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broodings from the burrow

April 9, 2015

budapest: departure and arrival
posted by soe 11:41 pm

Before any more time gets away, I thought I’d share some of our travel adventures from last month. Tonight you get the start of our trip, which occurred five weeks ago today:

We left D.C. Wednesday afternoon, heading to BWI for the first of our three-leg overnight journey. First, we flew to Charlotte. My major impression of its airport is that it’s a bit of a throwback because the main bathrooms had attendants stationed in them.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

We then boarded a flight to London. It’s amazing how air travel has changed in the last decade. Remember how they used to feed you for free on airplanes? They still do that on international flights. I dozed some, watched The Judge (enjoyable performances and lovely scenery, although I’m hard pressed to believe Indiana looks anything like the northern Massachusetts village where it was filmed), and listened to a bunch of podcast episodes focused on learning Hungarian. I’d made some attempts with an audiobook from the library, but it was a terrible way to learn a difficult language, with too few repetitions and too quick speaking and not enough basics. But the podcasters at Learn Hungarian and Let’s Learn Hungarian! did a great job, and I took phonetic notes and, for the most part, that’s what allowed me to impress locals with my ultra-basic knowledge. (Happily, I never needed to break out my “Help! Thief!” phrase.)

We arrived at Heathrow early Thursday morning, with enough layover time to recharge our phones a bit, buy a packet of tissues, and eat some breakfast, before we boarded a flight to Budapest. Rudi woke me up exclaiming about how we were flying right over the heart of the city, but, honestly, I was asleep pretty much until we landed close to noon local time.

After we got through customs, we took the bus toward the city. We watched the scenery go by — a flight museum, a homeless camp, their version of Home Depot, lots of dilapidated houses — while bumping loudly along the highway to the metro station, where we boarded the subway for the rest of our journey into town.

The Danube

[I should pause here to note here for folks who, like me, are unaware of Budapest’s origins that it is a city divided by a river: Buda, the hilly home to the old palace and the current presidential offices, and the ancient city Óbuda are on the western part of the city, and Pest is the flatter expansive plain on the eastern bank of the Danube River and is where you’ll find the parliament building and much of the city’s commerce. The three weren’t united into a single city until the late 19th century, although as a combined unit it was the eastern capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Vienna was the western capital) and was designed to show off the empire impressively.]

We emerged from the subway station in south-central Pest and after a minute of staring at a map to get our bearings straight, found ourselves strolling down a cobblestone street. The architecture was decorative with ornate turrets and domes looming not unpleasantly overhead.

Buildings in Budapest

We checked into our hotel, the Hotel Palazzo Zichy, and Rudi allowed me a brief nap. I know you aren’t supposed to sleep when you’ve jumped that many time zones and an overnight, but I’ve always found that advice is better suited to people who are adequately rested going into their journey. Without a teeny (and, frankly, even with one), I just doze off whenever we pause in our sightseeing. After showering and with clean clothes on, we headed out to investigate the city.

Stairway: Hotel Palazzo Zichy

Our hotel was located in a student-friendly section of town near some art schools, so we found many bars and coffee shops along our walk. Budapest recently enacted indoor clean air laws, but it remains a smoker-friendly city. To compensate, many bars and cafes have erected small, tented seating areas outside their establishments where smokers may light up while eating and drinking.

Painted Bollards

I was also surprised to pass phone booths frequently and still in working order. Clark Kent would feel quite comfortable in Budapest.

Liberty Bridge

We strolled down a tourist-centric boulevard to the Danube River, which was not blue on this overcast afternoon, but gray. The green Liberty Bridge stood before us, linking us to Buda Hill where sits the Citadella with its distinctive Liberty Monument standing guard protectively over the city.

Liberty Monument at the Citadella

We turned then to the Great Market, built in 1897. A vast building, its three floors include nearly 1,000 square feet of retail and puts D.C.’s Eastern Market to shame.

Great Market

The basement contains a supermarket, fish mongers, butchers, and pickles. The first floor is a combination of bakers, lots of spice sellers, additional butchers, a couple dairies, and fruit and vegetable stands. Upstairs, there’s a lot of tchotchkes, as well as some lunch stands.

Inside the Great Market

What they don’t seem to have, however, was someplace that served tea, and by this point I was dragging. We headed back up the boulevard and eventually found a cafe/bar that hadn’t yet switched over to their dinner service. I was so grateful.

Tea Time

At this point, I realized I might have just enough stamina to get through dinner, so Rudi literally dragged me through the streets to Macska, a vegetarian cafe. I had more tea and spinach pie, which I was surprised to find was crust filled with blended (and cooked) green goo. It was tasty green goo, but definitely wasn’t what I’d envisioned when ordering. That was fine, though, because I kept falling asleep while I was eating.

Rudi got us back to the hotel safely and I was tucked into bed by 8 p.m. local time and asleep in minutes.

[A couple other pictures can be found in this Flickr album.]

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