Posts in the ‘Budapest’ Category

A 24-Hour Trip Back to LA

My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. in Budapest on Saturday. I got up, showered, and was ready to be taken to the airport at 6:30. Evan came along, too, just to drop me off. His flight was later in the day. I got through check-in, passport control and security in about five minutes. And I was supposed to have about an hour before my plane was boarding. That hour stretched to about 3 hours — there was heavy fog in London slowing things down.

Everyone at the Budapest airport was really nice about it, though. The captain for our British Airways flight even hung out with us and talked to us about the delays. She was very nice. Anyway, I got a new flight to LA, since I was going to be missing mine, and I just waited until we could finally leave.

We got to London at noon, and I had about three hours to wait before my next flight. Evan’s flight was delayed a bit, too, but he was able to make his connection.

I got to my gate, and looking at my new ticket, I realized that they’d put me in Word Traveler Plus — the BA premium economy section. I was excited about it. And when they finally scanned my ticket, they said it was changed again — turned out that I was flying business class! I’ve had some good luck on BA. This was my second business class flight this year with them.

firstclass.jpgI sat down and enjoyed a glass of champagne, and we ended up sitting at our gate for an hour and a half or so before getting any sort of start. Our 10-plus hour flight went by smoothly. I enjoyed lying back and putting my feet up, and I didn’t sleep, but watched a bunch of on-demand movies. This was I think the first time on a BA flight that the entertainment worked properly. On the other 3 transatlantic flights I’ve taken recently, there were a lot of issues with the system. I watched:

  1. Stardust: Very entertaining! I’d definitely recommend it.
  2. The Simpson’s Movie: If you like the show, you’ll enjoy the movie. I chuckled quite a bit.
  3. The Darjeeling Limited: I enjoyed it a lot.
  4. Ratatouille: Cute, though doesn’t make all that much sense.
  5. Hairspray: Rather annoying. Especially John Travolta’s role. I can’t believe I watched the whole thing.
  6. Shrek the Third: I only saw the first bit of it. Wasn’t terribly interested.

Of course, the waiting and long lines didn’t stop once I got off the plane. Immigration had really long lines, the baggage claims were packed and then the lines to get through customs were completely chaotic and winding all around the various baggage claims and columns. I finally got out, and my mom and sister picked me up. And it took quite a while to get out of the parking garage, too.

I finally got home at 9 p.m. or so. Long, long day.

Evan got home to Syracuse a bit after that. He had 3 flights.

Our Last Day in Budapest

Saint Stephens Cathedral, BudapestOn our last day in Budapest, Evan and I tried to accomplish items #2 and #3 on our list, so we went down to Saint Stephen’s Cathedral (photo taken in July when I visited the first time), and we tried to get a ticket to climb the towers, but it turns out that that’s a warm weather activity — it’s closed until April. We went into the church briefly, but we couldn’t go into the room with St. Stephen’s desiccated hand, either.

Later that night, we had a reservation at Taj Mahal, which was great as usual. I know, not terribly Hungarian to spend our last night at an Indian restaurant, but it’s really delicious.

And we got one more kurtos kalacs in the afternoon. Couldn’t leave without having our favorite winter treat one more time!

The Gellert Baths, Group Changing Rooms and a Spanish Speaking Hungarian

Yesterday, Evan and I checked off item #1 on our list by going to the Gellert Baths. I actually went during the summer, but the main pool was under construction and it was really crowded. I felt like it was a waste of my money. Thankfully, when Evan and I made it there yesterday, I had a very different experience.

We got to the baths at about 5:30, and they’re only open until 7. So when we bought tickets, they were discounted and cost about half as much as I spent last time I went. We got our check-in cards and our receipt, and we went to find the changing rooms. I went to follow the sign that said women — go figure, right? But they directed me away from there and to the same changing room as Evan. I kept worrying that I would be turned away or yelled at, but as we walked through the long tiled hallways that make you feel like you’re entering an undersea palace, complete with portals looking in on the main pool, nobody seemed bothered that I was there.

When we reached the changing room, we were greeted with a Buenos Dias, not something you’d usually hear in Hungary. I didn’t really hear it at first, since the tiled room had quite an echo and I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but Evan did, and he started speaking with the guy in Spanish. He showed us to our changing room — apparently we got a little room for the two of us to change and store our stuff in as opposed to the lockers in crowded locker rooms we were always given at Szechenyi baths and that I got the first time at Gellert.

Once we changed, we went off to find the pool. Cybelle and I had a hard time trying to find our way around last time, especially because of all the construction going on, but this time it was easier. Still confusing, but it didn’t seem to take as long. We went into the smaller bath that sits at the end of the effervescent pool, and relaxed in its warm water for a bit.

We dipped our toes in the effervescent pool, too, but we decided it was a bit too cold to do so early into our stay, so we went to the thermal bath room — a different one than I was in before, and relaxed in the 36-degree-Celsius and 38-degree-Celsius pools, which was very relaxing. It was actually a different room than I had been in over the summer, though it was very similar. The one over the summer, though, was decorated differently. There’s supposed to be a men’s side and a women’s side, but I suppose with the construction everyone just goes together.

After spending a good amount of time in the warm pools, under the green tiled roof, we went back to the effervescent pool to try it out, and we were glad we did. Once we got over the initial shock of it being cool (it really wasn’t cold, just more like a normal swimming pool), we only made it one lap before the lifeguard/attendant told us we had to get out because the baths were closing. But before we got out, they did turn on the bubblers, which offered a neat effect. And the pool itself is very majestic-looking, under a large skylight and in a two-story room with balconies and columns.

The attendant yelled at us again, since we made a quick stop in the first pool we went into to warm up before changing, and we went back to the changing room to find our clothes. We met our Spanish-speaking friend again, who didn’t quite understand everything Evan was asking him, and we chatted a bit about where we were from. He was Hungarian — I don’t know where his passion for Spanish came from, but he was also wearing an Espana lanyard around his neck. And we told him we were American, to which he asked, “North or south?” Then asked if we were from Canada. And then maybe Mexico before we cleared it up that we were from the U.S.

We could have spent a bit more time there, but the time we did have was relaxing and fun, and we’re happy to check one more must-do off our list.

We didn’t bring a camera, but Evan took a few cell phone shots, so hopefully I can put those up later.

It’s Cold in the Apartment!

I’m not usually too cold here (except when I go outside), but today, after I opened the curtains in the living room and got to work, I noticed it was getting colder and colder and colder. I finally got off the couch and went to the window to see if something was up and, well, it was — the window/door wasn’t closed properly, letting in quite a draft. I’ve been trying to warm up since then, by wrapping myself in a blanket and putting on a hood. It’s finally getting a bit better, but my nose is still cold.

Man, it’ll be nice to be somewhere without freezing temperatures for a while.

One Last Dinner at Cafe Bouchon

Last night, we tackled item #4 on the list and went to Cafe Bouchon with Bernat, Peter, Ian and Gyula. We drank Ian’s favorite wine there — which is very good, and I’d call it our favorite there, too, but Ian is the one who found it first, I believe — he also bought a case to take home. The restaurant was decorated for Christmas. Nothing too over-the-top or anything, but it was festive. And Gyula brought all of us CDs of Hungarian Christmas music from one of his favorite bands.

We had the standard fare. Salad and the grilled mixed cheese plate for me, which was a bit light on the veggies and had walnuts and cashews in it this time. And everyone else had spicy goulash and potato croquettes.

The piece de resistance, though, was dessert. Evan and I ordered the crepe Suzette again, and our favorite waiter in Budapest came to serve it. He warmed up a glass of brandy (maybe? maybe Grand Marnier or something? It was in a brandy snifter, so I just immediately thought brandy) by gently rolling it over the candle at our table, then suddenly, a flame whooshed out of the glass. He poured the flaming liquid all over our crepe and kept the mesmerizing blue fire going for about a minute by spooning it around. It was absolutely amazing. And it totally made the dish. Last time we had it, it was good, this time it was something to really be remembered. The combo of the semi-bitter orange taste with the crepe and the cream inside was just perfect.

And of course I can’t just throw out that favorite waiter title without explaining a bit more. Cafe Bouchon has a waiter (I wish I knew his name), who is absolutely fantastic. He knows his wines. He knows his food. He’ll suggest things not on the menu. He’ll chat, but not in an overbearing way. His English is great. Basically, in a country where it can be hard to communicate and waiters aren’t always as service-minded as they could be, our waiter friend is really top notch. He would be great anywhere, really, not just here.

We finished dinner with our fortune cookies — another fun, quirky touch Bouchon adds to the dining experience. These fortune cookies are particularly funny and confusing because a good deal of the fortunes are sourced from “Internet Graffiti” — and cited as such. They aren’t wonton-like cookies, either–they’re flat, cinnamon wafer cookies with one side coated in chocolate. It’s always fun to see what you’ll get.

And we got an additional cookie to take home with us — some sort of white cookie with powdered sugar on top — as a little Christmas gift. I’ll definitely miss that place.

We also took a group photo. Or, well, I took a photo of the rest of the group. And we had a weird guy sitting at the table behind us who managed to make very weird faces right in the middle of the photos. Intentionally of course. I’ll try to post it soon.

Mammut and Budapest’s Other Megamalls

Now, I come from the land of shopping malls — Southern California — and for the last three years lived within a few miles of South Coast Plaza, The Lab, Fashion Island, the Irvine Spectrum and more strip malls than I’d even like to think about. In Budapest, things haven’t changed that much. I live within a few miles of West End City Center, Mammut, MoM Park, Arena Plaza and another mall that I only went to once (Evan, you can fill in the name). These are all multistory — and in the case of Mammut, multibuilding — sprawling complexes with plenty of brand-name retailers and restaurants alongside movie theaters, bowling alleys, smaller shops and plenty of bars.

The strip mall doesn’t exist here, though the independent shop is alive and well. But the malls are decidedly different, mostly because the lack of department stores or big-box retailers. Arena Plaza comes close, though, by having a Tesco, and there are some big electronics stores that you can find in most of the malls. But as far as I can tell, the malls’ only anchors are grocery stores.

Other than that, they’re pretty similar to the malls we have at home — crowded, decorated in their Christmas best at this time of year and expensive.

Evan and I went to Mammut, which means Mammoth, on Sunday to buy a few gifts, and as we rode up and down the escalators and walked its crowded corridors, we started getting a bit irritated, as neither of us would choose to spend much time in a mall anyway and it was pretty warm and stuffy. So we decided to sit down away from the crowds and have a snack.

We went to the top floor, which was a bit more subdued, and found a nice little cafe called Bitter Sweet, which seems to specialize in Italian chocolates. The walls were red, the tables were dark wood and the matching wooden chairs had upholstered white seats. There were decorated guitars and music-themed paintings on the walls, and the pastry case held an impressive array of delicate desserts.

The menu was huge and boasted a lot of delicious-sounding veggie options, though we weren’t ready for a meal — we has a big homemade breakfast of eggs and hash browns. There were also a lot of specialty coffee drinks on the menu that I would have liked to try, but the mall was hot, and coffee didn’t sound that great at the moment. So we found some mixed juice drinks and just couldn’t resist ordering the dark chocolate fondue.

The juices were quite sweet and syrupy — I got a tropical citrus, peach and grenadine blend that was quite refreshing, and Evan got a heartier and sweeter black currant-based drink. The fondue was decent, though the fruits could have been a bit more exciting and the cake a little less crumbly. And our water was served ice cold, quite a treat!

Only One Week Left in Budapest

This trip has gone by fast! I’ll be heading home to California after this week, though I’m off to London in the new year, so the travels shall continue.

This weekend has been pretty relaxing. We did a lot of holiday shopping and hanging out at home playing Scrabulous (if you’re up for a game, let me know, I’m sort of obsessed). We’re also thinking about all the things we’ll need to do before we leave. No, not packing, but all the things we haven’t gotten around to seeing or doing, or the things we like so much we want to do one last time. Our list:

  1. Go to the Gellert baths. I went there over the summer with Cybelle, but most of the complex was closed, including the main pool, which is supposed to be the nicest. Evan hasn’t even been at all.
  2. Climb to the top of St. Stephen’s cathedral. I’ve been inside, but haven’t seen the view. It’s supposed to be interesting and different from the views you normally get from the hilly Buda side because, well, it’s in Pest.
  3. Eat at Taj Mahal, our favorite Indian restaurant here. The food is great, there are lots of veggie options, and though none of the employees — or at least not the waitresses — are Indian, they still manage to look absolutely fantastic in their saris. Great place.
  4. Eat at Cafe Bouchon. ‘Nuf said, right? We even stopped in there just to warm up with soup on Saturday afternoon since it was really cold outside. We had some more celery soup with carrot chips. Mmmm.
  5. Have one last group dinner. Gotta show off my cooking skills! Just kidding. We’ve just been meaning to do it for a while — a real dinner this time, not just latkes.

Anything else we’re forgetting? I’ll put up a list of all the things we have done soon.