It was almost midnight on 31st December 2013: I was home alone with a bad back but a bottle of champagne at arm's reach and the sofa turned to the window where the fireworks would appear soon.
Time to think about past and future and to make new year travel plans. The list of places I want to see is mega-long so I let myself being guided by the best offer of the day and that was a flight to Budapest!
The view of the famous Chain Bridge had been on my bucket list for so long, I had to stay at least one night in design hotel Lanchid 19. The hotel lies just across the bridge on Buda side and you can choose rooms with a view of the castle or the bridge. It is built on the remains of a medieval water tower. Part of the lounge floor is in glass and you can still see the ancient stones.
Just a few doors away from the Lanchid 19 is the classy restaurant Zona. I didn't manage to eat there this time but it does look very good. The quickest way to get to Buda Royal castle is the chain tram and that is also just a few minutes walking from the Lanchid.
I fell asleep with the view of one of the greatest parliament buildings in the world and the lights of the boats on the Danube and woke up with that same spectacle in the morning haze. Magical.
The next morning was a perfect sunny Spring day and walking over that beautiful bridge I didn't know where to look first. From every angle the skyline of Buda and Pest is overwhelming. I love cities with a river.
One of the cheapest and best ways to get a first introduction to Budapest is taking tram nr 2. that runs along the river. National Geographic even calls it one of the ten best tram rides with a view. It starts at the parliament building and follows the river with the view of Buda castle and all the bridges at your right. I didn't stay on it until the end because it was such a gorgeous day and the new promenade along the river was very inviting in the sun.
First stop though was indoors, the big Central Market Hall, a food hall filled with fruit and vegetable stalls and salami and sausages hanging in a row next to ropes of dried chili. A feast for a gourmand like me. I couldn't resist the super-sized pastries for breakfast with a one euro cappuccino.
I got off tram 2 to walk along the river and then I saw this great spot: a futuristic building with a vintage food truck, must check that out! The futuristic building wasn't so interesting, a newly built shopping mall that was mostly empty but Roburger the food truck and Jonas the beer cafe in the building were great! I had some very chilled out burgers made in a styled up Robur van and an Elderflower beer from the wide range of beers on offer at Jonàs. The sun was shining and I was on holiday, bliss.
Later that day I went up higher on Buda side, mainly because there was a second hotel I wanted to stay in: Baltazàr. But more about that great place in the following blog post.
Arriving at the St Matthias church was a real 'wow' moment, the tower looks like it had been sewn in multi coloured stitches. Around the church is an old city wall, Fisherman's Bastion, where you can walk on and be blown away by the amazing Pest skyline. There is no greater kodak moment spot than on the towers of this wall. Seeing everybody posing there in front of the camera is a sight on its own. I was there late afternoon and the sun sat just right to reflect upon the ancient stones.
From Fisherman's Bastion it is a short walk to the Royal Castle. Sunsets are always enchanting but on that beautiful spring evening the view of the moon coming up and the sun going down made me just 'Pharrell Wiliams happy' inside.
On the Saturday when I was there it was Hungary's National Day. The museums were closed but there was enough to see on the streets. Big parades with lots of flag waving and this heartwarming spectacle on the underground: four generations of passer-by's singing folklore songs together with a group of fiddlers busking in the metro station. After a few songs there were so many joining the singing it started to look like a choir. I wasn't the only one there with a tear in the eyes. My Budapest trip was filled with magical moments.
While the Buda side is full of history and grand buildings, Pest side has a double identity I felt. One side is the chique and old glamour with the large boulevards and historic coffee houses. The other side is new and hip with food trucks, coffee bars and trendy restaurants. Gozsdu Udvar is the place to go to. It is an area of inner courtyards full of nice bars and coffeeshops like Szomszed.
In the same area you find the best farmers market I have been to in a long time: Szimpla kert market, only on Sunday morning, but the Szimpla bar is open during the week too and has live bands playing there. Think Woodstock, Portobello Road and your local bio-shop all in one. I saw sugarless fruit lollies (the star!), organic honey, angelic ladies selling artisanal cheese and breads and someone selling herbs with names I didn't recognize. Always up to try something new and local I bought one of those strange sounding herbs. It was only when I was at the airport that I thought: herbs on a hippie market, what if... I made it out of the country ok and but when I got home I looked up the name, just in case. Borsikafü is summer savoury (bonenkruid), and is used a lot in Bulgarian and Hungarian cuisine. Phew.