Eight Hours in Budapest

This is a record for me. Today I went to Hungary for the day and last week I went to Slovakia for the day. For someone that likes to spend 30 days in one city, this is a little strange and doing 2 countries in 2 days is something I have never done before. When I worked for GM, I used to stay in El Paso, Texas and go across the border to Mexico to work each morning, but that was hardly the same thing! Good news is—-going to Budapest for the day was totally worth doing.

I was up early and jumped on the metro out to Vienna’s main train station just in time to make a dash for the 7:39 train to Budapest. A cappuccino and croissant and a nice conversation with a 25 year old Hungarian woman named Vivian made the ride fly by. When the train arrived, I wanted to make a 10:30 walking tour, but that required a 4 stop metro ride and I still needed to buy a day ticket. Vivian to the rescue. She carried her luggage across to the metro station to accompany me and got my ticket purchased quickly at the machine. With smiles she ran off.

Another stroke of luck— when I saw the walking group still at the meeting point even though I was 15 minutes late. Andráss said, “Glad you are here, we were waiting for you”. He took us to the Danube and pointed to the massive Castle Hill indicating we would be walking up there. First we visited Elizabeth Square and saw Budapest’s version of the London Eye. Andráss also indicated the Jewish Quarter behind the square and mentioned the “ruin bars” in the back alleys. I had heard of those and made a mental note to return and check that out. Next we went to St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Then on to the Chain Bridge. Beautiful views of the city from the Chain Bridge. On the other side we laughed at people waiting hours in line to ride the funicular to Castle Hill.

Instead we walked up there with no problem ( well some people did need a break but most were fine). St Matthias Church is at the top, as well as Fisherman’s Bastion and gorgeous views of Parliament and the city from the Bastion.

The walking tour was over so I caught a local bus back to Elizabeth Square and decided to walk down Andrássy Boulebard to Heroes’ Square. It was a long walk and there were high end stores all along. I came cross the Hungarian State Opera House and went inside. It is lovely. Walking again I came to Heroes’ Square but I had forgotten to eat and it was 2 pm. I saw a cute outdoor cafe and was quickly served a salad and I ate and took in the famous square. Now I want to find those ruin bars. I take the Millennial Underground. It is the first subway line in continental Europe and the second oldest underground in the world ( after London’s) and it was built in 1896. When beautiful Andrássy Boulevard was completed, the city leaders did not want any public transportation going up and down it carrying passengers from the city center to the city park which is behind Heroes’ Square. Ruin Bars are quirky pubs and clubs that have taken over the city’s abandoned spaces. I head to the back streets and finally come upon the one that started the whole movement. Szimpla. I walk in and it is mind blowing. It’s a maze of random items in a number of rooms and a big courtyard. There is a bathtub split in half that is a seating area. So many rooms and odd things turned into seating areas. It’s a bar so I need a drink. It says cash only and I didn’t get any Hungarian forint(HUF). I offer euros and the bartender changes 5 Euros into 1350 HUF and gives me a big glass of Hungarian wine and 1000 HUF back. So the wine is less than 2 euros! The bartender tells me that Szimpla invites local artists to come decorate, so it is a hodgepodge of mismatched decor. I grab a seat. A fellow next to me, Steve, and I start to chat. He is an interesting British guy living in Thailand. Travels all the time. Just came to Budapest for a couple of nights. Recently was in 9 countries in South America. I thought I loved to travel! We had a really good discussion of pros and cons of traveling solo. We agreed the best part is not owing any apologizes when you make a mistake. Like getting on the train going the wrong way and realizing it 2 stops later. You simply get off and go back the other way. This neighborhood area is really cool. I wander around a little and do a little shopping. I turn the corner and there is the Great Synagogue. The second biggest Syngogue in the world. Quite lovely in this light. I see an art gallery and it looks like it is having an opening and I wander in there for a while too. There are lots of parks and lots of kids around town. It seems like a really livable city. Its getting late and I need to get my metro back to the train station. Even the train station is memorable here in Budapest. I’d like to return someday and check out more of the back streets of this capital city.

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