_Most of Hungary’s history is filled with war or occupation and it is easy to see why. The place is beautiful! Who wouldn’t want all of that to themselves? During my recent visit I walked away with two major things, a terrible case of food poisoning and a longing for more time in the beautiful city of Budapest.
Upon arrival in Budapest I gathered my friends who had flown in from Paris and we headed to lunch at Onyx. With its freshly deserved Michelin star the team provides a fantastic gourmet lunch in a fresh and contemporary setting. A nice long luxurious lunch is certainly the best way to start any afternoon.
Many of the hotels had groups of young people waiting out front for what I thought must have been rock stars but it turns out they were waiting for a rock star of a different kind - race car drivers who were in town for the Grand Prix. Every time I walked out of a hotel fans turned excited with hope that I was their favorite celebrity driver. I offered my autograph but none were interested.
_After a nice stroll around the city to walk off lunch we settled down at one of the many street cafés for a drink to watch both locals and tourists enjoy the avenues. With so many options fighting for your attention the service is almost always friendly. Soon the sun would be setting but before that happened it was time to get on the Danube. There are tons of boats ready to take people up and down the river but, since I am never one for crowds, I had reserved a private speedboat for our group of four. We sipped Hungarian Sparkling wine as the captain steered us past Buda Castle, the alarmingly beautiful Parliament, up around Margaret Island, and down to the chic new cultural center. This is a must for your next visit unless you bring your own boat.
Having found our sense of Zen we headed off to dinner at Baraka, which proved to be delicious and entertaining given the large group in attendance. It seemed certain that this group was part of the Grand Prix but it was hard to tell if they had won or lost.
The next day after breakfast we met up with our private guide Anna. Anna was introduced to us via another guide Andrea Makkay. Anna and her driver took us all around the surprisingly large city of Budapest. During the drive Anna gave us a great overview of the history of Hungary and even managed to keep the non-history minded rather interested and entertained. Besides being incredibly fun and well versed in all things Budapest she was adept at knowing when it was time to move on and keeping us away from all the tourists. This is when I start to feel the food poisoning kicking in. I’m not 100% sure where I got it but I believe it was from the poorly cooked eggs at breakfast (and not from the restaurants mentioned here). After our expertly guided day with Anna we stopped for some delicious goulash at the charming Gerloczy Café. When you go (and you really need to go) you’ll want to try some of the delicious breads and save room for some Macaroons.
That evening over drinks at the Four Seasons we managed to watch Grand Prix fans fall all over themselves after speaking with some of the better-known drivers. The drinks at the hotel bar were good but the summer squash risotto at dinner is what really sticks out as the star performer of the night. I’d go back just for the risotto.
The following day I had Anna walk me around the city and she gave me more detailed information about the city, the architecture, and life in this special place. She quickly proved to be invaluable as she was able to get me past the 3-hour line at the Parliament. The guided tours are free for EU citizens and a reasonable fee for non-EU. It is worth a visit inside to feel its history, see its architecture, and experience the overly ceremonial changing of the guards who steadfastly watch the oldest crown in Europe. The Ministry of Agriculture building across from the Parliament gets high marks for Ferenc Callmeyer’s brilliant revolution memorial. Callmeyer marked the impact of the bullets fired on protestors from the Revolution of 1956 by placing bronze balls at the point of impact on the building. It is a strong way to mark such a tragedy and worth visiting.
With all of the wars and revolutions that Budapest has endured there are plenty of buildings that are still wounded and are often uninhabitable. But Hungarians are not ones for feeling sorry for themselves. They simply turn the abandoned places into “Ruin Pubs” and make them popular places to hang out…at least until the place is reclaimed and fixed up. Anna also sneaked me into a few local buildings to show some of the beautiful hidden architecture and explain the cultural use of the buildings in past and present terms.
Finally the food poisoning began to make it obvious that I was going to need medical attention. The hotel brought in a doctor who prescribed a perplexing list of medicines. In hopes that the meds would work quickly I took them regularly and gave myself a day of rest. Watching the sunset behind the castle I was hopeful that the next day would greet me in better condition.
Feeling only slightly better the next morning I decided to go out and try the healing waters at one of the many public baths. Szechenyi Bath and Spa is supposed to have waters that help with gastro/intestinal issues so I decided to give it a try. The facility is located in the middle of Budapest City Park. With 12 thermal baths surely one of them would help. Being slightly medicated to start I didn’t bring my own towel or sandals, not to worry the facility can rent or sell you what you need. Each of the thermal baths was unique and worth a visit. I’m glad I did it but for me the Japanese still have the best baths but the Hungarians know how to make the facility extremely grand.
Feeling better I decided it was time to get in a little shopping. My favorite purchase is the sneakers from Tisza. Originally started under communism the brand has been relaunched and is quietly becoming a must among sneaker collectors. Say what you will about communism but they turned out a great pair of sneakers.
During my last evening there I celebrated my slightly improved health with dinner at Costes. The very chic space gives way to a beautifully presented meal. The “orchard” salad was inventive and delicious. Costes is definitely worth visiting during your trip to Budapest. Speaking of, when are you going? You’ll want to go soon before the rest of the world rediscovers it.