a gloomy saturday in budapest

Friday to Saturday, September 22-23:  Four days in Budapest and this is our first, but only after Lufthansa carries us, miserably uncomfortable in economy class aisle seats, for 7:55 hours through a six-hour time zone change and across the north Atlantic to Frankfurt.

While airborne, I squirm and wriggle and try to sleep, but manage to snooze less than a half hour, instead captivated by a series of shows on the small screen inset into the seatback: first, a German-language movie Die Reste Mienes Lebens, in which Schimon lives his life following his pregnant wife’s death by clinging to a sentence his grandfather once told him, “Everything in life happens the way it should.” Second, Mama Mia and its exuberant ABBA songs delight me once again (how many times have I watched that movie?), although our destination will be nothing like the Greek island where that magical love story takes place. Finally, I watch the first of seven episodes of the TV-miniseries, Big Little Lies, which took away eight Emmys this year.

We wait in Frankfurt for nearly three hours, where Mike gets a little shut-eye while splayed across the seats in the airport.  All airports should ban armrests and have sets of lounge chairs like Frankfurt does so people can relax between flights. Meanwhile, I busy myself with a fancy coffee and pastry, in what will become a 2-week pastry extravaganza — resulting in a few extra pounds!

Mike taking a nap in Frankfurt

Finally, the airline lifts us the last hour and a half to our destination. We taxi to our Pest neighborhood in a steady drizzle under heavy clouds, bringing to mind the 1999 movie, Gloomy Sunday, which takes place in 1930s Budapest and features the famous melancholic melody which, according to urban legend, triggered a chain of suicides.  The suicide connection is unsubstantiated, but it’s probable that events in the decade in which the song was written, such as famine, poverty and the rise of Nazi Germany, may have influenced the high number of suicides at that time.

Instead it is a Gloomy Saturday, but our enthusiasm at exploring a new city is not one bit dampened.

The taxi drops us off on Kazinczy utca, the street on which Charlie’s Budapest is located; we booked the apartment through Airbnb.  Number 7 is simply a weathered door in a long nondescript wall.  We beep for apartment 7 and soon Charlie arrives with his two lively little girls, Chia and Eliye, to let us in. We enter through two large disheveled 4-story courtyards with peeling yellow paint, hinting at Old World charm. The apartment has a large bright bedroom, a nice well-stocked kitchen with an instant espresso machine, and a patio out the back door which we will use if the weather improves and if we’re able to open and close the door easily (for some reason it’s rather challenging).

The apartment sits on the ground floor in the far corner of two adjoining four-story courtyards.  Our door is to the left of the two pink chairs.

Our apartment door is on the far left bottom corner
the apartment building at Charlie’s Budapest

After Charlie gives us the rundown on Budapest, we put on our raincoats and venture out into the drizzle.

a rainy morning in Budapest

Kazinczy Street is in Budapest’s old District VII neighborhood, the old Jewish quarter, and since spring of 2012 has been dubbed as Street of Culture (a Kultúra utcája). Here in the decaying buildings left by World War II, funky bars and a lively nightlife scene have sprung up amidst the ruins. These so-called “ruin bars” line our street. We plan to visit one during our stay, so I’ll talk more about them when that time comes.

Szimpla Kert, the city’s first and most famous ruin bar, set in a dilapidated apartment complex, sits a few doors down and across the narrow street from our apartment complex.  Tour groups and lone travelers wander down the street, snapping photos of the colorful ruin bars and eatery exteriors with cameras, iPads and smart phones.

the street of ruin bars
our neighborhood

Can you find Waldo in the picture below?

wayward signs
Szimpla Kert

Immediately, Mike throws my detailed plan (outlined in an extensive spreadsheet) out the window, pointing out that going across the Danube to the Buda side doesn’t make sense for today as our apartment is on the Pest side and we’re getting a late start. He’s right of course, so I shrug and we meander through grand pastel-colored baroque, neoclassical, eclectic and Art Nouveau buildings to Szent István tér.

the pastels of Budapest

We wander streets garnished with enigmatic street art, curvaceous facades, vibrant flower stalls, and empty outdoor cafes.

Dressing Room
curvaceous buildings

The outdoor cafes would look inviting but for the light drizzle and cool temps.

outdoor cafe
fierce facade
flower shop

I fall in love with the vintage signs found through Budapest and even end up buying one later in our stay.

Coca-Cola please

The neo-renaissance Roman Catholic St. Stephen’s Basilica looms in front of us at Szent István tér and we must of course climb the 364 steps to the dome’s observation deck. Both the Basilica and the Parliament Building are 96 meters tall, and regulations don’t permit any other buildings in Budapest to be taller than these. The equal heights of these buildings represent a power balance between church and state in Hungary; they also represent the balance between worldly and spiritual thinking.

The patron saint of the church is St. Stephen (c. 975-1038), the first king of Hungary. His mummified right hand is kept in a glass case in the reliquary.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

We find a statue of St. Gregorius in a niche on the wall of the Basilica.

St. Gregorius

We also find Gothic looking details on a building across the way.

Gothic details

After climbing the increasingly narrow and claustrophobic 364 steps to the dome, we find fabulous panoramic views of Budapest from the solid balcony.  The Parliament Building, one of the Basilica’s bell towers, the Buda Hills, and the Budapest Eye Ferris Wheel on Erzsébet Square sprawl out before us.  At this point, I don’t know enough about the city to identify other sites.

View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica
View of Budapest from St. Stephen’s Basilica

Inside the church, we’re awed by the red marble and gold interior.

Interior of St. Stephen’s Basilica

Doing things in reverse order, we view the front facade of St. Stephen’s Basilica as we exit the building.

front facade of St. Stephen’s Basilica

We’re hungry by this time, and though there are Hungarian restaurants aplenty, we opt for the Hachapuri Georgian Restaurant across the street from the Basilica.  The menu out front looks healthy and enticing.

Looking for a lunchtime restaurant

I can finally shed my raincoat inside the warm and cozy Hachapuri.

Hachapuri Georgian Restaurant

I order Hikali, a set of four dumplings with four different fillings: mushroom, cheese, spinach and potato. Drawings on the menu demonstrate that one should hold the dumpling pouches by the gathered opening, and then bite into them, but I find them too hot and simply cut them up.  They’re delicious.

Hikali – dumplings at Hachapuri

As we will do many times during our trip, we forget to take a picture of Mike’s colorful Vegi Gobi before digging in, so I take a picture of the menu.  The Georgian platter has tomato-cucumber and parsley salads, hummus, cheese with mint, and various flavors of walnut balls served with a light yogurt sauce.  Meant to be shared between family and friends, Mike kindly shares some with me, although I’m too stuffed from my dumplings to partake much in his meal.

Vegi Gobi
Me at Hachapuri Georgian Restaurant in Budapest

Lunch takes longer than we intended and by the time we finish, we realize we will miss the final daily 3:00 English tour of the Hungarian State Opera House.  Instead, we decide to follow the Budapest Walking Tour in Lonely Planet Hungary, walking down Andrássy út, an avenue dating back to 1872 and recognized as a World Heritage Site since 2002. The avenue is lined with Neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses and is one of Budapest’s main shopping streets. The walk ends at Heroes’ Square, near the largest medicinal baths in Europe, Széchenyi Baths.  We have our bathing suits and flip-flops in our backpacks, intending to check it out!


29 thoughts on “a gloomy saturday in budapest

  1. Not the best of starts but I know there’s much better to come. Good job Mike overruled you. I chuckled at him ditching your beloved spreadsheet. 🙂 🙂 That platter looks very tasty, Cathy. Fancy sharing?

    1. Haha, Jo! Well, I exaggerated a bit as he didn’t physically ditch my spreadsheet, just the ideas on it! It was hilarious. All that work for naught. That platter was tasty, but I loved my dumplings more; I think I’ve turned into a bit of a dumpling after our meals full of spaetzle, dumplings, pasta and potatoes during our travels! We lucked out with the weather overall, although it was rather gloomy at times. Most times we didn’t get rained on for long. I’m very grateful for that. 🙂

      1. We do get along well, even while traveling, Jo. As for him taming the wanderer in me, I don’t know about that, but he humors me and encourages me to go alone if I must, and enjoys coming along when he can. We do travel well together. Next year I want to do the Camino, and we’re seriously talking about it now. He may meet me for 10 days in Portugal at the end of it for our 30th anniversary (he calls it our 23rd!).

    1. It was a fabulous trip, Carol, and we got lucky with the weather overall despite the gloomy start. I finally did start begging off the steps, after climbing who knows how many towers. And of course, being in Europe, we made many stops for coffee, wine, beer and lots of pastries! The pastries seem to have stuck to my middle. 🙂

    1. I’m sure it does, though I hope your weather wasn’t quite so gloomy. We did have nice weather the third and fourth days we were there. By the way, I’m going to drop over and read some of your Budapest posts now since I never did it before!

  2. I love European cities in the gloomy rain!! That is what I miss most apart from having a job still in Europe! Those bars look so cool and eclectic!! Did you meet Erno from Hungary while you were at UNIzwa? Nice man, he is still there.
    As for dumplings, I bought a Japanese cooking class for my birthday gift to myself in the summer to learn how to make gyoza, which I lived on in Japan as well as in Geneva for some reason. The recipe was 100% authentic but I have still yet to make them myself at home. I will send you the recipe if you like! In Kathmandu it was momos! No recipe I have yet found comes close to even remotely tasting the same. I will stick to the gyoza!!


    1. I think I love European cities in any kind of weather! I’m sure you do miss working there; I’d love to have an EU passport.

      No, sorry, I don’t know Enro.

      Those bars are really eclectic; we visited one of them toward the end of our time there; I’ll talk more about it then. I remember you told me about your Japanese cooking class. I love gyoza; I lived on them myself while I was in Japan. I hope you will make them soon for yourself. I don’t think I would ever make them myself when I can just as easily go out and have them at a Japanese restaurant. I don’t enjoy cooking anything too labor intensive! Besides, my students in China tried to teach me to make dumplings and I was a miserable failure. I do love all kinds of dumplings, including Japanese and Chinese dumplings, and Nepali momos, as well as Hungarian and Czech dumplings and even dumplings made from Bisquick! 🙂

  3. What an interesting and fascinating city. You fit so much in too. I love Airbnb stays and have been to a lot of them here in Australia I read Airbnb has the more accomodation available than all hotel chains put together without owning a single building….Did you share with your host?

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