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Christmas in Budapest

I left Vienna by train to meet the some other Olmsted scholars and their families for a very merry Christmas in Budapest.  Here’s a quick tip: book a seat on the train, especially during the holiday season.  I only did this because it was the next option after I bought my ticket online.  Because it cost an extra 3 euro, I hesitated for a few seconds.  My train was standing room only for the seatless, as was an earlier train that some friends stood on for three hours, so I was happy to have my seat by the window.

I had busy plans for once I arrived in Budapest, but after having trouble finding a place to get enough forints for cab fare and finally checking in to the hotel, I felt less energetic.  On my way to check out the Christmas market, I walked right past a cafe that a friend recommend, and stopped there instead.  This is Cafe Paris, on the top floor of a bookstore.   I was thrilled when the hostess led me to a deep leather lounge chair and sank into it.  It was so comfy that I had to pull myself up to read the menu or eat my  lovely cake.  When contemplating leaving the cafe to get to the market before dinner, a pianist started playing Christmas tunes and I sank even deeper into my chair.  I spent the time sipping wonderful Hungarian wine and admiring the frescoes in the cafe.  I did see a little more of Budapest, but the cafe was by far my favorite place in the city!

I found the restaurant in the old Jewish quarter, which is a really interesting district of Budapest. Because of my lounge time, I was a little late getting to dinner and didn’t take any pictures.  Think winding cobbled streets and lots of interesting, four-story or so buildings, joined together like townhouses.  Dinner was traditional Hungarian fare.  The best part was sampling the local alcohol, palinka, which is like a brandy or grappa. Somehow mine was a little smoother than the others served, like it was the beginning or end of a different bottle, but after a few sips I decided it was okay, but not something I would need to buy in vast quantities.  Our waiter was hilarious – there was a menu option for a three course meal for 3o euros, or something like that, so he recommend that we all pick the three most expensive dishes and go to town!  Since some of those dishes involved offal, I opted for an appetizer and two main courses, washed down with hefty doses of Hungarian beer and wine.  My starter was something resembling a zucchini fritter, the first main was an almond crusted trout, and I’m ashamed to say that I don’t remember the third course, although I think it was some kind of lamb.

After dinner the more adventurous amongst us went to try out a Budapest ruins bar.  These are bars built into old factories or warehouses.  Ours was Szimpla, which I just read was voted the third best bar in the world by Lonely Planet readers!  And I agree with them – it was an amazing place that I’d be happy to go back to again and again.  The building was huge with lots of options for entertainment.  We stumbled into a sheesha lounge and didn’t turn back, but later I did an exploration loop through the place.  Along with the hookah area, there were lots of quiet rooms with small bars in them, a place in the back that resembled a jazz bar, complete with live music, and a large area in the middle that was more of the rowdy raucous that you’d expect in a such a cavernous place.  I think there’s something for everyone, and the drinks are cheap and keep on coming!  Which is exactly what happened to us.  I hadn’t drank that much for quite some time, so I spent the better part of Christmas Eve recovering in my hotel room.

On Christmas Day I joined some other Olmsteders for a hike up a hill for the best views of Budapest.  It was a pretty easy 10-15 minute walk and although it was cold and windy at the top, the views were amazing!

Although I initially scoffed at the idea, we had lunch at Hooter’s!  It doesn’t sound very Christmasy or adventurous, but for a bunch of scholars who can’t go back to the States for a few years, American food is an absolute comfort.  I forgot how much I loved fried pickles, not to mention the taste of hot wings!  After lunch I finally checked out the Christmas markets and some shop windows.  This market was small, but had lots of amazing food – some of the European scholars voted the Budapest market as the best for food!

Here are few more pics from walking around the city.  It’s beautiful, but like a lot of Eastern European cities, the main buildings could use a good pressure-washing.  I think Budapest had a nice gritty feel to it, which was definitely in contrast to the everlasting perfection of Vienna.

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