March 29, 2006

Back from Budapest

Edith and I have returned from visiting the Gooliva household, having carried bottles of Hungarian wine on the 10-hour plane ride. I think we're still feeling a little slippery after bobbing around in the mineral-rich waters of the Turkish thermal bath at Rudas, whose construction dates back to the 1500s. Apparently the water there is radioactive. I think I'm glowing from my trip.

Despite the really affordable cost of everything, I did manage to spend almost all of my Forints (yes, Hungary is part of the EU but they're a little behind on using the Euro), mostly on food I think. As a Scottish tourist told us at Gerloczy Kavehaz (where I ate grilled smoked ewe's cheese), "Food, good. Service, crap." So we prepared to stay a long time at each restaurant. Had plenty of traditional Hungarian foods like goulash and various paprika-spiced meats and fishes, and actually a great quick cafeteria-style meal at a Turkish restaurant (where I had my first chocolate baklava, yum). Other highlights include a great food & drink spot called Fat Mo's (nice wine selection) and any place we could get some fried camembert w/berry sauce or some Pick salami.

Cocktails were both good and bizarre - we tried the herbal digestif Unicum which tasted like Jaeger but worse, definitely something you have to choke down. I stole the signature glass it's served in from the restaurant to remember my accomplishment of actually finishing it.

We had some really great cocktails at Negro Bar, the area's first cocktail lounge ever (which only opened as recently as 2004). For fans of NYC mixologists (at places like Employees Only, Flatiron Lounge, Angel's Share, 5 Ninth, etc.) this is a good place to get a well-mixed drink with good ingredients. But weirdly Havana Club rum is really popular and so are Galliano and - gulp - Black Velvet.

Negro is right by St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika), where we saw the relic of St. Stephen's right hand (which apparently they parade around in August as a religious celebration).

Among the other weird-and-wacky sights we checked out include an underground labyrinth of caves (carved out by all the hot springs under the city of Buda) - which we took a lights-out, self-guided tour carrying oil lanterns - and a tram that takes you up the hill of Buda Castle called the funicular. We tried to check out a lot of transit-related stuff in Budapest, including the underground museum (weird) and taking the subway, busses, and trams. But our best (and most expensive) experience came unplanned - when we were fined for not having a ticket on the tram in Buda. The transit cops there try to act really scary and made us get off the tram, and acted like he was giving us a great break by only charging us 2500FT, but it turns out that's all you owe anyway if you're caught on the spot. A bit thrilling, and a bit scary, but a good lesson - because we were prepared when we got stopped again at the red line station at Kossuth Lajos ter!

Took lots of photos of Parlament, Chain Bridge, and the skyline from both the Buda and Pest sides of the Danube. We really loved just walking around and stumbling upon stuff to do, like the Spring Festival street fair at the end of Vaci uta where we shared a sweet spiral cake sprinkled with cinnamon.

We didn't learn a ton of Magyar (the Hungarian language) but I'm definitely inspired now to learn some more German after flying Lufthansa. Anyone who visits my apartment will witness how nice their silverware is.