Monday, August 18, 2014

Budapeşt

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After our Bosnian adventure getting back to Zagreb, we boarded a train the next morning destined for Budapeşt, Hungary (the ş is pronounced “sh”).  We were excited to see it, but doubly excited  because we’d be meeting our dear friend Nicole there, and traveling with her for the next three weeks.  Nicole is a similar type A planner to Lana, and we gave her carte blanche to plan our travels together, within the confines of our budget.  That was a huge relief to us; the constant hunt for our next accommodation, transit, and destination was wearing us down.  It was a win-win, as she got to plan the trip, which she enjoys, and we got to tag along for once.  All we’d need to decide is where to eat, and we never really got tired of that. 
We arrived in Budapeşt in the late afternoon, and experienced the first benefit of our new travel planner when we checked in: the hotel was much nicer than anything we’d stayed in for quite a while—and at a modest price.  Nicole had the advantage of time in advance for research to find an excellent bargain, and she’s also a veteran traveler with mad skills.  We only had to wait in the lobby about 30 minutes before she arrived from the airport.
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We were all travel weary, and ate just around the corner from our hotel, walked around briefly after the heavy meal, and retired, ready to wander the city the next morning.
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Lana now had two photographers to document (and be patient with).  In this case, they were photographing the Chain Bridge, which is a very early suspension bridge that uses massive plates pinned together into  huge chains that support the deck of the bridge (in place of the wire cables used in more modern construction).
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Above is a view of the chain bridge from across the Danube.  The East side (visible above) is the Peşt side of the city, while the West side is the Buda side; each were originally distinct cities, and were united in 1873.
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Yes, we know!  He really needs to raise his seat post.
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We had nothing scheduled for the morning, and wandered the city without a specific plan.  Lana found a sculpture of Ronald Reagan near the US Embassy.  It was warm and muggy; the Danube was just receding from a major flood.  Fountains were popular spots for kids and adults alike.
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These are both shot inside Bookcafé, a combination bookstore and restaurant inside Lotz Hall.  It was a magnificent room.  Lunch was also quite good, and the interior was pleasantly cool.
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In the afternoon, we crossed to the Buda side of the Danube, where we joined a small walking tour; there were just 5 of us in it.  We walked around the Matthias church (with the colorful roof tiles) looped through the hill town, and then back towards Buda castle.  Our guide focused mostly on the history of the castle neighborhood.  
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This is a somewhat unusual view of the Danube, with just one or two boats visible.  The flood conditions had grounded the large amount of river traffic that usually navigates the Danube, mostly barges and river cruise boats.
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By the end of the day, we’d walked several miles, and were hot and tired—but happy.  We were even happier after showering, changing, and eating a fabulous dinner, along with some welcome Hungarian beer.
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The next morning, we explored on our own again, and stumbled across an indoor market.  While Lana and Nicole perused the wide array of goods (food downstairs, crafts upstairs), David took pictures of the interesting structure and the great morning light pouring in.
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Shirtless men were reasonably common in Central Europe, perhaps due to the heat.  We hadn’t seen that many since leaving Thailand’s islands.  We saw this young man washing the sidewalk outside a cabaret while we were waiting for our next afternoon walking tour to start.
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The previous day’s tour had been informative, but a bit stilted and formal.  Anika, our guide today, was extremely animated and clearly excited about what she was talking about.  This time, we were on the Peşt side, and she covered history, architecture, culture, and anything that came up between.  Many of the buildings had been updated for the 1896 millennial celebration of the unification of Hugary in 896, and the architectural style of the city remains dominated by neo-romanticism, which was an imagined styling around that time.
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In the late afternoon, we took a short river cruise—the flooding had subsided enough to allow river traffic.  The tour gave us some great views from the river, especially of the Hungarian Parliament building.  It also included a complimentary drink; Lana and Nicole enjoyed a cold beer (although not cold enough!) in the afternoon heat.
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On our way back to our hotel after dinner, we wandered back through a small festival, which included some traditional folk dancing.  We stopped to watch for a minute, and Lana took a few shots of the kids lined up to go onstage for their next dance.

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We ended  our second day in Budapeşt with another good meal and a walk around the area near our hotel, enjoying the coolness of the fountains that dotted the Peşt side of the city.

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On our last day in Budapeşt we got up early and headed back toward the Buda side of the river to take some photos of the Castle District before it was swarmed with other people.

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It was a completely different experience that morning. Stunning views, and quiet streets.

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There were lots of interesting statues and sculptures on the church, as well as fascinating gargoyles and the most spectacular tile roof.

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There were also some Escher-like labyrinthine staircases.

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After an hour or two we wandered downhill toward the river and found a place to eat breakfast.  It was already getting hot out, and we decided it was a good day to explore the Heroes Park on the other side of town, based on a tip from a friend who grew up in Hungary. We took the local metro over there, and enjoyed wandering around for a few hours, then ambled back to our hotel rather than taking the metro back.

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Even as evening came on, it was still warm enough that it was tempting to let the guy spraying down the square give us a squirt as well, but we opted to sit in the shade at a nearby outdoor restaurant and have a beer before heading off to a delicious last dinner in Budapeşt at Borkonyha Wine Kitchen, which ended up being our favorite meal of our entire time in Budapeşt.