Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hungary - Budapest, Szentendre, and an amusing Thai massage experience

Shoes on the Danube Bank, Parliament Building
Streets of Szentendre, Dried paprika peppers

PART 3 of a 5 part series

In June 2011 my friend Alvin and I took a month long backpacking trip through Europe to visit 8 cities in 5 countries. Our entire itinerary was:
  • Munich, Germany - 2 days
  • Salzburg, Austria - 3 days
  • Vienna, Austria - 3 days
  • Budapest, Hungary - 3 days
  • Kraków, Poland - 3 days
  • Prague, Czech Republic - 5 days
  • Dresden, Germany - 2 days
  • Berlin, Germany - 2.5 days
We arrived in Budapest by train from Vienna, Austria - please read about our time in Austria in my PART 2 blog post Austria - Salzburg and Vienna. In this PART 3 blog post I'll cover the two cities we visited in Hungary:
  • Budapest, Hungary - 2.5 days (including an amusing Thai massage experience)
  • Szentendre, Hungary - 1/2 day

Day 0: Traveled from Vienna, Austria to Budapest, Hungary

We arrived at Budapest Keleti train station in the afternoon and took a city bus to our hotel, Budapest City Central. It was a very low-frills 3-star hotel located, well, right in the center of the city. It was a little confusing finding the hotel and navigating to our actual room. The room was very bare but comfortable and away from street noise (US$255.25 for 3 nights). Reviews of Budapest City Central on TripAdvisor. Our hotel was right around the corner from the Dohány Street Synagogue, Europe's largest synagogue and the second largest synagogue in the world.

We strolled around the neighborhood and ate an early dinner at a restaurant off a nearby street. I wish I wrote down the name of the restaurant because I had what was probably my favorite meal of the entire trip that night! All I wrote down is the name of the dish - Chicken Brassow style with fried potatoes. The picture doesn't do it justice - it was so delicious!

Chicken Brassow style with fried potatoes
Chicken Brassow style with fried potatoes


Day 1: Budapest - Szentendre, Buda side, Chain Bridge, Shoes on the Danube Bank

We took a day trip to Szentendre, a charming little riverside town that's about a 40 minute train ride from Budapest. We took the HÉV from Batthyány tér (on the Metro red line) and just purchased tickets at the station. Szentendre is easily walkable and we spent the day wandering around a few streets.

Train from Budapest Batthyány tér
Train from Budapest Batthyány tér

Walkable streets
Walkable streets

Church tower
Church tower

Cute building
Cute building

Strings of peppers for sale
Strings of peppers for sale

Strings of peppers for sale
Strings of peppers for sale

Paprika is plentiful in shops
Paprika is plentiful in shops

Cute streets
Cute streets

Cute streets
Cute streets

I love taking pictures of doors
I love taking pictures of doors

I love taking pictures of doors
I love taking pictures of doors

Alvin getting a slice of pizza. The thing on the left is the oven!
Alvin getting a slice of pizza. The thing on the left is the oven!

We stopped by the Szamos marzipan shop that's connected to a marzipan museum (which I didn't visit). The shop sold tons of marzipan treats, some made in the shape of cute animals.
Reviews of Szamos Museum Confectioner's - Szentendre on TripAdvisor.


Szamos marzipan shop
Szamos marzipan shop

Szamos marzipan shop
Szamos marzipan shop

Szamos marzipan shop
Szamos marzipan shop

Szentendre train station
Szentendre train station

After we returned from Szentendre, we visited several sites on the Buda side:
  • Castle Hill
  • Magdalene Tower
  • Fisherman's Bastion
  • Labyrinth of Buda Castle
  • St. Stephen statue
  • Matthais Church
View of the Parliament Building from the Buda side
View of the Parliament Building from the Buda side

Gotta get pictures of those doors
Gotta get pictures of those doors

Taking the stairs to Castle Hill
Taking the stairs to Castle Hill

Fishermen's Bastion
Fishermen's Bastion

Statue of St. Stephen
Statue of St. Stephen

View of the Parliament Building from Fishermen's Bastion
View of the Parliament Building from Fishermen's Bastion

View of the Parliament Building from Fishermen's Bastion
View of the Parliament Building from Fishermen's Bastion

Medieval streets in Castle Hill
Medieval streets in Castle Hill

Magdalene Tower
Magdalene Tower

Entrance to the Labyrinth of Buda Castle
Entrance to the Labyrinth of Buda Castle

Labyrinth of Buda Castle
Labyrinth of Buda Castle

Matthias Church
Matthias Church

After exploring the Buda side, we crossed the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to the Pest side to see the Shoes on the Danube. The memorial was created to honor the people who were ordered to take their shoes off and shot along the bank of the Danube during the Arrow Cross terror during World War II.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Shoes on the Danube
Shoes on the Danube

Shoes on the Danube
Shoes on the Danube

St. Stephen's Basilica
St. Stephen's Basilica

Tocsni - potato pie with cheese and garlic sour cream
Tocsni - potato pie with cheese and garlic sour cream

We had a really long day of sightseeing - we easily trekked over 10km! We were tired and sore and as we walked back to our hotel, we passed by a Thai massage parlor. A massage would be so heavenly! I never turn down an opportunity for a massage but Alvin was a little hesitant because the area was deserted this late at night. And he was convinced that if we actually went in, someone would rob us and then march us naked to an ATM and force us to empty our accounts. The thought never even crossed my mind... until he mentioned it. But okay, I had to agree that the building didn't look very welcoming but I rang the buzzer anyway. Dun dun dunnnn...

We were half-hoping no one would pick up. We were prepared to walk away but then someone actually answered! I'll never forget the look on Alvin's face - he was horrified. Now we had to talk. "Um, we're interested in getting massages," I said slowly, staring at Alvin. A voice answered, "Please come to the 2nd floor." His eyes widen. BUZZZZZ.

The door buzzed open and I pretty much shove Alvin into the dark lobby. I hid behind him and shuffled in. Outside street lamps provided the only source of light, showing a set of stairs directly ahead of us. I saw crumpled newspapers and dried leaves gathered in the dusty corners before the door shut us in darkness. Maybe this WAS a bad idea. We grabbed each other. "Let's get out of here," we both whispered. Just as we were turning around to run back out the door, we heard a voice call out from above, "Come to the 2nd floor." OMG now I've done it. He definitely doesn't want to go but I push Alvin toward the dark stairs. "Okay," I answer, trying to sound casual. We continue up the dark stairs until...

We turn the corner to see rows of candles lighting up the last few steps, ending at the landing of the Thai massage parlor. Candles? Nice touch. The door opens. There's no turning back now. A backlit figure stands in the doorway. It turns out to be a beautiful blonde receptionist (huh?) who welcomes us to a completely legit-looking reception area. Alvin and I immediately relax and peruse the services list. I decide to get a basic oil massage and Alvin gets a Thai massage. We meet back at the reception area after our massages to compare notes. Alvin does some quick calculations and declares that he has enough cash to come back every day we're in Budapest. And he didn't once think someone would rob him and clean out his ATM account. Ha!

Years later, Alvin told me that he got a massage when he was in Peru, hiking Machu Picchu. I'd like to think that our little adventure got him comfortable with the idea of getting massages in foreign countries. :o)

Thai massage place during the day. Trust me, it looked a whole lot different at night.
Thai massage place during the day. Trust me, it looked a whole lot different at night. (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)


Day 2: Budapest - Central Market, Széchenyi Baths, Lindy Hop at Budapest Jazz Club

On our second day, we visited the Great Market Hall or Central Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok in Hungarian), the oldest and largest indoor market in Budapest. The first floor is full of stalls offering produce, meat, pastries, basically where you can get your grocery shopping done. The second floor features eateries and souvenirs. Read reviews of Central Market Hall on TripAdvisor.

Central Market Hall
Central Market Hall

Apricot jam meringue dessert
Apricot jam meringue dessert

An entire paprika stall
An entire paprika stall

Sausages
Sausages

Fresh produce
Fresh produce

First floor of the Central Market Hall
First floor of the Central Market Hall

We made our way to the Széchenyi Baths, the largest thermal baths in Europe. We rented cabin space to stash our stuff and enjoyed lounging in the numerous indoor and outdoor thermal pools of varying temperatures. Entrance fees were around US$17 for each of us. Reviews of Széchenyi Baths on TripAdvisor.

Széchenyi Baths
Széchenyi Baths

Cool bike crossing light
Cool bike crossing light

Kids flying kites in Heroes' Square
Kids flying kites in Heroes' Square

This seems like a very zen job
This seems like a very zen job

I like to go swing dancing whenever I travel and my friend Jer introduced me to Anna and Florian, 2 local swing dancers from Budapest. In the evening, we met Anna and Florian for dinner and then they took me lindy hopping at Budapest Jazz Club. They were such nice hosts who introduced me to fellow dancers in their scene. Thanks for a great night, Anna and Florian!

The most colorful lemonade I've ever had
The most colorful lemonade I've ever had

Chicken paprikash with noodles - it was spicy!
Chicken paprikash with noodles - it was spicy!

Cucumber salad to cool down my burning mouth
Cucumber salad to cool down my burning mouth

Rum-walnut and chocolate crepe served flambéed
Rum-walnut and chocolate crepe served flambéed

Lindy Hop at Budapest Jazz Club
Lindy Hop at Budapest Jazz Club

Anna and Florian dropping me off at my hotel after a night of lindy hopping
Anna and Florian dropping me off at my hotel after a night of lindy hopping


Day 3: Budapest - Dohány Synagogue, Underground Railway Museum, travel to Kraków, Poland

On our last day in Budapest, we visited the Dohány Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. The entire complex consists of the Great Synagogue, Heroes' Temple, graveyard, a memorial in the shape of a weeping willow, and the Jewish Museum. Entrance 2400 forint. Dohány Street itself used to be the border of the Budapest Ghetto. Reviews of Dohány Street Synagogue on TripAdvisor.

Great Synagogue
Great Synagogue

Great Synagogue
Great Synagogue

Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs - a weeping willow bearing names of the 400,000 Hungarian Jews murdered by the Nazis
Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs - a weeping willow bearing names of the 400,000 Hungarian Jews murdered by the Nazis (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Weeping willow memorial leaves bearing inscriptions with victim's names
Weeping willow memorial leaves bearing inscriptions with victim's names

Alvin and I decided to split up in the afternoon so we could visit different sites - he went to the Citadella and since I'm obsessed with subways and trains, I went to the Underground Railway Museum. The first subway line in continental Europe opened in Budapest in 1896. The museum itself is located underground on part of the original subway line. This, I had to see! Reviews of the Underground Railway Museum on TripAdvisor.

Subway tickets
Subway tickets

Underground Railway Museum
Underground Railway Museum


Alvin and I met for dinner at Café Kör where I ordered pasta with duck and apples to continue my duck eating spree in Europe. Reviews of Café Kör on TripAdvisor.

Pasta with duck and apples
Pasta with duck and apples

Going to Kraków, Poland was tentatively on our list but we didn't commit until we could buy train tickets that satisfied a few conditions. Alvin was concerned about getting robbed on an overnight train (are you sensing a theme here?) so he wanted a first class sleeper cabin that had a door that locked. The ticket agent confirmed they had cabins available so we bought tickets and scrambled to find accommodations in Kraków. Train tickets were 26,460 forints total/US$74 per person.

We had been staying in hotels but after some convincing, I was open to giving hostels a shot. I won't lie, I was biased against them, assuming that they were dirty and loud. And the thought of sharing bathrooms with a bunch of strangers wasn't appealing to me. I decided to jump in the hostel deep end and booked us in a 12-person MIXED DORM. Go big or go home, right?

Budapest Keleti train station
Budapest Keleti train station

Budapest Keleti train station
Budapest Keleti train station

Budapest Keleti train station
Budapest Keleti train station

Our first class sleeper cabin!
Our first class sleeper cabin!

Uh, why are these bunks so close together? We never did figure it out.
Uh, why are these bunks so close together? We never did figure it out.

Not too bad with just 2 bunks
Not too bad with just 2 bunks

Heading to Kraków
Heading to Kraków

All smiles... for now
All smiles... for now

Our cabin door has a lock!
Our cabin door has a lock!

We settled in for what turned out to be a sleepless overnight journey. We arrived in Kraków super tired, grumpy, and disoriented (I'm directionally-challenged). Half an hour after arriving in a new country, we get into a HUGE fight and basically spend two days apart. I'll cover our fight and travels in Poland in PART 4, Poland - Kraków and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In addition to Hungary and Poland, we covered 3 other countries during this backpacking trip. Please read about them here:
If you enjoyed reading this travel blog please check out my other trip posts:

Happy traveling and thanks for reading!

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