On the Sunday of our trip to Budapest, we did indeed ride on a boat, upstream along the beautiful Danube. It was a glorious day, and everyone and his dog was out in canoes, kayaks, and motorboats. We saw people tubing and paragliding. And the town where we went was called Szentendre, after St. Andrew. It’s just north of Budapest. There we found tasty barbecued meats at a Serbian restaurant, which boasted an excellent guitarist. One thing that’s really struck me around Budapest is the amount of live music in restaurants and on the street. Much of it is of fair quality too. A ton of artists, actors, writers, and musicians reportedly live in Szentendre. And more and more tourists are showing up. I believe it’s because of the hot chocholate (forró csokoládé in Hungarian) at a little café down the street, south from the dock, across from a family of knife-makers. Here ended my search for “real” hot chocolate, that is, melted drinking chocolate in a cup to which you then add milk and whipped cream as you wish. I would gladly row 10 miles up the river for it. (Okay, 10 km in something streamlined maybe.) I think there’s also a marzipan museum and a confectionery museum, as well as a wine museum there. We took the train back into town after being waylaid at the station and serenaded by a little old fellow and his perhaps-once-tuneful violin. The next day we trundled across the bridge to the Gellért Baths to soak our cares away in the mineral-rich waters. A great way to spend a Monday if you ask me. At the lockers, there’s a cute little key attendant who locks up for you and then lets you back in when you’re done. (It’s appropriate to tip a few hundred forint.) It was nice – quite clean, not too salty, not super hot. That said, many people I know would be looking for a lot warmer pools than I found there. They also had extra things like facials and massages, and I think maybe I should have gone for one – I’ve been missing massage since class ended!
Magically healed in the fountains of life and youth and so on, we decided to do a little more walking. We climbed up to see some statues on the hill beside the Gellért, including the liberty monument, which looks to me like a lady trying to paraglide with a leaf, and St. Gellért, who, according to legend, was pushed off the hill in a barrel and died. There was also a very cool, cavernous little church, carved and dug into the side of the hill.
That evening, it was time for possibly the biggest helpings of food yet at a nearby restaurant appropriately named Fatál. Yes, it’s Hungarian for wooden plate (on which some of the menu is served), but I prefer to take it literally and without the accent. Morgan and I indulged in roast duck and wiener schnitzel of significant area. (The schnitzel was totally hanging off the edge of its fatál.) With various flavours of beer of course. And not a vegetable in sight, unless you count potatoes. Please don’t tell our moms.
After supper the guys, apparently not completely owned by the hugeness of the food, went to check out a local casino. I went home to pass out. They came back with stories of poker hands and people that tried their darndest to usher them into strip joints. Rumour has it that if you accept the invitation of such an establishment, the bill will be much more than you bargained for…
On the morning of our final day, we checked Gerbeaud off our list. It is a fancy-pants café-confectionery with tasty cakes including Morgan’s Gerbeaud torte and my alma torte. You can tell how respectable it is by the way they bring thimbles of complimentary water to your table without your having to ask. I must say though, that their version of forró csokoládé is entirely trumped by Szentendre.
Back to the Oktogon (octagonal intersection and subway stop below) and Andrássy út we went, to see the House of Terror. The building that now houses a museum was formerly chosen as headquarters for both Nazi and Communist terror organizations, and many people were tortured and interrogated inside it. It’s very well set up to tell the stories of Hungary’s double occupation (and very short-lived rebellion) through pretty much endless amounts of media. There must be several days’ worth of video alone, as well as printed material and some of the technology and other artifacts of the day. There were beautiful statues and tributes but also reconstructed prison cells, some of which I really would not have enjoyed. It can be a profound experience if you allow it, and we left reminded of sobering stories made up of many lives.
We took our last ride on the underground and strolled our last Hungarian streets, ate our last honey-cakes and said our last thank you’s to our generous hosts. We used our last few hundred forint to buy a bottle of water for the plane and we were off home again. There or thereabouts ended a lovely extended weekend away. I would highly recommend Budapest and wouldn’t mind going again myself, though we have the rest of Europe to get through. I hear Croatia is quite lovely.