Thursday, December 22, 2011

Eurotrip 2011, Day 11: Budapest Highlights

It was an early early morning for us in Budapest, because it was really our only morning there and I wanted to experience the city's famous baths! We chose Szechenyi, the largest medicinal baths in Europe. The complex is fed by two thermal springs and was built in 1913 in the Neo-baroque style. I was able to get one shot on my camera before we donned our suits and spent a good two hours enjoying the baths :)

To be honest I didn't feel different or amazing after our morning at the baths, but it was a really different, cool experience. There was a mix of tourists and locals there and it was clean, at least :) The best part was definitely the crazy whirlpool in the outdoor courtyard! It brought Steve and I back to our childhoods when we would gather our friends and run around in circles in our above-ground pools to create the same spinning effect.

After the baths, we returned to the hotel for showers before heading out to lunch and sightsee. It was my last chance to impress Steve and the Natalies with another guidebook-chosen restaurant, and this time I picked Alfoldi at Kecskemeti ut 4. Known for their famous paprika scones, we also seriously enjoyed our meal as a whole.

Between the four of us we tried everything from the stuffed cabbage to the paprika chicken to a pork dish, and all of it was delicious - particularly the paprika chicken. It was a fairly affordable meal as well, and we were served by the owner himself! Definitely an enjoyable lunch and a restaurant I would recommend to anyone visiting Budapest.

After lunch we decided to make our way to Budapest Castle. We entered through the Vienna Gate and walked up Fortuna u. in hopes of finding the guidebook-suggested Hungarian House of Wines.

We did finally find the Hungarian House of Wines, which is located on Fortuna u. not far from Matthias Church. If you blink you could walk right by it, but thankfully we didn't because it really was an awesome experience! You enter at street level and head down into the wine cellar, where the walls are lined with alcoves stocked with bottles and bottles of Hungarian wines.

The tasting area is at one end of the wine cellar, and the day that we visited there was only one employee working. We waited about 10 minutes while he finished up with some customers who were purchasing wine, and then he helped us choose some tastings. He was really great about allowing us to split two separate tastings (each with 4 or more wines) between the four of us, and at the end we decided to try the local bitter spirit, Matheus.

Now, these aren't the greatest pictures but they at least show my reaction to the Matheus ;)

Stuff was disgusting. I mean...awful. Just...don't. Ever. Trust me.

The only negative thing about the Hungarian House of Wines is that we were there for a long time. Too long, in fact. Though in the end the other things I really wanted to experience in the castle - the labyrinths and the Matthias Church - were closed anyway :-/ So we just walked by the cathedral and headed down the road to catch a glimpse of the royal castle itself.
Matthias Church
Monument in Holy Trinity Square
Approaching the Royal Castle
The Royal Castle
Although we didn't have time to go inside the castle, we did wander to the wall and got to see some great views of the city down below!
Great views of the city below from the Royal Palace end of Budapest Castle

We thought about taking the tram down the hill, but it was expensive! We found a wide winding path instead, and the descent wasn't bad at all. At the bottom we walked across the infamous Chain Bridge, which first opened in 1849 and was known at the time as one of the modern world's engineering wonders. It was also the first permanent bridge to cross the Danube in Budapest.
Steve on the Chain Bridge
When we reached the other side of the bridge, lo and behold...our Contiki bus was sitting in a parking lot by the river! We headed down the stairs and asked our driver to take a picture of the four of us with the bus...for memory's sake, of course :)

Our last stop for the day was Parliament. We couldn't go inside, but the building is so beautiful and so famous that we had to at least check it out. It was a short walk from the Chain Bridge and well worth it, too!
Budapest's famous Parliament building
Monument to the 1956 uprising
From Parliament we took a tram back to our hotel, thankfully without having to change lines :) We knew we would be partying away our last night of the tour and stopped at a...well, for lack of a better word it was a "packy" (a.k.a. New England lingo for package store, where you can get wine and beer AND liquor) the tram station across the road from our hotel!
Yay, wine and beer from a subway/tram station packy!
Next up: our last dinner with the fact, our last night with the tour...and you know we sent it out in style!

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