Part 2 of my Euro Trip extended into Central Europe and commenced with an easy 2.5 hour train ride from Vienna to Budapest.
Arriving at the train station in Budapest we immediately felt the difference between Vienna and Budapest. There was no doubt about the fact that we were in a different country now! It has to be said that arriving at the Budapest train station and leaving the Budapest station are two very different experiences. They don’t exactly put their best foot forward at this train station for arrivals. My first impressions of Budapest was that Vienna seemed more how should I put this? Kempt? and Budapest had more…charm? We’ll go with charm. I know that’s expected but I guess I just wasn’t ready for it.
I was so excited about finally being in Hungary! As a freshman in college I worked in an office with a Hungarian woman. She had the coolest demeanor and interesting accent and the stories about her annual trips back home to Hungary piqued my interest about the country and its history.During the early 2000’s I studies abroad and Budapest was THE place for students to travel to party it up, but I opted to visit Prague instead (glad I made that choice since a few years later the Czech Republic picked up the Euro and became less affordable). Budapest had managed to allude me for decades and finally I was there! Albeit my visit was going to be just a brief 24 hours I wanted to make the most of it.
We made our way from the train station to the Corinthia Hotel near the Grand Boulevard. The Cornithia Hotel is a 5 star luxury hotel but we didn’t stay in the main hotel building. We were shown to our “Grand Residence” which was located behind the hotel across a small service alley. I just kept claiming we were staying at the Grand Budapest Hotel.
After checking in and putting our bags in our rooms we went out for a bite to eat and ended up at Café Vian where we sat outside and enjoyed an al fresco meal. I ordered the chicken paprikash with dumplings. It was about $8-$9 and delicious. I think I would easily be able to eat that meal every day and be a happy person. We chatted up the young waiter who was equal parts friendly and helpful. He shared with us that we should never hail a cab in Budapest and opt to call for them and to pay our fare with exact change because some sneaky taxi drivers take advantage of unsuspecting tourists and return their change in Serbian currency instead of the Forint. Looking around as we sat outside I kept noticing how beautiful all the buildings were. The architecture is so historic and impressive, but it seemed the grandeur of the paint colors wasn’t coming through on a lot of buildings due to years and years of grime and dirt. I kept saying I wanted to take a power washer to the facades of the buildings.
After our meal,, we took a walk down to see the Parliament building and the Danube. The Parliament building in Budapest is one of the world’s largest and most beautiful buildings and it’s also one of Europe’s oldest legislative buildings. It also happens to be the largest and tallest building in Hungary. I’ve seen the Parliament building in London and a few others in other cities, but this was the first one that really impressed me. It’s size and grandeur is mesmerizing.
As we walked past Parliament and approached the Danube river, the sun had begun to set. The weather suddenly became more breezy and cool. Pest was bustling behind us and Buda was glistening and smiling at us as the boats were making their way up and down the river. I likened the scene to standing on the shores of the Vltava river in Prauge looking across the Charles bridge, up towards Prauge castle. Prauge felt more still with while Budapest was alive with all the movement around us. Cars with their headlights on were driving across the bridge and on both banks of the river, a café was playing lounge music while cars were honking, river cruise passengers were walking around and the city felt alive.
Views over and across the Danube
On our walk back to the hotel we walked past street vendors selling Kürtoskalács but since we just had eaten dinner there was no room in our tummies. Looking back in hindsight I wish I had purchased one and saved it to enjoy the next day on the train ride back to Vienna.
After a short rest in the hotel I wanted to get back outside and soak in the Budapest night so my friend and I decided to go for a walk. We noticed a chain of coffee shops called California Coffee Company and couldn’t resist ourselves. I mean how cliché are we? Tourists from California going all the way to Hungary to patronize a place called California Coffee Company! They had a poster of some kind of popcorn coffee in the window that drew us in, but we chickened out and didn’t try it. We grabbed coffee and tea “to go” and continued our walk through the streets of Pest, without a destination in mind, not quite sure where we were going. We somehow ended up walking down the tree lined Andrássy Avenue, past the Opera house and the high end shopping stores. Since it was after 10pm the shops were closed, the Opera House looked closed and the street was quiet and abandoned, so I had to use my imagination to picture how busy this street may have been just a few hours ago. Having visited the Opera in Vienna I was far more impressed with this Opera House because since it stood alone the details stuck out. The Opera House in Vienna felt shoved in among other buildings and I couldn’t really take in the structure as a whole.
Next on our walk, we bumped into the Gozsdu Courtyard which was a little walk street or alley jampacked with bars and restaurants. (I later learned this area used to be the Jewish quarter.) It felt as though this is the place locals go at night. It was bustling! We didn’t intend to find this place but we did so I grabbed a Hot Dog and got my Vegetarian friend Chips on a Stick from Hot Dog Cold Beer (loved that straightforward name) and continued our explorative walk whilst snacking. Our next stop was for gelato and then we made our way back to the hotel.
The next morning we walked over to Café Gerbeaud and enjoyed a fancy breakfast then walked over the bridge, to the Buda side of the city where we got lost. I had wanted to take a certain bus line that would have looped us around the entire Buda side of town, but we had trouble finding it. Here’s a picture of us with our maps and tourist book trying to get ourselves unlost.
Since I was so limited on time (I had to get back to the hotel and get my bags and make my way to the train station) we took a bus over back over the river and just walked around Vaci street aimlessly and of course we unintentionally bumped into St. Stephen’s cathedral. I can’t even begin to compare this to the cathedral of the same name in Vienna. They’re both built in such different styles but both are beautiful in their own right and worth seeing.
After we had arrived back to our hotel, I grabbed my suitcase and backpack and bid farewell to my friends who would be staying on in Budapest an extra day to check out the public baths, the ruin bars, and a street festival before going on to Prauge and then Munich for Oktoberfest. I took the train back to Vienna and then took a taxi to the airport and boarded an airplane to go visit my father in Armenia! It was bitter sweet leaving my friends. I was having such a good time with them, but I am always excited to see my father so I was eager to get to him.
I finally got to visit Budapest, but my 24 hour trip was just an appetizer. I would love to return with my father and my husband and maybe do a Viking River cruise since we kept running into people from these cruises in both Austria and Budapest. There is still so much to see, do and eat in Budapest. I would love to explore Buda, check out the ruin bars, taste the Karavan street food offerings and try the Kürtoskalács. Until we meet again….