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Published: September 4th 2011
Basilica St StephenBudapest, our first stop out of quite a few over the coming three weeks, offered us a combination of all the right ingredients to truly enjoy and discover this beautiful historic city: fantastic weather, friends from Europe and Asia who got together for the wedding of Jeremy & Krisztina & a great little hotel right in the heart of the city that allows us to explore quite a lot on foot.
Budapest - Pest side
Catching up with friends
The very first reason we actually decided to start our road trip in Budapest was the wedding of an old friend from Shanghai Jeremy with Krisztina which he met there. Common friends from that time were present too and somehow it felt like yesterday (and it had actually been quite a few years…).
The very first lunch had to be with Hugues, one of my closest friend from the Shanghai times, and seeing him in Budapest was simply unreal as we had been speaking about me coming to Budapest, his home for seven years before Shanghai, for years without even thinking that it would actually take place in the near future and here we were chatting in one of his favorite café, visiting
his apartment (which is exactly the way I had pictured it for years…) & exchanging stories about Budapest, Shanghai and Baghdad… Small world it is !
Nicolas arrived later that same day and it felt great to finally be able to introduce him to my “Shanghai friends”, as opportunities to visit Shanghai are a bit scarcer now.
Later on that day, we had a great “medieval style” dinner at a restaurant called Sir Lancelot, which is a sort of tavern with nonstop medieval inspired entertainments & meat which you barely need a spoon to eat (forget about the fork it is not provided…)
Night life in Budapest seems to be quite something too! Only went to one club, the Rio, a huge outdoor club with electro music along the Danube river and the ambiance & music was fantastic, with a very chilled out/ non pretentious crowd simply there to spend a good night. Danced most of the night, and somehow it was a great warm up for upcoming days…
The wedding was at the image of the bride and groom, full of life, laugh & love. Set within an old beginning of the century building on
View from the Palace
Budapest - Buda side
Castle Hill, the French/Hungarian wedding ceremony was promptly followed by live gypsies music in the garden giving the right vibe for people to dance or sing, chit chat & go through the usual picture sessions. The dinner and after dinner was the occasion to cheer up with some local wine & brandy and dancing until getting out of breath which is exactly what we did!
Exploring Budapest, a fireworks of architectural style …
Architecture remains one of my favorite focus when visiting a city and Budapest offered so much might it be baroque, gothic, romantic or the Art Nouveau style that made the city famous, that we both had neck pain after the first day exploring the city.
Over the course of the four days we spent in Budapest, we explored it by foot, tram & bus, sometime with a precise sight in mind and sometime completely randomly, with pretty much surprises at every corner!
A few of the sites we enjoyed include Basilica St Stephen & its surrounding café and wine bars, Castle Hill and its Royal Palace & fishermen’s Bastion which both offer a dramatic view over the Danube, Pest and the parliament
as well as in the same area the Hospital in the rock.
The latest was actually our favorite visit of all as it offers a glimpse of the siege of Budapest during the WW2 and the mind set in which people were during the years of cold war that followed.
Set inside a cave system hidden under Castle hill, was a fully operational hospital used during the war which remained a state secret until a few years ago. It accommodated back then up to 400 patients and was equipped with the latest equipment available at that time. Narrow wards full of bunk beds, operation theatres, “triage” rooms, are set along long corridors some 40 meters underneath the Castle. Funny enough, while going through this labyrinth of caves, where 70 wax figures have been placed here and there to give a feel of how it looked like back then, I came across one room where a doctor from the International Committee of the Red Cross was handling some ICRC letter head documents, didn’t recognize the person but did spot the letter head…as we are still using the very same one ! Even on holidays I somehow always manage to come across
the organization I work for !
The hospital which was fully self sufficient with its own generator system, was at a later stage kept operational for 40 years by a couple in case there would be a need for it.
Shortly after the war, its system had been upgraded and it became an anti-nuclear bunker. This part of the visit was quite impressive to say the least…Posters showing the different steps to be followed in case of contamination were displayed in the first rooms, then every step (removing of the cloth, cutting the hair, shower, testing …. Etc) had a dedicated room, ultimately leading to the ward part of the hospital.
Architectural wise, and putting aside the main tourist sites, Budapest is simply a great city to walk around, with plenty of tiny café to have a break & enjoy its relax lifestyle.
The best way ever to recover from hours long walks and parties, the thermal baths !!
Budapest is known for them but we actually didn’t realize how anchored in the local culture the bath are until having spent the day in one. We picked one of famous turn of the 19th-20th
century bath called Szechenyi, set in the middle of one of the main park of Budapest. The complex in itself is simply gigantic with plenty of indoor baths, sauna and steam rooms, each with different healing characteristics and then an even more gigantic outdoor set of swimming pools with temperature going from 37 degrees to the usual 20 degrees.
We spent most of the day there until the point where I simply couldn’t take any more water & steam! Felt really relaxed after that & somehow tired but guess the past few days where full days out sightseeing and evening partying had something to do with that!
The next morning, we headed to the Keleti train station with a long journey ahead of us: 8 hours to go from Budapest to Belgrade our next stop, though the Hungarian and Serbian countryside…
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