I visited Budapest twice. In 2006 my wife and I drove to Budapest from Slovenia, skirting Lake Balaton, on our journey by car through Eastern Europe. We stayed for three nights, then continued via Visegrad to Slovakia and beyond. I last posted a report about that journey back in 2007: Slovenia. More recently I dropped in for an overnight transit en-route from Sarajevo to St Petersburg in 2011.
For reasons lost in the mists of time I stopped posting about that journey after Slovenia and did not post again until I departed on my third 'round the world trip in 2008. I am trying to correct that lapse now. Serendipitously I discovered an old draft from that time as a backup word file despite three changes of PC since. The first section below was written while the memory of that first visit was fresh. I'll add a few notes on the more recent visit after that.
After an excellent breakfast in the Lenti Hotel, just over the border from Slovenia, we decided to head towards Budapest. While in Lenti I used an internet café in town to book at the 3* Hotel Charles for three nights. We selected the minor roads closest to the northern shores of Lake Balaton, rather than the quicker freeways.
The towns and villages along the lake reminded us of waterfront holiday towns in any country, but were a step back in time for us. They reminded me of lakeside and seaside Australia in the ‘50s. Unfortunately, for some reason gremlins stole my photos of the area.
Once we reached the outskirts of Budapest it was like any large industrial city. It was dirtier than some, but all major cities seem to present their worst face to incoming motorists. This was the first time we had used the map provided on a booking web-site to find a hotel. It wasn’t the last time we got totally lost as a result. Eventually we got there after an unintended tour through the centre of town. The lesson I learned from that, and later efforts, in those pre-smartphone days was to always go to a good on-line maps site to check hotel locations by inserting the address; never trust a booking site map. That often also led to discovering that hotels are not quite as close to things as is claimed in their advertisements..
Note that my comments on the hotel relate to it in 2006 and would not be valid today. For me it was an interesting experience as my first encounter with a large hotel in a country behind the old Iron Curtain. The Charles Hotel appeared to have been elite single-bedroom apartments during the communist era. Several of the rooms and some whole floors were privately-owned apartments. The room had an en-suite bathroom with a separate tiny kitchenette and a huge bedroom. It was shabby, but with a comfortable bed. I needed telescopic vision to see the small TV in the distance. As I chose the place because they had a kitchenette it was a bit disconcerting to find that there was a stove and a fridge but no cooking utensils, just a jug to boil water. When I asked for them to be provided: "but no-one cooks in Budapest". When I discovered the quality of their breakfast and the range and price of foods in the Budapest restaurants I understood why and stopped complaining. Undoubtedly this hotel provided the best breakfast quality and choices we had on that entire trip - or any trip since.
The staffing was way over the top by Western standards – people everywhere but very few who actually seemed to do much or react when you needed them. This was our first real experience on that trip of the strange difficulty larger hotels in ex-communist nations seemed to be having coming to terms with modern tourism. Repeatedly there was an underlying feeling that the customer should feel privileged to be allowed to stay at that hotel. Budapest was the first place we struck it – but as we travelled we found that attitude to also be the culture in all of the larger hotels we stayed at in Slovakia, Poland, old East Germany and some parts of Czech. Smaller or family-run hotels and pensions were quite a contrast.
I don't wish to overstate it; it was more nuances than anything obvious. But I stayed at enough hotels to notice the difference. The most extreme one was in Slovakia - but I'll mention it later.
The hotel was about one kilometre from the bridge opposite the Citadel across to Pest.
One difficulty we discovered was that most of the subway stations are down long flights of stairs. We didn't discover many elevators or escalators, so it was a little difficult for those with arthritis. But we went anyway, just a little slowly at times.
We spent our first full day just wandering, stopping in shops, browsing through street markets, fascinated at the people and the little differences in cuisine, styles and ways of doing things.
This was a busy covered shopping strip or market down-town.
This was a busy covered shopping strip or market down-town.
A restaurant with a rather deadly Arabic name selling Italian food in Hungary. I wondered whether the proprietor was aware of the meaning of that name in English.
We did not eat there; we mainly patronised little restaurants or cafeterias where the locals ate, but we also ate some street foods. I enjoyed Hungarian cuisine but cannot recall the names of the dishes other than goulash.
I spent an interesting afternoon visiting the Citadel Museum. I took the bus to the top of the hill and walked back down afterwards. This was the most picturesque fast food stall I have seen, just next to the Citadel monument.
The solid rock of the peak was excavated in WWII to become munitions bunkers for the artillery sited there.
|Right click and expand to read the story.|
The bunkers have been turned into a small museum of the Hungarian experience of that war. It was a very sad period for Hungary, which had soldiers and supporters on both sides. Until 1944 there was an uneasy alliance with Germany with the leader, Horthy, trying to maintain some degree of independence, including resisting deportation of Hungarian Jews and minorities to concentration camps. In 1944 the Arrow Cross, Hungary's Nazis, gained control and effectively the Germans ran the country; mass deportations commenced. Most never returned.
A year later when the Russians conquered the city the siege was long, merciless and immensely destructive. Compare the bridge then and now.
The building above the bunkers has become a boutique hotel. It still shows the scars of the siege.
A German DSF230 supplies glider fell into the building at 37 Attila Street. The 17 yo pilot was decapitated.
Unfortunately I was still using Kodak film in 2006 and one of my rolls of 36 disappeared, with most of my other Budapest pictures.
Budapest in transit, 2011
I used Malev Air to fly from Sarajevo to St Petersburg, which required a stopover in Budapest. I stayed at the Artotel, booked via Priceline. It was a comfortable room with a scenic view of the river.
The rear-facing rooms had this excellent view.
The pictures on the wall are all supposedly fine art. OK, I know I am a philistine but, seriously, this has to be a joke by the artist who must have laughed all the way to the bank when it was sold.
I was only there for the afternoon and evening, spending my time strolling around the district near the hotel and enjoying another tasty goulash. I also enjoyed re-discovering excellent Hungarian red wine.