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We were certainly enjoying our cruise up the Danube on Uniworld’s River Countess. The food was wonderful; the sites visited were interesting and life aboard was relaxing. This fifth day on the river, though, we passengers were wondering why the Captain had suddenly called a special meeting. Soon we found out- our cruise was over tomorrow, midway through the itinerary.

Thinking back, we had noticed that the water level had been rising, and we could see how the banks were overflowing into the trees along the shore. During the meeting, we were told that the Serbian government had halted river traffic because of flooding from heavy rains north. Authorities said it was no longer safe to travel; all vessels would be stopped for an estimated three days.

Our captain, Jord Zwall, was frustrated, of course, and when asked to describe what exactly was happening, he said it was like a small tsunami on the river, as if a wall of water was coming toward us that would lift the river level. He said he didn’t want to keep us here stranded in Belgrade. Accordingly, passengers would disembark the next day, and the remainder of our trip would be by bus. We would spend nights in hotels.

We had begun this Uniworld 16-day Eastern European Explorer trip in Bucharest. After two nights there, the 70 passengers would board the River Countess for the remainder of our journey. Countries visited besides Romania, would be Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Austria.
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As it turned out, we did visit all the countries specified and saw most of the sites scheduled. Traveling by bus was not a circumstance we would have chosen, but as all seasoned travelers realize “stuff happens,” and plans have to be adjusted.

All countries on the tour, excepting Austria, had been formerly under Russian domination after World War II. With the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991, all became independent. Old borders were re-structured; some areas re-named. One of the most interesting aspects of the trip was the stories guides told of the changes brought on by the new freedom in the countries and the comparisons they made about life before and after gaining freedom.

As explained to us, life for everyone is not necessarily better now. Under communism, lives were structured and basic needs were taken care of by the government – medical, housing – and, there was nearly full employment. Now, with capitalism, individuals are on their own, and some are having economic problems.

All eastern nations are now experiencing a rise in tourism. Consequently, we found most refreshingly not “touristy” – crowds were comparatively small and local people were welcoming and friendly. Each country spoke a different language but those dealing with tourists all had a good command of English.

 

Romania to Serbia

It was last June 7 when we arrived in Bucharest. The group of 70 booked for the cruise stayed in the Radisson Blu Hotel two nights before being driven the short distance to the port city of Giurgiu.

A highlight in Bucharest was a city tour which included a visit to the Parliament Palace. Built by the notoriusly despotic Communist Party leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, this colossal building is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon.
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When construction started in 1984, Ceausescu intended it to be the government headquarters as well as his home. It was his fate to be killed before it was finished. Today, it houses Romania’s Parliament and serves as an international conference center, but many of the rooms are unoccupied .We toured the interior with its luxurious display of crystal chandeliers, mosaics, oak paneling, marble, gold leaf, stained-glass windows and floors covered in rich carpets.

Also memorable was the visit to Revolution Square in the heart of city. Anchoring the square is the former Communist Party Headquarters. This was where Ceausescu, during the Romanian revolution in 1989, looked out from the balcony and in disbelief saw multitudes of people who had turned against him. He fled and was captured a few hours later and killed.

Top-of-the-list of things to do outside Bucharest is a vist to Transylvania and Dracula’s Castle (Bran Castle, as officially known). On our day-long excursion, the lush countryside was ablaze with red poppies among a rainbow array of wild flowers. This was a positive benefit of the spring’s heavy rains.
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The bus drove on into the densly wooded Carpathian Mountains and dropped down into the verdant Bran Valley where the castle stands against the hills. If it weren’t for the souvenir sellers greeting us, the castle-scene would have looked like one imagines from the movies. Nineteenth Century novelist Bram Stoker based the Dracula character on the infamous Vlad the Impaler who built the castle in the 15th Century as a fortress in his resistance to the Turkish Ottoman Empire. He got his nickname because of the cruel punishments imposed on his enemies. Now a national monument, the castle was filled with tourists, but its many secret passageways and concealed rooms impart a spooky aura. For vampire fans, the top floor is filled with paraphernalia from Dracula lore.

During our two nights on the town, we found a very good restaurant, La Mamma, known for its authentic Romanian food. (Side note: Romanians speak a “Romance” language, having much in common with French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. We recognized many phrases such as “bona sera” which means “good evening” in Italian. In other countries, a Slavic language was spoken.)

We told our waiter we wanted something ethnic. On his advice, we ordered cabbage rolls (“sarmale”), accompanied by the traditional corn meal mush (“mamaliga”) with delicious fresh beets as a side dish. The meal cost around $30, with drinks, coffee and dessert. We liked our selection so much we ordered it both nights.
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After Bucharest, we boarded our ship, River Countess. Having read that this ship was voted the best river cruise ship afloat, we were very excited but ; never disappointed Not only were the accommodations well planned and elegant, but the entire ship was tastefully decorated from the spacious lounge in the front of the ship to the dining room at the back, whether set for a buffet at breakfast and lunch or for table service at dinner.

And, what service it was – from the maitre’d who greeted us at the door to the servers who poured carefully selected wines to accompany each course from executive chef Minko Stanev. Of the countless cruises we’ve taken, the dining experience on this ship was among the very best.
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Next morning, we sailed to the other side of the river to Rousse, Bulgaria, and immediately got on a bus for a day-long excursion to the Black Sea resort town, Varna. After eating lunch, we walked along the beach with some of us going into the 70-degree water. It felt very pleasant on a hot day. The beach could have been on the French Riviera — colorful umbrellas everywhere and droves of sunbathers, with many women topless. Our next two days of sight-seeing in Bulgaria proved to be among the most memorable of the trip. We started with a trip to Velko Turnova, the site of the medieval Tsarevits castle with its surrounding wall seemingly to continue into the valley below. The imposing castle was a fortress and royal palace from 1185 to 1393.

We went on to Zarbassi which attracts visitors world wide to its ancient orthodox churches, dating back to the 1500s. Particularly striking was Christ Nativity Church, its walls and ceiling be-decked with brilliant frescoes and icons. Not noticeably faded over the ages, they vividly portray the rewards of heaven and the perils of hell. A bit later we went to the church of St. George and heard a blissful concert by a church chorus.

Last day in Bulgaria was particularly memorable with visits to Baba Vidin Fortress and the Belogradchik Rocks. Located on the western slopes of the Balkan mountains, the rocks are a group of bizarrely shaped sandstone, limestone and conglomerate formations. They vary in color from red to gray to yellow; some 600 feet in height. Many have fantastic shapes and are associated with local legends and named for people or objects they are thought to resemble.
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The unique thing is the rocks are incorporated as part of the fortress which was built during the Roman Empire and captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1396. The walls are over six-feet thick and 39-feet high. .
Many of us took the path leading to the tallest section of the rock fortress. It was not easy – 200 steps in 102-degree heat. Sweating and panting, I wondered, half-way up, what I was doing here but persevered on.

During the last day aboard ship, we were enthralled as we sailed to Serbia through the Iron Gates, comprised of an 80-mile sequence of gorges cutting through the Carpathian Mountains. It is rated among the most dramatic natural displays of beauty in Europe. Prior to 1972, when the Iron Gate Dam was constructed, a trip along this stretch could be hazardous. Now two locks raised our boat to dam level, and we were on our way until high water stopped us later that day.

 

From Serbia to Vienna

Before disembarking, we spent two days on excursions in Serbia’s historic capital, Belgrade. First was to the Kalemegdan Fortress, located on top a cliff-like ridge, overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. Here we saw reminders of Serbia’s Roman and Medieval past. The spot also marks the founding in the 3rd century BC by the Celts who had defeated the previous Thracian conquerors. Most of the area is now a park.

In recent decades, Serbia was a part of Yugoslavia. When the Soviets left, the area was eventually divided into three countries, Serbia, Croatia and Kosovo. This division made few happy and, under the influence of ruthless Serbian leader Slobodan Miloševic, war broke out between the three. The bloody dispute was settled in the 1995 Dayton, Ohio, Peace Agreement. Subsequently Milosevik was arrested for war crimes and died in prison in 2000 while under trial.

Later that day we went to the National Museum and saw a treasure trove of pieces excavated at the fort – sculptures, weapons, helmets and other items from ancient Rome, Greece and .Thrace The most valuable and impressive pieces are golden masks from the 6th century B.C.
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Also very interesting was our stop at the memorial to Marshall Tito, leader of Yugoslavia. As president from 1943 to 1963, his government managed to keep the country the most independent in the Soviet Bloc. He is a well-loved hero, and his white marble grave sits in the center of an airy glass and stone pavilion. On exhibit is an interesting array of memorabilia from his era.

The following morning we boarded buses for a trip that would cross three borders – Serbia, Croatia and Hungary. The day was broken up by a delightful lunch in the home of a family in a village near Osijek, Croatia. (Actually several homes were chosen because of the size of the group.)

Speaking for our host family was a teenage daughter whose English was flawless. Her mother and younger sister could speak a little English, but she took the floor and had a delightful manner. She answered all our questions about Croatian life.

The meal was wonderful, especially the vegetable soup and fried chicken. Afterward, the daughter took us out back to see the family vegetable garden which led down to the Danube where kids regularly swam. We toured the old city part of Osijek before going on to Budapest, Hungary.

That evening we checked into our hotel on the Danube – right across from the Parliament Building. It was lit up at night. Just to right of it we had a view of the famous Chain Bridge, built in the early 19th Century to link the two parts of the city – Buda and Pest.
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The city is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Europe. Regretfully we had only one full day which made us cram in some of the most obvious sites – a tour of Buda Castle with its fairy tale turrets; a brief look at magnificent St. Mathias Church; and a walk around the vast Heroes Square, with its carvings along massive walls of significant happenings in Hungarian history. .

Making a fortuitous decision, we chose an afternoon trip to Szentendre, a picturesque village with typical Hungarian arts and crafts on display. Most of our fellow tourists shopped along the cobble-stone streets. We decided, however, to take in a museum devoted to Margit Kovacs, highly-praised ceramicist. Most of her work was from mid 20th Century.

Featured is a collection of clay statuettes, pots, plates, wall plaques and tiled murals. Her art is varied but characterized by sensual flowing lines. Altogether, it turned out to be an eye-opening experience. We were sorry to hear that her pieces displayed (or even copies) were not for sale. (But if so, they surely would have been way over our budget.) **(picture of Kovacs’ art)

Our final day consisted of driving across neighboring Slovakia.. In 1993, two new countries were born – Slovakia and the Czech Republic, following the break up of Czechoslovakia.
At noon, we took a half-day break walking around the pleasant capital, Bratislava. The old city proved to be very compact and accessible. The narrow streets, quaint buildings and spacious squares made it look picture-book perfect.
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As with many other places we had seen, a castle stands above the city; while Michael’s Gate Tower dominates the scene below. The tower served as a frontier post of the Roman Empire and now is the seat of government. The gate, marking the city entrance, was built in 1300, and in 1758 a striking baroque statue of St. Michael and the Dragon was placed on its top. **(picture IMG_0984 of Brataslavia)

Soon after starting our tour, we were surprised by seeing a bronze statue of American modern artist Andy Warhol. It turns out that his parents came from here. This was just the first of many whimsical life-size bronzes we would see.

Among these sculptures are a paparazzi peering round a corner ready to snap a photo and a French soldier, resembling Napoleon, leaning on a bench in the Main Square. Most popular, though, is a workman inconspicuously peeping out of a manhole. People were clustered around him to have their pictures taken.

We finished up this pleasant afternoon with a concert by a well known duo made up of the first violinist and piano-conductor of the national symphony orchestra.
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That evening we had dinner at famous Marchfelder Hof to have a lavish dinner of Austrian specialties. Two days more in wonderful Vienna and our “cruise” was over. And, by the way, the River Countess, after a very speedy sail, made it to Vienna where the next group was ready to embark on a cruise from Vienna to Amsterdam.

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Arising from the two ancient crossroad towns of Buda and Pest and bisected by the Blue Danube
Johann Strauss and 2001: A Space Odyssey made famous, the capital city of Hungary – and Paris of Eastern Europe – will fascinate and delight those who once associated the proud and rich culture with communist rule. With its rapid immersion into capitalism – and now the European Union – from its political metamorphosis thirteen years ago, the intensity of the charm and rich history provides a stark contrast against the proliferation of tourism, fast food eateries and shopping malls.

 

One might not notice that Hungary has modestly and valiantly weathered two world wars as well as an insidious and oppressive post war Soviet-based regime if it were not for the occasional and conspicuous artillery holes left in some of the older building walls as a testament to character. In reality, Budapest was one of the top travel destinations in the world prior to World War II, and the surge of post-soviet pride and privatization, in the end, has catalyzed Hungary’s return, despite a harrowing economy and unemployment, to the realm of a top travel destination for anyone who values another side of Europe. Magyars – the true and fiercely proud indigenous Hungarians – predominate but, since the city is a historical east-west conduit, a visitor will also experience a bigger bang for the traveling buck by exposure to some vestiges of other influences such as Slavic, Jewish, German, Austrian, Italian, Russian, Croatian, Tatar, ancient Roman and Ottoman all at prices well below western Europe.

 

 

When to Go

As with most European destinations, summer is the most popular time. If you are able to travel outside of summer, do so if reduced tourist crowds and costs are a priority. A primary advantage of summer travel is the inland beach experience of the Lake Balaton resort area. The largest lake in Europe and about three hours from Budapest, this is a prime summer retreat for many other countries within driving distance who want to avoid the throngs on the Mediterranean and Alpine Lakes. With latitude and seasons comparable to most eastern Canadian cities, Budapest is ripe with outdoor festivals and activities to take advantage of their longer days. Keep in mind that, for some hotel bookings, sometimes the higher season is the spring and fall due to increased business travel while the high season for airfare tends to be during the summer, typically from June 1 to September 15. You may have to weigh the lower fall airfares against the higher fall hotel rates and visa versa to see which provides the greatest net savings.

 

 

Getting There.

If flying directly to Hungary, Budapest is accessible from most North American cities with a plane change usually in London, Frankfurt, Paris, or Zurich. A diligent shopper will notice competition among the different domestic carriers and your lowest price is likely to be with them although they may code share much of the trip with a foreign carrier. The best deals are usually on the Internet, but always compare the popular travel web sites with the airlines’ own sites. Sometimes the airlines have specials that do not make it elsewhere. Along the same lines check the unannounced and unexpected fare specials from the code-shared European airline web sites such as Austrian Airlines or Swissair. These may sometimes hold the most surprises. Frequently you will get a better price by purchasing a package for both airfare and hotel from the same source.
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Hungary’s airline, Malev, seems to have shed the residual inefficiency and poor customer service left over from the pre-privatization years. Since they partner with Delta, you may well use them anyway. I do recommend them for the tremendous advantage of having a direct flight (if you need one) from some North American cities. The customary domestic airline route with a European connection almost always leaves in the evening from the US to the connection city arriving in the early a.m. EST. There you will have to wait for a flight to Budapest. A much shorter nonstop flight can be booked with Malev, or Delta (which allows you more valuable frequent flyer miles) departing from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Toronto.

 

If visiting Budapest from elsewhere in Europe, train is the most popular and efficient way. If not using a Eurailpass, any travel agency can book these in advance, otherwise purchase the ticket in a travel agency in the departure city. This usually nets you a better price than the train station. The most exceptional opportunity, available only there, is the five-hour Danube River hydrofoil ride from Vienna and Budapest. The rural scenery and serene experience is not to be missed. For information click here.

 

 

Getting Around

Public transportation is efficient, cheap and reliable. Between the underground metro, commuter trains, trolleys, streetcars and buses, one of them will be heading to where you want to go. A ticket costs about 80 cents and allows you to travel as far as you want on the vehicle you board. It is up to you to punch it in a device, which is periodically set to put three predetermined holes in your ticket. Most riders do not do this because they purchase a monthly berlet or pass. Do not be tempted to “let it go” because enforcement officers are consistent in their random and unpredictable verifications. Get a discount book of ten tickets useable for all forms of public transportation. Should you need a taxi, get one at a hotel if possible and avoid unlabeled taxis since Budapest taxi drivers are known to occasionally take advantage of foreign visitors.

 

 

Best Lodgings

Budapest is ripe with affordable accommodations. The more in advance you reserve and the longer you stay, the better the opportunities. Your best bet is to reserve through an agency at the airport or train station. Private rooms in homes are your best buy and a great way to get to know people. The national tourist agency IBUSZ can help you or in high season knock on the door of places displaying szoba kiadó or Zimmer frei signs.

 

Hotels are too numerous to make inclusive recommendations but most are satisfactory for the money. Domestic and Hungarian web sites are the easiest ways to shop for these – try the resources at the end below. For the hostler, opportunities abound – make preparations. If staying a week or more, a short term apartment rental is the best way to experience the city life and is usually the best buy. IBUSZ and Budapest tourist offices and travel agencies can help you the most. A couple of popular downtown suggestions to get you started are:

 

Peregrinus Guesthouse – originally provided by a university as a place for students’ parents to stay – it is open to the public. Rates are approximately $60 – $35 if reserved through a Ferihegy airport travel agent. Address is 3 Szerb utca (Serb Road), a cross street to the famous Vaci Utca pedestrian shopping/tourist district in the heart of Budapest, near many restaurants, attractions, and transportation. Telephone is 36 (1) 266-4911.

 

Charles Apartment Hotel – very clean rooms with a table and mini-kitchen and private bath for about $50 US per night. The staff is very friendly, and extremely helpful – address is Hegyalja út 23, telephone is 36-20-460-2134.
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If you are not fiscally challenged and you deserve a respite of pampering and premium amenities, spring for a wellness and spa package at one of the Danubius Hotels, a Hungarian hotel chain, offering numerous four and five star choices in Budapest as well as other Hungarian cities. Each hotel is unique in some way whether in services, location, scenery or architecture. Some of the hotels incorporate the City’s famous medicinal baths and are located in more secluded and quiet areas of the city. Depending on the amenities desired, get a spa vacation package at approximately $600 to $650 per week as the best value. These hotels provide a plethora of pampering offering such luxuries as medical check ups and consultation, dental procedures, wellness and weight loss programs, massage and physical therapy and mineral baths all at relatively inexpensive prices. Many western European and North American visitors travel to Hungary just for bargain priced, yet high quality, elective medical care including cosmetic surgery and still save enough in fees to offset their travel expenses. Check here (has links to all their hotels and email addresses) and email danubius@hungary.net – their main office address is Danubius Hotels Group, Szent Istvan ter 11, telephone 36 1 374 7229.

 

 

Best Eats

An incredible amount of Hungarian life and social interaction revolves around food and meals and for good reason – it is some of the best and under appreciated eating in Europe. Many of the entrees are stews and soups called guylas (“goulash”) and exhibit the liberal use of the country’s primary consumable staple and export – paprika. It is virtually impossible to visit with local residents without being “forced” to eat and drink with them. If you are fortunate enough to do this, plan on eating your main meal with them – they will be pleased. While choices are too numerous to comprehensively discuss here, for convenience, avoid the over-priced tourist oriented restaurants. Some suggestions to start with include:

 

Merleg Vendeglo on Merleg utca (street) 6. If you want an authentic meal in downtown, the Merleg will exceed your expectations. The menu is typically Hungarian, delicious, frequented by locals and three persons can stuff themselves for about $25.

 

Another one is the Szent Jupat, Dékan utca 3 behind the McDonald’s at Moskva Ter, a major metro and bus hub.

For atmosphere, the Náncsi Néni Véndéglóje, Órdögárok út 80 has outdoor evening dining and live music.

The Udvarház a Hármashatár-hegyen, Hármashatár-hegyi út 2 will provide a stunning view from the Buda Hills if you can get a terrace table.

 

Hungarian dining is still predominantly a meat-based cuisine – the excellent vegetarian Marquis de Salade, VI. Hajós u. 43 will give you a break from this if needed.

 

You cannot leave this country without sampling the pastries and treats. The best, and a Hungarian original, are their “crepes” which is called palcsinta. My favorite is filled with cheese (as in cheese Danish filling) of which I can eat an embarrassing amount. They are also available with poppyseed, walnut, preserve or chocolate fillings.

 

 

Best Attractions
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A favorite attraction for many are the numerous walking tours available throughout this friendly city. Start with exploring the courtyards and neighborhood markets from where you are staying. Expand via public transportation to the famous areas of Margaret Island (Margitsziget), Castle Hill, the Buda hills and Chain Bridge to start and you will also reap the benefits of breathtaking views of the Danube, a rich history and a high probability of meeting new friends.

 

Some of the best cultural attractions include:

 

The Aquincum Roman ruins – once the capital of the Roman province of Pannonia – shows the extent of the Roman Empire.

 

The Magyar Nemzeti Galeria (National Gallery) displays the finest collection of Hungarian art from the 13th century to the present.

 

The Citadel on Gellért Hill, built by the Hapsburgs between 1850-54, is the best spot for a panoramic vista of the City and includes a popular hotel, beer garden and bar. It’s construction and restoration uncovered geologic and natural resource finds.

 

The Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum (Hungarian National Museum) chronicles the country’s history including a Roman-era mosaic to a collection of communist posters.

 

The Szepmuveszeti Muzeum (Museum of Fine Art) includes an Old Masters Gallery (one of the largest collections of Spanish paintings outside of Spain), an antiquities section, and 19th- and 20th-century art.

 

Hosok Tere (Heroes Square) was constructed in 1896 to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the Magyars’ arrival in the area.

 

The Halaszbastya (Fishermen’s Bastion), built in 1905, is one of the most popular Castle Hill sites for a view of the City.

 

The 1904 Parliament is the second largest in Europe and still functions as the seat of government.

 

The Magyar Borok Haza (House of Hungarian Wines) has 450 of some of the most under recognized different wines from the 22 different wine regions of Hungary including a tasting and a wineglass.

 

The Szechenyi Lanchid (Chain Bridge) was the first permanent bridge to link the centers of Buda and Pest across the Danube in 1849 – don’t leave without a stroll across.
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The zoo/circus/amusement park complex on City Park’s famous Animal Garden Boulevard is a favorite spot of Hungarian youngsters for 130 years.

 

Catch a musical performance at the famous State Opera House, Liszt Ferenc (Franz List) Music Academy or Matthias Church all historical wonders in their own right.

 

 

Night Life

Cafes, dance clubs, concerts and bars abound and can be especially lively in the summer with many staying open until dawn. In the summer, the fun heads outdoors on the Buda side of the City with all night concerts. A typical evening begins with a café and some music. Try Jazz Garden, Beckett’s, Fat Mo’s, Csiga Café, Szimpla, Captain Cook, The Mediterrán, Incognito, Pesti-Est Café, Buena Vista and Café Vian, New Orleans, Alcatraz, Castro, Columbus Pub, Egri Bororzo, Old Man’s Music Pub and Sorbarka Sorozo. Finish off with one of the man very diverse and lively dance clubs. Popular ones include Nincs Pardon, Zold Pardon, Bahnhof Lido, Supersonic Technicum.

 

Most unique is the Cinetrip Vizi-Mozi (water cinema) where the famous Rudas medicinal bath (see below) is transformed into a co-mingled venue of movies, music and dancing in the chest-deep water of the main pool.

 

 

Most Memorable
The Romans were the first to build baths in Budapest and you must partake in this aquatic experience to fully experience the city.
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The 16th-century Ottoman invasions left some of the grandest Turkish or medicinal baths (gyogyfurdo) in the nation. They have mineral-enriched indoor thermal and swimming pools of various temperatures for lounging, chess and laps in the original architecture. The two most famous are Rudas Gyogyfurdo and Kiraly Gyogyfurdo.

 

The Gellert Gyogyfurdo, part of the famous Gellert Hotel, is a bathing complex of art-nouveau décor including thermal baths, saunas, outdoor pool (with a wave pool) and an indoor pool covered with a stained-glass skylight.

 

Nestled in the popular City Park and one of the largest spa centers and bathing complexes in Europe, the Szechenyi Gyogyfurdo has numerous indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, steam rooms and mud baths.

 

 

Margaret Island and the Danube Banks

Like a richer Central Park splitting the Danube River in two and accessible only by two bridges at each end, this is one of the best urban parks you will ever experience. Named for the daughter of King Béla IV in the 13th century, this open space oasis still has a subtle air of residual exclusiveness left over from the beginning of the nineteenth century when members of the royal family living in Buda transformed it into a landscape garden. By the turn of the century it had become a health resort owing to its therapeutic springs.

 

Today the island park includes a plethora of walking, inline skating and jogging pathways (the entire island is off limits to cars), river side sunbathing, a multi-pooled outdoor public swimming and medicinal complex, picnic areas, a tennis center and a Japanese garden of water lilies. If you are with companions, rent a four-wheeled pedal-driven two or four passenger cycle car to tour the island.

 

 

Events

Budapest continues to change rapidly and some published tourist information can be out of date. To assure current information, the best source in the city is Tourinform, telephone 1-317-9800 or 1-317-8992 or go to . Located at V. Sütö u. 2, just off Deák tér accessible by all three metro lines as well as a second office in the Liszt Ferenc tér district, English and reliable advice is dispensed freely.

 

Budapest offers numerous indoor and outdoor concerts, performances and festivals, especially for the two-week long Budapest Spring Festival, which includes performances of everything from opera and ballet to classical music and drama at all the major halls and theaters. Tickets are available at the Festival Ticket Service, V. 1081 Rákóczi út 65, telephone 1-333-2337.
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Some of the best opera and ballet happens during Budafest Summer Opera and Ballet Festival. Staged at the magnificent State Opera House, tourists and locals enjoy first class performances at ridiculously low prices. The winter season boasts the best New Year’s celebration in the city. Tickets are available at the Opera House box office at VI. Andrássy út 22, telephone 1-332-7914 or at the National Philharmonic Ticket Office, V. Vörösmarty tér 1, telephone 1-318-0281. For additional information check out V.I.P. ARTS Management, Hajós u. 13-15, telephone 302 4290.

 

The city’s Formula One Grand Prix is one of the European racing circuit’s most important annual events. Held at HungaroRing, call 36-2-844-4444.

 

Ferenc (Franz) Liszt Piano Recital Series takes place on selected dates in March, June, July, November and December.

 

Established in 1994 as Hungary’s very own “Woodstock,” Pepsi Island (Pepsi-sziget) on Óbuda Island in the Danube is the music festival that draws from all over Europe. The weeklong event usually begins in the second week of August and features foreign and local rock, folk, and jazz groups on multi-stages to the wee hours of the morning and camping is available. Pick up a program schedule at Tourinform.

 

St. Stephen’s Day is Hungary’s national day celebrating its founding with cultural events and a not-to-be-missed fireworks display over the Danube. Included is one of the region’s best traditional craft fairs held at the Castle District as well as the Danube Bank Festival with folklore and folk art events, pop music concerts and exhibitions.

 

One of the newer festivals, the National Jewish Festival features a spectrum of Jewish-related events in various locations throughout Budapest. Contact the Tourism and Cultural Center of the Budapest Jewish Community, Síp u. 12, telephone 36-1-343-0420.

 

The bacchanal festival of Eastern Europe, the Budapest International Wine Festival in the Castle District offers wine tastings, displays, auctions, and folk music performances. Contact the Hungarian Viniculture Foundation, Hertelendy u. 1/b, telephone 1-355-1847.

 

Also located in the Castle District’s Várszínház as well as the Erkel and Light Opera Theatres in Pest, the World Dance Festival provides both Hungarian and overseas performances including the Hungarian National Ballet. Contact Nemzeti Táncszínház Kht, Színház u. 1-3, telephone 201 8779, 201 8202.

 

The celebration of the Budapesti Bucsu Festival commemorates the departure of Soviet Troops from Hungary in 1991 and features pop acts, folklore performances and a carnival. Contact Budapesti Fesztiválközpont Kht, Egyetem tér 5, telephone 486 3300 .

 

The Danube Carnival is a gathering of both Hungarian and overseas dance groups with performances around the city, including the City Park and Margitsziget Open Air Theatre.

 

 

Other Practical Matters
Currency: As of January 2003, one US Dollar equals approximately 273 Hungarian Forints. Check this before you leave, because the Forint has been known to fluctuate significantly.
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Language: The Hungarian language of Magyar is lesser known than most but English and German are heard almost everywhere travelers go.

 

Tipping: It is expected and appreciated. Although some consider it rude or lacking in etiquette to check a restaurant bill, do so anyway. Like some taxi drivers, waiters have also been known to take advantage of foreigners.

 

Telephones: Most numbers need the area code prefix 011 361 to dial from the US. Calling North America from Hungary for some reason costs three times as much as the reverse. If you must call, it is easiest to use the credit card swipe pay phone and dial 001 then the area code. Local calls in Budapest are all charged per minutes of use regardless of distance. In other words, there is no such thing as local calling areas. Since this can put a crimp in surfing the web, you will find all computers rigged to only go online during the moment of transmission. Nevertheless, it is a lot cheaper to use email than telephone. For overseas communication, use an internet café or a hotel business center. For local calling, purchase a phone card.

 

Shopping: While the Vaci Street (utca) downtown area is one of the most popular suggestions, beware of overpriced goods, pickpockets and prostitutes. Value Added Tax (VAT) can be refunded on goods only in excess of 50,000 Forints. You must keep and present all receipts at point of departure customs, which can take some time. You can also do it by mail. Detailed information on the procedure is available from the aforementioned tourist offices.

 

 

Health and Safety

As previously described, Hungary offers high quality bargain priced medical care should you want or need it – mostly a result of physicans’ ability to compete within private enterprise for the first time in half a century. Although common sense should be exercised in certain areas late in the evening as in any city, Budapest is still relatively safe regarding violent crime; however the art of pickpocketing and other scams have been elevated to an art. People skilled in these abilities have an uncanny ability to sense a traveler or tourist by simply looking at them no matter how much they may appear to blend in. More sophisticated ploys involve accomplices distracting you while another one (even an occasional child) lifts your money or bag. The Russian Mafia (or the like) controls many bars and may occasionally have establishments which may “pressure” you to buy inflated nonexistent admission or over priced drinks for “guests” before being allowed to leave.

 

 

Hot Tip!

Anytime you plan to be in Hungary for an extended period with a flexible schedule, check out round trip air travel to other destinations from Budapest by buying the airfare (and accommodations) in Hungarian Forints at a local travel agency. The prices in dollars are significantly less expensive even without advance purchase. For example, a “walk-in” price quote for next day departure from Budapest to Baltimore (my route in reverse) with connection in New York was approximately $400, two thirds less than most equivalent fares purchased in the US. Other similar fare bargains are available for other destinations. Depending on seat availability, the possibilities for a side trip from Budapest to, say, Spain, Russia or even Japan and back are numerous. If you are able to acquire “locally purchased” airfare in advance, the fare is even less.

 

There are numerous walk-in travel agencies in Budapest, which are busy, well run with knowledgeable staff and manage crowds efficiently. They seem to have embraced the customer service aspects of privatization. I suggest the following two for starters.

 

Vista Travel Agency and Center, Andrassy ut 1, telephone 1 36 1 267 8600, web including email . A very popular agency, Vista proclaims on its home page to have the “best fares in Hungary from Budapest to anywhere” and also provides information regarding tourism, incoming travel services, concerts and events as well as a visitor center, booking for ground transportation, the “best currency exchange rate” and an internet café.

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Hungary is just coming into her own after a long, rocky history in which she lost two-thirds of the Motherland. Her borders once stretched form the Baltic to the Caspian and Adriatic Seas.  Through many wars she lost much of her land, and this graphically shows what Hungary lost at the end of World War I.

In 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War ended, Hungary was freed from Communist control and capitalism came in a uniquely peaceful and successful way.
479ab800Hungary hopes to enter the European Union in the near future.  She recently accomplished the third free election for Parliament.   Although there are two parties, members of Hungary’s Parliament, the third largest in Europe, are elected for a single house and peacefully debate legal issues.  The Parliament Building beside the Danube River is one of Europe’s MOST EXQUISITE buildings and a MUST-SEE for every tourist visiting Budapest.  Tours are at various times each day. Check with your hotel to get a tour in your language.

468ab800The palatial building dominates the cityscape on the Peste side of Budapest, with its 96-meter-high dome and many steeples.  The masterpiece of  Imre Steindl, who won the 1884 international competition for the design of the building, it required nearly 20 years to build and was completed in 1902 just five weeks after his death. Hungarian Royal RegaliaWith 691 rooms, the majesty and beauty of this amazing building can hardly be surpassed in the world. Here you can see St. Stephen’s Crown, the sceptre, orb, and Renaissance Sword, the Hungarian Coronation Regalia.

47bbe8e0You must see to believe the arched, hand-painted and gold-leafed walls and ceilings and brilliant stained-glass windows, the statuary and hand-finished paneling, and frescoes. Plan this as your most important stop. The tour takes one hour and can be purchased in your hotel, or at tourinform offices (recognized by the ‘ i ‘ ), as part of a half-day city tour.

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Arranging airfare to Europe can require some effort if you want to get the best price possible.  With the arrival of the Internet, choices have become even more numerous. Airfare websites may, but don’t always, have the best deals.  The same with travel agents and even the airline offices themselves. However, some factors will narrow the search.  While purchasing tickets directly from an airline generally is not the least expensive choice, some unannounced specials may arise which may not make it to an agent or the web.  Since there is so much potential for variation of international airfare prices depending on source, dates of travel and route, you should generally consult the following sources; airlines, airline tour offices, websites, ticket consolidators and your favorite travel agent.  Similar approaches apply for hotel booking as well. Frequently you will get a better price by purchasing a package for both airfare and hotel from the same source.

Budapest EggsOne of the options I recommend for North American travelers is to consider a direct flight to Budapest from the applicable North American city.  Typically, when shopping for passage to an Eastern and Central European destination, you are offered an evening departure from the US to a Western European city (i.e., London, Frankfurt, Zurich) arriving in the early a.m. your time.  There you will have to wait for a connection flight to Budapest.  This type of route can offer the most selection and maybe a better price, but is lacking in convenience and ease.  A nonstop flight can be booked with Malev, or its US partner Delta (which allows you more valuable frequent flyer miles) departing from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Toronto.  If you need a connecting flight to one of these cities, changing over is a lot easier and less fatiguing in the afternoon or evening here before the major leg of your journey.  A refreshing nap in your hotel upon arrival at an earlier time will be less likely to disrupt your ability to have a good nights sleep later that evening and minimizes the domino effect of jet lag.  Malev has come a long way in overcoming past perceptions of unpopularity.  They use the same wide body jet aircraft as the US airlines with the same associated transatlantic amenities and are no less comfortable.  The return flight does have the possibility of a connection toward the end of the journey but is less debilitating because you depart in the morning from Budapest and arrive in the afternoon, local US time, without cycling through a “nighttime” period.  Since you hardly notice it, wait a few hours and return to your customary sleep schedule renewed, rested and relaxed.

Currency:  As of January 2003, one US Dollar equals approximately 273 Hungarian Forints.  Check this before you leave, because the Forint has been known to fluctuate significantly.

Tipping:  It is expected and appreciated.  An entry for a tip will also be on your hotel bill at checkout.  Although some consider it rude or lacking in etiquette to check a restaurant bill, do so anyway.  Like some taxi drivers, waiters have also been known to take advantage of foreigners.

Telephones:  The numbers referenced in this article include international area codes (011 361) needed to dial from the US.  To dial them in Budapest, use only the digits not in parentheses.  Calling North America from Hungary for some reason costs three times as much as the reverse.  If you must call, it is easiest to use the credit card swipe pay phone in the hotel lobby and dial 001 then the area code.  Local calls in Budapest are all charged per minutes of use regardless of distance. In other words, there is no such thing as local calling areas.  Since this can put a crimp in surfing the web, you will find all computers rigged to only go online during the moment of transmission.  Nevertheless, it is a lot cheaper to use email than telephone.  For overseas communication, use an internet café or the Hyatt’s business center pentium work stations at five dollars for the first fifteen minutes.  For local calling, purchase a phone card from the hotel gift shop and use the lobby payphones.  As in the US, phone calls from your hotel room will have exorbitant surcharges.

Public Transportation:  It is efficient, cheap and reliable. Between the underground metro, commuter trains, trolleys, streetcars and buses, one of them will be heading to where you want to go.  A ticket costs about 70 cents and allows you to travel as far as you want on the vehicle you board.  It is up to you to punch it in a device, which is periodically set to put three predetermined holes in your ticket.  Most riders do not do this because they purchase a monthly berlet or pass.  Do not be tempted to “let it go” because enforcement officers are consistent in their random and unpredictable verifications.  Get a discount a book of ten tickets, from the hotel gift shop, useable for all forms of public transportation.

Restaurants:  Much of Hungarian life and social interaction revolves around food and meals. While your choices are too numerous to discuss here, for convenience, avoid the over-priced tourist oriented restaurants.  I suggest the Merleg Restaurant on Merleg utca (street).  If you want an authentic meal in downtown (two blocks from the Hyatt), the Merleg will exceed your expectations.  The menu is typically Hungarian, delicious, frequented by locals and three persons can stuff themselves for about $25.

Shopping:  Consult your guides for the best shopping opportunities.  While the Vaci utca downtown area is one of the most popular suggestions, beware of overpriced goods, pickpockets and prostitutes.  If you need more common items for yourself or for gifts and yearn for  familiarity or just an all day shopping fix, an efficient, but not necessarily better, alternative is a three level American style shopping mall called the Duna Plaza at the Gyongyosi utca metro station (website: www.plazaclub.com).  Every kind of vendor you might want in one place is in the mall including a food court, movie theatres, casino, billiards, bowling, ice skating and fitness center.  Value Added Tax (VAT) can be refunded on goods only in excess of 50,000 Forints.  You must keep and present all receipts at point of departure (airport customs) which can take some time.  You can also do it by mail.  Detailed information on the procedure is available from the aforementioned tourist offices.

Hot Tip

Anytime you plan to be in Hungary for an extended period with a flexible schedule, check out round trip air travel to other destinations from Budapest by buying the airfare (and accommodations) in Hungarian Forints at a local travel agency.  The prices in dollars are significantly less expensive even without advance purchase.  For example, a “walk-in” price quote for next day departure from Budapest to Baltimore (my route in reverse) with connection in New York was approximately $400, two thirds less than most equivalent fares purchased in the US.  Other similar fare bargains are available for other destinations.   Depending on seat availability, the possibilities for a side trip from Budapest to, say, Spain, Russia or even Japan and back are numerous.  If you are able to acquire “locally purchased” airfare in advance, the fare is even less.  There are numerous walk-in travel agencies in Budapest which are surprisingly busy, well run with knowledgeable staff and manage crowds efficiently.  They seem to have embraced the customer service aspects of privatization.  I suggest the following two for starters.

Vista Travel Agency and Center          Telephone;  (011 361) 267 8600
Andrassy ut 1, 1061 Budapest          Website including email:  www.vista.hu/english

Vista proclaims on its home page to have the “best fares in Hungary from Budapest to anywhere” and also provides information regarding tourism, incoming travel services, concerts and events as well as a visitor center, booking for ground transportation, the “best currency exchange rate” and an internet café.

For familiarity, you can always rely on the American Express Travel Agency (and they do take American Express) two blocks from the Hyatt at Deak Ferenc Ut 10, 1052, Budapest, Telephone:  (011 361) 235 4300.

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Hotel Taverna is well located for walking or getting public transportation to all the main places tourists wish to see in the “Pest” side of Budapest. The friendly staff speak many languages, and the service is very good. You’ll find the scrumptions breakfast included in the price to be excellent no matter what your preferences are or your nationality and native customs. It is truly an international dining room and fascinating to watch the assembly of world citizenry get ready for the day! Many tour groups stay here because of the location and quality of this fine hotel at very fair prices. We thought we would never find Hotel Taverna because it is nearly hidden,surrounded by one-way streets and is in a quiet area just off a main shopping boulevard. If you are driving it is best to ask someone to show you on a map how to get into the parking or check-in area.
And when in Budapest, don’t miss the experience of eating lunch at the famous and beautiful Market. The upstairs has Eterems that are a wonderful discovery . The food in the restaurant here is so fresh, delicious, and very inexpensive.

To sample all the wonderful Hungarian foods you’ll want to find a good buffet. We recommend dining on the boat at Pier #2. Kossuth Museumhajo (Etterem Restaurant) is a real steamship built in 1913. We dined in Venhajo Restaurant on board. Phone 36-1-267-03-03.
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And save an evening to dine at Marvany-Menyasszony Restaurant in Krisztina Town on the Buda side, near the Cathedral. You’ll see authentic Hungarian dances in traditional hand-embroidered, brightly colorful clothing and enjoy the wonderful Gypsy Band.

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Pest: The Other Side of the Danube River

Leaving the hills of Buda to return to the Pest side of the Danube you can hop on the green bus, which will take you down the hill, or you can return by funicular, subway, or walk across the bridge. Any way you descend the hill, watch for the “movie set” architecture from the 1700’s. These picturesque buildings are now apartments and small businesses, required by law to be kept historically authentic.
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In Budapest you’ll find it easy to get almost anywhere by the very good public transport systems. The subways are marked with “M”, and the top word is the station where you are standing. The bottom word is the end of that particular line. The maps are on the wall of the beautifully clean underground stations and on display inside the cars as well. The Budapest Card, which you really should have, will take you on any public transportation free. The yellow line of the subways is the oldest on the Continent, a fact of which Hungarians are very proud. Visit the Transportation Museum to see the old cars. The city tram system is not quite so fast or so long but will give you a good view as you move along beside the Danube.
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Note the wonderful architecture as you pass. Ardivassy Street’s seventeenth century architecture is so notable it has recently been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll want to walk along to reach the millennium park, built for Hungary’s 1,000th anniversary. The marvelous bronzes of the kings and Dukes have their most important achievements noted in relief sculpture below each figure. It is a truly incredible historic monument for any city.
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You’ll want a guide to explain the wonders of Budapest to you. One of the best you could find is Peter Koltai, who can be contacted here. His family is in its second generation as guide service, and he is well trained with degrees in tourism and history. His family also owns a horse farm just outside the city and can arrange any kind of riding or horse program you’d like at their private stables, where the finest Hungarian horses of the large,famed stock are raised.
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Just beyond this monument you’ll find the most important park on the Pest side: City Park with year round outdoor activities for the whole family. In summer you can boat on the shallow lake, and in winter it is festive with ice skaters, who enjoy the picturesque setting beneath a most unique castle. The castle is the feature of Vajdahunyad Castle, which is an amalgam of all the famous castles and palaces (Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque) in Hungary. It was made first of paper and wood for an exhibition at the end of the 19th century. The exhibit was so successful; it was later done in stone. In the same area, just west of Hero Square, you’ll find The Szechenyi Baths, the largest in Europe, built on the site of the ancient Roman Baths. You’ll also find the Botanical Gardens, the Zoo, and Museums.
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Of note at the castle is the rather scary imposing statue of a hooded, seated mysterious person with a book and writing instrument in his hand. He is symbolic of the unknown person who first wrote down the tales of Hungarian history. The book was discovered and no one yet knows who wrote it. It is a priceless treasure, studied by all school children, and students rub the pen on the statue for good luck in their final exams.

A little past this castle you’ll be surprised to find a statue of George Washington, the first American President. Hungary has a population of 10 million, one-fifth of which live in Budapest. But because of the turbulent history Thousands of Hungarians have had to refugee to other countries in the past. After World War I Hungary lost two-thirds of its land. Today there are 50,000 Hungarian citizens living outside of their country. The ones from the Indiana in the United States of America gave this statue to their beloved homeland.
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Along the beautiful Danube River, you MUST take a ride on one of the many water tours offered and see the city from the water. Perhaps you arrived in Budapest on a cruise and have already seen her majesty illuminated at night. If not, there are many opportunities. We chose to have dinner on one of the showboats docked at Pier #2.
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Kossuth Museumhajo (Etterem Restaurant) is a real steamship built in 1913. We dined in Venhajo Restaurant on board. Phone 36-1-267-03-03. This was an excellent choice because we got to sample many, many authentic Hungarian dishes at their enormous and delicious buffet! Hungary is an agricultural nation, so the food is fresh from the farms and excellent as Mother’s home cooking, and the portions are enormous everywhere. Prices are very reasonable. We listened to the beautiful Salon Music Orchestra and most famous Gypsy Band. Budapest is known for its music academy and has one of the world’s greatest concert halls, second only to Venice’s Scala. After dining at about 7 pm, we had just the right amount o f time to walk to Pier #6 just before the green bridge, where we chose the Legend boat tour. Our champaigne cruise began at 2100 hours (9pm), just as dark was falling and the lights were coming on. We listened to soft classical music as we cruised the gentle waters of the Danube gazing at the illumined monuments for a romantic hour that was a highlight of our trip. If we spent a month in Budapest I’d want to take this cruise every night! Don’t miss it!
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You can also select daylight times for this and other cruises. Or you may want to enjoy an entire day by taking the high speed Hydrofoil from the International Harbor to Vienna, which takes five hours. There you can spend several hours sight-seeing and eating and then return on the four hour trip (with the current). Anyway you do it, you’ll fall in love with the Danube, the lifeline of theBudapest.
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Seven bridges connect Buda and Pest, which were first united as one when the pontoon bridge was built in the early 1800’s. The oldest and most beautirul, the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, was the first permanent one: built in 1848. However, all the bridges were destroyed in World War II and have been replaced by beautiful structures since then. The Margaret Bridge has the entrance to the lovely Island Park Nature Refuge. In the thirteenth century, King Buda had lost two daughters to the Tartars, who plundered, raped, and killed savagely. Buda and his queen fled the city and prayed fervently that their people be spared, promising God that they would offer their next daughter to be born into holy service and build a monastery to God’s glory. The Tartars did flee, and the Queen did conceive, and the princess Margaret was trained from the earliest period of her life to be God’s handmaiden. She lived her chaste life on this island.
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When you return to Peste from the Margaret Bridge, board the tram #2 and go past all the bridges to one of the largest, oldest, and most beautiful Market Halls in Europe. Save this for your last day and plan to spend half day and all the rest of your money here! A wonderful discovery is that the food in the restaurant here is so fresh, delicious, and very inexpensive, so have lunch here. You’ll see locals buying all their fresh produce and meats for their families, and The colorful displays of fruits, vegetables, fish, sausages, and the famous Hungarian paprika take up the entire first floor. A normal grocery store and bank are in the basement.

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The upper level has restaurants, etterems, bars, fast foods, and Hungarian handcrafts of every type. Here you’ll find the cheapest prices of any in Budapest, (although the markets in the small villages are a little cheaper). If you have Hungarian cash forents to spend you’ll get a 10 per cent discount in most places, and perhaps a little more if you are a good bargainer. Remember the embroideries, leather, wood, ceramic, porcelain, and glassware are of superb quality and excellent prices. You’ll want to bring lots home with you, so do as we did: Pack in the bottom of your suitcases before you come, or purchase at the market or airport some soft, sack-type suitcases, or backpacks to fill with your Hungarian treasures. You’ll be glad you did!
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The Hills of Buda

When we arrived in Budapest Ferihegy Airport a very helpful teen signaled a taxi for us and gave a certificate saying our price is fixed at 3,500 ft (about $14 US or EU), and a young girl handed us a most helpful Budapest Pocket Guide in English, which proved to be excellent. It all happened so fast we didn’t know what had hit us, and we were suddenly in the taxi and on our way. We were lucky that the price was very fair because we had not researched it ahead of time. To save any problem get an official airport taxi, or from anywhere in Budapest you can call a taxi from a public phone without any coins. They will send a taxi to whatever place you say immediately. This is a reliable association of the three secure and best companies. The way to ascertain where you are so they can locate you is to look on the cornerstone of the buildings at any corner to learn the street names of the intersections. It’s OK to tell your driver, “slow and careful.”
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The distinguished city of Budapest was once three towns, Old Buda, Buda, and Peste, on two sides of the Danube River. The hills of the Budas were claimed by the original Magyars, the seven horsemen tribes who dominated central Europe in the ninth century. These hills have natural cave systems and underground mineral springs, which delighted the Romans who later settled here. In 1,000 AD when Stephen was crowned King and head of the church, this was not the capital city as it is today. In the first millennium Esztergom, about 60 km north, was the center of government.
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In the twelfth century the present fortress was built overlooking the Danube waterway, which in those days served as a major “road” for commerce through Europe. It was in that period that the St. Stephen Cathedral was built, but not over the bones of the kings. In fact, Hungary’s royal cemetery was desecrated during the wars, and the country has only one royal grave, that of Buda III, which is seen in the cathedral today. Take the funicular scenic ride to the top of the hill. In the Buda hill part of the city, the Royal Cathedral has high mass every Sunday to which many visitors come for the service and the wondrous music in the majestic surroundings. You’ll definitely want to see this, one of the finest cathedrals in Europe with exquisite holy interior. It is the site of royal coronations and ceremonies.
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Be sure to note the statue of the Holy Virgin in an alcove to the left as you enter. To preserve her from being desecrated by the Turks who took over the Cathedral in the fifteenth century, the Hungarians made a solid wall to hide her. The Turks turned the cathedral into a mosque, with virtually no decoration inside. The Hungarians had prayed fervently to be freed from the Turk invaders, and during one of the battles a small earthquake occurred which knocked down the wall that hid the Virgin. The Turks fled in terror of the miraculous appearance of the Virgin.
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The Cathedral area has suffered much through many wars. During the most recent restorations in the late 1800’s the marvelous stained glass and the amazing porcelain roofs of the Cathedral and other buildings were added. These roof porcelains were made in the famous Zsolnay factories.
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Just behind the Cathedral you’ll find the sign “wine cellar” in English. If you wish to purchase wine, this is the place to do so. You can sample in their fine cellar, which has over 600 varieties of wines from 22 vintners. This is a great rest stop at the end of your long day.
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While you’re in the hills of Buda you’ll want to see the Palace, which was bombed during World War II and is today used as offices. The building also houses a great library and the Hungarian National Art Museum. Ask a guide in your language to explain the marvelous paintings, which depict the turbulent and painful history of this brave nation. From the Palace turrets you’ll find some of the best places to photograph or view of the flatter
area of Peste. The turrets were constructed by the fishermen who, in times past, were required to patrol this area of the city.
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An evening meal in Buda is a MUST at the Marvany-Menyasszony Restaurant in Krisztina Town with a history back to the turn of the 17th century. There you’ll feast on delicious, typical Hungarian food while being entertained by Gypsies performing traditional dances in Hungarian folklore costumes. The musicians are excellent. After you return home, you’ll re-live the spirit of joy, and the color and fun of the evening many times in your memory.
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