Ten adults, three kids, and one long Easter weekend in Budapest with friends, coworkers and family. Since Chamonix went so well (more about that in another post), we decided the group should travel again. Many of us are expats from the US so traveling around Europe is a high priority. What’s great about this group is that on trips such as this, we feel very comfortable breaking off to do and see things on our own then join the group for group activities. The bad thing is that with a party of 13, sometimes it’s difficult to find seating at a restaurant for dinner especially in Budapest where many of the restaurants we came across were quite small. For this particular trip we had 9 Americans, 3 Spaniards, and 1 Brit! The expat family that travels together stays together!
We arrived to Budapest on Thursday evening and after a night of restful sleep, well as restful as it can be with a toddler sleeping in bed with you, we decided to walk around the city and explore. The first sight we came upon was St Stephens Basilica. This incredibly beautiful neo-classical building houses a mummified relic, the holy right hand of King St. Stephen. You can even pay 1€ to see it lit up. Since we went over Easter weekend, the basilica was adorned with so many beautiful white lilies, daisies and tulips.
Next we walked north on the Pest side along the Danube to the Shoes on the Danube memorial. This memorial is “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45.” During WWII about 3,500 people, 800 of them Jewish were brought to the river, ordered to take off their shoes, and shot so their bodies would fall into the Danube. Living in Europe, there are reminders everywhere of WWII like memorials, tombs, and stolpersteins. This memorial made me quite emotional, especially the pair of children’s shoes. The pebbles represent prayers and all the shoes were full.
Some in the group are planners (not us) and booked a wine cruise along the Danube. A lot of interesting information is provided about the landmarks you can see from the boat. I highly recommend this as you taste the many different wines of Hungary…and by many I mean 7. You get 7 glasses, not just tastes, of wine. Since Carson counted as a full drinking human, we occasionally got a generous pour, like my glass of rosé!
After the wine cruise, we continued north. A short distance along the river is the beautiful, neo-classical Parliament building. Then found a spot for a quick bite to eat and refreshments (photo credit: Tracy Still).
Making sure to leave no landmark along the river on the Pest side unseen, we continued our journey through the Olympic playground/park then to the musical fountain on Margaret Island. We somehow managed to show up to the musical fountain for the last show of the evening. The fountain played music by Simon & Garfunkel and the Beatles, changed colors and shot various water streams of water to the beat.
Walking back to our hotel at the end of the night seemed to take forever but did provide beautiful views of the city at night.
Saturday we took a 3 hour Bike tour through Budapest. We saw a ton of landmarks and got a little different history from the day before. We learned that King St. Stephen has a daughter named Margaret. He promised to commit his daughter to a life of devotion if the Mongols could be driven from the land. They were and she was. She took residence on this island, hence the name, at the age of nine until she died in her early 30s. What amazed me the most about the bike tour was that Carson slept though most of it.
Saturday afternoon found us hiking up a hill to the Royal Palace/Buda Castle on the Buda side and Instagram posing along the way. Of course refreshments were in order once we made it to the top!
On Easter Sunday, Jeff took Carson for the morning and a small group of us headed to Gellért Thermal Baths. The Romans are said to have discovered the thermal pools and used them religiously. Now tourists and locals alike enjoy the warm therapeutic waters of the thermal baths that can be found all around Budapest. Gellért has 8 thermal pools ranging from 19-38 C. May-September there is also an outdoor wave pool but we didn’t get to experience that.
In the afternoon, Jeff got some guy time on a beer bus and I took Carson to the Easter Markets. So many local vendors, so many beautiful things for sale, so much delicious food! We also spent a little time letting the girls play in a park by a fountain. They were champs being confined to their strollers for most of the trip (…and yes, they matched).
As it was Easter, many things were closed so we decided to host the group to a large pasta dinner at our hotel, which was an apartment style hotel…the only way to go with a little one! Everyone pitched in and we were able to have a wonderful Easter celebration. The picture below is of me about to try a Rachael cake, a Hungarian Jewish traditional cake comprised of many layers. Let’s just say that I’m glad I tried it but it was not my favorite. Crushed sesame seeds make up the bottom layer and the flavor from the seeds overpowered the rest of the cake.
Monday, our final day in Budapest led us around the Jewish quarter where we were staying. We toured the Dohány Street Synagogue. It is the largest Jewish house of worship outside of NYC. The courtyard to the side of the synagogue was the burial spot for 2,200 unidentified Jews during WWII. Behind the synagogue is the Tree of Life Memorial. Each leaf on the weeping willow memorial has an engraved name of a person or family who was murdered during WWII. There are hundreds of thousands of leaves.
Not sure how or why we didn’t find the Ruins Bars earlier but on the last day our whole group made our way into Szimpla Kert the first romkocsmá (ruin pub). These bars started as pop up bars in abandoned warehouses in the Jewish Quarter. Now these warehouses/bars are comprised of many different rooms, tons of random items like one would find in a rummage sale, art installations and graffiti…everywhere! The ruins bars are really cool.
Food. Can we just talk about the food for a minute? Not only is the Hungarian cuisine divine, and I’m not just talking about the goulash, but around every corner was another delicious, tasty treat. Thankfully our group is great at sharing!