Hung(a)ry in BudaPESHT

I knew I would love Copenhagen and I did. With Budapest, I didn’t think I would dislike it but I also didn’t have high expectations. In spite of a number of trips to Europe, I regrettably never ventured outside of Western Europe. Now sitting here writing (in a cute vintage dress I purchased in Budapest), I can definitively say I also loved Budapest. My feelings going from Budapest from Copenhagen reminded me of the way you love, and need, very different friends for their unique combinations of strengths and weaknesses.

While I didn’t take time off of work to travel because of the political climate in the United States, I have to say that I’m happy to not be paying any taxes to the current administration. Anti-government sentiment followed me as I landed late in Budapest after a day of large scale protests against the current Hungarian administration. Recent legislation regarding universities has led to concerns that Central European University, founded by George Soros, could be forced to shut down. I’ll leave it to you to decide your thoughts but personally #IStandWithCEU.

The following morning I headed out to a three-hour free walking tour of Budapest to acquaint myself with the city. Similar to other cities, the tour guides operate on tips. Having done similar tours in Amsterdam, Barcelona and Kyoto, Budapest was probably my favorite. My tour guide was knowledgeable about the city and its history, had a great sense of humor, and offered helpful tips including not to pronounce it Budapest as we do in America but “Budapesht” phonetically. I only completed the general tour in English but tours are also offered in Spanish, as well as ones focused on Communism and the great Jewish Quarter neighborhood where I stayed.

Beginning the tour
On the Chain Bridge
Ending the tour in the Buda Castle District (world’s second largest parliament across the water)

Before I got to Budapest, a friend sent me Off the Beat Budapest and it was a great resource for someone new (or even not so new!) to Budapest culture, restaurants, bars, and more. I starred a number of recommended places on Google Maps, which I’ve started doing while traveling as well in New York. It makes life so much easier when you want to find a place quickly nearby. To balance out the walking tour, I decided to go for the three-course business lunch at Costes Downtown, a modern European restaurant. At $25 (US) the set menu and accompanying great service was an incredible deal for a Michelin star restaurant.

Cured trout with avocado, roast lamb with pineapple and cabbage, berries & raspberry sorbet, and passion fruit cocktail at Costes Downtown

Budapest is known for its thermal baths with many dating back to the Ottoman Empire. There’s a wide range of baths and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do one of the larger baths like Rudas (of course more touristy) or a more local option, Király. Both baths were built by the Ottomans in the 16th century. During drinks with a friend from Budapest that evening at Kisüzem, he said I should do Király for a more authentic experience and booked a lunch reservation for me at Borkonyha WineKitchen (also Michelin starred). He also reminded me that we hadn’t seen each other in about seven years, almost a fourth of our lives! During my time off it’s been great to have the opportunity to see people I hadn’t seen in years, easily one of the best perks of not being “busy.”

The following afternoon I was off to lunch at Borkhonya. Unfortunately, I can’t eat dairy so I was limited on options and the changes they made to the food left the dishes lacking a little mmph (technical term) from the loss of salt and/or fat content. However, all things considered it was a great value for the price and both wines I tried were great.

Prawn & trout, scallop in parsnip soup, duck breast & broccoli

Afterwards I was off to Király, which is conveniently open to both men and women daily whereas some baths are single sex depending on the day. For less than $40, I purchased a day pass to the baths, a 30 minute massage, and rented a locker and towel. It was a no frills experience but still very relaxing after a series of flights.

Entrance (photos not allowed in the baths)

The following day was my last full day in Budapest. I’m not generally a vintage clothing shopper but I read very positive reviews for Szputnyik Shop, which carries a combination of modern and vintage clothing. I came away with two dresses, a shirt and ring for a great price.

doing it for the gram

At the other end of the tourist spectrum, I then visited the House of Terror, a museum that documents two consecutive eras of terror in Hungary, first by Nazi Germany and then by Soviet Russia. I thought it was a valuable way to spend a few hours for anyone interested in history as well as current events (still no shortage of authoritarian governments) and would recommend the audio guide to get the most out of the museum.

Terror House entrance (photographs not allowed)

At the recommendation of a sommelier I met in Stockholm at Omakase Köttslöjd, I made a dinner reservation for that night at Mák Bistro. I was so glad I took his advice because not only was it my best meal of my trip but probably one of the best meals I’ve had in 2017. I elected to do the six course tasting menu ($60 US) and it was modern European dining at its best. The dishes were well balanced and creative but not overly fussy.

Bread with incredible roasted garlic lard, amuse bouche, modern lighter (and better) take on the Waldorf salad, carrot consommé with wonton (clockwise from top)
Sea bass & crispy barley made in a two day process, venison saddle & green peas, (not pictured but eaten Mangalitsa sausage with fried broccoli and seaweed), raspberry sorbet & beet foam (incredible even for this beet hater), financiers

There are a number of reasons I would like to go back to Budapest and Mák Bistro is close to the top of the list! I still have a lot of the world to see but Eastern Europe has firmly landed as a priority after a great but too short trip to Budapest.

Miscellaneous Recommendations:
Neighborhood to Stay In: Jewish Quarter
Budget Accommodations: Maverick City Lodge (private rooms)
Coffee: My Little Melbourne Coffee and Brew Bar
Bakery (Savory & Sweet): BITE Bakery Café
Casual Eats: Belvárosi Disznótoros
Cocktails: Warm Up Cocktail Bar
Drinks & A Scene: Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar

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