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Friday, May 10, 2013

A taste of Budapest in 48 Hours

If you haven't been to Europe because of cost, i strongly recommend Budapest. It uses a local currency (HUF), not the Euro, and it is the cheaper side of Europe. We bought a ticket to Budapest only a night before. With no plans and 2 sets of clothes, we took off. It was so spontaneous, it blew my mind.
By His grace, we got the LAST room in Leo Panzio which we randomly walked into. It is right in the city center next to Ferenciek Tere metro station, affordable, clean and in such a quaint old building! A real gem, it won a Tripadvisor award in 2011 too.

simple breakfast of toast, ham and juice provided for free
 In 48 hours, there was enough time to take pictures with Budapest's many sculptures.
whipping cream
This is a first i've seen. Braille for the blind to "see" the scenery too.

The hop on and off city bus tour (we bargained for a 1 day pass instead of 2 days for 13 Euro) was a good idea because it takes you to the main city sights, including up Citadel for the vantage point of Budapest.
This walking cane has a horn, an alcohol flask and a first-aid kit.
Talk about growing old with swag!
Budapest is a tale of two cities. Buda on the left is the rich and aristocratic hilly side and Pest is the flatter financial center. Both cities are linked by many chain bridges but the most significant is this one with the lion head.

Most of the tourist spots are found on the Pest side.

They all happen around metro station Hosok Tere.
Everyone claims credit to have influenced Sleeping Beauty's castle in Disney.
Vajdahunyad Castle
Although the Vajdahunyad Castle is a copy of the original in Romania.                            
Then there is Heroes Square, where King of Pop Michael Jackson shot a video at.
I love this perfume shop. This picture doesn't do it justice but the feeling you get the moment you step in is surreal. The interior designer did a fantastic job in making me feel like i stepped back in time. 
Smoking Incense holder
Budapest is small enough to walk everywhere, or at lest Pest is. We also found time to do some shopping at the Great Market Hall (1093 Budapest  Vámház körút 1-3) where she bought canned duck's liver (2 euro) and i a leather haversack (60 euro) and a silk scarf (16 euro).
These pickles ain't sour about being canned.
On the Buda side, we got an authentic experience of a Hungarian bath (1027 Budapest, Fő St 84), walking distance from Battyany metro
Bring a bikini, slippers and towel to Király Baths. There aren't really proper showering facilities but there are unisex showers available. Built in the second half of the 16th century, this thermal bath is a far cry from the onsens i've been to in Japan or Taiwan. 

One of Budapest's traditional Turkish baths, it has an octagonal roof. Dark, wet, stone and clay, the interior kinda resembles a torture chamber.
Not knowing what to expect, i was pretty excited. Feeling lost, we were instructed to go into these cubicles to change. Then our items were locked within these "changing rooms", quite different from the kind of lockers we get at swimming pools or theme parks! These "lockers" were huge.
For 2400 HUF, you can spend the whole day taking a dip in the thermal baths. At the thermal baths, it wasn't as obvious as the Japanese onsens to scrub yourself clean before entering. They don't provide pre-bath facilities as well as the Japanese do. Here, they trust your "ethics" and personal responsibility in participating in a communal bath. However, at the Japanese onsens, because of language, they never did explain to you why you needed to scrub yourself clean before entering either. I spot a notice on a board that explained why. A pre-bath is necessary because bacteria will affect the quality of the thermal bath thus affecting its healing properties which will indirectly impact you.
A recommended strategy around a thermal bath is to start with something more room temperature like 32 degrees. Once you've adjusted to the heat, you then slowly dip yourself in the maximum and then cooling off 26 degrees. You'll be surprised how icy cold 26 degrees will feel after 40 degrees. Your nipples instantly turn rock hard. Rinse and repeat.
My picture don't do justice to this authentic bath. Here's one from the web.
That's me in the main bath, it's like an ancient swimming pool. To my right is a small pool (40 degrees) that only fit 5 and to my left is another small pool (26 degrees) to fit another 5. There are also a sauna, a steam bath and a jacuzzi.
Kiraly is found in a local neighbourhood so it is less touristy although it's well reviewed online and marked on tourist maps. We also checked in for a massage (4000 HUF, 30 mins). I was very amused to see the massage waiting area like a HOSPITAL!
Here i could lie on these plastic beds to wait.
I'm not too sure if i want a manicure in that little corner there.
The doorway leads me to my nurse masseuse.
Here i lay for my 30 minute massage which was only enough time for my back and legs. The strokes she used was rather different from the Chinese and Thai massages i frequent. It was good.

It also had an outdoor garden where fallen leaves and mud puddles were seen. The fountain was dried out, and we were even more amused that there were people nonchalant about the dire state and sunbathing there.
We joked about how old-school everything is, but the mode of exit was VERY HIGH TECH! We had to drop this watch vertically into the machine and voila, the gate opens.

After getting a very unusual experience at Kiraly, we walked past Budapest's most popular city thermal bath, the Széchenyi thermal bath.

It was posh, shiny and overridden with tourists. Prices were also double with extra charges (for lockers).
We were definitely glad we went to Kiraly.

On the Buda side, i was also pleased to do a mini hike to check out the cave church, something i haven't encountered. It is still functional and mass is still conducted weekly. On my way there, i almost fell prey to one of those cheats. There was a man who set up a "gambling stall" where you've to guess which cup covers the ball. I was trying to ask him for directions but he smoothly engaged me in playing a game without money involvement. I managed to guess the first few games right, but i noticed he was letting me win on purpose. There were 2 other men playing but i wasn't sure if they were accompliance. One even thanked me for helping him win. As i was about to leave, the stall owner stretched out 50 euro and said it's mine for guessing right. I ALMOST took it, i kept asking "really?" despite knowing how could it be because i didn't invest in the first place. Better judgement got hold of me, i rejected the "free money" and i walked away.
Budapest, rich in its history, has a memorial remembering the Jews who were shot off the banks. These shoes serves as a reminder.
The Hungarian Food to try
Other than goulash and cabbage roll, there is the kurtoskalanch or could be known as a chimney roll. It is essentially dough baked on the spot then sprinkled with flavour of your choice.

They also have a crepe called the palacsinta that is quite unlike any other crepe i've had. It has a nutty paste inside.
Cold fruit soups are also a must try. Abit strange to have creamy soup cold, but its absolutely refreshing! Feels like dessert though.
Hungarikum Bistro (13. Steindl Imre Street) is very popular. Tripadvisor ranks it #9 and its probably worth going because of the lovely ambience.
in-house musician
I thought the food was just so-so but it was a good sampler of a Hungarian meal. Best to make reservations because they have a steady flow of tourists and locals. 

We had the Hungarian set meal which was of generous portion and at a decent price.
Duck leg as main course
Apple pie as desert

We also by chance came across the flower power gelato ranked #1 on Tripadvisor. Did you know that every photo you take with the iPhone is marked on a map? Incidentally i took a photo of the gelato at the shop so we managed to relocate it again for a second scoop! That iPhone feature is fantastic, it tracked the photo right down to the exact street. Gelatorosa is next to Szent István Bazilika (St. Stephen's Basilica). It is about 200 HUF more than the usual gelato but no one seems to mind! The cinnamon-lemon basil is a heavenly combination.

Only one way to see Budapest.
48 hours....

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