Let’s be honest: I was really bad at blogging while in Hungary. My expectations were that I would have a leisurely moment with strong internet each day when I could sit down and recap the day’s events. The reality was running around Budapest like madwomen to see as much as we good in two days, dinners with new friends, lots of rich conversations at every turn, and not a lot of breathing time in between all of that.
So, instead, I’ll offer you some recaps and photos in retrospect. I’m also incredibly excited to get to revisit the experiences and photos. Today, let’s talk about Budapest. We (sister Sarah, aunt Alice and I) landed in Budapest on Thursday and were blown away by the hospitality of friends Sarah made on her previous mission trip to Prague. Ed met us at the airport and delivered us to our hotel, helping us navigate the bus system (it wasn’t complicated, but it definitely made it more pleasant for our travel-weary minds).
We checked in very quickly to our amazing hotel, the Mecure Corona on Kalvin Ter (ter = square, so Kalvin Square), freshened up and were off and running in the city.
Budapest is amazingly walkable, and everything we wanted to see was actually very close together. Ed pointed us in the right direction to help get us oriented, and then he left us to our own devices. We started by crossing the Green Bridge to the Buda side of the river and climbing Gellert Hill, which was steep but well worth the panoramic views of the city. From there, we could actually see almost every landmark we hoped to hit, and it was the perfect way to get our bearings and stretch after the long plane rides.
The sun was setting as we crossed the Green Bridge again to go back to Pest, and we spent the early evening wandering around Vaci Utca, a popular tourist shopping street. We all found some goodies to take home, including some paprika, which Hungary is known for. Before this trip, I had zero appreciation for the stuff, but after a week of paprika on everything, I’m way more interested in it. The street is your typical tourist shopping hub for the most part, but I loved that there were restaurants woven right into the lines of shops. Also, if you look hard enough, you’ll find some more local shops nestled in with some more unique souvenirs.
Dinner Thursday night was at Mindy and Ed’s apartment, literally a block from our hotel, with Pam, another SHARE conference staff member. Both Mindy and Pam are on staff with SHARE, although Pam lives in the States. This was my first real taste of the hospitality and kindness I was going to experience all week from people attending and helping with the SHARE conference.
We were all exhausted after the travel and exploring of the day, so bedtime came earlier than conversation would have preferred, but Friday was going to be a big day.
## Friday ##
After an amazing breakfast at the hotel – Europe seems to do continental breakfast at a
higher level of quality than U.S. hotels – we started the day with a nice walk to the Great Synagogue, where we joined a tour. We got to learn about the history of the synagogue, which is the second largest in the world, from original plans and intentions through modern time. The history of it during World War II was fascinating and tragic, and there is a courtyard on the property that is actually a mass grave of 3,000 victims from the war. We could have easily spent much longer going through the museum, but we moved on so that we could see more city landmarks.
We walked past St. Stephen’s Basilica, which would be a top priority to go inside if I get back to Budapest, but time crunch kept us walking across the river to Matyas Church, which was originally built in 1015, but then rebuilt in the 1300s. It was absolutely stunning, and I especially loved the similar but different designs on each column and each area of the church. Alice had been talking about trying to find a roof tile to take home that spoke to the red tile roofs prevalent around the city, and they actually were selling them at the church gift shop!
From there, we walked back across the river to Pest and walked past the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial to the 20,000 Jews shot on the banks of the river after being forced to remove their shoes. Their bodies fell into the river and were washed away. Visiting Budapest certainly made me more interested in World War II history, something I find any time I travel – visiting somewhere in person makes it so much more real.
We grabbed a very quick lunch, then on to Parliament, where we met Ed, Mindy and Pam for a tour of the building. The building is incredibly stunning, both inside and out, and there’s a lot of attention to detail in each door handle, every inch of handrails. The only place in Parliment that we couldn’t take photos was in the room that contained the crown jewels, which included the crown with the crooked cross on top. They don’t know how it got damaged, but it’s now become a symbol of Hungary and can be seen in the Hungarian coat of arms.
After so much walking already, it was a relief to hop on the metro and ride to Heroes’ Square for dinner at Gundel, which Alice had heard about from a client who had visited Hungary. The restaurant was beautiful, and we got to just relax so completely with amazing 5-star service, delicious food, and live music.
## Saturday ##
Saturday morning dawned cold and bright, but with only the morning to explore, we were out the door fast and heading to the Gellert Baths for a well-deserved soak in the thermal waters. It was quite an experience, and I truly enjoyed every minute of it. Each of the hot baths has a temperature listed with a recommended time to spend. We spent 20 minutes in one, and then 5 minutes in an even hotter bath, and by the time we were done, my legs and shoulders were completely relaxed after two intense days of walking.
From the Gellert, we went to the Great Market, a three-level indoor market right by the Danube River and Green Bridge. While much of it certainly catered to tourists, there was also fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, and a lot of Hungarian-specific products like all the paprika you could want.
We did a little shopping, then back to Ed and Mindy’s apartment to meet up with Mindy and Pam to head to Siofok.
Two days in Budapest was not nearly enough, but it was an amazing experience to do the whirlwind version of the city tour. I would go back in a heartbeat, and I can’t wait to potentially have that opportunity sometime in the future!
Things that really helped:
- Having a city map. My Top 10 Budapest (DK Eyewitness Travel) book was a great resource of information about the things we were seeing and a map of the city.
- It’s so walkable. We took the metro to Heroes’ Square, but other than that, take good walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing, and you can get anywhere you want. The bonus to walking is you really see the city piece by piece and can see all the little details like street signs and manhole covers in all different designs.
- Hungarian is optional in Budapest. We didn’t have any trouble getting around with basically no Hungarian, and everyone we asked for directions was more than happy to help. It seems like a city that welcomes tourists.
- Our hotel was really close to a lot of things. We didn’t really know if we would like where our hotel was – it was hard to comprehend scale on the Google map when we booked it – but Kalvin Square was really perfect for what we wanted to do. In five minutes, we could walk to multiple high-priority destinations, and 30 minutes would take you most of the places we wanted to see.