September 23, 2007 at 5:47 pm | Posted in Hungary | Leave a comment

Budapest August 22-26

We left Paris after three days and flew to our next destination, Budapest, Hungary. We headed to the airport for our second of twenty planned flights. This flight was with Malev, a Hungarian company and one of the airlines within the Oneworld alliance that we were flying with. A two hour flight got us in right after lunch. Paris and Budapest were the only places we had booked lodging in in advance online before leaving Marblehead so our taxi whisked us straight to the Radio Inn (strange name). We picked the Radio Inn because it was able to accommodate 4 people at a reasonable price. Still, small name lodging usually doesn’t have a lot written about it online so it is always a surprise, of sorts, to see what we end up with. After driving past drab streets, billboards and communist-era rectangular bland buildings, we had turned onto a beautiful tree-lined boulevard which was an oasis in the middle of the city.

Our Hungarian apartment was clean, sparse but quite functional and roomy – a normal-sized 2 bedroom apartment that you would live in. It was not someplace we would book for a vacation but this was a gentle reminder that we were not on vacation and that cleanliness and function were priorities, not decor nor amenities. We soon discovered the best amenity was that it included a wash basin and a drying rack! We could do all of our laundry in two loads rather than 3 garments at a time in a bathroom sink. What luxury! Laura was happy.

One of Budapest’s main attractions is its lovely waterfront. We headed out to navigate the subway system to go the five stops to the river. Each subway station in Budapest has two people on duty that just stand there and make sure you are stamping your ticket and to offer assistance. After some serious sign language, we finally understood that for the subways in Budapest, you purchase your ticket and then time-stamp it in a machine. You can ride with that ticket for 30 minutes. They don’t check the times on your ticket when you get on the subway but there is a hefty fine if you get caught. The most remarkable thing about the subways was that each station was gleaming. Peter felt like they were straight out of Disneyworld. The box office was made of lovely pine and there were other pine cupboards and racks around the small stations. The walls were all tile with elaboarate tiles for station names and the top of each support column had ornate scrolling. You could eat off of the floor.

The stop we got off had a playground right there and the boys made a beeline for it. Not as elaborate as Paris playgrounds but they found it exciting none-the-less. We made our way to the waterfront and learned some lessons along the way like not to buy your deoderant in a pharmacy because you will pay $12.00 for it – you must buy it in a supermarket for $1.50. A liter of water at the waterfront was $3.00 yet it was .75 at the market near our hotel. Always shop at the market.

At the waterfront, there were stationary restaurant boats that afforded a great view of the famous Budapest scenery – palace on the hill, Chain Bridge across the river and the cafes lining the promenade. Dinner was Hungarian Goulash and Wiener Schnitzel. Wine was cheap (cheaper than the water) and good. The sun set as we ate and the scene became illuminated for 360 degrees around.

Day 2

We needed to hunt down some breakfast. We found a kiosk with pastries and, again using sign language, tried to find a pastry without anything strange in it for the boys. Try saying “jelly” in sign language! We ended up with plain. Oliver took a bite and said, “This tastes like, like….nothing.” It did. Oh well, it wasn’t Paris but still an adventure. We made our way to the post office (Posta) to mail some postcards and homemade birthday cards (we brought colored pencils and construction paper) and headed to the hilltop palaces. We were not always able to catch up on any history of the area. You would think we would have so much time on buses, planes, and hotels to read but we do not. The boys rarely sit still and when they are not imitating the lastest unusual sounds, they are asking questions like, “Do mosquitoes have bones?” or “If there was a spiral staircase up to the sun, would you get very dizzy going up?” or “When there is a battle, do the bad guys want to die?” These answers take a lot of time to contemplate and beyond that, we are usually navigating the map or guides or perfecting our sign-language. By the time we hit the sheets, we are exhausted. We wake up and do it all again.

(click photo for slideshow)

So we toured the palace and hilltop churches not completely knowing who lived in the palace and what important things happened at the site and how many churches existed before the present one and what important things St. Stephen did for Budapest but it all looked nice and it was a lovely hot day. The boys learned that people find things underground and display them in museums and that old things are very important to understand how life was long ago. They eagerly looked at the faces of all of the statues on display to see who looked nice and who looked mean and called us over in a frenzy whenever they found a statue of a child. We guessed at what some of the old iron tools were used for and while we consulted our guide for the next exhibit, the boys chased a beetle on the floor. We learned that Budapest had been oppressed for a long time and was still a bit sullen as a result but they have recovered well and have a lovely city. It was all good.

The boys explored an archeological site and bought a keychain and while Mom and Dad rested on the pews of the church, the boys looked for lost coins under them. Because we are always in churches, the boys are getting quite an education on religion. They ask a lot of why Jesus is on the cross and if he was in pain and why no one tried to help him down. They want to know who put him on the cross and why and whether the people that put him on the cross really wanted to do that. They want to know what the Roman king believed and what Jesus believed and why they were not the same. Since we forgot our pocket guide to answer all questions on all subjects, we were trying to remember enough details to explain these delicate subjects. What is telling though, is that by immersing yourselves into places repeatedly like churches, museums, internet cafes (not so often), hotels and restaurants they rise to the occasion and ask questions and look for similarities in other places. They may be playing hide and seek behind the columns, but they are taking it all in through osmosis.

Sometimes their interest takes different forms. Now reading menus at restaurants is a race to see who can discipher the language and find Wiener Schnitzel (which as been scrambled a bit by Henry and Oliver and they ask the waiter for Wiener Snitchel – it is so funny!) and we have to keep track at hotels on who got to press the elevator button the last time and whoever didn’t gets to unlock the door with the room key. They want to make sure each gets a subway ticket to timestamp in the machine and want to know if the other one got to keep a coin as change from the market.

At breakfast, lunch and dinner, the boys do their schoolwork. Mom has each subject spreadout on the Blackberry calendar so that all subjects get covered during the week. We do not do work on Sundays. So since meals take at least 1.5 hours for lunch and dinner, there is plenty of time to get some work in while waiting for our meal.

Day 3

We went to lovely Margaret Island which is an island in the middle of the river. It is a “central park” for Budapest. We found an internet cafe along the way with wifi but it took Laura 20 minutes to upload about 20 pictures and it was unreliable. Frustrating. On Margaret Island you can rent a surrey bike (4 wheels) and pedal around. It seemed like a very touristy thing to do but we did it anyway because it was far to get around and see it all. Within the middle were grand spa pools. We could only surmise that landlocked Hungary made up for its distance from the sea by creating these elaborate pools. Later we indulged. You put your things in a locker but you don’t get a key. A burly Hungarian woman gives you a code that is written on a blackboard inside of the locker. You take the code with you. So, when you return to locker 450 later, you have to make sure your code matches that on the inside to be sure it is really yours. Leaving our few worldly possessions (laptop, blackberry, passports) in a locker without a key was a bit unsettling but the pools were that enticing. Picture 3 football fields length of 8 different pools with varying fountains to swim under and around. The fountains gave the atmosphere a palatial feel rather than a waterpark.

The last day we wandered around the parks taking our time to let the boys run, jump and have no place to be. We’ve been trying to take it slow and just soak in the atmosphere rather than getting to all of the sights. One more look at the waterfront and one more gelato and we headed for the train station the next morning for Zagreb, Croatia.


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