Of all the legs of our trip, this is the one we have had planned furthest in advance. Five full days in beautiful Budapest, Hungary. Because our friends and travel partners, Gina and Tom, were meeting us here, we planned an arrival date and hotel long before anything else. We have been looking forward to this for a long time and so far it is exceeding all our expectations.
We knew this city would be a successful stop when we found ourselves with a list a mile long of things to see and do. From castles to communist history, there is something here to please everyone. In order to better know the city and its layout, we began the day with a hop-on/hop-off bus tour. These have proven to be a great way to get an overview when first visiting a city, and this one did not disappoint. It includes three different rides, one on a river boat tour, and is good for two days. Today we cruised through the Pest section of town, admiring the architecture reminiscent of Paris. Wide boulevards lined with trees and buildings dating back to the 1880’s make Budapest immediately more visually stunning than any city we’ve been to in a while. While we haven’t toured any of these places yet, we drove past the Parliament Building, the Royal Palace, the Opera House, Hero’s Square, and Budapest’s famed baths. We crossed the Danube over to Buda, the side of the city situated among beautiful rolling hills. Here we stopped at the Citadel for a drink and amazing views. Even on a cloudy day, the sweeping landscape down the river and over the city was spectacular. Tourists were clamoring to take pictures, and Tom even proposed that this may be the best city view he has ever seen. It really is pretty impressive. The other Eastern European cities we’ve visited are not even in the same league with Budapest. A comparison isn’t even fair.
Anticipating the impending rain, we jumped off the bus, headed for lunch, and did what we do best: enjoyed time with some of our closest friends. It is amazing how different it is to spend time as a group of four people for the entire day after being so long with just the two of us. We feel so lucky that Gina and Tom were willing to leave their son at home (which wasn’t the original plan) and come join us on our trip. They both have such a wonderful energy and spirit that being with them makes us feel like we are on vacation. A vacation from our travels. I know that sounds a bit strange, but its true. To top it off, due to Tom’s bazillion hotel points and endless generosity, we are staying at Le Meridien, one of the nicest hotels in Budapest and certainly some of the best accommodations we will see on this trip.
As the night grew, so did the rain with the addition of lightning. Beautiful weather is forecast for the rest of our time here, so we spent the evening catching up with our friends and planning the next few days in order to maximize our time here. We all agree it is a pretty good problem when there is so much we wish to do and not enough time. We’d much rather it be that way than the other way around! A late lunch meant we weren’t terribly hungry, so we paid a visit to the local casino. We all found it a bit strange that the table minimum is 500 HUF. It sounds like so much, and losing 500 or 1000 HUF feels so painful, but in reality it is only $2.25 and $4.50 respectively. That’s actually pretty cheap blackjack by most casino standards, which is why we were surprised when the drink Phil ordered (a White Russian) cost him 3100 HUF. I’ll let you do the math yourself. It’s ridiculous! In fact, I think that drink brought bad mojo to the table because my luck immediately turned bad afterward. Always gluttons for punishment, we played for a bit longer. After chatting up some very friendly dealers and being creeped out by one overly friendly Danish guy, our hunger got the best of us and we called it quits to head to dinner.
Because we are planning a delicious Hungarian dinner for Thursday night, we settled for a cute Italian restaurant with a beautiful view of the Basilica of St. Stephen. We’ve been doing our best to eat the local cuisine in each city recently, so it felt good to dine at an Italian joint. They served up some tasty cocktails and homemade pasta that made us all happily full. Tomorrow we plan to take a tour of Parliament and then visit the Memento Sculpture Park–the resting place of communist era statues. In addition, we hope to make a visit to the thermal baths which we believe will be perfect after a long day of sightseeing. As we reflect on our day and the rest of our time yet to come in Budapest, Phil and I keep saying to one another, “I’m so glad we’re here with Gina and Tom.” We love having these experiences, and they are made so much sweeter when shared with friends.