Day 1: Welcome to Budapest

We left Chicago on SwissAir bound for Zurich, everything went according to schedule.  Gotta love the Swiss.  The flight was a non-event and we each got to sit in our own row because the flight wasn’t full.  We landed in Zurich on time, went through passport control, and then transferred to our flight to Budapest on Helvetic Airlines.  This flight was on a Fokker 100 plane, and we had to take a bus from the terminal to the tarmac, where the plane was waiting.  Easy peasy!

We landed in Budapest on time into Terminal 2A, got some cash out of the ATM, and here is where we had our first situation.  We needed to get to Terminal 1 to catch the bus to the metro stop to get to our hotel, but there was some confusion as to how to get to Terminal 1.  I asked the “Information Lady” about how to get to Terminal 1, and she said it was 6 km away.  I said, “Um, then should we walk?” and she replied in an unamused voice that the bus was out these doors (with a vague wave in that direction).  So we dutifully went outside, but all that was there was what looked like a city bus (#200), some taxis, and a few airport shuttles.  Hmm.  Jim went back inside to suss the situation out further, and came out with the knowledge that we needed to board the city bus #200, of which about 2 had already departed by this point.

So off to the ticket machine, but it turns out the ticket machine only accepts coins, of which we had none.  Jim trotted back inside the terminal and got some change from the change lady, but when he returned we discovered we still didn’t have the correct denomination of bills/coins.  Ok, one more time back into the terminal, but this time the change lady refused to change any more of our money.  Apparently we had reached our daily quota.  She DID, however, indicate that we could just purchase bus tickets from the post office upstairs (we’ll file this under “Good to Know for Next Time”), so we went back upstairs and were finally able to procure tickets.  Score one for us!

Back outside, we boarded another #200 bus that had arrived and discovered we couldn’t validate our tickets in the machine, but by this point we decided not to worry about it.  There is also the distinct possibility that we didn’t need tickets in the first place, but we decided to dismiss this thought, secure in the knowledge that we were in legal possession of bus tickets.  No scofflawing here.  The bus took us directly to the Kobanya-Kispest M3 Metro station, at which we transferred to the metro and took it directly to the Kalvin Ter stop, the closest stop to our hotel.

Upon arrival to our hotel, the Kalvin-Haz (or, as we affectionately called it, the Calvin Hobbs), the helpful check-in girl told us we had an option of 2 rooms.  We selected #207 and proceeded to make ourselves at home.  All was going really well (large room, lots of sunlight, shutters to block out said sunlight, nice bathroom, etc.) until we sat on the bed.  SQUEAK.  Every time we shifted, budged, or breathed, the bed squeaked, and squeaked loudly.  Well, what can you expect with a hotel rate of €44/night?

A small portion of Great Market Hall

Bed issues aside, it was time to hit Budapest in the HowieRoll style.  Our first order of business was to toddle on down to the Great Market Hall, given it was about a block away from our hotel.  Wow!  This place was HUGE, filled with vendors of vegetables, fruits, meats (some that I didn’t want to know about), flowers, trinkets, food stands, and souvenirs.  If they didn’t have it, you don’t need it.

After gaping at the sheer size of the Great Market Hall a while, it was time to leave to see more of our surroundings.  We walked down Vaci Utca, which is a main pedestrian zone filled with touristy restaurants and high-priced souvenir stores.  But, as it was convenient, we strolled it like the tourists we were, making our way over to see the Danube River, walked along the riverfront toward the Chain Bridge, and then cut over a little inland to Vorosmarty ter, a little square with an important-looking statue wrapped in plastic in the middle.  It was officially time for our first of many coffee breaks, and also where we started to notice just how stylish and cosmopolitan the women of Budapest appeared to be.

The Buda side of Budapest

Once our coffee break was complete, we decided we would head back to the hotel to freshen up and work on a strategy for dinner that didn’t involve our infamous Dinner Stroll.  No need to have any kind of domestic situation on our first night in Budapest.  On our way back to the hotel, Jim announced that he had a shortcut in mind (which was awfully impressive, given we’d only been on the ground for roughly 3 hours), so I followed along with his “shortcut” that eventually got us hopelessly lost.

Normally some slightly tense moments may have ensued, but it was with a stroke of luck that Jim’s “shortcut” took us right past the Central Café, a restaurant that looked inviting.  Perfect!  We popped in for dinner and were seated immediately.  I selected a mushroom chicken dish that had a side of garlic pasta and a hair that wasn’t mine, Jim had the most delicious beef stew with a side of couscous that had bits of sausage.  We each had a .5L beer to wash it down, and it was all delicious, sans the hair.

After dinner we strolled back to the room, read a little bit, and fell asleep at a reasonable hour to the sounds of the beds squeaking with each breath.

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