December 2, 2013

Twelve Hours in Budapest

Before our car arrived, before our household goods made an appearance, and before we even had a chance to explore our new town...

I signed up for a bus trip to Budapest. That's right. Me and the Hubs. Bus to Budapest.

Insanity, right?

Some people might think so. But for me, I thought it would be madness to turn down the opportunity. I mean, it's Budapest, people! Since we were without a car, the bus trip was a great solution for us. We could sleep on the long drive there, explore the city, then sleep on the long trip back.

It was awesome.

View from Castle Hill 

Are you wondering where I found this bus trip? Well, I'll tell ya. Outdoor Recreation is a department sponsored by MWR, and they organize fabulous activities for soldiers and families. Including this particular trip to Budapest! Now, these excursions are not free. Each activity will be priced based on the cost of the trip. It's up to you to look, ask questions, and decide which activities might be right for you.

Of course, I find that most of them are right for me. I'm already signed up to visit the Christmas market in Salzburg this year.

But, back to Budapest.

This is a beautiful city, which I highly encourage you to visit. Though we had only 12 hours, the Hubs and I loved every minute of our adventure. We wanted to see as much as possible, and also learn what we could about the city. Technically, two cities... one side of the river is Buda, the other side is Pest (pronounced pesht).

With our limited time, we chose two walking tours, which also proved to be extremely economical. Free is a pretty good price, right? Our guides were excellent, and the exercise good. At the end of the tours, you tip based on your experience. We tipped pretty well, because our guides were awesome! But because our first tour didn't begin until late morning, we were free to explore the city a bit on our own (and have some breakfast!).

Central (or Great) Market Hall

The Great Market Hall was a fantastic place for souvenirs and food. If able, I would have purchased much fruit and cheese and meat! Alas, there would be no way to keep it fresh for the journey back. Instead, I satisfied myself with nesting dolls and Christmas ornaments. And meat on a stick for breakfast, ha.

After the quick meal, we roamed the city streets for a bit. You never know what you'll see! Like this flute player we walked past...

Our official tour (The Original) began on the waterfront, where the statue of a young girl sits on the railing that lines the Danube. The Little Princess is one of the most photographed statues in Budapest. If you look closely at her bronze knees, you'll notice they are quite a bit shinier than the rest of her. This is because it's believed rubbing the Princess' knees will bring you luck. Naturally, Hubs and I tested the theory ourselves. If our great day in Budapest was any indication, then I say the luck worked!

The Little Princess on the Danube promenade 

The tour lasted little more than 3 hours, and was packed with history, not to mention the beautiful scenery. Our guide was available to answer questions, even take pictures. Hubs and I hardly ever have pictures together that aren't selfies, so this was a sweet bonus for us. Here are some of the other sights we saw whilst on tour:

St. Stephen's Basilica

Tree of  Love Locks

Panoramic view from Chain Bridge

Chain Bridge

Hungarian Parliament

Random parade in the city 

After the first tour, we had time to wander again on our own. More importantly, it was time for lunch! All the walking worked up our appetites. If you take a walking tour yourself, I suggest carrying bottled water and some light snacks. There are several fountains throughout the city where you can fill your bottles for free.

As for lunch, the Hubs and I hunkered down at Gerbeaud for ONE reason... the Hubs' uncanny ability to sniff out any establishment with gigantic sweets on the menu. Lunch was fab, but dessert was out of this world:

Left: "Strawnilla"
Right: Somloi Sundae


These were huge, and so delicious. In fact, at the end of our day (about 6 hours later), the Hubs ate another one of these!!! I restrained myself, but it would have been worth the calories.

During lunch, we were entertained by street performers as we enjoyed our lattes at sidewalk tables. The hour of respite was needed before we began another tour. This time, we would explore the Jewish Quarter with our guide.

The first stop on our tour was this statue, a memorial dedicated to Sztehlo Gábor, a young priest in Budapest during World War II. During the German invasion, Gábor rescued thousands of Jewish children, most of whom were orphaned.

From here, we moved on to Dohany Synagogue, the second largest in the world, after Temple Emanu-El in New York City. 

One thing which makes this synagogue unusual is the burial grounds on site. According to Jewish traditions, graveyards should not be located on the premises of a house of prayer. However, during the war, the synagogue became part of the ghettos, and thousands of Jewish victims died here. The necessity of mass graves and burial sites outweighed tradition. Today, these markers are in memory of the thousands buried beneath:

The synagogue was closed to tours while we visited, but I would suggest taking one of you can. The inside is purported to be quite beautiful, and I'm sure you could discover much more of the history. As it was, we could only view from the outside.

Around the corner, but still enclosed within the synagogue grounds, was this holocaust memorial: 

Emanuel Tree by Imre Varga

The leaves of this weeping willow contain the engraved names of the Hungarian Jews killed during the holocaust. 

Our tour continued, through the city streets, moving from the past and into the future. Now, the 'ghettos' contain restaurants and bakeries, nightlife and hot spots. Homes are still maintained in the area, like these which rest next to an oft overlooked memorial (a small section of the ghetto wall, rebuilt): 

At the end of our tour, we stopped in one of the ruin bars for which Budapest is quickly becoming known:

After many thanks to our guide (and a hefty tip, she was fantastic), we left the pub to find our way back to the bus. On the way, Hubs snacked on another giant ice cream, and I enjoyed another coffee with the city lights sparkling around us. We wandered the Danube waterfront one last time, entranced by the beauty of this amazing city.

Chain Bridge at Night

Though we saw much in our 12 hours, Hubs and I can't wait to go back to this city. There is so much more to see and do! If you've been to Budapest yourself, feel free to leave some suggestions in the comments below. 

For now, happy traveling! 

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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1 comment:

  1. I loved seeing the city with you! Great shots. Thank you for the tour :)