The International Writers Magazine: Hungary
24 Hours in Budapest
John M Edwards
Awakening on the couch of your expat chum Erik D’Amato, editor of the popular Magyar (Hungarian) website Pestiside (http://www.pestiside.hu), you both decide to bag the flimsy hand-held shower in his astounding apartment (only $100,000) and head off to a real Budapest Baths, or “gyogyafurdo” (natural springs).
After a quick breakfast of Habsburgian “Lindzer Tortes” and “Café Machiatto” at a nearby Zucor (sweet shop), you bag some “croissants,” invented here to celebrate the overthrow of the Turkish occupation with their fearsome flag depicting a Crescent Moon, laughing at D’Amato’s jokes about “Asiatic savages.”
Spend the next hour at the awe-inspiring co-ed Belle Epoque “Gellert Baths,” saying goodbye to your Speedos and arriving buck naked as the unprudish Europeans do to the warm natural springs discovered by the Romans. With everyone wearing swimming caps, like professional Water Poloists with Phelpsian physiques, you’ll feel a little like you are in a pot of hardboiled eggs.
Feeling refreshed, you both decide to amble across Strauss’s “Blue Danube” over the scenic Szechenyi Bridge (Chain Bridge). Since “Budapest” was originally a divided city, check out Buda first, then Pest second. Note the weird resemblance to New York City’s famous bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn, once America’s fourth largest city and now just a borough of dumb guys.
But nobody could say the same of the Buda Hills elite, living now near the Hill Funicular like Hungary’s first king, St. Stephen, whose Basilica (built 1850-1905) remains pretty much everyone’s favorite find. Aim your irises at the impressive panoramic view of the famous “Palace Hotel” on the other side of the river (now a Four Seasons op), which is handy if your hospitality turns horrific, with the suggestion that you might like a (shudder) “HOSTEL” better. Don’t forget a few minutes rushing through the National Gallery (1014 Budapest, Szent Gyorgy ter 2).
After hiking to Heroes Square ( built 1896), get a gander at the famous statue topped by the Archangel Gabriel with a crown clutched in his right hand and the double cross in his left hand (+). Also drink in a carbon-copy image of London’s Parliament building, designed by architect Imre Steindl (1357 Budapest, Kossuth ter 1-3).
After a diverting stroll wending your way downhill to recross the Danube, but this time across the Erzebet Bridge (Elizabeth Bridge), hail a luxus Mercedes cab (or if you are cheap use the metro) to one of Budapest’s most infamous sights called “The House of Terror,” on Andrassy utca. This haunted house of video terminals once housed both the headquarters of Hungaria’s “Arrow Cross” (a totalitarian party equivalent to The Third Reich, complete with their own unique space-age insignias), and also the headquarters of the hated Communist Party, whom Hungarians (as they discovered during their heroic 1956 Hungarian Uprising against The Soviets) still regard as even worse.
If you look carefully at the motley assemblage of 19th-century buildings in these dark and moody streets, reminiscent of the locales of local legends Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre, you can still see the bulletholes, purposely left as is.
Yay! Lunch time! Yay! Hungry in Hungary? Well, almost every restaurant in Budapest–which reputedly has the finest cooking in Central Europe period, and not just the dual signature national dishes of “ghoulash” and “paprikash” drowned with either Egri Bikavier (cheap) or Soproni Kekfrancos (dear) wine (or vampire blood)—comes with surprises attached. Try tripe soup with paprika! Then visit one of Hungary’s Belle Epoch Grand Cafes (up there with Vienna’s), such as Café Gerbeaud (1051 Budapest, Vorosmarty ter 7), an old country meeting place filled with corpulent waiters with fabulous Prussian mustaches and starched white aprons, as well as good-looking Eurotrash models as leggy as Aeroflot stewardesses.
Go back to the apartment to rest for an hour--with or without company.
Have an early dinner at one of Budapest’s best pricey splurge restaurants called “Karpatia Etterem,” serving such mouth-watering delicacies as “Veal Porkolt.” “Igen” (yes), this place is also a good place to see live Gypsy music, slightly reminiscent of romantic Argentine tango. Of course, “servis compris” (15 percent). Good luck finding “Gellert Hill,” when you might have been already standing on it during your sightseeing.
Walk around searching for one of Budapest’s several World’s Fair-like “Grand Siecle” glassed-in 19th-century train stations (similar to turn-of-the-last-century Parisian population handlers), until you bump into the legendary New York Café, which first time I checked and last time I checked, was perennially closed for renovations.
Buy a T-shirt with the green, white, and red flag from a freelance vendor and live out your Universal Pictures horror-movie fantasies as you meet and greet the Hungarian locals absolutely wild about the idea of having another well-known American travel writer expatriate himself here for a year or three (when D’Amato decides to come home to New York, at least)—especially when the bestselling book “PRAGUE” is really about Budapest. Need we say more?
Snuggle up on the couch with Time Out Budapest, and plan an iffy sightseeing excursion to the Hungarian Wine Country, reminiscent of “Transylvania” (claimed by both Hungary and Romania), and featuring the descendants of Germanic Dark Prince Vlad Tepes ( “The Impaler”), the word’s most famous vampire and still a national hero here. . . .( or visit the city cellars)
Book Your Budapest Vacation here
© John M. Edwards February 2013
JME has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Thailand, to being stuck in a military coup in Fiji, to bussing the length of Vietnam on a Larium buzz. He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, two TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Awards, a Road Junky Hell Trips Award, a Bradt Independent on Sunday Award, and three Solas Awards (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen."