We barely had two days in Budapest. I can say with full confidence that though we did have a blast and fall in love with this place, our time here was not nearly enough to fully experience Budapest. Maybe it was the cold that kept us ducking into shops and speedily taking pictures before finding a warm spot, but our lovely time here only makes me want to visit again in the spring.
When we arrived (on a flight headed to Minsk with 17 of our closest friends), we navigated the billion forms of transportation like pros, found a little wi-fi to let folks know we were alive, and walked to a nearby restaurant to try something to warm us up. We got skewers with turkey and roasted veggies, and some traditional Hungarian food: bean soup and garlic soup, both of which blew our minds.
After dragging our suitcases through the snow to our Airbnb, we settled in and eventually headed to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths. I'd never experienced anything like this before. Hundreds of people, locals and tourists alike, running between buildings in the snow in their bathing suits to pool after pool. The most comfortable were inside, ranging between 25 and 40 degrees Celcius. The outdoor pools were the most breathtaking, the steam from the water rising up off the surface and filling the air like something out of a movie.
Exhausted but very relaxed, we finished our first day. The next morning we headed out early, and we ended up conquering more of the city than we expected, starting with the Pest side and making it to the Buda side by lunchtime.
Pattie and I ended up having dessert for breakfast, but in a place like Book Café, who cares? The old department store has a beautiful parlor-ballroom on the top floor that is used as a coffee shop, while the two floors beneath it house thousands of books, mostly in Hungarian. Pattie was in heaven.
Before continuing our marathon of sweets, we stopped to see St. Stephen's Basilica, a Roman Catholic basilica named for the first King of Hungary. The intricacies involved in the construction and decoration of this building is impressive beyond description.
Right outside the basilica is a little shop called Gelarto Rosa. It won't surprise you, then, that they serve their gelato in the shape of a rose. The shop was adorable, well lit and full of cute details and trinkets, the staff all young and extremely charming. It may have been below freezing outside, but when in Budapest, I guess.
After a chai latté at Starbucks (hey, they don't have them in Asia) we passed by Cake Shop, a cute little bakery where we watched the expert bakers prepare sweets while we picked out which macaroons we liked best. I got poppyseed, and it was to die for. The shop also had an array of cute cards and paper goods for sale. Only adding the icing to the... Okay. I'll stop.
We crossed the Danube over the Chain Bridge before lunch, heading up the funicular to Buda and spending a little time shopping in the little souvenir stores before we got hungry. The Buda side of the city is so starkly different from the Pest side. It feels more like a cute village, or a small downtown. Preserved for historical value. On this side you'll find the castle, Matthias Church and the Fisherman's Bastion, all of which add to the perfect beauty of Buda.
For lunch we had looked up Pest-Buda Bistro, a favorite for years in this part of town. It definitely didn't disappoint. It's not too big, but it was full when we arrived, and for good reason. We ordered a few things to share including a special pumpkin soup, chicken paprikash, and these divine parsley potatoes, a food I would never have expected to describe as divine, but it's true.
En route to Ruszwurm Confectionary, an amazing dessert spot, we passed Matthias Church, lit up to show all the great detail in the architecture. I was impressed by the mosaic rooftops, which is something I'd never seen before Eastern Europe.
Pattie and I ordered tea and tiramisu from Ruszwurm, the cozy atmosphere of the bakery-café and the quick drop of the sun making us think it was way later than it actually was. We got back to the Fisherman's Bastion just before it was swarming with adventurous Hungarian students, the snow around the white stone creating a picture I'll never forget. The Parliament building across the river was shrouded in mist and looked eerie from our outlook, but I couldn't enjoy it too much after I slipped on the deceivingly icy floor of the balcony I was looking from.
We bussed our way back to our part of town, grabbing a delicious (and very western) dinner at Selfie, a grill by our little flat. We traveled a couple of bus stops away to get kürtóskalács, a very European snack that looks a little like a giant cuff made from dough and covered with cinnamon sugar. It was huge, and unbelievably delightful. We heard Molnar's was the best in town.
Our sad departure from Budapest came rather early the next morning. By the recommendation of our Airbnb host, we tried Fekete, an adorable coffee restaurant about two blocks from us. The coffee was delicious, the space was cute, and the croissants flakey. Done.
Thanks, Budapest, you were amazing. It's obvious your people love you, why else would every single wi-fi password be "budapest?" Can't wait to visit you again in some warmer weather.