Saturday, April 24, 2010

Budapest in the Spring

Budapest in the spring is mostly cold. The city itself is a mixture of  Art Nouveau buildings, baths, stocking shops, excellent food, fine china and great shows.

We rented a studio apartment for a week (price is about the same as a 4-star hotel) and had a rich program every day: landmark visiting in the mornings and shows in the evenings. Public transportation is good, especially trams and metro. The buses are more run down. Prices, in general, are still lower than Western Europe (inevitable with a conversion rate of HUF 260 = 1 Euro), but much higher than, say, 5 years ago.

All the beautiful buildings were built around 1900, but not all of them are maintained properly. The combination of tarnished buildings and glitzy neon signs make a weird sight. The most famous bath, the Széchenyi, is an architectural masterpiece, but lacks some modern comfort. There are not enough signs inside (if you don't know the place, expect to get lost), no water way from the inside out and the entrance system is overly complicated (you need a special wristwatch, a card and a key to operate it) - no wonder they have workers there to explain how all this works together. The showers are scarce, with no privacy or space for your stuff and there is no comfy place for those important finishing touches before the exit. Haven't seen a kiosk or restaurant inside, either. 

The food is one of the major features in Budapest. You can lunch starting at around HUF 800, indulge yourself in one of the fine cafés or restaurants, or buy food in the market hall. Some must-order dishes are gulyásleves (goulash soup), halászlé (fish soup), paprikás or pörkölt (meat stew with lots of paprika), túrós csusza (pasta baked with cottage cheese and bacon), galuska or gombóc (filled dumplings), gesztenypüré (sweet chestnut puree with whipped cream), and Somlói galuska (sponge cake dumplings with chocolate sauce, rum and whipped cream). Of course, there are many, many others. Also worth trying are Pick salami, kolbász (sausage), hurka (fresh sausage), tepertős pogácsa (round puffed pastry with bacon), birsalma sajt (quince jelly) - for a start. Don't forget to stock up on paprika and pálinka (brandy). Hungarian cuisine includes an endless list of dishes and sweets. On our daily way to the closest tram station, we passed an excellent confectionery, where Peter had cake every time we passed by. I had some too - the scales in my bathroom still remind me the sweet sins.

Budapest has about 100 theaters and concert halls. We watched diverse shows, from grand operetta productions to fringe. There is an endless variety of just about every performing art form.

Shopping experience depends on your budget. Souvenirs abound all over the city, from cheap touristy items to Zsolnay or Herendi porcelain. I bought a small Kósa Klára pottery piece in a gallery in Szentendre.

A week in Budapest is a great battery recharger, there is a lot to see and experience.

Some of the pictures we took can be seen here.

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