Beautiful, Funky Budapest
We went to Budapest because of the Viking River Cruise ads on PBS. You know how it is with me: show me a picture of a beautiful place, and I'll want to go there. Those Viking ads were always showing a lovely river with a gorgeous building right on the water, and I wanted to know where it was. Turns out: Budapest.
So we got in to Budapest late in the day, around dusk. We checked into our hotel, opened the drapes, and directly across the river from us, there it was, with the lights just coming on: the Hungarian Parliament Building, the very reason we came to Budapest.
At this point, I'm extolling the pure genius of my husband, who booked this hotel, this room. (And to add to the magic, it was free, you know, because points.)
Little did I know how much more I would love Budapest, beyond the Parliament Building.
First thing the next morning, we were out along the river near the Parliament Building, where we found this poignant memorial to Budapest's Holocaust victims.
Later, we visited the House of Terror museum where hundreds of people were imprisoned and died during the years of Facism and Communism.
In fact, many of the monuments and statues around Budapest speak to the valiant resistance fighters who pressed on for freedom at great personal cost.
With a deep appreciation for the history of Budapest, we enthusiastically enjoyed the present, figuring out the underground and trolley systems pretty quickly.
We fell in love with Matthias Church, where we climbed the tower for a spectacular view over the city--and the intricate roof-tiles of the church. (Hungary is winning the roof game, y'all.)
We wandered the streets and markets, buying paprika in little tins with tiny wooden scoops to bring home. We discovered langos, the best food you never heard of: fried bread, like elephant ears from the State Fair, topped with anything you want. (We picked Nutella and fruit. No regrets.)
We took the trolley up to Gellert Hill at night for the iconic city view.
We ate at the Ruin Pubs.
Austin, Texas claims to be weird, but this is a level of weirdness that Austin can only dream of. We absolutely loved it!
And finally, my friends, we discovered the Széchenyi thermal baths. If you need a reason to stay in Budapest forever, beyond what I've already told you, this is it.
While thermal baths are, in general, a wonderful thing, the Széchenyi baths are also a great cultural experience. This is the largest "medicinal bath" in Europe. Built in 1913 in a neo-classical style, the baths have gorgeous murals inside, and a triumphal presentation all around. You really do feel like you're having the most majestic bathing experience of your life.
In delightful juxtaposition, the process for entering the baths is pure bureaucratic leftovers from the communist era.
You pay in one place, and they give you a piece of paper which you take to another place where they give you a bracelet which allows you through the turnstile. Once inside, you stand in one line for regulation flip-flops, and then wait in line outside a small room, where you enter and show your paper and your bracelet in order to be issued a towel. Then you wind your way into the bowels of the building to find the dressing rooms, and finally you're free to exit to the baths. There you will find chess-boards built into the sides of the baths, where very large men in very small Speedos, tanned to the color of dark chestnut, have clearly been playing ongoing chess matches since Stalin was a baby.
We loved it so much we went back the next day, too.
Budapest is so much more than one beautiful building, but I'll always be grateful to Viking River Cruises for showing me that one building that inspired us to travel to this delightful city.