie screen to keep some sort of license going.

On our last morning, we ate yummy "chimney cakes," found several cute design stores and stumbled upon the Rumbach synagogue that was undergoing renovatioins. We also checked out a communist statue on Margarit Island - a lovely 2.5 km island on the Danube and easily reachable from the city. We had a simple lunch and bid our adieu to the lovely city. Budapest might not be a city you would think to visit, but we loved it.

Dome of the Rumbach Synagogue

March 20, 2011

Touring Vienna

Vienna's a little more than halfway to Budapest so we decided to start the first part of our trip there. Greg had already been this summer with his parents, but I had never been. Luckily, we had fantastic weather because Vienna was fun to walk around and absorb the almost-too-beautiful architecture. Anywhere you turned, you saw classic facades of buildings, museums and palaces. The Hapsburgs had a big influence in the city and the Empress "Sisi's" face seems to be everywhere.

Greg in front of the Hofburg Palace
We arrived in Vienna on a very full train because it was the start of Carnival break for many families. After dropping off our stuff at the hotel near the Gasometer center (you'll see that Greg and I couldn't resist taking pictures with this metro stop's sign - immature at heart, we are!), we took off into the city.

Our first stop was for a late lunch somewhere in the Naschmart, which is a nice outdoor market on a boulevard with casual eating places along its length. The stalls were filled with dried fruits, vegetables, exotic fruits and other yummy things. We ended up in a falafal joint run by Israelis. Further down the boulevard at the end of the market, the flea market was packing up, but there was still people milling about, shouting about their wares. We also had time to see St. Stephen's cathedral in the old town center that evening and meander around there for a bit.

Top of St. Stephen's at night

The next day we went to check out the architect Hundertwasser and his infamous Hundertwasserhaus with the related museum. His art was trippy with bright colors, mesmorizing lines and circles, and environmental themes (which Greg loved). To me, he represented a mediocre version of Gaudi's flow and creativity. His work was still cool to see and I think we'll both remember it for quite a while.

Columns at night
We had a lovely lunch at a local cafe and then walked around the classic Museum Quarter and Volkstheater. I had found a local bookstore/cafe called phil on Spotted by Locals so we headed there for our first sacher torte, a classic Viennese chocolate cake with jam inside... yum! It was just what we needed to end our day with. I enjoyed Vienna, but after coming from a place with similar architecture and culture, I was ready for something new and different. And Budapest definitely delivered that...more to come on that later!

Check out all our photos from Vienna here:

March 18, 2011


Budapest was so unlike other places we've visited and at the same time, combined great aspects of the different cities we've been to and loved. It had remnants of communism like Berlin; beautiful art noveau architecture in unexpected places like Prague; wonderful thermal baths like Steamboat Springs, Colorado (although the settings could not be more different); creativity overflowing and inspiring just like Ljubljana; and the great river running through it like so many other cities (London, Verona, Salzburg to name a few).

The mix of those familiar undertones, the language, helpful people and wonderful scenery made Budapest a great city to travel to. While "shabby" may not connotate good to most people, Budapest definitely has a shabby chicness to it that many cities could not pull off. We hardly saw any graffiti or trash on the streets, but buildings were just older and people seemed to make due with what they had rather than having the newest, latest and greatest.

For example, I was surprised by the amount of upcycled/recycled materials used to make jewelry, accessories and home decor stuff that we saw in several design stores. The city seemed to flow along with our viewpoint of reshaping old into new. Budapest also felt very historic, but still had that gritty quality that makes it feel like a real city. I'll write more about what we actually did in Budapest and Vienna soon, but wanted to get my thoughts down before they slipped away.

Check out our photos here:

March 14, 2011

The Colorful Capital

Budapest definitely took us by surprise. Ayelet and I had planned on checking this place out when we first arrived in Europe. The sense of urgency to make that happen finally took over with our next move only a few months away.

So we brushed the dust (there's always dust) off our borrowed Budapest book and took the train going east. We didn't really know what to expect. The language was very different than any we have tried to use. From the moment we arrived on the edge of town, we decided to use the basic dictionary in the back of our travel book. It was scary and exciting. We have gotten so used to most Germans speaking English that we had not prepared at all. Quickly we learned how to ask for two tickets in Hungarian so we could at least get to our hotel - most of you know how much we like to use the local transportation. Buses and trams are usually pretty easy to figure out even if you do not know the language. That, and I'm too stubborn to take a cab unless we are truly in a hurry.

All I had really known about Budapest before arriving was that the city was cut in half by the Danube. So I was very surprised to see how hilly the area was. The views from the hills and the streets were colorful and show the influence of many different cultures in this area. More of a reflection will follow regarding the wonders of this great destination. For now I'll leave you with a short video.

March 12, 2011

Krapfen all over the place!

There are a lot of words for the round doughnuts with various fillings showing up around the city in full force this time of year. Krapfen and berliner are the two most common. There are different varieties of doughnuts here as well - schmalznudeln and ausgezogene are two others, which are flatter versions of the round doughnut.

I don't even really like doughnuts that much, but I am tempted to sample a few. The doughnut tradition for Fasching (the German Carnival) was a way for people who are going to fast for Lent to gorge themselves ahead of time. I don't know how many still fast for Lent, but the festivities leading up to it sure are fun!

Krapfen display at a train station bakery
Back to the krapfen... I was inspired to write this post because of the tiramisu-flavored one that recently caught my eye. In the past, I've seen vanilla, marmelade, chocolate, egg-liquor (no idea what that one's all about; sounds disgusting to me), Caipirinha-flavored, coconut-creme, one with red-liquid-filled plastic syringe on top (??!??!), gummi bears and worms covering another, and the list could go on and on. It's the only time I've really seen the Germans go wild with their desserts!

Doughnut snowmen/clowns for Fasching