Budapest does not “grab” us at first. The taxi driver did. It’s a common scam. Unregulated taxis rip off foreign visitors. We should have known better, but we’re travel weary from a train ride, lugging heavy backpacks, it’s nighttime, fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, and all we have is an address full of numbers and consonants for a small apartment we rented somewhere in this huge city. At least the taxi driver brings us to our complex. (quadruple the normal price we later learn)
He stops and points to what we think is a suggestion for a good hole-in-the-wall restaurant, until he drops our bags on the sidewalk. After a ring of keys opens six locks and three doors, we relax in a spacious clean studio apartment. Albeit, a depressing view. We walk to the grocery store and purchase chicken, cabbage, onion, garlic, yellow peppers, and potatoes to cook in a pot. After a couple of weeks on the road, a home cooked meal sounds good. Time to bed down here on the Buda side of Pest, serenaded by sirens, commuter trains, and church bells.
What a difference daylight makes! After nineteen cups of espresso with some chicken/cabbage leftovers for breakfast, a short walk around the corner not only grabs us, but pulls us into a medieval fantasy land.
Walk along the Danube, where sheets of flowing ice ricochet from pylons of magnificent bridges that connect Buda to Pest, making one Budapest.
Cobblestone roadways and carved stone stairs lead the way up Castle Hill to the Royal Palace. Ornate sculptures cling to fortresses and buildings. Stone and bronze lions and hunters show stories of those who once lived or served here.
From Fisherman’s Bastion, sweeping views of Pest grab our gaze, and remind us of something we have never known.
We walk across the Chain Bridge. A prince had this bridge built after he tried to walk across the frozen Danube to attend his father’s funeral. The ice melted, he grew furious because he couldn’t walk, and commissioned a British engineer to build Budapest’s first bridge.
Here it comes. Another scam? Some guy wants to sell us Big Bus (hop on/off) tickets. He understands that we’re skeptical after the taxi rip-off. “That happens to many tourists,” he explains. “Walk with me to the office. I’ll show you.” We purchase tickets that are valid for three days. They not only include a tour of the city, but give us a ride to and from the train station, and exclusive entry into several thermal bath houses. Budapest is full of thermal baths. Who knew?
The big bus ticket is a good move. We hop on, and then off at the train station to purchase overnight (13-hour) sleeper cab passes to our next stop in Brasov, Romania. Hop back on and find a restaurant for some long, overdue chow. Marilynn orders Halafzle, a freshwater poached fish in soup with tomato, pepper and paprika. I order Gulyas (goulash) in traditional soup/stew with beef, tomato, onion and paprika. Devour this delight with huge hunks of white bread!
We take big bus to the Buda side, bring pizza home to our cozy apartment, and stay up all night long watching NFL playoffs broadcast in the German language. Two hours of sleep later, what better time to take a thermal bath with a massage? After a brisk walk to the Gellert bath house, we change into bathing suits and lounge in several of eight thermal pools, ranging in different levels of heat.
A few hot soaks later, we take a steam and then jump into an ice-cold dip. It’s time for a long overdue, healing oil massage that not only eases physical pain, but the psychological pain of the no contest Steelers loss.
We barely make the walk home. Too gassed to go out for dinner, we finish our leftover chicken/cabbage concoction. The next day we must leave, but the overnight train doesn’t depart until seven o’clock in the evening. So, we ride big bus around for several hours, before a final delectable meal of beef stew with galuska (small gnocchi-like dumplings).
We could enjoy a longer stay in Budapest, but it’s time to let go and grab the overnight train to the Transylvanian region of Romania. Stay tuned! Ron Mitchell