Friday, October 30, 2015

2015 - Eastern Europe Day 15 (Budapest)

Today is another rain filled day and our plan is to visit the cave church and the market today.

The cave church was our initial destination but unfortunately, it was closed when we arrived, so we headed to the market and got there by 11:00am. We wandered the market for about an hour and got food there. There aren't a lot of seats upstairs, so time your meal accordingly, we got some random items from the shops. The food was okay, probably should have lined up at the more busy shops. The market itself I think it definitely worth a stop. There are lots of fruits, vegetables, souvenirs, meats, fish, kitchen items and lots more. The main floor is for meat, fruit and produce, upstairs is more food stalls and souvenirs and in the basement is fish.

Cave church.
Nagycsarnok, Budapest's Great Market Hall.
There were a lot of people here, probably due to the rain. So it was really busy everywhere and some crazy person actually brought out a tripod to take pictures, crazy! All in all, it is a cool stop and we finished by 1:00pm.

Meats at the market hall.
Dolls at the market hall.
Matryoshka dolls at the market hall.
Toys at the market hall.
Masks at the market hall.
Market hall.
After the market, we wandered around town a bit, had a snack at a random food stall with a sausage that doesn't make sense in terms of how big it is. We stumbled upon the Little Prince statue after and took some pictures as well.

I found a cow in the city!
Random fountain.
Me with the Little Princess Statue with the National Gallery in the background.
Big sausage!
How do I fit this in my mouth?
We headed back to the funicular for a langos and this time we got the chocolate one and I must say, this one was much better and would make me want to get more in the future. So, do make sure that you try chocolate first before the other ones.

Chocolate langos.
We decided to hang out at the hotel after since we were pretty much done with Budapest and we were just waiting for our overnight train to Prague. In the end, we ended up going back to Pizza Eataliano for dinner and got the same level of service as last time, but the food is just as good as before, so I can't really complain, bonus for being able to use our coupon from last time. The waiter even gave us back the coupon for future return visit. It cost us 7,800 Ft this time.

Two pizzas, a salad and lemonade from Pizza Eataliano.
With dinner out of the way, we took the local train to the train station and got ready for our overnight train. We had paid a bit extra when we arrived at Budapest for a private car for the three of us and this meant that our train car actually had more security. There was a conductor that checked all tickets as you boarded the car and I noticed that most of the passengers were female. When it was full, there was only two other males in the entire car and the rest were female. The room itself is very small and allowed for a maximum of three people (so we lucked out). There is a sink area along with bottled water for brushing your teeth, bottled water for drinking and croissants. There is a shared bathroom and shower at the end of the car if you needed it. It was my first experience on an overnight train and I must say, it wasn't as bad as I imagined it would be. It is a very tight space, so don't expect to be wandering the room and you can't sit up either. Me being 6', I was almost too tall for the area, so do be aware of that. There were wall outlets if you needed to plug anything in, however, as a group of three, you were pretty much forced to entertain yourself since it was hard to do anything in such a small space. Overall, I wouldn't have an issue doing it again. Note that this train is from Budapest to Prague overnight, and there were two times where someone checked our passports, so you won't be sleeping the entire way. Both times, they asked for our passports, saw the Canada emblem and left; they didn't even take them to look inside, odd.

Me standing in our cabin.
Tomorrow, we check in to our hotel and wander Prague, the last leg of our Eastern Europe trip.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

2015 - Eastern Europe Day 14 (Budapest)

Weather forecast calls for rain today and tomorrow and so far, it is correct about today, so it is a good thing we did our outdoor sights yesterday. Today, we will visit the thermal baths and walk the Pest side of Budapest (Buda is the west side of the river and Pest is the east side).

Our first stop after breakfast is the St Stephen’s Basilica. We took some pictures from the outside and again, didn’t go in based on our peek inside and the fact that we need to pay to enter (200 Ft). It does look nice from the outside though. By now, I was equating admission prices to ice creams as weird as that sound and about 120-130 Ft gets you a nice gelato (one flavour).

St Stephen's Basilica.
Next up, the Miniversum, a sight that has a lot of miniatures of the local towns and cities and it was pretty cool to see. In each section, there are a few controls that have buttons which you can press and try to figure out what it is linked to. Some are for lights, some are for sounds, and some make the miniatures move (like helicopter propellers, trains, etc). We got here at around 11:20am and spent about 45 minutes here and it cost 1,900 Ft per adult.

Lunch was next and we went to the Book Café and made it there for 12:30pm. Come and visit even if you don’t eat here, the drinks were roughly 1,000 Ft and sandwich/salad from 1,500 – 2,000 Ft. The food was good and so was the service. I’m surprised that the food was actually a good portion, although since they don’t actually have a kitchen, they are limited to sandwiches, salads, and cakes. We ordered the prosciutto sandwiches and ham and cheese sandwiches.

Book Cafe.
Book Cafe.
The interior is really nice, it feels like you are eating in a palace. There are lots of frescos in the ceiling and there is gold gilding everywhere. It is actually looked in the Alexandra, and we walked by it thinking that it was a mall entrance. When we arrived, the entry way was open, so that anyone could just walk in and wander around and take pictures, but midway through our meal, I noticed that they roped off the entrance area, and I don’t want to sound like a snob, but gating people who weren’t going to eat there meant that there were less people wandering around and disturbing our meal. In all, it cost us 8,500 Ft for three sandwiches, one hot chocolate and two slices of cake.

Almond hot chocolate.
Prosciutto sandwich.
Ham and cheese sandwich.
Finished at 1:30pm and headed to Széchenyi thermal bathes which was another 30 minutes away by foot. It cost 4,500 Ft per adult plus locker to get in and you can stay however long you like. Initially when we asked Viktor (our innkeeper) about this place, we thought we would need reservations, but when we went, we realized that the place is enormous and I don’t think it would ever be full.

Heroes' square.
There are a lot of baths to try, all of which have varying temperatures from 20 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius, indoor and outdoor pools as well as swimming pools.

When you pay, you are given a waterproof NFC wristwatch that allows you to keep your belongs in a locker. Simply look for an open locker, put your things inside, close it and use the NFC wristband to lock it by holding it to the lock and push it in. You do the same to unlock the locker and you can do this as many times as you like. You do need to pay for towels, but you can just bring your own. And make sure to bring some flip flops.

Thermal Bath.
Overall, this is my first time doing a bath and I’m still as confused about it as I was when I went in. I just don’t understand how this is relaxing. I felt bored. I did the cold to hot to cold to hot pools and that does shock your body but I didn’t feel better (or maybe I did, but I don’t know). You are free to take pictures here since there were plenty of people with GoPros here. In the end, I think it was a good way to spend a rainy day and the girls seemed to enjoy it, so it was a good break from our touristic sight visits. All in all, we spent about 4 hours here with us leaving at 6:00pm.

Dinner was at a restaurant suggested by Allison’s brother, Szazeves Etterem, a restaurant that is over 100 years old in Pest. We ordered the Manglica medallions, goulash soup, and goose liver. It was a Friday and there was live music which was nice and we didn’t need a reservation, so we lucked out there with us arriving at 7:15pm. There is a mandatory tip here as well but it was 13%. All in all, the food was really good and I’d suggest coming here to try it. We did get a bit lost trying to find it, but in the end, we did, and I’m glad we did. It cost us 16,860 Ft.

Beer #13?
Goulash to share.
Goose liver on the left, Manglica medallions on the right.
Fisherman's Bastion and Matthias Church minutes from our hotel.
Tomorrow, we finish Budapest and head to Prague on the overnight train.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

2015 - Eastern Europe Day 13 (Budapest)

Due to the rainy forecast for the next two days, we decided to do our outdoor sights today which is Janos Hill.

Our breakfast was a smaller version of the breakfasts that we have been having in the past. Few meats, one cheese, three types of bread, hard boiled eggs, coffee, tea, juice, cereal, fresh fruit and some yogurt. This hotel is actually more like a bed and breakfast. The innkeeper is only present in the morning and when guests are expected to arrive (you need to coordinate) since he is not there all the time. Due to this, the breakfast served is actually a lot nicer than expected.

Breakfast table at Budavar Pension.
We got some information from Viktor and we were off. Based on the information that Viktor gave us, we should take the cog railway and then the children’s railway to get to Janos Hill. Yes, that’s right, a children’s railway. We walked to the cog railway which is located near a park and costs the same price as a regular train ticket here. There is actually a ticket box just outside where you can purchase the tickets (electronic, no person to assist you but it is in English). It costs 350 Ft for 1 ticket or 3,000 Ft for 10 tickets, we opted for 10 since I was sure that we would use 9 which is still a discount even if we didn’t use the last one.

Cog railway train.
The cog railway arrived at 10:30am and we took it to the last top (about 20 minutes) and we made it just in time for the children’s railway which is a short walk from the station. I don’t remember the specific directions, but I believe there was only one way to go and you can’t miss the children’s railway. Don’t wander because the children’s railway only operates once an hour and for us, it goes at 3 minutes after the hour (11:03am in our case). It cost 700 Ft for one way or 1,400 Ft for a round trip ticket and since we were planning on taking the chairlift back, we only purchased one way tickets.

Children's railway train.
The children’s railway is called this because there are children that volunteer to do certain tasks such as directing trains (yes, but there is only the children’s railway on the line), validating tickets and a few other things. I thought it was cute to see little children trying to be like adults although they were pretty timid and did not really speak English. Make sure to ask for which stop to get off at (I forget the name), but it is not the last stop and took us also another 20 minutes to get to. There is still a bit of a hike (maybe 10-15 minutes) of uphill climbing after. There is only one direction, so you can’t get lost. When we got off the train, there were a bunch of other people getting off as well, so we knew that we must be at the right place.

Elizabeth lookout atop Janos Hill.
After our climb and we arrived at our destination, to our dismay, we found out that we were at the top of the hill already and would only take the chairlift down. If you are looking at the chairlift building, to the left, there is a walkway, go up this and you will get to a lookout tower that gives you nice views of Budapest and it is free! Unfortunately it was a bit hazy when we went but it was a nice stop nonetheless.

View from Elizabeth Lookout.
With the lookout tower finished, we walked back to the chairlift and had a snack at the café. We got the hamburger and hot dog and neither were good and I would suggest just avoiding it completely and get something when you get to the bottom.

The chairlift cost 1,000 Ft one way or 1,400 Ft for a roundtrip ticket. We only got the one way ticket since we were heading back to town after. Once on the chairlift, we realized that it was probably best that we didn’t do a roundtrip chairlift since there is nothing to see on the way up. By the time we left, it was 1:00pm. Once at the base, we took the local bus and headed back into the city.

Janos Hill Chairlift.
Janos Hill Chairlift.
Once we reached the last bus stop, we got off and decided to walk to Buda Castle. While walking there, I got hungry and we stopped at a random Chinese restaurant for lunch. I don’t know if the girls were hungry or not, but I was since the hamburger was a disappointment. The food was surprisingly good and it only cost us 800 Ft for a two item combo.

We made it to the Buda Castle funicular at around 3:00pm. We were initially going to take the funicular but deterred by the huge line up, we walked up the trail and headed to Fisherman’s Bastion first. It takes maybe 10-15 minutes to walk up, time depends on how much time you spend looking around and taking pictures. There are multiple paths up, and if you are lost, just ask someone.

Budapest Parliament.
We took some pictures and while up there, we also headed to the National Gallery for pictures. When we were finished, it was 4:40pm. This was with us not entering any of the buildings, just viewing them from the outside since they all had costs to go in them although I’m not sure how much they cost since we weren’t interested enough to pay to go in them.

Budapest Funicular.
Fisherman's Bastion.
Fisherman's Bastion.
Matthias Church.
With Buda Castle and National Gallery finished, we headed back down to the base to try a langos at a shop right by the funicular based on Allison's brother's suggestion. It reminds me of a beaver tail but with a little saltiness to it. We ordered the peach jam one and it was okay. Cost us 1,000 Ft and it was freshly made.

We went back to the hotel for a rest and determine where to have dinner and Hunyadi was the restaurant that we decided on, a short walk from our hotel. Tonight, we got the veal cheeks, cat fish, and pork medallions. The veal cheeks reminds me of the goulash that we have been having in Austria. The pork medallions were a bit chewy, and the cat fish had a tomato and parika sauce which Allison enjoyed. Service was included in the bill at 15%. The service however was actually what I normally expected, so that’s fine, however, it is the first time I have been forced to pay it since it was on the bill already and we only had 3 people at the table. I don’t know if I would suggest the restaurant based on this principle. The drinks are a rip off. I swear, they must have been under 250 ml size glasses of pop. Cost us 12,730 Ft.

Cat fish on the bottom left, veal cheeks on the bottom right, and pork medallions on the top left. Those small glasses were our pops.
With dinner completed, we all agreed that if we wanted to see the city at night, we should do it today since it was going to rain the next few days we were here. Due to how windy it was, we didn’t get any good pictures like we did for Vienna, but it was nice. We did end up walking to the bridge that was north of the Chain Bridge and that was a mistake. There isn’t really anything to see there and we were all pretty tired by the end. You do however get to see parliament, Chain Bridge, National Gallery and Fisherman’s Bastion all in one picture from there (which I didn't get any good pictures of unfortunately).

Parliament at night.
National Gallery at night.
Chain bridge with National Gallery in the background.
Chain bridge with National Gallery in the background and shoes of Danube on the bottom left.
Tomorrow, we plan to visit the city centre and try a thermal bath if possible.