I am a first generationHungarian American. Both of my parents are from Budapest and arrived into the United States around 1950. I was fluent in Hungarian until I was about 7 or 8 years old and was brought up with a great sense of being Hungarian. This was reinforced by conversing with my grandparents and other relatives and family friends in Hungarian, eating Hungarian food, and listening to Hungarian folk music.
I first went to Budapest over 10 years ago. I had this huge feeling of deja-vu and didn’t know why. The smells were so familiar, the buildings were familiar. Everyone was speaking Hungarian. Duh! That was extremely familiar, even though I really didn’t know what people were saying. I know Hungarian when I hear it, and when I do, my heart skips a little beat of joy! It took me a few hours to work out where this feeling was coming from and then it hit me! The smells were the smell of garlic and pickles and other food smells that I grew up with! I recognised some of the buildings and parks because my grandmother had shown me many photographs from her visits! In a way, I have already been here before.
My first trip to Budapest was very short and at the time not many people spoke English. I also went in November – not a very good month of the year to hob nob with the locals. There was barely anyone on the streets. This time I went in September immediately after my trip to Sharm. I went with my daughter and was a replacement for one of her friends who had to cancel. Stuff happens and although I wasn’t her first choice, we managed to have a good time. In any event, she didn’t have to pay a penny for anything while we were there! Besides, what better guide than someone who has already been there?
We stayed at the Opera Gardens Hotel in the centre of Pest. The staff and service were excellent – very helpful and accommodating. The rooms are modern with access to wi-fi. The hotel also had a jacuzzi and sauna that we utilised one evening and had all to ourselves. 🙂 We were on a bed and breakfast basis. There was a small dining area for guests with fresh fruit salad, yogurt, cheese, cold meats, fresh bread and pastries, coffee, tea, juice, cereals, eggs, bacon, and cake. I am not a big breakfast eater, but considering I had just spent 2 weeks diving with the hotel breakfast leaving a lot to be desired, I made the most of what was on offer for breakfast at our hotel. I confess to having cake as part of my breakfast. In my opinion, it is no different to eating bread but with the added bonus of fruit in it.
We were lucky with the weather the week we were in Budapest. It was sunny every day and went up to about 80F. As the weather was so lovely, most of our sightseeing was done outdoors. We only went into two buildings and that was Szent István-bazilika or Saint Stephen’s Basilica and The House of Terror. We couldn’t have chosen two completely different buildings to visit and for different reasons. I highly recommend walking up to the dome in the Basilica for the amazing panoramic views of Pest. It is worth visiting The House of Terror if only to be humbled and to try to understand the horrors that took place against many citizens of Hungary and Budapest. The place totally freaked us out.
I would also recommend one of the many river boat rides available. On our arrival to the airport in Budapest, I purchased a two-day Legenda pass which included a boat ride and a visit to St. Margaret’s Island (Margit-sziget), as well as mini-bus transfer to and from our hotel. The weather had been so lovely, so I don’t think we really made as much use of our pass as we could have. As we were centrally located, it was actually very easy to walk around the city and see most of the sights. If the weather had been more inclement, we may have made more use of public transportation and gone into more museums and art galleries. As it was, we went on a bus, tram, and the Underground from Hero’s Square. The Underground is very easy to use and is one of the oldest in Europe. I love walking and looking at the architecture and people. What better way to get to know a city than on foot? Here are just a few photographs.
After all that walking, it makes sense to stop for a cake break. There are many cafés where you can sit down and have coffee and cake. As it is tradition to have cake in the afternoon, and since I like to keep up with tradition in the places I visit, we had our first cake experience at Café Gerbeaud. It may be on the tourist map, but for very good reason, the cake is excellent. It is one of the oldest coffee houses in Pest and the building is beautiful.
Café Gerbeaud was one of many places where we took sustenance. We were very lucky with the quality of our food. As well as traditional Hungarian cooking, one can get almost any type of food in Budapest. We had lunch wherever we happened to be out and about and ate dinner at restaurants within walking distance to the hotel.
One of the highlights of our trip was meeting up with some friends of mine who have been living in Budapest for the last year. Gary kindly offered to drive us out of Budapest for the day to visit a couple of pretty towns. The first town we went to was Vác. The old part is not very big, but it is very pretty and not touristy. It has a very pretty square where we found a café and had, you guessed it, coffee and cake. The weather was so lovely it was nice to hang out for about an hour and relax from the bustle of Budapest. Gary is a great tour guide and knows a lot about the Architecture of Budapest. We had a running commentary from our hotel to his flat, where Nancy carried on with a tour of their apartment, which was amazing! I thought I had high ceilings!
After we had seen Vác, we got on a ferry to cross the river to drive over to Szentendre. Szentendre is completely different in character to Vác. It is extremely touristy with many shops selling tourist tat. I am sure there are some lovely shops selling local crafts, considering it is an artist’s town, but we tried to stay away from any attempts at being lured into the shops. We did stop and have a snack/lunch of Palacsinta. Traditionally, in my family, these pancakes were served sweet, as a dessert. Fillings were generally apricot jam or Lekvár (thick prune jam/butter) or a mixture of sour cream, sugar, cottage cheese and raisins (my favourite), all topped with powdered sugar. It is one of the few Hungarian foods I can make and am particularly fond of eating. However we had savoury ones for lunch, although I really was tempted by the chocolate one (just like in the link).
We eventually went back to Budapest and met up again later for dinner. It was great to catch up with Nancy and Gary, share good food and wine. It was our last night in Budapest and it ended up being a bit of a late one. 🙂
Our last day was spent by the Parliament building and walking along the river towards the Jewish Quarter. The architecture is not as grand here as in other areas. I would have liked more time to explore, but we were limited and had to get back to the hotel.
What more can I say about this trip? I can honestly say that I have felt extremely at home in the city where my family has come from. I love the fact that Hungarian is the main language that is spoken. I love being in a city where people look familiar to me and where they remind me of people from my youth. The girls are pretty and look like my cousins. The boys and men can be really good-looking. Call me shallow, but its great to look at attractive people in attractive surroundings. The people have been generally friendly and service has been very good. There are a lot more people speaking English than they did ten years ago, but I still like to try to use the few Hungarian words I still remember.
There was so much to see and do but we didn’t have the time, so that leaves us open to planning another trip! 🙂