By | May 31, 2006

Treat the taxi drivers at the Budapest train station like a bad mariachi band in a Mexican restaurant. Avoid eye contact at all times and pretend you can’t hear them. All the guide books warn you about these “hyenas” (the guidebook’s term, not mine). One was particularly aggressive towards us. He came up to me three times, insisting that we should get a ride with him. He even reached for our bags to take them out to his car. All of this despite the fact that we repeatedly told him the Metro would take us right to our hotel and that we weren’t going with him. After we escaped the train station, our experience in Hungary was much, much better.

Budapest is a combination of the cities Buda and Pest on opposite sides of the Danube. Buda is mostly residential, though some of the main tourist sites are on Castle Hill. Pest has the more interesting downtown area. We stayed at Kalvin Haz near Kalvin tér (square).

Kalvin Haz was an excellent hotel and I couldn’t recommend it more highly for a stay in Budapest. The room rate was very reasonable and the location was nearly perfect. It was only two stops on the Metro from Deák tér, where you can transfer to the other lines. Our room was large, clean, and had a balcony overlooking a tree-filled courtyard. Breakfast was included and everyone who worked there was extremely nice and very helpful. The breakfast room had a computer with free Internet access.

Our first in-situ Hungarian meal was at the Magyar Restaurant, which was very good, though the service was as indifferent as restaurant service in Hungary is generally described to be. Not bad, just indifferent.

Our first stop was St. Stephen’s Basilica. This is a gorgeous cathedral with great views of the city from the top. Then we walked across the Chain Bridge and took the funicular to the top of Castle Hill.


Not quite realizing what we were about to see, we wandered into Matthias church. Although a lot of restoration work was being conducted on the outside, the inside was fully accessible. Nearly every wall and pillar was covered with paintings. There was also a very nice museum inside.

Long ago, hot springs allegedly carved out underground passageways inside the hill. These passageways were used over the years for storage, hiding spots, etc. You can tour these labryinths, which have now been turned into effectively a large art project. I don´t want to provide too much of a spoiler, though, so you should just go and enjoy the experience as it unfolds through the various labryinths. You should definitely walk the Labyrinth of Courage.

Before dragging ourselves off to dinner, we stopped at the National Gallery to browse through the works of Hungarian and other European masters.

We dined at the hip Menza restaurant with its groovy Communist inspired interior. Actually, the interior appeared to me as much just 70’s style design as Communist. Lots of orange and brown, fake wood veneer, Formica counter tops, and op art wall patterns.

Finally, we stopped by Fat Mo’s to watch the England-Hungary friendly. Despite the big screen, only 3 or 4 people were watching the game. Hungary’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals obviously greatly dampened their interest in the sport.

There was virtually no evidence in Budapest that the World Cup would be happening in just a week. The atmosphere in Bratislava was essentially the same, as Slovakia also failed to qualify.

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