Thursday, October 22nd, 2009
Ever have one of those mornings where you hit the snooze button one too many times? I think we all unfortunately have and that is how we started our day when we had an early flight out of Rome. We scrambled franticly and thankfully made our flight to Budapest.
Katie’s and my trip to Europe was really brought about because my son Matthew (16) is a huge water polo player and his team was going to Hungary. The teams there are known for their size and aggressive play, so his coach asked my husband (who is a doctor) to come along as a chaperon and be available if any stitching up was necessary. My older son Danny was going to go along for the ride. Katie and I thought it would be fun to have our adventure in Italy and meet up with them at the end of the trip. So we set out and the boys were due to head out a few days later. Well, it turned out only Matthew went. Michael got incredibly sick (swine flu?) and then pulled out his back. He was a mess and had to cancel the trip. Danny didn’t want to go by himself and besides he doesn’t know how to sew any stitches…ha-ha.
We already had the tickets and even though we knew we wouldn’t be able to see much of Matt (they have to stick with the team) we thought it would be nice to check in with him and also have a taste of Eastern Europe. One glitch was that Michael no longer had a hotel room, so we would be on our own. Luckily we know this incredibly adorable Hungarian water polo player, Tomas that used to coach Matt in California that was now back living in his homeland. He happened to be out of town, but Katie contacted him on facebook and he gave us some hotel recommendations. When we arrived in Budapest the airline had lost half of the flight’s baggage, including ours. They assured us it would be delivered to our hotel and eventually it was. We had no guide book (Michael had it), we did not speak the language and had not done any research what so ever before we got there, so we felt completely discombobulated. We took a shuttle to the hotel, walked around a bit and then took a cab to Matt’s game. The concierge at the hotel told the cab driver where we wanted to go because the language was a stumbling block for sure. We watched the team play for about an hour and got to give Matt some kisses for all of about 7 minutes. The sweetest thing was when he brought out of his pocket a small brown bag with a carved bracelet he had bought for Katie. She could have cried. She was always another mama to him while he was growing up and it has been hard on her now that he is a teenager doing his own thing, not paying too much attention to her …it meant the world to her.
We stood outside the swim stadium for a while until a cab finally came and then we found someone who spoke English and asked them to please tell the driver where we wanted to go. We got back to our hotel and went to a recommended mall. The fashions where dated and the selection limited. We decided to eat dinner at a Hilton hotel in this mall, hoping someone would speak English. We were tired and the language barrier was starting to get to us. Sure enough the waiters spoke English and we had a pleasant dinner. Somewhat a cop-out for experiencing the local flavor, but we were pooped.
The next day proved much better. We had booked a tour and after a nice complimentary breakfast our tour guide arrived. “Agnes” said we were the only English-speaking people who signed up, so it would be a private tour even though we paid for a group…Yay! She took us out in her private car – she spoke perfect English and was young, cute, fun and incredibly knowledgeable.
Let me start by saying these used to be two separate cities, Buda and Pest and they are very different. The Danube River separates them. She took us everywhere and we saw a lot! Some of what we saw:
The Danube (Duna) – The Danube is the large river that cuts Budapest into two halves. To be exact, it joins the two originally separated cities into a single metropolis.
Me & Katie in front of The Danube
The Royal Castle (Vár) – The Castle is located on the Buda side on the Castle Hill. The foundations go back to the 13th century but the royal palace itself is only a couple of hundred years old. Today the buildings house the National Gallery and the National Library. The Castle Hill also includes a number of other buildings and churches. Most notable among these is the Matthias Church that had served as a coronation church for several Hungarian monarchs.
In pragmatic terms, the best thing about the Castle and the Castle Hills is that there is very little traffic and a wonderful view of the Pest side. You can walk about the entire place for hours and enjoy the scenery. The views from the castle are breathtaking!
The Royal Castle on Castle Hill
Parliament (Parlament) – The Parliament is one of the major buildings in the capital, visible from virtually anywhere on the other side of the Danube. The Heroes’ Square ( Hősök tere) – The Heroes’ Square is surrounded by two important buildings, Museum of Fine Arts on the left and Palace of Art (or Art Exhibition Museum) on the right. The central site of the hero’s square, as well as a landmark of Budapest, is the Millennium Memorial (also known as Millennium Monument or Millenary Monument) with statues of the leaders of the seven tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century and other outstanding figures of Hungarian history. The construction of the memorial was started when the one thousandth anniversary was celebrated (in 1896), but it was finished only in 1929 and the square got its name then.
Parliament from afar
Parliament up close
The Heroes’ Square ( Hősök tere) – The Heroes’ Square is surrounded by two important buildings, Museum of Fine Arts on the left and Palace of Art (or Art Exhibition Museum) on the right. The central site of the hero’s square, as well as a landmark of Budapest, is the Millennium Memorial (also known as Millennium Monument or Millenary Monument) with statues of the leaders of the seven tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century and other outstanding figures of Hungarian history. The construction of the memorial was started when the one thousandth anniversary was celebrated (in 1896), but it was finished only in 1929 and the square got its name then.
Thermal Baths – There are also these unbelievable hot springs everywhere in the city called Thermal Baths. The Romans reaped the health benefits of hot springs here, but it was during the 16th- and 17th- century Turkish occupation that the bath culture was developed. But there is an array of baths from more recent Hungarian times, such as the wonderful Art Nouveau Gellért Baths at the luxurious Gellért Hotel. And the Lavish Széchenyi Baths in the City Park. You will also find plenty of thermal hot springs and wells throughout Hungary. There are nearly 1,000 of them in the country. Budapest is a major spa centre with numerous thermal baths that are open to the public.
We had such a great day and really came to appreciate the amazing people and places of Budapest. By the end of the tour we knew all about Agnes, her family, her love life, ect…we are all the same…
Late in the afternoon we repeated our visit to watch Matt play a few games, another couple of kisses and back to our hotel. Our friend Tomas was back in town and we would meet him for ice teas later. We found a local restaurant and had Chicken paprika and dumplings for dinner…yum.
Tomas picked us up and took us to a very busy, happening pedestrian area with tons of 20 something’s socializing, eating and drinking. It was fun to see how the locals socialized and enjoyed themselves. It seemed like a fun place to live.
Our adorable friend Tomas
The next morning we caught our flights back to San Francisco to take Katie back to school. What a glorious time we had!! Writing these blogs has been so much fun to relive all the things we did and saw. It has left us with memories we will never forget.
When we got back to San Francisco Michael was there to meet us at the airport. He had flown up earlier and rented a car to pick us up. We were so happy to see him and we rattled on endlessly about our adventures. Now the summer was officially over and Katie had to get back to school.
It is now late October and we are still reminiscing…what a gift!