Eric, Isabelle, and I have fallen completely in love with all of the eastern European countries we have visited and really wanted to see more, so we didn't hesitate to go to Budapest, Hungary! But except for nailing down a destination, I didn't plan a single thing for this trip. Not one thing. I'm embarrassed at how much we spent on our plane tickets. Usually, I'm good at scouting out deals and coordinating that with different dates that Eric can get off of work, and then I book tickets for museums or different sites in advance so that once we arrive just about everything is already paid for, or at least saved and set aside since I have already broken down the cost of everything we plan on doing. But since everything about this trip was last minute, I pretty much had to just close my eyes when I booked the flights because they were more expensive than I'd ever normally spend. We had extra money in our travel budget from trips we've had to cancel in the past, so I could justify the cost, but that didn't make me feel less grumpy once I pressed 'confirm' on the booking form.
But it turned out that Budapest was SO worth it!
We arrived in Hungary to perfect weather and settled into our hotel that was in the perfect location! Without a plan we really had no where to go or anywhere to be, which was surprisingly relaxing for someone who is an obsessive planner. Not one to waste a single second, we set out to explore the shopping area of Budapest.
Budapest is the capital of, and largest city in, Hungary. We noticed immediately how friendly everyone was and that English wasn't going to be an issue. We try to speak the native language of whatever country we're visiting, even if it's just one word mixed with a lot of hand signals and pointing (especially useful in restaurants). We never assume or expect anyone to speak English to us, but try as we might, we just could not figure out how to pronounce 'thank you' or 'cheers!' in Hungarian (köszönöm, Egészségedre). So the fact that every Hungarian we met spoke perfect English made our trip a lot less awkward.
It was important to me to go to the Central Market Hall for some shopping- like the coolest neatest shopping in the whole wide world! 3 entire floors of shopping! I was on the hunt for a Hungarian table runner and wine, Isabelle needed postcards and a sweatshirt (she is collecting them from every country we visit), and Eric really wanted to get as much paprika as he possibly could. The Central Market Hall is the mecca of Hungarian souvenirs, but it's also where locals do their grocery shopping. It's where you'll find everything authentic to Hungary!
We knew we had hit the jackpot as soon as walked in.
I see table runners!
We spent our morning shopping and left with everything we had hoped to find plus a few gifts for family members. Eric was so happy about his paprika that he bought two huge bags- one sweet, one hot- so that he can attempt Hungarian goulash at home whenever he feels like it. I found a white table runner that has little paprika's on it that is so adorable and perfect for my dining room table. But after I thought about it, I thought I just had to get a black one too, so we went back the next day to get the one thing that I knew would make my house complete. My home decorating goal is to be able to spin around any room I'm in (because spinning is pretty much the best thing ever) and be able to see something from all over the world no matter where I look. Even Isabelle loved shopping at the Central Market Hall, and she's not much of a shopper!
The weather was too amazing to stay inside, so we made a point to spend the rest of the day outdoors. Budapest (pronounced Budha- peshht) straddles the Danube River with Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east bank and is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Our hotel was on the Pest side in the center of the shopping district and only a few minutes walk to the Chain Bridge which links the two for one gorgeous city.
We crossed the bridge and after seeing a ridiculously long line for the Castle Hill Funicular
My man, with the castle behind him.
I have a compulsion to give every single homeless person I meet a few dollars, or spare change, whatever I have to give. Twice, once on a train and once at the Frankfurt airport, I gave two different men my half drank bottle of coke when I saw them digging through the garbage and then drink every drop out of every cup they dug out. I felt especially compelled to help the man at the airport because he was wearing menstrual pads for shoes and looked as if he hadn't eaten in a while. I figured that since they didn't seem to mind germs, and my germs aren't all that bad, and a half drank coke is a little more than the drops of coffee they were drinking out of the garbage, that they were more than welcome to have my coke (and a few euros I had in my purse to go with it). They were so polite and thankful in return.
It is impossible for me to walk passed a person who is obviously in need and not help in some way. I don't give a hoot what they're doing with it, or if they make more money sitting on a corner than they would at a regular job. If you're willing to sit on a corner and beg for money then I will gladly give you something without judgement. Eric thinks that if we give to one person we need to give to everyone- yesss, yes we do! My thoughts exactly! (I married the most perfect man for me!)
But if a person is willing to do something in exchange, like play music in the park, then I most certainly will give them a few bucks! I met this toothless man on our way up to the castle and fell in love with him immediately. I have no idea if he's actually homeless. He probably isn't. But he played me a song and we became instant friends... I was sad to walk away but I had a husband and kiddo already up at the top of the hill waiting for me because I was taking too long with my new friend.... so I took his picture and we waved goodbye.
Meeting this man, and the drunk man in Ireland, is what traveling is all about. Interacting with all sorts of people is good for the soul and I recommend it to everyone. These people are what make our world so interesting and perfect! He'll never know how much joy his song brought me.
After we made it up to Castle Hill I wanted to go to the Matthias Church in front of the Fisherman's Bastion first. Unfortunately the church was closed to tourists because of services being held, but I didn't mind because I was so enchanted with the roof and view of Pest to have a care in the world!
The Fisherman's Bastion is one of Budapest's most visited attractions. It was built between 1895 and 1902 for the sole purpose of giving people the best views of the city.
A view of the Hungarian Parliament Building from Buda.
Buda Castle now consists of the Hungarian National Gallery, the National Library, and the Budapest History Museum. Unfortunately, we did not get to see any of that because it was at about this time that Isabelle started to get heat-sick. If you put that kid out into the sun for too long she gets terrible migraines and vomits. A morning of shopping and then a hike was a little too much, and I'll admit that I got frustrated with her. She is at an age where her attitude is dependent on a WiFi signal... there was no WiFi on Castle Hill, and I suspected that her attitude was affecting how she felt. We stopped at a cafe to let her cool down with some Sprite, water, and gelato, but her attitude was quickly approaching a level that borders on disrespectful and usually ends in her being grounded. We knew she wasn't feeling well, but it didn't excuse her attitude, and we felt that if she was in a better mood she would have more fun. After a gelato break and a quick circle around the Fisherman's Bastion, we took her back to the hotel so that she could get comfy in bed with Tylenol and WiFi.
My fingers are crossed that she'll look back on all of the traveling we have done and be thankful and appreciative of the people and the world around her..... but at this point it sure doesn't feel like that's ever going to happen.
Eric and I decided to go have a drink at the New York Cafe- the fanciest cafe we have ever been to while Isabelle rested. Then on our way back to the hotel we stopped by a pálinka festival, which was just like a Christmas Market except without the Christmas and a lot more alcohol. I ordered blueberry flavored pálinka but it just tasted like rubbing alcohol. We bought a bottle to add to our collection.
Eric and I spent a few hours alone reassuring ourselves that even though we're probably failing at this whole parenting thing, we're fairly certain we'll all survive it anyways. When we got back to the hotel Isabelle was feeling a lot better! She had slept hard for a few hours and her headache was gone, and miraculously, her attitude was too!
For our last day in Hungary we stayed in Pest and circled the Parliament. Since I didn't plan a single thing for this trip I hadn't purchased tickets for the Parliament in advance, which ended up being a total bummer because once we got there the line was too long to even consider touring it. So we explored the area instead and made sure to get the stupid steps in on Eric's fitbit.
St. Stephen's Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica just a few blocks behind the Parliament where the first king of Hungary's right hand is housed. I was able to get a terrible picture of the reliquary where his hand is, but there was a large crowd and it was really dark in there, so it's not even worth posting. You'll just have to take my word for it.
The basilica was really beautiful! Maybe not as beautiful as St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, but still really beautiful!
The Hungarian Parliament Building is by far one of the neatest buildings I've ever seen with my own eyes! It is the largest building in Hungary and the tallest building in Budapest. It was huge and intricate- my eyes couldn't even find all of the nooks & crannies which made it so interesting!
Since we didn't have the patience to wait hours to tour the inside of the Parliament we ended up being able to watch a changing of the guards ceremony around the back, which was a nice surprise since we had no idea they even did that. These guards weren't nearly as grumpy-faced as the guards at Buckingham Palace. They made a few mistakes and were trying to hold in their laughter but it wasn't working out very well- my guess is that is was because of a large group of very pretty girls sitting up front that kept trying to break their concentration. But it was entertaining, and the more they tried not to laugh, the more the audience did... it was a viciously funny cycle for all of us.
Changing of the Guards
I couldn't leave Budapest without seeing the Shoes on the Danube. The Shoes are a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Arrow Cross militiamen (pro-German, anti-Semitic, national Socialist party members of Hungary in 1944-45) who were lined up along the Danube River and then executed where their bodies then fell into the Danube and washed away. The memorial consists of 60 pairs of metal shoes; a simple but moving tribute.
A view of Matthias Church & the Fisherman's Bastion from Parliament.
We have loved every single thing about each of the 5 eastern European countries that we have visited, there isn't anything like them in any other part of Europe that you'll ever find! The people are kind and respectful, U.S dollars goes a looong ways, and their architecture can't be beat!
Hungary did a good job of distracting me from my grief on my son's birthday, but I learned (for like the millionth time in 14 years) that I can't escape it no matter how hard I try or where I run to, and distraction only works for a little while. But I survived it! Just like I always do, even though every year as his birthday approaches it feels like I won't.... like I'll be crushed to death under the weight of his death. It just takes me a bit to remember that as long as I keep breathing the crushing sensation will pass.
As summer starts and all of the craziness that Eric will be consumed by approaches, I'm going to hang onto my memories of Budapest when things get chaotic, because it was a magically enchanting city! And sometimes, a girl just needs a little magically enchanting in her life to balance everything else out!