Two Days in Budapest
Having seen the highlights of the city on the last day of our river cruise, we felt no need to repeat them on our final two days in Budapest.
Our taxi from the cruise ship dock got us to within half a block of our rental as the area we stayed in was pedestrian only. The entrance hall and elevator seemed a bit sketchy, but the apartment itself was wonderful.
The Gellért Baths
Once we were settled, it was time to figure out what we wanted to do with ourselves and we decided on the Gellért Baths. Located on the Buda side just over the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság Bridge), we took a tram to get there which dropped us off across the street from the baths. Public transit is pretty easy to use in Budapest and their subway line is the second oldest underground electrically operated line in the world, second only to part of the London Underground.
The art nouveau Gellért Baths opened in 1918 and offered medicinal water treatments using the same underground springs the Knights of St John used in the 12th century, and later on, the Turks. It’s a wonderful maze inside but there are people stationed to help you find your way. We rented a cabin (read closet), as opposed to a locker to change in and keep our valuables safe and were issued bracelets that doubled as a key for our cabin. We first made our way to the outside pools and tried the large cold pool… very briefly. Off to the side was a warm pool where we spent the next while. Mike tried the sauna right beside it and the cold plunge as well.
We went back inside and found another cold pool in an amazing room with pillars and art deco flourishes. There are five separate warm pools inside as well as steam baths and an area for massage treatments. Mike took off to the steams and I floated in one of the warm pools.
As I floated I noticed an elderly woman in a mob cap becoming visibly annoyed with some young twenty-somethings who were being loud and a bit obnoxious.
She floated towards me and muttered something in what I assumed was Magyar, the Hungarian language. I smiled and shook my head to indicate I didn’t understand and then she said, “Enfants terribles.” (Terrible children)
I understood that! “Français?” I asked. “Je parle un petit peu français!” (French? I speak (very) little French!)
We proceeded to have one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with a local person; neither of us using a language we knew very well. She told me that she never learned English because of the war. She had the option of German or French in school. She asked me, “Américain?” and seemed excited to learn I am Canadian; many smiles and nods. She soon gently drifted away to glare some more at the younger generation and Mike exited the steam room shortly after. I made sure to test each of the indoor warm pools to see if there was any difference in temperature. There was not.
Pubs, but no Ruin Bars (because we’re too old to wait in line)
Post baths we were very hungry and decided to walk back across the bridge and happen upon any restaurant or café that looked good.
We eventually found a place, the Bonnie Restro, which served up a good, hearty lunch on their patio.
Back at the apartment, I decided I needed a shower to wash the mineral baths out of my hair. I only mention this because it took me about 20 minutes to figure out how to use the shower. The shower had a large panel inside with many buttons. I tried pushing ones that looked like they may start the water flowing, but to no avail. I pushed one that set off an incredibly loud alarm which luckily shut off at another stab at the button. I twisted both knobs to the left of the panel. Nothing. Almost ready to give up and ask Mike for help, I tried pulling on one of the knobs and voila! Cold water in the face.
Our first stop of the evening was the Walhalla Klub. It’s a Viking restaurant with a pool hall in the basement. We were there to play pool, not pillage the kitchens. I lost three games in short order and told Mike it was time to go to our next destination.
We first went to Hops Beer Bar in the Jewish Quarter, a small place with many beer choices of which we sampled at least four between us.
We thought we might try to see one of the famous ruin bars nearby, Szimpla Kert, but as we rounded the corner we saw a rowdy line-up to get in. Mike and I glanced at each other and I said, “We’re too old to stand in bar line-ups, right?” He agreed.
Ruin bars came into vogue when bars started popping up in abandoned buildings in the early 2000’s. They have become a huge attraction in Budapest, but alas, not for us.
Instead, we went to the tiny STart Craft BeEr Bar a couple of doors down from Szimpla Kert where we came across this little gem on a beer bottle:
The three lower images are pretty easy to figure out, but what’s with the smiley face on the bum? If you know, please tell me in the comment section.
After a couple more beer samples we were on our way again. Having passed this earlier, we couldn’t not go in.
I decided to order a Unicum, a traditional Hungarian liqueur made from a secret recipe with over 40 herbs and aged in oak casks. It tasted a little like Jagermeister mixed with molasses. The three cats in residence were kept in an upstairs room with a window overlooking the pub. Of course we went upstairs for a little visit. After this, we went home to bed.
Andrassy Avenue, the Budapest Eye, and the Best Italian Restaurant with a French Name Run by Hungarians
Andrassy Avenue is a World Heritage Site and was built to connect the city to the huge City Park (Városliget); it’s about three kilometres long. Mike suggested we take the subway to the park and walk back. With only a few misgivings (it was very hot) I agreed. I’m glad I did, Andrassy Avenue is a gorgeous stretch bordered by palaces, cafés, and boutiques. We walked along one of the tree-shaded walking paths and stopped here and there on a convenient bench.
We first exited the subway in the park, and admired the scenery there.
At the far end of Andrassy Avenue in Erzabet Square is the Budapest Eye. The 65-metre tall ferris wheel opened in March of 2017 and is a great place to see the city from on high. It cost us about $12 each and went around at least five times. We had a pod to ourselves.
Our final dinner in Europe was at Comme Chez Soi (Like Home), an Italian restaurant run by Hungarians (cash only, no credit cards). It was awesome. I had made a reservation before we left Canada because I had stumbled across something that raved about the place. I’m glad I did as they only have eight tables. The service was amazing and friendly, the food was great. My pasta carbonara was served on a plate the size of a football field; Mike ordered foie gras and they served him four times the amount he expected.
We had to refuse dessert as we were so full, but they brought us something anyway. Then they brought us some Limoncello to accompany the dessert we didn’t order. THEN they brought us some Tokaj wine (a local sweet wine with a long history in Hungary). Our server then came to the table to inquire about which after-dinner drink we liked better; we agreed that we liked the Tokaj better, so they brought us another one! Another server came to the table a little later and asked us the same question. I said they couldn’t fool us twice, but he insisted on knowing, so guess what? Yes, another glass of Tokaj.
Luckily it was a short walk back to the apartment and we still had to pack as we had to leave for the airport at 6:30 am. Our host, Steven, had been very responsive to anything we needed and he had also offered to drive us to the airport for a much lesser amount than a taxi would have cost. We took him up on it.
Budapest is a vibrant city with a friendly vibe. I would love to return for another visit.