Wednesday, February 29

beautiful budapest.

Saturday early afternoon I arrived in Budapest ...

I rented another apartment from airbnb that worked out perfectly with these two goons ... 

Helen and Lindsay studied abroad with me in Rennes and are now assistants in/around Toulouse in the south. All three of us were coming from another trip, so we were equally as exhausted and broke which ended up making for a WONDERFUL little séjour in Budapest. 

Two things you should know: 
1. Budapest is actually two cities. Buda and Pest. Apparently most people know this, but I didn't and I think that the fact that you can live in a city called Buda is one of the coolest things ever.
2. The hats Linds and Helen are wearing in the picture above is no joke. Everyone walks around in them (in large part due to the fact that it's February in Eastern Europe ...) and by the end of our trip, we were all extremely close to buying them.

Sunday was our first full day in Budapest. We walked around attempting to orient ourselves and ended up stopping for pastries, very early on in the day, then headed towards the Jewish quarter to explore and see the synagogue. I learned so much on this vacation, both in Berlin and Budapest. It was incredible to learn about what Budapest went through during World War II and the effect on the Jewish population. We got a tour of the synagogue and our tour guide, who was from Brooklyn, was extremely passionate and informative. The synagogue was amazing, and is the largest in Europe, so it was very impressive. After a late lunch, we wandered around the Jewish quarter for a bit which is the former Jewish ghetto making it eery and heartbreaking. 

this memorial tree contains names of hungarian Jews
who lost their lives in the holocaust.

if you flipped the statue over, without the leaves, it
would be a menorah. 

linds and helen inside the Jewish museum.
After a heavy day, we took sometime to shower and decompress at home before venturing off to a (very fancy) light dinner. We ended up on the 'Champs Elysée' of Budapest near the Opera house at a French restaurant. The ambiance was so beautiful and the food was incredible. We nixed our plans of going out and stayed for drinks and appetizers and a four string quartet. One nice thing about Budapest was the price ... inexpensive. Everything was cheap allowing us to really enjoy ourselves and experience a real vacation. That being said, the currency in Budapest is forints and when you convert it 10 euro is thousands of forints which become extremely confusing when the dinner check said 10, 500.

the opera house lit up at night.

impromptu dance party in the kitchen ...

there was a lot of that.

duck ravioli with butternut squash sauce? yes please.

calamari and bulgar salad. yum.
Monday we check out the Basilica which was literally a three minute walk from our apartment. It was beautiful both inside and out and contained the mummified hand of St. Stephen, who was the first king of Hungary, from the year 1000.

My friends who had been to Budapest before recommended the covered market, so we made our way to the land of fruit and strudel. Let me just say that once is not enough, we went everyday after that to take full advantage of the Hungarian speciality trying cabbage, apple cinnamon, cherry, and curd cheese with apricot (which I know sounds different, but it was so good). 

We also discovered a used English book store on our way home, which was very cool - it was such a tiny whole in the wall. Also something that is popular in Budapest (and amazing) are stores that sell wine on one side and books on the other. Genius? I thought so ...

linds checking out the selection.

That night we went to the Szchenyi Thermal Baths. This was my favorite part of Budapest. It was a huge building with tons of baths of different temperatures and saunas and steam rooms: it was so beautiful. Plus, we went at night, so it was freezing, but the outside was a huge hot tub where we just lounged for an hour or so chatting. Best people watching in Budapest. Unfortunately I forgot my camera so no pictures, but if you visit the website you can see what it looks like.

Tuesday we decided would be our 'Buda' day where we would spend the day on the other side of the Danube. There we visited the palace, which contained two huge museums including the history museum which was really cool, and a huge church with an extremely unique tiled roof and beautiful view.

view from the palace.

peek at pest.

entrance to the castle.

guards in front of the president's office?

tapestry of budapest in history museum.

a visit to buda wouldn't have been complete
without fancy coffee ...

or pastries.

top of the church on the most beautiful day.

tiled rooftop.
by the time we got to the church the lighting was incredible.

parliament building across the river.

because it was all downhill, we decided to walk home
and chose the perfect time of night.

linds and hel pose with the chain bridge and the buda
palace in the background.

thanks to a food blog i found, we ended up a very traditional
hungarian restaurant that evening spending next to nothing
for an amazing feast. i had gorgonzola cheese and prune stuffed
chicken. i know. and yes, it was amazing.

This brings us to the last day - already! We started the day with a free walking tour (which admittedly we should have done the first day, but it was cool nonetheless. Future Budapest goers: do this your first day!). Our tour guide was Hungarian, but spoke English perfectly and in addition to showing us around the center of the city, she filled us in on how to say certain words in Hungarian (which is impossible to understand and I can only imagine extremely difficult to learn) as well as famous Hungarians (Tony Curtis? Estée Lauder? Drew Barrymore's mom anyone?) We then tried famous Hungarian goulash soup (which is like a beef soup with paprika) for lunch before running to the parliament building for another tour. The building itself was beautiful, and the inside was impressive, the tour guide on their other hand was ... bizarre.

this statue is good luck if you rub her knees so of course
we all queued up like over anxious tourists in hopes of good luck.

in the park there are love locks where people write their
names after they are married.

front of the parliament building.

After the parliament tour, we walked down to the edge of the river on the Pest side to see the sunset and soak in our last night in Budapest. Here you can find the Shoes on the Danube Promenade which is a memorial to the Jews that were shot into the river and killed by the Arrow Cross Army during WWII. It is extremely realistic and really well done.

After showers and trying a glass (or bottle ...) of some Hungarian wine we bought earlier (which by the way is very good ... who knew?) we headed to our last dinner. We tried another traditional Hungarian place and we were not disappointed - even though our waiter could only say "can I help you" "chocolate" and "thank you." Helen and I got chicken in a paprika sauce and dumpling like pasta (and sour cream of course because they literally put sour cream on ev.ery.thing,) which Linds got turkey in a mushroom sauce that was equally as amazing. For dessert we got flaming crêpes ... because how can you not?

All in all we had a great trip. I really enjoyed Budapest and was able to relax and be on vacation without worrying about money or time or anything. The ONLY thing was the accessibility of it all. Being with two of my best friends was key because we all had to put up with a lot: no curb cut outs, awful public transportation, and a lot of broken 'elevators.' Unless you are willing to deal with all of that, I recommend finding another Eastern European city to try. Even the Starbucks wasn't accessible, which is saying a lot. On the flight back I sat next to a man and his daughter who was in a temporary wheelchair and when he found out I spoke French, he went on a rant about how difficult it was to navigate the city. There was a lot of eye rolling in the conversation. I hear ya buddy. But the city was super flat so I got my fair share of exercise and I got to spend four amazing days in an incredible city with two awesome friends - je me plains pas! 

My parents are coming tomorrow which is beyond exciting. I can't wait to show them around Rennes and considering today is 60 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, I'm hoping it will feel like spring and they will fall in love with Rennes as much as I have ...