Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cold weather is a Pest


One of the most recognizable buildings on the Pest side – Hungarian Parliament

Our last day in Budapest arrived and brought with it freeeeeezing cold weather. However, we were determined not to let it affect our plans for the day – a walk around the Pest side of the river. Pest, being the communist stronghold of old, is dominated by ugly communist style block buildings. (When 74% of the city needed rebuilding after WWII, apparently they decided to build as cheap and ugly as possible). However, there are quite a few old buildings interspersed among the “new” buildings. Also, with the elimination of the communists came commercialism at its finest with a large outdoor shopping area filled with designer clothing, antiques, and delicious fast food.



I refused to go in because I don’t know how to order food in Hungarian so I sent Kevin in (even though he doesn’t know any more than I do). No double cheeseburgers in Hungary (What a TRAVESTY!) so I had to make do with a single cheeseburger.

IMG_5882We decided to brave the cold and avoid the mafia run taxis by walking from Buda to Pest via the Chain Bridge. It’s billed as the oldest bridge in Budapest across the Danube, built in 1849 . I’m not sure how they got across before then – maybe they forded the river with their carts and ponies like in Oregon Trail. Since I love photographing old architecture and lions, this bridge was perfect for me.


We had no set plans for Pest other than a stroll and some lunch so we wandered around the streets for awhile, admiring the old buildings that dotted the streets. I took pictures until I couldn’t feel my face or my hands anymore (which didn’t take very long). Along the way, we wandered across a disused Metro station with a fantastic ceiling. It also had some creepy naked statues sticking out the windows above it. Hungarians are weird.



In our wandering, we came across St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Opera House but chose to keep walking rather than go in. Partly because we didn’t want to pay to go in, but mostly because eating lunch was more important. IMG_5917

St. Stephen’s Basilica



Opera House

Since we were traveling with 4 people who had missed a flight back from Paris recently, Kevin and I didn’t trust them and thus we decided to leave extra time for lunch. However, this proved to be an issue as we couldn’t find a place to eat that was open or had customers in it (generally I find no customers = bad food). We made the executive decision, much to our friend Debs dismay, to eat at Burger King. Normally, I would turn my nose up at BK when there was a perfectly good McDonalds right down the street. However, I had just eaten a cheeseburger for breakfast, so I felt like BK should get some of our business as well. After a deliciously greasy Jalapeno Burger (why don’t they have those in the states???), we headed back to the hotel to get our cab to the airport. It gave me the opportunity to photograph the city’s ridiculous public transportation. Apparently, they haven’t upgraded since Communist Days, which may be why there is so much traffic.IMG_5943

Friday, February 4, 2011

Communist Surveillance Team Log: 29 January 2011

  • Old tuna can, casually thrown to the side of the road

Americans seen ordering a taxi.  Surveillance followed to Memento Park.  Overheard telling cab driver to pick them up in 2.5 hours.  This is 2 hours longer than needed to see this park.  Suspect nefarious purposes.  Tall American seen taking 200 “photos” .  Suspect it may be some way of communicating with contact as no one would take that many photos.  Copies of photos provided for further analysis.


  • Slid behind a poster in the post office

Followed Americans back to Buda Castle area.  Tall skinny man went into Café Ruszwurm to buy 8 pieces of cake.  There’s no way someone of that build could eat 8 pieces of cake.  It must be code.  Further surveillance suggested.

  • Cleverly hidden inside a hollowed out log.

Subjects seen entering Faust wine cellar.  Americans love booze.  No foul play suspected.  Routine surveillance only.



Thursday, February 3, 2011

All together now

After Kevin, Fred and John FINALLY pulled themselves away from IMG_5626Belgian Beer, we met up and headed out into the city together.  We decided to start out by exploring the Castle Hill area a little more.  Earlier, Kevin and the guys had walked down to the Royal Palace area before heading to the Weapons Museum, so we started out with a more thorough exploration of the area.

A little history lesson – Budapest was the only city during WWII to get bombed by both the Allies and the Germans.  74% of the city was reduced to rubble.  THEN, even more of it was destroyed in 1956 during the “Get Rid of the Russians” debacle. For a city that was 74% destroyed, they did an excellent job of repairing it.  However, they did miss a few buildings.IMG_5630

IMG_5639After we walked around the Royal Palace, and I took a few photos of the city during the time period that photographers call  “The Magic Hour”, the guys decided that they had the perfect place for us to grab dinner – the Belgian Restaurant.  Apparently, they were not content with not having drank the entire menu and decided a little more exploration was in order.  I developed a love for Belgian Beer during a work sponsered trip to Belgium with Doyle and was of course game. While the beer menu wasn’t nearly as extensive as the menu at the place in Ghent I went with Doyle, it was huge.  And in true Belgian style, each beer came in its own, specially designed glass.




Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Battle of the Sexes (Boys)

When the plans for the first full day in Budapest were taking shape it ended up that Fred, John and I were not interested in taking a cooking class so we decided do our own thing.  (Amanda’s edit:  Really, Kevin should have said they were interested in beer drinking not cooking). We pretty much  knew we wanted to check out a Belgian restaurant that Fred had found but had no other concrete plans in place. 

Once the cooking class crew (Amanda, Deb, Jen, Joanna and Nate) had left we hung out at the hotel for a bit while Fred and John ate breakfast and then we headed out for a wander.  We headed the direction of Buda Castle.  Along the way we snapped photos and enjoyed the city. 

Hungarian Parliament from the Buda side of the Danube

When we got to the entrance to Buda Castle we noticed that there was couple rows of Hungarian soldiers lined up in front of a red carpet at the presidential offices.  We hung around for a while to see if we could see who was going to be coming to the offices.  It turned out that a couple of official looking cars with Hungarian flags on them pulled up and a bunch of people got out.  A group of them walked directly to the front door of the offices and lines up as to be waiting for someone.  This left an old woman and a younger woman.  One of the soldiers (looked like the ranking officer of the soldiers lined up) talked to the women and then the older woman walked over to the other group and the younger woman slowly walked down the red carpet stopping to what looked like inspect the troops.  They did some fancy stuff with their rifles and then she walked on into the offices.  We took some pictures but have no idea who she was.  I am thinking that she is the first lady but who knows.

The soldiers lined up…but for what?

The woman with the red scarf is important some how

After all this excitement we decided to walk along the back wall of Buda Castle hill (if that is even what it is called).  Again snapping some more photos.

After a while we came to the Hungarian War Museum.  This went through the conflicts that Hungary has been part of, which is just about all of them (and they always seem to be on the wrong side)!  The World War 1 and 2 exhibits were very cool but the one that really was the most interesting to me (and made me think that Doyle would love to see it) was an exhibit about Alexander Asboth.  Not only was he an accomplished engineer in Hungary, helping with the engineering on the Chain Bridge among other things, but he was a Hungarian war hero and a General in the United States Civil War. (Amanda’s edit: BORING!  Cooking is much more fun).  He was an ambassador for Hungary in the U.S at the time that the Civil War broke out and became a general for the Union Army.  After the war ended he became a U.S. Minister to Argentina and died in Buenos Aires.  His remains were sent back to the U.S. in 1990 and are now buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.  The exhibit went through his life and contained items from each of the wars he fought in.

Once we had our fill of swords, guns and hand grenades we decided it was time for lunch…ok beer you got me. (Amanda’s edit: Told you so).  We knew about where the Belgian restaurant, Belgas Orozo, was so we headed down the hill toward the Danube.  It did not take long and we found it and boy was it a great place.  It contained a menu of belgian type food and a beer menu that contained over a hundred Belgian brews.  We opted for a few appetizers and started with the half a yard beer sampler.  This contained 6 tasters of different beers.  Then we each had a beer randomly picked from the menu.  It was all great.

mmm Belgian beer!

After food and beer we headed back to the hotel to meet up with the cooking class crew and plan the rest of the evening.  All in all a good day! (Amanda’s edit: This is why they were late!)

Battle of the Sexes (Girls)

When Kevin first brought up the subject of him going to Budapest with some friends, I encouraged him to go.  With the trip being right in the middle of the time period where I would be taking my nursing boards and looking for a job, it didn’t seem possible for me to go.  However, as soon as he mentioned that our friend Jen wanted to take a cooking class, I knew that I would be attending this trip, even if it meant flying over for just the weekend.  In the end, we wound up having a crew of 4 couples who headed to Budapest.  While I tried to get Kevin to take the cooking class with Jen, Debs, Joanna and I , he decided to hang out with Jen and Debs  husbands Fred and John  instead.  Our friend Nate , being newly married, was much more accommodating than the rest of the men, and decided to brave a group of 4 women.


Our morning started with a cab ride to the Great Market on the Pest side (Budapest is separated by the Danube.  Buda contains castle hill and Pest contains the economic parts of the city).  We arrived at the market in plenty of time to meet our instructor Suzanna.  However, we had a little issue paying the driver.  Our fare came to 1200 forints  *approximately 4 pounds) so we handed over a 10,000 note (which is what the ATM spits out).  “No, No, No!  Too big” we were told.  We managed to get the guy to take the fare in Euro, but it was a little dicey for awhile.  To anyone planning on travelling to Budapest – hit “other amount” and put in 9,000 instead of just choosing the amount they offer on the screen.  NO ONE wants a 10,000 note.

Our cooking instructor met us at 9 and took us on a tour of the market, starting with the upper level and its prepared food.  We saw Langosh (Hungarian Fried Dough that they put weird things on like sour cream), sausages, soups and men drinking Palinka (Schnapps).  Next up was the main floor, full of meat and produce.  Hungarians, traditionally being a poor nation, do not waste food.  Every part of the animal is used.  Some of it is unrecognizable, but still they eat it.


You don’t even want to know what this is

On our tour of the meat/produce section, I learned two things.

1) Hungary is one of the largest producers of Foie Gras in the world


2) Paprika means pepper.  I’m not sure what I though paprika was made out of, but apparently, its made out of peppers.  And Hungarians LOVE paprika.



After a tour of the main floor, it was down to the basement where we found the fish (mostly river fish since the country is landlocked) and pickled items.  Hungarians pickle anything. I have a great love affair with pickles – I once at an entire jar of kosher dills in one sitting, so to me, this area was heaven.

IMG_5557After we purchased some paprikas and bread, we headed over to the cooking school to start preparations for our meal.  The staff were extremely helpful and pleasant, even if our cooking instructor was a bit of a control freak.  She felt the need to check up on my sponge cake making and give the batter one final stir after I had painstakingly folded in the egg whites to perfection.  She seemed surprised that the batter looked so nice.  I didn’t almost go to culinary school after I got laid off for nothing!

Our menu of the day consisted of :

  • Gulyásleves/ Goulash Soup (Pronounced Gouyash) IMG_5580
  • Krumplileves/ Creamy Potato Soup IMG_5574
  • Paprikáscsirke nokedlivel /Chicken Paprikash with dumplingsIMG_5582
  • Somlói Galuska/ Hungarian Sponge Cake dessert IMG_5585
  • Almás rétes /Apple strudel IMG_5572

* Don’t ask me how to pronounce anything in Hungarian.  They have like 800 million letters/combinations of letters that all have a different sound depending on what letter precedes or follows. 

The menu itself was fairly easy to prepare.  A good deal of Hungarian meals start in the same way – sweat onions, add meat and brown, then add salt, black pepper, caraway seeds, bay leaf and finally red paprika powder.  This was the start to the goulash and chicken paprikash.  It was also the start to the creamy potato soup, but instead of adding paprika, we added a paprika containing sausage and sautéed until the paprika filled oil came out of the sausage.

IMG_5613After lunch, we had some time to waste as the rest of the men were running behind so we headed over to Fisherman’s Bastion to take a few photos.  Located on Castle Hill on the  Buda side of the city,  it was built around 1900 and contains 7 towers to represent the 7 Magyar tribes that settled in the area around 900 AD.  It is named in honor of the fishermen who were responsible for defending this section of the castle walls in the middle ages.




Right next to Fisherman’s Bastion is St. Mattias Church with its beautiful tile roof.  They are currently working on the bell tower, so they had the bells removed.  It’s amazing how huge they are.IMG_5591




Statue of Stephen I of Hungary, the first official King who lived around 1000AD

We headed back to the hotel to await the men, who were supposed to meet us at 1, but called us at 1 to tell us they had just ordered food at the Belgian Pub.  Shocker…