Budapest

Here's Part II of our vacation -- Budapest! I was interested to see how it would compare to Prague and must say that between the two cities, I liked Budapest the best. It was bigger, with less tourists, a cooler vibe, and there was more to do (though perhaps Prague gets points for being more picturesque). Here we are ready to explore the city despite taking a 7am flight to get there:

GREAT MARKET HALL

It was cloudy and threatened rain when we first arrived in Budapest, so we made our very first stop the Great Market Hall, a large, covered three floor market in the city center selling (of course) Hungarian paprika, plus fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, meat, pastries, wine, chocolate, and jams, to name just a few. The third floor of the market houses a bunch of different food stands, thus making the Great Market Hall a place to kill 3 birds with 1 stone: you can do your shopping, have lunch, and buy a souvenir or two for everyone back home. We bought some hemp crackers from a stand selling hemp Nutella, hemp chocolate, and hemp face cream, among many other hemp-based products, plus some paprika, wine, and a Budapest T-shirt or two.  

MAIN ATTRACTIONS

The Chain Bridge
You can't visit Budapest without visiting the Chain Bridge, which was the first bridge to be built (in 1849) over the Danube to connect Buda and Pest. That's right -- Buda and Pest are actually two separate places, and only became one city in 1873. Buda is much hillier, offers much better panoramas of the city, and is the site of the Hapsburg Palace, while Pest is completely flat and contains most of the cities best restaurants, bars and cafes. Fun fact: the Chain Bridge is decorated with two lions which, if you look closely, have no tongues, intricate as they are. It's not clear why these were omitted, but I imagine constructing huge stone lions is a big job, and I too would've probably gotten a little lazy with the details there too at the end.



St. Stephen's Basilica
On our walking tour of the city, we stopped at St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent István-bazilika in Hungarian) which is named after Stephen I, the first King of Hungary. St. Stephen's right hand is supposedly housed in the reliquary of the basilica -- there is some dispute about whether or not this is his actual hand or not (he did die after all in 1038!) but the Catholic Church certainly seems to think that it is, and once a year, on August 20, parades the hand around in the Holy Right Hand ( Szent Jobb) procession. Right hand or not, its a gorgeous basilica, don't you think?

Parliament + Hero Square
Two more main stops in Budapest -- we paid a visit to The Parliament of Hungary, which is the largest building in Hungary and the tallest in Budapest, not to mention pretty stunning; Hero Square contains Hungary's tomb of the unknown soldier.

THE FOOD!!!

We found that Hungarian food was similar to Czech food, in that many of the cuisine's main dishes were meat based, on the heavier side, not-so-photogenic, and completely delicious (it is always nice to get a break from pizza or pasta). Here were a few of the standout restaurants and dishes for us...

Mákos Guba
On our first evening in Budapest, we were lucky to be shown around by a local (there's nothing better when you're traveling!) Deni is the fiancé of my lovely friend/colleague/morning coffee buddy Lavinia, and lucky for us, is Hungarian, from Budapest. He happened to be in the city the same time that we were, and offered to meet us for dinner, bringing with him as well 3 umbrellas for the 3 of us who had not anticipated the rain (phew!) Thanks to Deni, we not only were saved by the rain, we also had the best meal we had probably the whole trip, at Mákos Guba. Per his suggestion we ordered a savory crepe (palacsinta) filled with beef and served in a paprika-y sauce; csirkepaprikás, or roast chicken served in a paprika-based sauce with a side of delightful, gnocchi-like dumplings, quite different from the ones we had in Prague; and goulash, the classic Hungarian beef soup that was more soup than the Czech version. To temper all the heavy meat, sauces, and paprika, we also ordered uborkasaláta, a light, refreshing cucumber salad served with sour cream, which I ended up ordering almost every day we were in Budapest. For dessert, Deni made sure we tried mákos guba -- the restaurant's specialty, as per its name -- which is a poppy seed bread pudding, served warm with a vanilla custard sauce. After all this food, we rolled to Deni's car as he was kind enough to give us a ride home. Köszönöm Deni!

Csarnok Vendeglo + Frici Papa
Soups are also a pretty important part of Hungarian cuisine, I learned, so I made time to try not just goulash but also hagymaleves, a Hungarian onion soup (this one was served in a bread bowl!) at Csarnok Vendeglo, another Lavinia and Deni recommendation. It was filling, flavorful, and still a lot lighter than the meat-and-potatoes we had been consuming the past week. Another stand out was a soup made of beef broth and cloud-like dumplings we tried at Frici Papa, also recommended by Lavinia and Deni -- I unfortunately did not write down the Hungarian name of this one, but it was very cozy.



Kurtőskalács (Chimney Cakes)
What's not to like about flaky pastry dough (think a croissant crossed with a cinnamon bun) that's brushed with butter, dipped in a cinnamon sugar bath, and then served warm?! On our last night in Budapest we made a point to try kurtőskalács, or chimney cakes, the pastry that was brought to Prague where it became the trdelník mentioned here. Delicious as these were, I think I'd unfortunately have a hard time recreating them at home, as they're slow roasted over a charcoal fire as they're basted with the butter -- very fancy. You can see a video on my Instagram account over here.
    

RUIN PUBS

The ruin pubs (which came in to being about a decade ago) are pubs, yes, but not your average pubs -- these are pubs that look more like art installations, or the final project of a graduate art student. They have an artsy, hipster vibe to them, all decorated with random, repurposed items -- old computers and board games, antique furniture, lawn trolls, Christmas lights, dolls and much much more. The name "ruin pubs" comes from the fact that the bars are all set up in abandoned buildings (example: a Communist era department store, a defunct factory, etc). One of the ruin bars, Szimpla Kert (which we visited) was named 3rd best bar in the world (!!!) by Lonely Planet. You can find a list of the better known ruin pubs here, if you're traveling to Budapest any time soon.
Outside the pubs there is a little store that sells all sorts of quirky gadgets, jewelry, and art work. We picked up the little creature below and named her Petra (a nice Hungarian name) as a reminder of our excellent trip.
And so ended our Eastern European adventure! As per usual, here are a few photos of beautiful Budapest to close out the post -- I'll be traveling back home to Rhode Island this week, so I'll be back soon with blog posts about my trip home as well as a few Summer-y recipes. 






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