The dinner we had the night before we left Bratislava did not disappoint. Barry and I both had a chicken dinner with a mushroom sauce that was incredible. This, from a person who does not particularly care for mushrooms. The only negative was our waiter who had the personality of a brick and a bit of an attitude. We walked back to our hotel room and conked out again.
The next morning we took the bus to the train station in which we arrived. After speaking to a person at the booth, we found out we needed to go to a different train station to take us to Budapest. So, we got on another bus to get to the Central Station.
As we approached the final stop at the Central Station, a man came up to us asking to see our tickets. We showed him our tickets and he explained in very basic English that our tickets had expired and we would have to pay a fine–50 euros apiece! The equivalent of $67.50! Shocked, we started digging in our pockets. Barry found a 100 euro note and the guy generously told us he would charge us 50 euros for the two of us. Then he handed another 20 euros back. As a result, we ended up paying about $22 apiece. But it was an expensive lesson considering a bloody bus ticket is only the equivalent of $.94.
Well, after a two-and-a-half hour train ride from Bratislava, we reached Budapest. Upon arriving in any new city in Europe I’m immediately disoriented. I have a superb sense of direction, but when I’m someplace new, that sense is lost. Especially in these old cities with no real defined street grid and words and lettering that are unfamiliar.
The train station in Budapest is a grand edifice. Barry and I were awestruck by the architecture of this building with sweeping arches and paintings on the walls and ceilings. Upon walking outside we saw what could be outwardly and aesthetic masterpiece, if only it were spruced up.
We were able to find our hotel quite easily. It’s an austere little place. That’s what happens when you go to Booking.com. You don’t really know what you’re going to get. Anyway, it’s clean and near everything and it’s very reasonable–$140 for three nights.
The location of this hotel couldn’t be better. We are in the Arts District, probably a ten to fifteen minute walk to the Danube with the Budapest Castle on the opposite side. The riverbank, like Bratislava’s riverbank, is lined with cruise ships, one of which was advertising live jazz, local beer and traditional Hungarian cuisine. We will probably eat there.
The immediate area of our hotel is packed with outdoor cafes, restaurants, kebab shops, bars and coffee houses. Barry found an outdoor restaurant situated behind a gated entry in a courtyard. The cocktail and coffee bars are actually inside and reflect an artiste, beatnik vibe. I want go to there and discuss existentialism with a narcissistic aesthete while sipping a Kir. But first I have to find a beret and a turtleneck.
Anyway, this area is quite Bohemian which gives it its flair and color. Not far away, we stumbled upon another area that reflects eastern Europe’s café culture. However, this area was more the province of the bourgeoisie. We had an incredible dinner of tomato salad and butterfish with mussels for Barry and a cucumber salad with Hungarian beef goulash and gnocchi for me. I also was given a brochure for a restaurant with traditional Hungarian food, gypsy dancing and Hungarian beer. We are drawn to that. We met some Hungarians who had to get into the picture with us. They were a delightful group of young people.
And I have to share this…I FOUND STAROPRAMEN BEER! Yes, folks, you can exhale now. I actually found my favorite beer in the world. In 1998 I visited Prague where an old college friend was living. He took me to a cool, 1000-year-old pub with whitewashed walls and shellacked picnic tables and benches. I had Staropramen beer and fell in love with it. I’m not a beer connoisseur so I can’t tell you where this ranks with the serious beergeoisie. But I’ve not been able to find it since 1998 so I was quite jazzed. I found the beer advertised at the same restaurant where we met our young Hungarian friends.
Tomorrow will find us hitting an area with something akin to Portland’s Saturday Market, an area filled with fresh produce, food booths and local artisans hawking their wares. We will also be visiting Budapest Castle as well as what I believe are the Parliament buildings.
We are now ready for a night’s rest after walking for about two hours to get our bearings.