Bonus quiz question – Budapest is one of 4 capital cities on the Danube, can you name the others? Answers at the foot.

Travelling during Covid times has added complications, but we managed to download our NI Covid certs, and use Irish passport to convert these to an EU covid pass.  Travelling from one EU country to another should be OK, no additional PCR testing or passenger locator forms required. ( At that time, regulations have changed since then!)  Proper foreign money also acquired – there are roughly 400 Hungarian Furints (HUF) to the pound, which is an awkward exchange rate, but I memorised that 2,000 was about a fiver, and used that as a gauge.

With an early morning start, we stayed the night before at the Clayton Hotel by Dublin airport, which also serves as a car parking option.  Treated ourselves to some southern Tayto crisps from the nearby garage while watching the Ireland rugby match, and then enjoyed dinner in the restaurant.

Alarms were set for early o’clock, and at 4 am we were boarding the shuttle bus.  Simple drop off of our one piece of checked in baggage, and the 3 hour flight departed and arrived on time.  Hungary is 1 hour ahead.

The hotel reservation had included a transport car from the airport, but this used R’s work phone number, so a bit of back and forth-ing was required on the phone before our taxi arrived, and took us into the centre of the city, where we were staying in the Hotel Impulso, with fresh and modern décor and a warm welcome from the staff.

Day 1 is usually “aimless wandering” to get some bearings.  There seemed to be many kebab shops nearby, but also a very handy Metro station (Pope John Paul 2), and even a wee Tesco on the corner for essential supplies (wine and crisps).

  Much construction work is ongoing, some of it restoring and repairing old buildings, some of it extending the metro line.  But we found a sticky tabled bar that was about to start serving food, and began the usual game of ordering something that resembled Smirnoff and diet coke, ice no lemon please.  Diet coke is often rare outside the UK (and no, Coke Zero is not the same!)

There weren’t many restaurants near our hotel, so we ended up in a sort of Asian food shop, where I tried a seafood ramen.  Back at the hotel, our bedroom was at the front, and the trams passing by were quite noisy, but they did stop at midnight.

Day 2.  Breakfast at the hotel was great, a wide selection of delicious breads, some cheese and salad items, as well as hot food.  It was interesting to note different Covid practices – whilst mask wearing was pretty universal, even outdoors, the breakfast was serve yourself buffet style.

We were picking up the hop-on-hop-off bus today, so walked all the way down to St Stephens Basilica to sort out the tickets and take an orientation tour.

There’s a small Christmas Market behind the basilica where I was able to get some mulled wine and a chimney cake.  We needed to show Covid certs and ID to enter. R had a flatbread with pork, leeks and sour cream.  Other food on offer included gigantic hot dogs, and Henry 8th style legs of meat (pork, presumably).  The Hungarian language is quite unusual, and not related to those I am more familiar with, so it wasn’t really possible to have a guess at the meanings.  That said, English was widely spoken.

In the afternoon we visited the synagogue, the second largest in the world.  It is a stunning building, and we found the guided tour very informative and moving.  Hungarian Jews suffered badly during the 2nd world war.  Famous Hungarian Jews include Tony Curtis, Estee Lauder, and Goldie Hawn. There is a very poignant sculpture at the rear of the building in the form of a willow tree, with a name written on each leaf.

We dandered back to the hotel, stopping off at the Craft beer and Bistro for a drink, and picking up some essentials (sanitiser, plasters, notebook) in the Spar. And then I got changed into my Scottish dancing clothes, and hopped in a taxi to go to the local class!  How marvellous to take part in an activity that is done right across the world.  Masks were worn throughout the class, which was delivered mostly in Hungarian, with the odd English recap for my benefit.  The most surreal part was the warm-up which was done to a Mongolian folk rock band called the Hu (and amazingly I even recognised the song).  There were 12 of us in the class, and tartan sashes were used to denote those dancing as men.  We tried (and failed) to get through the twelvesome reel – it’s not one I’m familiar with at all, so I wasn’t much help.  Got my first experience of public transport by getting a bus and metro home.

Day 3.  After a relaxed breakfast we strolled across JP2 Park to the train station for photo opportunities, and then didn’t have to wait too long for the HoHo bus, where we managed to get seats upstairs at the front. Crossing the Danube, we got off the bus on the Buda side, and took a little shuttle bus to take us up to the top of the hill.  There is usually a funicular railway operating too, but it was closed for repairs. Many things are priced in euro as well as HUF, and the shuttle bus was 9 euro, well worth it to avoid climbing up the hills.

The Fisherman’s Bastion by St Matthais Church was where we alighted, and enjoyed the blue skies and sunshine for some great photos.  The Buda Tower was closed to visitors (Covid), and the Carillion bells weren’t ringing (lightning), while the Palace was closed for refurbishment.

Back at the foot of the hill we walked across Elizabeth Bridge, and lunched in the Pointer Pub.  Suitable refreshed, we walked to the main Christmas market in Vorosmarty Square.  Big food stalls serving big portions of goulash, sausage and knuckles.  Lots of lovely stalls with leather goods and wooden toys. Porcelain ornaments, fur, and jewellery.  I bought a pair of silk earrings.

We caught the 4 pm boat at Dock 6, which was just the perfect time for our river trip.  We found seats on the upper deck, complete with blankets to keep warm.  As the sun set there was a beautiful golden light on the water, which then became deeper twilight and all the buildings lit up in fabulous colours. We walked home, calling into Tesco for the makings of a “hotel room picnic”, and I mistakenly bought a bottle of wine with a cork!  Cue much hilarity at reception as David bravely wrestled with an ancient corkscrew to unite me with my Chardonnay.

Day 4.  The weather was a bit cooler and duller , but we took the HoHo bus to Heroes Square, admired the ice skaters, and had a dander through the old castle museum, dotted with many statues.  I was proud of myself for finding 300HUF to use the toilets.

We lunched downtown in the Longford Irish pub (cheesy chips), and then checked out the Timberland shop.  I worked out how to get back to the hotel using public transport, and bought a couple of 24 hour tickets. We’d wanted to go to the West End City Centre shopping mall, but the metro was replaced by buses and we were scared of getting lost.

I was able to go to the Thursday night dance class, which was being taken by a Russian girl, mostly in English.  There were only 9 of us plus the teacher, so I felt a wee bit left out when I didn’t have a partner for a 4 couple dance, but I do sympathise knowing how hard it is to find a programme that’ll work for however many dancers turn up.

The class runs from 6 till 8, so it does make for a respectable early night, I treated us to ice creams from Tesco, and Barbara on reception did the honours with the corkscrew.

Day 5.  After a leisurely breakfast, I bought a bottle of Tokaj, the famous Hungarian wine, from Tesco, and packed it in our check-in bag, which we were able to leave at the hotel as our plane was not till the evening.

We used the public transport tickets to visit the big Market Hall, a riot of colour and displays of fruits, meat, cheese, paprika, lavender, wooden toys, palinka, and embroidered goods.  The lower level has some history and information about the most important Hungarian produce, and I was able to buy little tins of paprika, a jar of caviar, smiley pickles, and some cheese. 

I wasn’t sure whether to fork out for a tablecloth or peasant blouse, but R pointed out some embroidered face masks, which were not too expensive and will definitely get used!

The number 2 tram line claims to be one of the most scenic in Europe, hugging the side of the river, so we took a ride on it to the parliament buildings.  Our tickets were indeed checked on this part of the trip.  After an unsatisfying cheese scone in a café, we looked at the bronze shoes, a poignant tribute to those who’d been shot by the Arrow Cross.

Back on the red metro line, we rode to the station and then changed to the green line and back to the hotel, where we used the wifi to complete our passenger locator forms, needed to get back into Ireland.

I was a little concerned when our taxi was late, and then got stuck in some awful traffic going to the airport, and then the queue to drop off bags took an hour to get through!

I was a bit worried about Storm Arwen, but our return flight was uneventful, landed on time, got through passport and Covid checks in under 5 minutes, and our suitcase was waiting for us on the carousel.

Quiz answer: Those other capitals are Vienna and Bratislava (which I’ve visited EuroViennaSlava), and Belgrade (which is now on my bucket list so’s I can complete the set).