Monday, August 1, 2011

Budapest Highlights

We are sitting on the train in the Keleti station in Budapest; waiting for it to start chugging it’s way back to Vienna. Three full days of touring in Budapest flew by, and I have yet to summarize our experience.

It has been our habit to leave the Jewish Quarter for last. Not on purpose, but it seems to end up that way. As we sit here, with three hours to write about our time in Budapest, the things we saw and heard yesterday make it hard to find light subjects to write about.

We visited the second largest Synagogue in the world, which is here in Budapest. I guess that makes it clear that the Jewish population in Budapest and in Hungary in general, prior to the war was one of the largest in Europe. Even today, after all that has happened, it remains one of the largest Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Compared to other places we have visited – there is Jewish life here – Jewish schools and active places of worship. Yet for me the visit has been the most difficult. But l will not dwell on that. I left off last post as we all crawled into our berths on the train from Krakow to Budapest….

Our train arrived on time, around 9:00 am. Again, slept like babies (need I say more?) … Groggily (or at least some of us), we walked from the station to our modern Hotel Residence Isabella on the Pest side of the Danube. It seemed impossible, but Devora had outdone herself once again. Our suite has two bedrooms with ensuites, a comfortable living room, full kitchen, and – a washing machine! We felt at home instantly. The hotel is situated on one of Pest’s main thoroughfares, with buildings circa 1880, grand on one hand, crumbling on the other. Marc and Doug led us on a walking tour of the area including the large City Park, Széchenyi Baths and past some Art Nouveau buildings, before starting our search for a restaurant for dinner.

On most days, we are surviving on two hearty meals a day. So our choice of restaurants for dinner is taken very seriously. We have several criteria. First and foremost it has to have vegetarian offerings. Secondly it has to have good reviews. Doug usually takes a look in the guidebooks we have with us, and then Devora, checks them in trip advisor for current rave reviews. Then we figure out where they are and if they are easily accessible. I should also mention, that Devora had already done some research for each city and had a short list of possibilities (I know –There is nothing she has not thought of!) This process has proven infallible and our dinners have been as outstanding in Budapest as they have been in all other stops on our trip. Our first night we dined at a Hare Krishna restaurant with Asian/Indian food, our second night, a Hummus Bar (amazing falafel) and the third night at a kosher restaurant in the Jewish Quarter. All quite different and equally delicious.

On this trip, each city has the obligatory Castle district. Budapest is no exception. We spent the second day in Buda, visiting the sites. We made the decision (which may have been difficult for Marc and Doug), to skip visiting the museums. We would have needed another week to do that justice. We stopped along the way for our daily strudel at Retesbar (billed as the best strudel in Buda – and we have confirmed it!). We were not disappointed – delicious fillings, both sweet and savoury. We also managed to fit in a quick dip at the Gellert Thermal baths before dinner.

Doug managed to find us a restaurant that was minutes away from the Folklore performance that we had tickets for that evening. And what a performance it was. The talented musicians, and dancers carried us away, treating us to the best of Hungarian folk music and dances. Devora and I were clicking our cameras continuously trying to get a clear image in a dark theatre with dancers moving quickly with costumes swirling! I don’t think we really succeeded, but you get the idea.

We took it easy the third day and started out at a leisurely pace, covering the Jewish Quarter and the Opera House with a stop for pastry and coffee.

We decided to have an early dinner at the Hanna restaurant, and spend the evening at our hotel sipping palinka (a local alcoholic beverage), finishing the two bottles of wine we had open in the fridge and the last beer! It was our last night together, after all!

Devora and I stopped at a grocery store and bought snacks, to keep anyone from passing out from too much alcohol! And we were set.

We sipped, and giggled, did laundry, and nibbled. I don’t think any of us wanted to think about the fact that our trip together was almost over. In the morning, Doug and Devora would be on their way to Dubrovnik, and the rest of their trip (another 10 days), and we would be off to Vienna for two days and back to Vancouver.

As we sit on the train now by ourselves, we are wondering how we will manage with out them!

This has truly been a dream holiday. Thank you Doug for being our fearless leader, always knowing how to read the map and get us where we needed to go (even in Vienna when we were platzing over the pronounciations of the street names!), and for being our tour guide along with Marc in each city, reading descriptions of each stop on our many walking tours. And thank you Devora for organizing the most perfect trip, with such an interesting itinerary, superb accommodations, and impeccable transportation reservations. Not one glitch. Truly, truly amazing!!! And of course your language skills! Nishikot v’chibokim :)

The train is nearing the station. Two more days in Vienna and then we will be Vancouver bound!

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