All right. So I have posted my original narration of our first day (actually, calendrically two days) arriving in Budapest. About a week after we got home, I wrote what I intended to be the quick summary version of our trip to my brother Stephen in a letter. My summary bloated into nine pages. So I have what amounts to an alternate version of the events I took time to record while we were actually in Hungary (not just for the first day, but the next two as well).
I am posting the letter version of Day One to see which you, gentle readers prefer…
First, Budapest was wonderful. Some things about the city reminded us of Prague (more of the “New Town” area we werenʼt in most of the time in Prague than the thousand-plus year-old “Old Town” — mostly because Budapest has suffered considerable damage in warfare and rebellion over its history, unlike Prague; the Nazis even blew up the bridges when retreating from Hungary, and the Soviets bombarded the castle hill, Buda, where armaments and supplies were located, as they “liberated” the area). We also used public transit, which didnʼt happen in Prague (no real need except for the two- or three-mile hike in the rain, both directions, to visit the old castle). Although I intend to write a full travelogue with many photos, hereʼs a brief synopsis of the trip (assuming, that is, that I can keep myself brief — adding this after I just spent an hour on our flight over and the first day).
We left on Wednesday afternoon, October 19, in order to overnight and leave our car at a hotel with transport to and from OʼHare, flying out about 2:30 PM the next day. A park-and-fly packager company got us in the Hyatt Regency OʼHare for less than half the hotelʼs actual rates (pretty cool), and the place was very fancy. However, being out in the middle of nowhere in the OʼHare suburbs, we had to eat at the hotel restaurant — a bit pricey but it was actually quite good food. Not having to get up hours before dawn (our usual departure schedule), we slept well.
We got to the airport easily, and even used the new-fangled pre-check-in online (via a kiosk at the hotel) and inhuman bag check devices to get ourselves quickly to security (we did actually have to talk to an actual counter staffer to check the bags, but that went really smoothly, as we already had our boarding passes from the hotel kiosk). We flew out on United to Frankfurt, changing planes there for a smaller plane to Budapest (nothing much evidently flies direct from the states to Hungary). The United tourist seats were small, uncomfortable and inhumanly close together (my knees literally pressed into the seat in front of me without that person reclining his/her seatback, and I could not get to my carry-on under that seat — no way to get through my legs and no room whatsoever). However, we survived for seven and a half hours; I even slept for about four hours (Janet couldnʼt as her person in front had reclined his seat and she had absolutely nowhere to go; she tried to complain to him and to the cabin crew without success, or even any actual response).
Nowadays United and other American carriers have invented a new tourist classification (costing about a hundred bucks extra) that offers “more legroom” (about two inches worth) and, for some, computer power plugs; I believe Janet wishes we had taken that option — now. We of course arrived the next day (October 21), having seen the lights of southern England and northeastern France/southern Belgium in the darkness. The layover in Frankfurt was pretty brief, but even with me misdirecting us in the complete wrong direction to find our departure gate and having to wait in line and get through passport control, we made it with a half hour to spare (the return layover was to be even shorter).
The Lufthansa flight to Budapest was like heaven compared to the international torture experience on United, making us hopeful that, with the return being booked as a code share on Lufthansa, the flight home would be better (longer by three hours into head winds). Our plane got us into the Budapest airport about 8:30 to 9:00 AM, and we were downtown, via taxi (after, just like Prague, absolutely no immigration procedure whatsoever at the airport) well before 9:30. However, unexpectedly, the very friendly (and, like all Hungarians we met, English-speaking) girl at the desk had our room ready for us, even that early in the morning! (There was some problem finding our reservation, as Expedia had somehow gotten my middle name as our last name, but we worked it out.)
The hotel was right down by the Danube (Duna, locally), just across a big park (Roosevelt tér, named for FDR) from the Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lachíd, named for the Count who paid to have it built mid-1800s — the current version is, of course, a reconstruction — supposedly because storms kept the Count from boating across to Buda when his father was dying, so he arranged for the Danubeʼs first bridging between Buda and Pest). We were actually on a side street (Mérleg utca) around the corner from the Gresham Palace (rebuilt as the Four Seasons Hotel — with a really cool lobby). Ours turned out to be an excellent location, making it easy to walk to most sights, which had been our idea in booking that place.
We got to the room (a huge three-room suite — bath, living area/kitchenette [sink in counter over a microwave and tiny fridge, actually a mini-bar stocked with drinks to buy)] and bedroom), cleaned up a little, unpacked a little, and then headed out (we knew we couldnʼt afford to collapse until it was truly evening here in Europe, making Janetʼs first day a hugely long one, but she held up really well). I guided us past a nearby basilica (St. István, named for the Magyar** king who accepted Christianity for himself and his people in the early eleventh century) and off northward toward the Parliament building, a vast neo-Gothic marvel, which we examined all around, and then we headed back along the river (more or less — major four-lane roadways run right by the water), past our hotel and south along Vaci utca,* a pedestrian mall and popular tourist/shopping street all the way south to the Great Market Hall, maybe a mile or so downriver from our hotel, where Janet had us actually shop at the many, many stalls for some food — cheese, bread and a couple grapefruit — intending to make use of our kitchenette for breakfasting. I was nervous about trying to interact this early (and use the 20,000 forint bills I had acquired from the airport ATM so weʼd have cash for the taxi; the 20,000 HUF bill is the largest in circulation, roughly a bit less than $100) and worried that we wouldnʼt communicate with the vendors (actually there to sell to locals), but the place is a major tourist stop, too, so I neednʼt have worried. We spent the change from our taxi driver (food, even dining out, was noticeably inexpensive in Budapest) and headed home to relax before finding a restaurant for dinner.
We had both packed quite light (at least for us, trying in our elderly years to finally learn), but we each did have at least (for me, only) one change for evening dress, and we did change after relaxing over a bottle of red wine from the mini-bar (only 1450 HUF, and we figured $6.75 for a bottle of wine was pretty good, even though we later saw that same wine in a grocery store for 750 HUF) and sought out a place Janet remembered seeing early in our hike that featured “pumpkin risotto” on their menu outside the door. We did find the place (actually just on the other side of the Four Seasons), a bar mostly, and successfully got a seat (pretty early dining, at only about 6:00 PM, for Budapest), ordering the risotto, both of us, and a bottle of red wine, which turned out to be the same thing we had enjoyed in the hotel room. We were back in the room, exhausted and getting ready for bed well before 9:00.
* (“utca” meaning “street,” and pronounced “ut•stah” — accents in Hungarian always on the first syllable only, the “u” like “put” and a solo “c” sounding “st”; the “s” alone, by the way, as in the cityʼs name, is always “sh,” so itʼs pronounce “Bu•dah•pesht” with the “e” like an American short “e” — in fact quick food eaten between slices of bread is “szendvics,” which would come very close to “sandvich”)
** [pronounced “Muh•dyahr,” so every time I have said that word for forty years, I have been utterly wrong, the “gy” combination in this case being said “dy”]
I did here edit out the “letter” portions, leaving just the travelogue. Compare with Friday and Saturday, folks… I notice that I explain different things in each one, however obvious that they must overlap. Preferences? Comments?