Todayʼs post takes The Lovely One and me on to our second day in Budapest — Saturday, when we crossed the Danube to Buda to explore stuff that really reminded us of our Prague experience. Previous posts are yesterday, Saturday and Friday.
We had flown in under overcast (ground fog — thick, at that) in Frankfurt in the blackness of 5:00 AM on Friday, October 21. The rain moved into Budapest on Sunday (thick wet air — misty mostly rather than actual rain) and continued all through Monday.* We just heard that Tuesday is supposed to repeat today/Monday.
But first there was Saturday — a glorious day of high, blue skies, scattering early clouds for brilliant sunshine. Saturday was a wonderful and invigorating day, perfect (if autumnal and therefore slightly chilly weather — however, for our whole trip this year, not any time as cold as Prague was two years ago, though). That morning, having slept a dozen hours, we arose about 8:30 to shower, drafts and head out across the Chain Bridge (almost just outside our doors) for Buda and the royal palace complex.
Although not so intimate (or old) as the romantic Karlův Most/Charles Bridge in Prague (these comparisons are inevitable, though not really were particularly appropriate, as Budapest has suffered considerable damage in warfare, some quite recent, including World War II, unlike Prague), Chain Bridge/Széchenyi lánchid — built from 1839-49** and open to vehicular traffic — has wide pedestrian ways on each side (passages that pedestrians traversed in both directions on both sides) offering memorable vistas down then up the Danube (Duna), South and North, depending which side you were walking. Parliament’s neo-Gothic spires and neoclassic green dome shone brilliantly in the grey morning. I shot far too many photos of views and bridge works as we walked eastward across the river.
Once over, although I easily spotted both, we elected to forgo the already extensive line for the funicular straight up the steep hillside or the set of steps which led directly ahead to the (rebuilt) castle/palace complex. We angled right (South) off streets paved in macadam (with smaller, cobbled ways off, downhill, on our right), switching back (at last) northward, steeper, until we took steps straight up to…
… a medieval-like complex I eventually figured out was Fisherman’s Bastion, with St. Mattias Church just ahead (much closer than my guidebook reading had prepared me to expect). The whole area was crowded with multiple (maybe ten?) tour groups in full tourista-rude mood and mode.
Of course, nothing up there is actually old (except underground) because of the war(s) damage. We saw the Fishermanʼs Bastion, where we arrived atop the hill, and the very nearby Mattias Church, wandered around the streets of the old town area (now nice and relatively desirable residences with plenty of supposedly overpriced restaurants and right by the church an ultra-modern Hilton hotel on medieval foundations) for several hours before eventually making our way over to the castle, where we were stopped by and talked with a nice young man hawking tickets to a concert that evening (at a Baroque former casino that turned out to be just cross the street from where we ate dinner Friday night, thus just around the corner from our hotel). We offered to think about it and went on to look over the castle, although not electing to visit the museums that fill it up — Hungarian art and Hungarian history (we did do a free subset of the history in a corridor off the entry way that Rick Steves told us about in his Budapest book, where we also used an ATM for our weekʼs cash). The courtyard was scenic, particularly with the green dome looming overhead, but as Rick Steves notes, feeling empty somehow.
On our way out, we did buy the tickets from the guy (now with a girlfriend with whom he was eating a midafternoon lunch) so we had an activity that night (and the concert we attended later was good, too). Then because the caverns under the castle are a big sight to visit one way or another, we took a “tour” of some of the former wine storage area. The expereince was mostly intended just to be a tasting of Hungarian wines (we were, I believe, the only people all afternoon to actually do the tour, which was kind of fun if excessively informative, almost entirely in in Hungarian, about the countryʼs many wine regions — Hungary is resuscitating its wine industry that produced mostly mediocre junk wine under the communists). It was cool and medieval in the cellars, and I took (again) far too many ill-focused pictures before we got to the end of the line and had to turn around and retrace our route back to the beginning for our (included/featured) wine tasting. The enthusiastic young man who served our four wines, explaining about the region and vintering for each vintage, was very nice (and even got The Lovely One to attempt the final Tokai — She Who Usually Shuns Any Sweet Wine actually drank a dessert white). We were enthused about our underground adventure and bought four bottles after our tasting (not, however, including any Tokai).
Heading home, we opened another bottle of the St. István red (resupplied) in our room, then changed for dinner and the concert. We ate just up Mérleg utca at Palinka Bistrot Kafeház (coffeehouses, as we would discover, can be many kinds of places in Hungary, including actual restaurants, like this one) where, at our charming young waitressʼs suggestion, we ordered the prix fixe feature of the night, “meat pancakes” (sounds strange the way the restaurant chose to translate the thing, actually an Hungarian specialty, palacsinta is a heavy crepe filled with meat, in this case ground beef, we think — I had them at two other restaurants later, always delicious) followed by duck leg (slightly paprikash, as was the sauce for the palacsinta) with warm cabbage/sauerkraut and potatoes. It was great, and the waitress was very nice and even funny all evening (however, only one other family came in for dinner after us, and we arrived as one other couple was grumpily finishing their meal — all of us tourists). Then the concert, featuring the Hungarian cimbalom for about a third of the numbers — rather like an open grand piano struck with hammers, soft but very pretty sounds. We were back to bed about 10:30.
* (drizzle and light precipitation the whole night before, also that night and the day after)
** (this version is a reconstruction after the Nazis blew up all the bridges retreating from Hungary before the Soviet advance in WWII)
This bit of our story actually combines what I tried to write in Hungary with elements of my letter to my brother. As itʼs all I have so far, I think I may add some more pictures and some details later (letʼs hope — at least I shall — tomorrow).