Day 2: A little Buda, a little Pest

We started the day with what would become our usual breakfast routine (grainy cereal with a side of yogurt for me, a modified bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich for Jim) and were out and about by 9:30.  Today’s plan was to head to the Buda side of Budapest to see what that was all about.

View of the Chain Bridge and Pest from the Buda side

To get there, we walked over the impressive Chain Bridge, took the unexciting funicular up (about 800 Hungarian forints – Ft – each), saw the Turul, a mythical bird statue the Magyars (local people of Hungary) revere, eyeballed the Royal Palace (but didn’t pay to go inside), and commenced with the Rick Steves Buda Walk.  This took us away from the palace toward the Buda castle, past some equestrian statues, up to the Fishermen’s Bastion (a viewpoint area that we were able to go on for free since it was March), past the giant Matthias Church, and ended the walk with some ruin bits that were in the Hilton Hotel, a few more sights that are likely important to Hungarians, and the Vienna Gate, that if we had passed through and walked for 10 days, would have taken us straight to Vienna.  No need to do that, as our time in Budapest wasn’t complete yet.

After consulting our mappy, we decided to walk down the hill to Moscow Square, where it seemed all forms of public transportation in Budapest converged.  We surveyed the madness from up the hill looking for the huge Mammut (Mammoth) shopping mall that was supposed to be there and we wanted to go in, as the day before we’d seen a man in a Mammut coat that looked pretty cool.  We seem to have a penchant for only available in Europe outer coats.

We spotted the Mammut and dove into the fray, crossing tram tracks and streets to reach our destination.  Sure enough, the Mammut mall had the same logo as the guy with the coat.  Sweet!  Assured we’d have another Jack Wolfskin-esque find, we went in.  Boy, this was some mall.  It was multi-storied, with branches shooting out this way and that and all kinds of stores, mostly for clothes.  Sillily, we had assumed that Mammut would have a flagship store inside the Mammut shopping complex that was plastered with the Mammut logo, but it would turn out that we were incorrect in our assumption and that it may just be an odd coincidence that the Mammut shopping mall and the coat of the same name/logo were identical.  This was only realized after going into many, many stores and trying to point to the Mammut logo and then our own coats, which met us with many quizzical, confused looks.

Nonetheless, we found a café inside the mall that overlooked a lot of the action, so we sat down for a coffee.  The waitress didn’t seem all that pleased that we had traveled over 5,000 miles to find ourselves as patrons in her section at the café that day, a sense that was made clear by her glaring daggers at us and only bringing us the coffee and not the water that we had ordered.  Given our amenable nature, we weren’t about to bring up the missing water until… she tried to charge us for it.  Crap, this was going to be a situation.  Jim fearlessly got up to rectify the issue, which was resolved due to the fact the manager stepped in and cleared it up.  We left quickly, but our well-thought plan to never see the café waitress again was thwarted when I ran into her in the bathroom a short time later.  Thankfully we didn’t have a kerfuffle, but she did bring down the temperature of the room with her icy looks.

Free to roam the mall again, I dragged Jim into a L’Occitane to price compare (not a big savings to buying product in the USA) and a few more stores before we left Buda on the Metro 2 line from Moscow Square to head back to Pest (getting off at Deak ter).

St. Istvan’s, Budapest’s largest Catholic church

Once back in Pest, we decided to walk down Andrassy utca, a street that held many sightseeing opportunities.  The walk started us at St. Istvan’s Basilica (Budapest’s largest Catholic church), where we again opted not to go inside but documented the perimeter thoroughly with photos.  While I was snapping away, a woman selling tours accosted Jim and was a dog on a bone to sell something.  Her tenacity was impressive, as she spoke several languages and didn’t take no (or nein, or na, or nyet, or…) very well.

Next up on the walk was the Hungarian State Opera House, where we peeked inside under the pretense we were going to the ticket office.  Back outside, we passed Franz Liszt Square, the busy intersection at Oktogon, and then stopped at 60 Andrassy ut, the address of the former Nazi Arrow Cross-turned-Soviet bad guys headquarters.  It now houses the House of Terror, a museum dedicated to explaining the sorts of horrendous activities that took place in this building, and it ain’t pretty.  After waiting outside until the self-important man with his trusty walkie-talkie gave us the green light to go in and then fighting our way upstream against the shiny, puffy coat brigade of European teenagers, we made our way inside to learn of all sort of horrors.  This included a basement full of prison cells, some of which were used for executions and forms of torture (including a standing cell that I stood in and just about hyperventilated).  The entire basement had an odd smell, like the smell of death.  Let’s just say we are very fortunate not to live during a time under such an oppressive regime.

After emerging from the House of Terror we continued our walk but the next stop was several blocks away to Heroes Square.  This wouldn’t have been such an issue except for the fact that it had grown rather cold and windy outside and we were getting chilled to the bone.  No matter, we pressed on, comforted by the fact it would soon be time to stop in a warm café for a coffee break.

The official function at Heroes’ Square

Once we reached Heroes Square we discovered we couldn’t actually walk onto it, as the place was surrounded by cigarette-smoking Hungarian policemen and there were a bunch of important looking Hungarian officials engaged in some sort of ceremony on the square.  We observed the goings-on for a few moments before walking around it, over the bridge, and into City Park.  This is where we saw the Vajdahunyad Castle (a replica of the famous one in Transylvania), some buildings that house Budapest’s best baths, a zoo, and a big pond that had lots of ducks.

Around the back side of the pond we spotted a restaurant and ducked in for a coffee break.  We were informed at the door that they would be closing 25 minutes later (at 16:00), but it was warm inside and we decided to stick around and just make it a short break.  Jim had a Diet Coke, I had a hot chocolate, and we both warmed up a bit.

Back outside we hopped on the Metro 2 line back to Deak ter, then transferred to the M3 line to Kalvin ter.

A quick note about some of the metro stations:  the subway must be quite a ways underground, because many of the stops we used had the longest, steepest escalators in the world.  It was a bit like Groundhog’s Day every time we got on one, with Jim questioning aloud how in the world they change the advertisements in frames along the way up/down the escalator and me looking at my shoes so as not to get nauseous.

We got back to our room about 17:00 and decided to stay in its warm glory to relax for a spell.  Around 18:30 we suited up again to find a suitable dinner spot, this time we stayed in our neighborhood and strolled down Raday utca, Budapest’s “restaurant row.”  It was here that we found the Soul Café, which had excellent food for (yet another) VFM.  For about $17 (which became our usual dinner tab in Budapest), we ate like kings and drank like sailors.  I had the beef stew with deep fried bread balls (which was good but not quite as good as Jim’s beef stew from the night before), and Jim had a roasted goose leg and sauerkraut that he says is one of the best meals of his life.

After the sumptuous meal we walked the few blocks back to our hotel and fell into our beloved squeaky beds for a good long sleep.

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