View from our room at the Hotel Victoria
Friday March 2, 2007
$1= 191 Hungarian Forints (ft)
As we come in for a landing in Budapest, it's raining, but the countryside is oh so fertile and green. We exit the plane, again on the tarmac and are bussed to the terminal. Inside, it's only a matter of minutes to go through passport control, complete with the requisite post communist desk officials who are so disinterested in their jobs they would rather talk to each other than process us. Still, it's fairly quick and we do get our passports stamped.
The ATM machine is easy to find and I make a classic blunder in currency conversion and barely take out enough money to cover the cab ride and the rest of the day. Sure, it's easy to get more but why pay unneeded bank fees for extra transactions?
Outside the terminal is a airport controlled taxi service where I buy a voucher with the name of the hotel on it. This means it's a fixed rate of 4200 ft to our destination (price determined by "zone/ distance from airport. Since we had no luggage to wait for, I think we are in the taxi within 20 minutes of landing.
The taxi driver is the long lost cousin of Mario Andretti and has us cringing and closing our eyes. Still, I wonder why it is that I almost never wear a seat belt in foreign taxis? Is it because they are rarely available in most of Asia, or am I afraid of "insulting" the driver? Nah, it's probably just an unrealistic assumption they know what they're doing and a refusal to accept that anything could go wrong.
The inside of the taxi has a sign in 4 languages reminding passengers the "tip is not included in price".
We chose this hotel based on Tripadvisor.com reviews and the fact that it has a fantastic view from every single room. There are only 3 rooms per floor and 9 floors, so it's small.
The plusses: Our room is on the 8th floor and we have a corner room. This means we have two huge windows, giving us a panorama view from the Chain Bridge to Parliament (see photos below). The room itself is good sized, and pretty much looks exactly like the photos on the website (not quite as "nice" but still fine). Beds are decent, firm, but not plush and come with warm duvets. The bathroom is small, shower only, but has good water pressure. The tv has 12 or so channels, in English, 4 news and MTV, but we're not here to watch tv.
The minuses: The location, while close to the castle, is not exactly in the hub of things, so there aren't as many restaurant choices and transportation options. Our closest Metro stop is about 8 blocks away and is temporarily closed while we are here (more on that later). There are no amenities in the bathroom other than soap. There's no internet access, except ridiculously expensive WiFi, though they may offer it free soon.
Budapest-The Castle District
We resist the pull of a nap and set out walking. Our first stop is a cafe around the corner from the hotel, Cafe Soho, purportedly with internet access. A couple of cups of decent cappuccino and 30 minutes of frustration later, we leave. Their internet access does not work. We return later that night and only one computer is limping along-too slow to use. I do manage to squeeze off a single email via WiFi from the LD to my husband to let him know we are alive before it freezes up.
We walk in the direction of the Chain Bridge to the bottom of the hill below the Castle complex where there is a small funicular leading up to the top of the hill. The funicular dates back to 1870 and has two tracks with three wood paneled compartments each. It takes about a minute to get to the top and the views are breath taking
After a couple of minutes on the palace side, we go min search of a restroom and spend about 10 minutes wandering in circles (soon to be a theme for us) before finding a public WC costing 70 ft. Mom declares after, "I would have paid $100 for that". Not because it was so nice (it wasn't) but because it was so needed.
On the way back up to the square, we pass two guys in medieval dress with birds of prey on their arms-one was a small falcon and the other was absolutely huge, over two feet tall and I have no idea what it was. We are walking in the other direction and I have to force myself not to turn on my heels and follow them. About 20 feet later, I regret my decision, and we go back down the hill to see what they're doing with the birds. They've vanished.
Next we continue walking, following along loosely with the Frommer's Budapest walking tour of the Castle District. It was cold and rainy, but still fun.
Matthias church was beautiful, from the outside (we did not go in).
Fisherman's Bastion is a structure built on the edge of the hill on the site of an old fish market. For the life of me I cannot figure out why there would have been a fish market that high up on the hill instead of down by the river, but it was lovely nonetheless.
Amazing views of the entire Pest side of the river. From there, we walking in a zig zag patten among the old streets looking at the houses, some dating back to Medieval times.
By now, it's mid afternoon and we need food, or at least coffee, so we stop at Ruszwurm Cukraszda, at a tiny coffee house which has been here since 1827. We have tea and two different strudels, one apple and one cherry. They we just ok, not amazing. Fading fast, we go back to the hotel for rest.
For dinner, we want to try Hungarian food and go to a restaurant near hotel called Horgasztanya Vendeglo (Fo u. 27). Although it seems to have a seafood theme in it's decor, we gravitate toward heavier fare. For a starter we share a duck liver w/ onions and marjoram which looks a bit scary on the plate but tastes great. I have wild boar stewed in red wine for my entree and a side of "housemade gnocchi" which is a bit more like spatzle, but good. Mom has pork cutlets "bacony style" with paprika and mushroom cream sauce. With a glass of red wine and a beer dinner is 7000 ft incl tip.
Walking in Circles-
After dinner, we want to try and find an internet place again so Mom can check her work email and I can try and upload the blog. We strike out at the Soho cafe and the guy at the front desk is less than helpful with his recommendations. I look in the guidebook and find a 24 hour place listed, but it's across the river.
The front desk guy directs us to the Metro station up the street at Batthyany Ter, only to find that the metro line here is shut down due to construction. There is a replacement bus, but apparently, one cannot buy a ticket on the bus. There is a bus ticket machine, but it only takes coins and we don't have enough for two tickets. Down in the metro station, there are no ticket offices open, and no change machines. We ask complete strangers for change and no one has any. We go into a Pizza restaurant and the server there can only manage 200 ft change. Tickets are 230 ft and we still don't have enough. We ask a taxi driver how much to our destination and we quotes us 2000 ft.
We walk back to the hotel, get change from the front desk guy who says "oh, yeah, guess the metro is closed". By now, we've been walking in circles for an hour, but we are determined.
Down to the chain bridge we go, hoping to find a bus there and a ticket machine. Yes, bus, no machine. At this point, it's take a cab or go back.
Suddenly, a teeny, tiny cab stops (think smaller than a Mini Cooper) driven by a huge bear of a man with a giant beard. Mom asks "how much to go to 46 Andrassy, near the Opera Metro station?" "2500 forint",he says. Now everything I've been told, everything I've read, has said never pick up a cab on the street, always call for one. But, we have no cell phone to call. So, mom says, "no, that's too much". They go back and forth and he agrees to take us for 1000 ft! So, in the cab we go and we're there in about 10 minutes. No problem. And there it is, the aptly named "Internet Cafe" at 46 Andrassy- 200 ft for 15 minutes. And, luckily, they allow customers to use their usb ports so I'm able to upload a little to the blog. Mom is happy too and I have to drag her away from work after about half an hour. We walk all the way back to the hotel and crash.
Pedometer reading for day-5 miles