Departure day (Thursday, Sept 13)

So sad to leave! Silvia (Airbnb owner) showed up promptly at 5:28am to check us out, and we were headed out to catch the airport bus a few minutes later. The bus ride was a piece of cake, we had purchased tickets the night before and the stop was right across the street from our Airbnb. The adventure started once we got to the airport.

Check-in for the flight had not opened yet, and we stood around in crowds until it opened, 2 hours before the flight. Similar to the way there, had a layover in Istanbul.  Getting through security was easy and fast, and we had plenty of time to get some breakfast and some last minute souvenirs. The Budapest to Istanbul flight was short and uneventful, and I actually don’t remember anything about it.  Istanbul to Chicago turned out to be a bit more interesting.  Luckily, we decided to head to the gate early, where we then proceeded through 3 checkpoints where our boarding passes and/or passports were checked, and one where are bags were checked and we were patted down. Phew! Reminded me a little of Panama, where we had to move away from the gate so security could then screen us again (and take our just purchased sealed beverage bottles). Finally done with all the security, sort of.  There was one woman trying to bring either three bags of coffee or three bags of sugar (Egg thinks coffee, I thought it was sugar).  She and her traveling companion didn’t seem to understand that airport security was not going to let them bring it on board.  Honestly, I don’t exactly understand why.  Either way, the guy kept saying, it’s ok, it’s mine, and the security kept telling him, it doesn’t matter who it belongs to, you can’t bring it on board.

Egg says that Ryan and I are cursed when it comes to travel. At least it appears that way for this trip. There were operational problems with our plane. The flight was delayed 20 minutes, then another 30 minutes, then two hours. At that point, the airlines gave us food and drinks, which is never a good sign! After that, they changed our gate. Luckily, we all stuck around, and just got shuffled up to the new gate. Anyone who had wandered off had to go through the at-gate security process again! Being delayed did allow us to FaceTime with Sam before he left for school. Pretty sure he was more interested in the chocolate milk mom was giving him for breakfast than actually talking to us.

We boarded the plane and got to our seat, where there was a small boy, maybe about 5 years old, standing with a large bag. He didn’t speak English and we weren’t quite sure what to do. Eventually, his grandmother came from further back in the plane to fetch him. Our row, bulkhead, consisted of Egg and Kate on one side, Ryan and me on the other, and a family with two kids, 3 years and 1.5 years, in between us. The row behind us had another baby, and they were all playing musical chairs with the bassinet in the bulkhead.   I cannot imagine traveling with little kids on that long of a flight, but I guess you do what you have to.

Making the most (Wednesday, Sept 12)

Wednesday was our last day in Budapest, and we packed it with sites and fun. First stop was the Dohany Street Synagogue, where we took a tour, learned the history of the synagogue, visited the gardens with the Tree of Life Memorial, and listened to a Klezmer band. The synagogue is the largest in Europe. The architects did not know what a synagogue should look like, so they built it like a cathedral, with an organ and the small raised pulpits on the sides. The synagogue was bombed during WWII, and Estee Lauder and Tony Curtis provided a large percentage of the funding to restore and renovate it in the 1990s. We really enjoyed listening and clapping to the Klezmer band that played in an auditorium on the grounds.

DSC09799_blog     DSC09801_blog  DSC09804_blog DSC09805_blog

Modeling my new spidey sunglasses

Modeling my new spidey sunglasses

Next up was the parliament tour, that Egg scheduled in advance because it is so popular! The House of Parliament, as can be seen in some of the previous photos posted, looks more like an ornate castle than a government building. The building was gorgeous and filled with gold decorations.

DSC09812_blog DSC09815_blog      DSC09834_blog

Parliament chamber

Parliament chamber

Cigar holders in parliament hallway

Cigar holders in parliament hallway

Original master clockwork of parliament building

Original master clockwork of parliament building

After the tours, we grabbed some delicious lunch and went to checkout the Szechenyi Baths for some relaxing before the day of travel ahead.

Lunch starters

Lunch starters

The baths were huge, with 18 hot pools (indoors and outdoors), saunas, cabanas, massage rooms, and who knows what else. It was actually a surprise that we all found one another, after going in different entrances and splitting to go to locker rooms. We settled into a large outdoor pool, alternating between floating in the water and cooling off on the chaise lounges, and doing lots of people watching. Ryan was introduced to the European style of women’s bathing suit, not quite a thong, but also not quite covering all of the wearer’s tush either. What a great way to finish up our vacation! (I mean the baths, not the bathing suit bottoms) :-).

Heroes Square

Heroes Square

IMG_1159_blog

Castle in City Park, across from Heroes Square

Castle in City Park, across from Heroes Square

Once of the many entrances into the baths

Once of the many entrances into the baths

IMG_1164_blog IMG_1170_blog IMG_1174_blog

We decided I should probably not try to bring this sign home

We decided I should probably not try to bring this sign home

The evening was spent snacking on leftover sausage, cheese, and bread, packing, and taking a walk out for rose gelato.

IMG_5554_blog      IMG_5550_blog   IMG_5548_blog      IMG_5545_blog

The currency in Hungary is called the Forint, but being Americans, we kept referring to it as Fortnights.

Good to know I can bring my tree saplings and monocycle on the metro

Good to know I can bring my tree saplings and monocycle on the metro

Americans don’t know how to swear (Tuesday, Sept 11)

Egg and Kate made a game day call on Tuesday, and decided to take a monster scooter tour around the Pest side of the city. First bikes, now scooters! I don’t even recognize my brother on this trip. They gave rave reviews and said it was a great time and their tour guide was awesome.
PANO_20180911_112928_blog

Ryan and I decided to sleep in and then head over to the Buda side of the city for some suburban hiking to a few sites. We visited the Cave Church seen previously from the boat tour, and then hiked up to the Citadel with the Lady Liberty statue. The Citadel is situated on a big hill in the middle of a park in the city, requiring us to walk up many many steps. Of course, we also could have taken transportation up to the top.

Monument to St. Stephen outside the Cave Church

Monument to St. Stephen outside the Cave Church

After the Citadel, we walked all the way down to the Hospital in The Rock. It was a lovely walk through a hilly suburban area, past parks and schools, with amazing views of the Pest side of the city.

Nice views on the walk

Nice views on the walk

Street signs are typically universal.  Any idea what this means?  Warning, magnifying glass ahead?

Street signs are typically universal. Any idea what this means? Warning, magnifying glass ahead?

The Hospital in the Rock was very interesting. It was first used as a hospital during WWII and then used as a nuclear bunker. The first half of the tour included the hospital portion, showing all the different patient rooms, operating rooms, surgical instruments used during WWII. The second half included a special exhibition about nuclear weapons, the horrible destruction they cause, and the nuclear threat still very present today. It included a description of the largest nuclear bombs held by countries today, 100s of times stronger than thos dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a map showing the fall-out area if bombs were dropped on major cities around the world. Fascinating and frightening.

DSC09788_blog

After that very uplifting tour, Ryan and I were getting hangry, and decided to walk to the Feny Street Market for some food. The market was definitely a local market, probably the least touristy thing we did in Budapest. It consisted mostly of produce stands and meat counters, though we did find one counter serving food. We ordered a traditional langos, with sour cream, cheese, and garlic. After a few bites, we had both had enough. It just wasn’t an enjoyable feeling to have that much fat in our mouths at one time. We finished our afternoon with a walk through the mall attached to the market, picking up a small Politie car with a siren and lights for Sam.

Traditional langos

Traditional langos

The evening plan was to catch an organ concert at St. Stephens, but that was quickly scrapped. We got to the cathedral, found out tickets were $25ish per person, they only took cash, Kate went to get some out of the ATM, her Discover card was denied, and we all decided to bail.

Everyone trying to sort out the credit card issue

Everyone trying to sort out the credit card issue

Kate and Egg went back to the Airbnb to sort out the card issues. It was a hassle, but luckily Kate got it all resolved via Twitter of all things. Ryan and I went to Pontoon, a bar on the river, to grab a bite and meet up with Attila. We had some pizza, drinks, and tried Palinka (yuck). There was some live music at the bar, so it was more crowded and noisy than usual, and Attila suggested we move to a place next door after finishing a round of drinks. The second bar was awesome! We sat on Adirondack chairs on the beach overlooking the river, just chilling and chatting.

View from the bar

View from the bar

Attila educated us on Hungarians’ favorite parts of U.S. pop culture.
– Hungarians love the show Dallas, and play a drinking game to it.
– They also love Colombo and have a statue of Colombo and his dog in a city park.
– American Pie, specifically the Stiffler character, was a big hit in Hungary, and there are many bars called Stiffler.
– Hungarians swear much more creatively than Americans, saying things such as “I cut off your head and pee in your neck”.

We stayed out much longer than expected but had a very fun evening!

Catching up with a friend (Monday, Sept 10)

Even though Egg brought breakfast back to the Airbnb for all of us, we were still running late and missed the Pest walking tour. Instead, we wandered over to St. Stephen’s, where we walked around the cathedral and climbed (or road the elevator) up to the top for some good views of the city. The cathedral was built in the mid 1800’s and dedicated to, you guessed it, St. Stephen, the first King of Hungary. Maybe all domed buildings are like this and I just never knew, but I found it very interesting that the dome visible inside the cathedral was not actually the dome on the top.
DSC09660_blog    DSC09671_blogDSC09666_blog    DSC09668_blog

My, what a big organ

My, what a big organ

Stairs up to the top of St. Stephen's

Stairs up to the top of St. Stephen’s

Dome inside a dome

Dome inside a dome

Egg at the top of St. Stephen's

Egg at the top of St. Stephen’s

After St. Stephen’s (or maybe before, I don’t remember) we walked by the Dohany Street Synagogue. It was Rosh Hashanah, so no tours were occurring, but we could have entered to attend services. We were all surprised that they would let us in without having obtained tickets beforehand. Egg, Kate, and I considered returning on Tuesday to attend services, but decided against it, in favor of returning Wednesday for a tour instead.

Lunch was planned for the Grand Central Market, where we were also going to meet one of my CSC team members Attila. The bottom floor of the market was full of fresh foods one could buy, while the top floor was all food stands. Egg and Kate went up to scout it out, while Ryan and I met up with Attila. It was absolutely nuts upstairs! Egg and Kate were in line for langos, which Attila told us was really a snack, not a meal, since there was no meat in it :-). Attila also informed us that the food was all overpriced and only tourists go there to eat, though the produce and meat on the bottom floor looked reasonably priced. With that vote of confidence, we all decided to exit the market and find somewhere better to go.

Walking down the street we happened upon some restaurant that looked good, so we hopped inside. It was very helpful having Attila to help us decipher the menu and pick some good dishes. All around, everything was delicious! Egg and I shared some goose liver with tomatoes and potatoes, Kate got a pork knuckle, Ryan some beef stew, and Attila chicken with small dumpling like pastas. Attila and I caught up, and he suggested some good places for us to check out in Budapest. We also learned from Attila that Budapest has become the party city of Europe, with tons of bars and clubs, and a hot destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties. We planned to meet up again the following evening.

Attila and Nicole

Attila and Nicole

Bathroom sign at lunch

Bathroom sign

Delicious choice for lunch!

Delicious choice for lunch!

The afternoon consisted of a boat tour along the Danube and time spent on Margaret Island, a small island in the middle of the river. Once we found the boat, the tour was nice and relaxing. Apparently gates are different than piers, and our boat was departing from pier 7, not gate 7, so we spent 10 minutes walking in the wrong direction. The boat was almost empty, so we had good seats and good views of both sides of the river. The audio provided descriptions of the buildings and sites we were passing. We enjoyed Vienna, but Budapest is definitely the more scenic of the two cities.

Boat tour! Parliament in the background

Boat tour! Parliament in the background

Shopping center called the whale, due to the design

Shopping center called the whale, due to the design

Cave church

Cave church

Buda Castle

Buda Castle

Parliament

Parliament

Once at Margaret Island, we rented bikes and rode around the island for an hour. As I learned, this was a big step out of Egg’s comfort zone, because he doesn’t bike. I had no idea. But as he said, vacation is for getting out of his comfort zone. Either way, it was just like riding a bike, and he did great. The island is mostly park land, and we passed a ton of playgrounds that Sam would have loved. We also road through a small zoo, ruins of an old monastery, a musical well, and a Japanese Garden. Things of note about Margaret’s Island: 1) It houses a bunch of sports venues, including a huge swimming complex that has hosted international events and 2) There is a rubber coated running track around the entire perimeter of the island, which, from our observations, gets good use. We enjoyed some post ride beer and snacks and hopped back on the boat for the return trip.

Go Egg go!

Go Egg go!

Obligatory photos with the Budapest sign on Margaret Island.
DSC09737_blog DSC09732_blog

Eagle at the zoo

Eagle at the zoo

Gardens

Gardens

Egg picked a great place for dinner, the Karavan Food Truck Court. It was basically a small alley with about 10 food trucks. After a walk around, we decided on langos, purchasing beef and pork langos burgers (must have meat to be a meal) and two veggie langos pizzas. The food was all pretty good. The langos (sort of like fried dough) were much lighter than we expected, though it was still too much for us to eat. The pork burger was delicious, and the pizzas with goat or sheep’s cheese and arugula or roasted red peppers were also very good.  Ryan was also able to pick up another chimney cake for dessert.

IMG_1107_blogDSC09745_blog

IMG_20180910_204517_blog   IMG_1101_blog

Right next to Karavan was Szimpla Ruin Pub, that Attila recommended we try. Ruin pubs are a hot thing in Budapest, basically bars setup in run down buildings, with a lot of junk tables, chairs, and who knows what else. The Szimpla pub was almost like a pub court, with what appeared to be different bars setup throughout the building, one with a full bar, another with craft beers, a stage with music (actually the same group we had seen at the Budapest Wine Festival on Sunday night), and I think some place that had food, cause I saw people eating pizza. There was a garden in the middle of the second floor. Egg and Kate went in for a beer, Ryan and I just took turns walking through, since we had water bottles that were not allowed in. I wish we could have returned in the daylight to get a better view of the inside.

Map of Szimpla

Map of Szimpla

DSC09749_blog IMG_1106_blog

Garden inside the pub

Garden inside the pub

Ryan and I wandered by the Dohany Street Synagogue on the way home and saw the memorial tree of life.
IMG_1109_blog

Vouchers (Sunday, Sept 9)

Sunday morning, we packed up and headed out to catch the train to Budapest.

Tram in Vienna.  Great public transportation in both cities.  Another 'train' photo for Sam

Tram in Vienna. Great public transportation in both cities. Another ‘train’ photo for Sam

After wandering around the train station for a little while, getting some breakfast and coffee, we headed towards the track for our train. Good think we had left ourselves plenty of time, because it turned out we didn’t actually have train tickets, just vouchers for train tickets. Off to the automatic ticket machines and information desk. After trying to get the tickets from the machine multiple times, as it appeared we should be able to do, Egg realized that the voucher number was not the same as the order number, and was able to follow the link in the e-mail confirmation to obtain the voucher number, at which point the machine spit out our train tickets. The train wasn’t too crowded initially, and we were all able to stow our luggage overhead and get a good seat. The train ride was nice and went by rather quickly.

IMG_20180909_084110_blog

Lots of wind farms outside Vienna.  Ryan and I saw some on our hike also

Lots of wind farms outside Vienna. Ryan and I saw some on our hike also

Our train. Another picture for Sam.  Choo choo

Our train. Another picture for Sam. Choo choo

Once arriving in Budapest, we headed to the information desk in the train station to trade in our vouchers for the Budapest Cards. The e-mail vouchers indicated that the Budapest Cards could be picked up in the train station. Unfortunately, we had unintentionally purchased through a third party vendor, not directly through the Budapeast Card. The woman at the information desk was none to helpful either. It felt like talking with Turkish Airlines again. “Your vouchers are not in my system, I cannot help you. – Well, who can help us? – You need to go to the information desk in the center of Budapest. – Can you give us their number? – No, I don’t have their number. – Do you run off the same computer system as they do? – Yes. – In that case, why would they accept our vouchers. – I can’t help you, I don’t have your vouchers in my system”. After about 15 minutes of this, we decided to buy metro tickets and head to the office in central Budapest. The guy at the central office was very helpful, had studied abroad in Canada during high school, and took care of our Budapest Cards with no issue.

Off to the Airbnb. The original time to check-in to our Airbnb was 2:30pm. However, even with the Budapest Card voucher situtation, we were ready around 1:45pm and called our hosts Silvia and Gabor to see if we could check-in earlier, or at least drop our luggage off. The Airbnb was right around the corner from the information desk. Initially reluctant because Silvia was still cleaning the apartment, Gabor said we could come by now. Silvia met us and asked us, in her limited English, to all sit down at the table to wait for Gabor while she finished cleaning. Little did we know it would be an almost hour long check-in process. First, we had reserved the apartment (which sleeps 7) for only 2 people, and needed to pay extra money for all 4 of us. Egg and I knew when we booked it that the price was different with 4 people, but it always drives me crazy when the same space is more expensive for more people. I can see a little bit more money, required for the extra cleaning, laundry, etc, but it was almost 1.5x the original price for 2 people. Either way, it was still a good deal and in a good location, so we paid the extra amount in Euros. Gabor then talked at us for another 45 minutes. He gave us a tour of the apartment, showing us how to work the dishwasher, but not the washing machine, which would have been useful. He talked about the surrounding area and city sites. He explained how to work the air conditioner and that it would be 5 Euros a day if we used it. He tried to show us how to work the TV, but had problems, and we weren’t going to use it anyway. He told us that they have a shuttle service and can drive us to the airport if desired (we passed). I can’t even remember what else he told us, I think we just all tuned him out. Finally, he was done! We pulled whatever we needed from our bags and headed out to Buda Castle for the wine festival!

Through the rest of the trip, we realized that Gabor and Silvia must run Airbnbs as their primary business, and they also owned the apartment next door. It also appears that Silvia may be a doctor, as the tag on the door reads ‘Dr. Silvia S’. Maybe she cleans Airbnbs in her retirement?

Kate and Egg detoured to the Matthias Church, while Ryan and I stopped for some food cause I was getting pretty cranky.

IMG_20180909_160742_blog    IMG_20180909_160621_blog

Ryan and I were rather disturbed when the guy serving our food first sneezed and coughed into his hands and wiped his nose before handing us our plates. Yuck! Ryan was sure he getting a cold for a day and a half after that. Prior to heading onto the Buda Castle grounds, we detoured to the Labyrinth, one of the sets of caves under the Buda Hills. The caves were pretty cool, and I wish there had been more information on the history of them. Instead, there were wax opera figures setup with music piped in. Very kitchy, slightly ridiculous, definitely not something I would recommend to Budapest visitors. Back up to the castle grounds. We double checked this time, the confirmations we had were actually tickets for the Buda Wine Festival, not just vouchers that needed to be handed in somewhere else for tickets.

IMG_0993_blog

The Buda Wine Festival was a ton of fun! There were winery and food stands setup all over the castle grounds, plus small stages with music. We were able to get full or half pours for very reasonable prices and all enjoyed a lot of wine and good food. I stuck with the sweet dessert wines mostly, my favorite. Ryan was introduced to chimney cake, which he then proceeded to seek out for the rest of our time in Budapest. The Buda Wine Festival was a great place to celebrate the new year and Kate and Egg’s anniversary.

IMG_20180909_175200_blog    IMG_20180909_175137_blog

IMG_5532_blog

Chimney cakes

Chimney cakes

Parliament building from Buda Castle

Parliament building from Buda Castle

'Artsy' parliament building from Buda Castle.  Not sure how we did this.

‘Artsy’ parliament building from Buda Castle. Not sure how we did this.

Chain Bridge from Buda Castle

Chain Bridge from Buda Castle

On the walk home

On the walk home

Ryan's fascination with spiders

Ryan’s fascination with spiders

A good reminder on vacation

A good reminder on vacation

Like the London Eye (actually called 'Budapest Eye') but about 1/4 of the size

Like the London Eye (actually called ‘Budapest Eye’) but about 1/4 of the size

Shanah Tovah! Happy Anniversary to Kate and Egg! A great place to celebrate both!