Budapest: Day 1

Looking  back through our travel journals, our 2015 trip covering Budapest, Italy, the Balkans, and Istanbul seemed a likely candidate to add to our blog. The previous post describes how the plan for this 3-week trip evolved.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

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Arrival

After an early morning flight from the San Francisco Bay Area on Saturday, with layovers in both Boston and Frankfurt, we arrived in Budapest, Hungary, around 9:00AM on Sunday morning.  James was thrilled with his Lego Lufthansa airplane that one of the flight attendants gave him.  Both boys enjoyed the chocolates. Overseas flights still seem to give occasional toys/schwag to kids, in a way that vanished decades ago on domestic journeys.

Everything went smoothly and we were able to check into our hotel by 10:00am.  Typically, morning from a red-eye is a very difficult time to arrive.  Your body wants to sleep, if not right after arrival, usually within a few hours. Trying to train your system to get used to the new time zone is challenging.  If you do decide to take a nap, keep it to a maximum of two hours and force yourself to go out and get as much sunlight as possible (there is a scientific reason the sunlight helps you stay awake – sunlight causes your body to make less melatonin, which is related to sleep).

The Hotel

Our hotel, Residence Baron, was quite nice and in an awesome location, near the Great Market Hall and just a few minutes walk from the Váci Utca pedestrian street.  (Utca means street.)  With two rooms, a jacuzzi bath that John loved, and a tiny kitchen, we were quite pleased. For a European city, Budapest has a reputation of being relatively affordable to visit.

Váci Street and St. Stephen’s Basilica

Our morning started with a wander from our hotel, along Váci Street’s pedestrian zone, and towards Vörösmarty Square, all of which were within a few blocks of the Danube River.

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It was a delightful re-introduction to the city and I got very excited seeing a small castle across the river.  Jeremy and I spent a few days here in 2005 and were excited to share this beautiful city with the boys.

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Eventually we made it to St. Stephen’s Basilica.  Beautiful, inside and out!  But with the church service in progress, it felt a bit like a zoo.  A ton of tourists were snapping pictures with little regard to what was happening inside the church.  We felt a little weird about it, so did the tourist circuit, but refrained from adding to the chaos, happy with our outdoor photo.

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One minor thing we noticed in the church – the Latin writing on the walls. While we don’t really know Latin – it seemed familiar compared with the Hungarian writing. To be clear, we had no language barrier issues in Budapest, but that’s because most locals dealing with tourists speak English. That said, Hungarian itself is very different from most European languages – for instance, even Hindi is closer linguistically to English than Hungarian (Hindi and English are both Indo-European languages, Hungarian is not).

Buda and Pest

Where does the city get its name?  Well, one side of the river is Buda, and the other is Pest, so the name is fairly straightforward.  Given that we had spent the morning in Pest, we decided to cross the river into Buda.  The Lion Bridge was quite interesting and the boys loved the statue.

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After crossing we got a nice view of the Parliament Buildings.

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As well as both the Lion Bridge and St. Stephen’s Basilica.

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Hungarian National Gallery

After lunch, the boys were quite tired.  This is a hard stage of life for kids to travel.  They are a bit too big for a stroller (see my thoughts on why your should consider bringing a stroller well past the point that is typical), but not quite strong enough to push past jet-lag and general tiredness to keep up with significant sightseeing, so we decided to scrap our original plans, and took the funicular up to visit the Hungarian National Gallery, which is housed in Buda Castle.

I love this museum!  It was a favorite in 2005, and it was another favorite in 2015.  Given my fondness for Renaissance and Baroque art, it was bound to please.  Add in some good Medieval and Gothic art, and I was one happy camper.  Even the boys really got into it.  John loved the battle scenes, and James was fascinated by all the gold gilt on the Gothic winged alter-pieces.

Afternoon Snack

Finishing around 3pm, we decided to walk back down the hill, cross the bridge back into Pest, then look for a treat for the boys.  They were thrilled with the sundaes that we found for them at a nice cafe along the river.

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As I sipped on my coffee, we enjoyed the views and discussed the architecture.  John remembered one of the paintings that depicted a Budapest battle at the walls and decided that what we were seeing looked like a great fortress.

After this, we went back to the hotel to rest before dinner.  Given how tired we were, we settled on a fairly touristy place on Váci Street.  It was fine, but not great. In the coming days, we’d find meals that were both better and less expensive.

After dinner, we were worried about being able to keep the kids up a bit longer, but fortunately John asked if we could take another walk.  Great idea!  We managed to stay up until an almost normal bed time.  Perfect for setting ourselves up for a quick recovery from jet-lag! Next: days 2-3 in Budapest.

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