Sunday, September 03, 2017

Central Europe: Day 2 (Budapest)

For our full day in Budapest, we slept in and actually felt pretty good - the jet lag wasn't too bad. The hotel served breakfast, and Dave got a ridiculously large Croque Madame. It looked delicious.

We walked through the Castle Hill area, including a palace and church area with beautiful views of the river. We walked around on the castle wall and saw the restored Vienna Gate.

Our first stop was the Hungarian National Gallery, which is situated in Buda Castle. It's an ornate castle built by the Hapsburgs but hardly used by them.

Most of the artists represented were Hungarian, as you might imagine, and there were many we had never heard of before. The Impressionist movement really didn't make its way over to Hungary, although one or two artists visited Paris during that time and painted a few pieces representative of the style.

There was also modern art, and let me tell you, Hungarian modern art is pretty bleak and dark. (Like most modern art, probably, and especially most modern art in former Soviet bloc countries.)

We climbed the dome, of course, and were treated to some wonderful views:

After the gallery, we visited Gellert Baths, a luxurious and relaxing spot just south of Castle Hill. I was reluctant to bring along my swimsuit, flip flops, and swim cap just for this visit, but the photos online looked worth it. It also seemed like a real Hungarian experience.

Look at this place! Don't you want to spend a few hours there?? We swam in this pool, which was a fairly chilly temperature, at least compared to the thermal pools. The thermal pools went from 32 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius and we tried them all. It was a totally new experience for me, but I'm so glad I did it.

We skipped lunch because we were so full from breakfast, and we decided to push up our visit to the Great Synagogue because we were in the area. Much of the focus of the synagogue was in the history of Hungarian Jewish life, the Holocaust, and what life is like for Jews in Budapest today.

There is a really tortured past there. Hungarians gave up the Jews of the countryside to the Nazis during the occupation, but apparently most of the ones in the city were allowed to remain. However, they were ushered into the ghetto, where many died during the harsh wartime winters. The courtyard of the synagogue is full of mass graves, and there is a memorial outside the synagogue to the murdered Jews of Hungary.

The visit also included a visit to the Hungarian Jewish Museum, which included religious books and items from families in the area.

While we were in the Jewish quarter, we visited a highly recommended café - Frőhlich Kóser Cukrászda - for a break with some coffee, tea, and sweet cakes.  We got a nut cake, an apple pie, and a wonderful cherry strudel.

In the area is the most famous "ruin bar" in Budapest, Szimpla Kert, so we stopped in for a beer.

There are a few ruin bars in Budapest, basically bombed out or destroyed buildings where you can get a drink under the sky. Szimpla Kert was an eclectic mash-up of rooms decorated with all kinds of stuff. 

We earned our Untappd beer badges for Hungarian beers here! I have to say, Hungarian beer is mostly pretty bland pilsners and lagers; I'd stick with the wine, since Czech and German beers both tend to be higher quality. We also had a Slovak beer that was not bad!

We had dinner at a Michelin star restaurant near our hotel named Arany Kaviár ("Golden Caviar"), which is managed by a Russo-Hungarian chef. The meal was delicious, definitely the best we had had and much more affordable than Michelin-starred restaurants in the United States.

We enjoyed some Hungarian sparkling wine, bread with popcorn butter, chicken liver p
âté, a concoction with caviar, sturgeon, and cucumber, wild boar pelmeni (one of my favorite food items of the whole trip), pigeon breast (Dave), sturgeon with gnocchi (Val), poppyseed cake, desserts, and dessert wine. Oof!

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