Friday 8 August 2014

Budapest (Part 9)

It was our last day in Budapest, and that made us very sad. Though we were anxious to get back to the dog (who was having a lovely vacation of her own, at the home of her original rescuer and three other dogs), and the cat (who was being visited and cosseted daily by our granddaughter), we were so very sad to leave not only this city, but the much slower sense of time, the culture, and the much more  civilized way  of living our daily lives.

Another suggestion from my graduate student (her parents live in Budapest so she was  a font of knowledge about it) was to try one of the thermal baths. Budapest is known as the city of healing waters because there are so many natural steam baths and thermal pools. There are baths in Budapest that date from the 16th century (think of Turkish baths as this period was when Hungary was occupied by the Ottomans) - specifically the Kiraly, Rudas, and Veli Bej baths.  And then are a couple that were built at the beginning of the 20th century - but still within the architectural style of the more ancient baths.

We looked at a map and decided to find one on the Buda side and also one that we could walk to. At the bottom of the Castle hill was the Gellert Baths. It looked like it was within walking distance and all down-hill. Easy (or so we thought). What we hadn't taken into consideration was that most of the downhill was on cobblestone and, once on level ground, we would be walking along the tram-line. Nor had we considered that it was about 32 degrees celsius. We donned our sun screen and hats and started off. It was only about 5-7 kilometres but by the time we got to the baths I was stumbling and reeling from the heat. I also had a nice assortment of instant blisters, also due to the heat.

But the baths were, indeed, healing. My feet felt better instantly and so did every other aching muscle in my body. We stayed in a middle temperature pool, not feeling up to the hotter pools after our walk. The architecture of the building was amazing. Some senior people, obviously regulars, slept in the corners of the pool, their heads barely bobbing above the surface. A lovely, meditative way to spend an afternoon in healing waters.

When we left, we decided we couldn't deal with the hike back, especially as it was up steep hills, so we called a taxi.  As it was his area he asked how we had gotten to the Baths as he didn't remember picking us up. We told him we had walked and he was appalled. "We don't do that here," he stated gesticulating about the heat and distance. What shouted even more loudly was what he didn't say but was undoubtedly thinking: "Tourists!"

That evening, our last evening, we dined at the Cafe Pierrot. The restaurant is built in a 13th-century bakery, with stone ovens still in place. We dined outside in their gardens at the foot of 13th-century walls.

Goodbye Budapest, goodbye Europe!  We WILL be returning, definitely to Prague and to Budapest but we are mulling about other trips as well.  Right now, high on our list - a cycling trip to either Italy or the Cotswolds in England.

                                                        THE END

Budapest (Part 8)

As we walked the streets of the Castle District, each new turn and twist provided us with little surprises. Here there would be a plaque on a wall honoring some mayor, or writer, or composer, or . . . . well, just because.  In little alleys that were little more than a way of getting from point A to point B, there would be little gardens. All the streets were cobblestone and walls were painted with frescoes, or had little niches with a Madonna. The terraced apartments were in building hundreds of years old. Lovely old doors graced apartment entrances, or little shops, or garages. Buda is hilly so some of the streets were fairly steep. Here and there on the side of the hill would be a little shady park where families sat and had their dinner with babies asleep in their prams and dogs laying at their feet. A lovely, charming, wistful place to be.

Budapest (Part 7)

 . . .  and finally stopped to eat lunch outside on the patio of a little restaurant. Young men with floor-length aprons stood and nodded as we found a table.  We ordered goulash soup, which was delicious with big chunks of heavy bread. We also had a glass each of Egri Bikaver, also known as Bull’s Blood, Hungary’s famous red wine. Fantastic wine.

Barry went to where they directed him to the washroom and upon his return he said,
“Take your camera, discreetly, and go into that entrance there. You’ll be amazed!”

So, I was (discreet) and did (go in through a dark doorway) and trod very carefully down a flight of very dark stone stairs. At the bottom, to one side, was the hallway to the washrooms (these were free, thank goodness). But, directly in front of me was a rock cavern which served as a wine cellar. And off to the other side were a few tables set with candles and such in another cave – apparently the proper restaurant part of this place whereas for lunch only the outdoor café and bar was open. Underground rock caverns, who would have guessed.

But not so unusual, I suppose, taking into consideration the thermal waters that run throughout and below Budapest. The caverns were made by those thermal waters during the Middle Ages. The rock cellars were re-discovered in the 1870’s during the reconstruction of a medieval church.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Budapest (Part 6)

The last couple of days of our trip we explored Budapest on our own. We stayed at the Budapest Hilton, high up on a hill in the Castle District on the hilly Buda side of the Danube (we were told there are two kinds of people in Budapest: those that live in Buda, and those that want to live in Buda). The views from our room were stunning, out over the Danube to Margaret Park located on an island in the middle of the river, out over the flat Pest side of the city, and immediately below us was Fisherman’s Bastion.

Fisherman’s Bastion is a fortification that was never used as such. It is of recent build, built from 1895-1902 on top of an ancient fortification that was protected by the guild of fishermen during the Middle Ages, hence its name. It has seven turrets representing the seven Hungarian tribes who founded Hungary in 895.  Though it was almost constantly crowded with tourists, we got to enjoy its quiet majesty early in the morning or late at night.

We decided to walk the small streets and alleys of the Castle District and, at the same time, look for a café that had been recommended by a graduate student of mine. She had told me that Budapest is every bit as much a café culture as Vienna, serving as meeting places for writers, poets, and artists. She specifically wanted us to try the Ruszwurm Café, telling us it was the oldest coffee house in Budapest. This coffee shop has been in operation, by generations of the same family, since 1827. Apparently the cakes are so good Sisi (whom I mentioned earlier, actually Elisabeth, Austrian Empress and Queen of Hungary), used to send footmen to fetch cakes from the Ruszwurm for her breakfast.

We went up and down one street after another expecting, due to its fame, something large, imposing, and impressive. Finally, we saw it (and realized that we had passed it several times!). A little snug, literal hole in the wall. We were hard put to find a place to sit as it is very small and not much room between tables, but were finally able to insert ourselves wedge-like next to an old ceramic furnace (that was not on, thank goodness). We ordered cappacinos and tried to decipher the menu.  There were cryptic descriptions of the cake in English so between the little Hungarian we had picked up and that we were able to order. My student had said we just had to try the Dobos cake. Barry ordered that and I ordered something that was described as being made of curds and tart berries. Basically, it was cheesecake (that floated off the plate) with a layer of tart fruit on top. The combination was heaven. Bar really enjoyed the Dobos, and the cappacinos were thick and strong. Great recommendation, Cathy!

We loved the secret alleys, the cobbled streets, the old frescoed apartment buildings . . .