Tag Archives: Budapest

Budapest Day 3 – At Széchenyi GyógyfürdÅ‘ (Széchenyi Bath), City Park, Millenary Monument (Ezeréves emlékmű), The Great Synagogue (Nagy Zsinagóga) & Enroute to Vienna

Breakfast at Lipótváros on a rainy morning in Budapest

The third, and final day in Budapest dawned all wet and gloomy as the first rainy day of my Europe trip hit me head on. I needed to get my train ticket to Vienna, so I was in Lipótváros area having a nice cuppa while waiting for the MAV Passenger Centre to open. It was quite nice actually, to watch the (Hungarian) world go by while I nurse for ravishing stomach (it is the weather).

At Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő (Széchenyi Medicinal Bath)

My first stop for the day was the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, which was located at the City Park, the green lung of Budapest. The Széchenyi complex is immense, with a dozen thermal baths and a couple of swimming pools, located both indoor and outdoor. The place was outfitted to be a spa or some sort, and it didn’t disappoint.

At Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő (Széchenyi Medicinal Bath)

I thought heaven is where you go topless in the biting chill of winter, soak into a thermal pool of warm spring water, surrounded by historical monuments and laughing people. I know I should have taken photo while I was in the pool, but it was just too damn cold! Luckily I did that a video showing the place in motion; it’s really like heaven.

I even managed to book an hour of Hungarian massage, which was done by a lady and was surprisingly relaxing. Trust me, after soaking in the warm water, a massage is the icing of the cake. I almost didn’t want to leave if not for the 400 forints in encouragement if you leave within two hours. Click here for more photos taken at the Széchenyi Bath.

At Hungarian Agricultural Museum (Magyar Mezogazdasagi Muzeum)

After the thermal bath session and a heavy lunch, I was all ready to explore the City Park. First stop was the Hungarian Agricultural Museum. This rather esoteric museum is housed in the stunning baroque wing of Vajdahunyad Castle. This was purportedly the largest agricultural museum in whole of Europe, but was closed during the time of my visit… not that I will really visit anyway, heh.

JÃ¥k Chapel

Right opposite the Vajdahunyad Castle was the absolutely beautiful yet tiny JÃ¥k Chapel. Its intricate portal was copied from the 13th century Abbey Church in Western Transdanubia. Just look at the entryway, and the carving, the statues, the hidden message… I was definitely having another Dan Brown moment!

Vajdahunyad Castle (Vajdahunyad-vár)

Of course, there was the Vajdahunyad Castle itself. Also known as the Vajdahunyad-vár in Hungarian, it is actually a copy in part of a castle in Transylvania, Romania, that is also called Vajdahunyad, though it is also a display of different architectural styles: Romanic, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Originally it was made from cardboard and wood for the millennial exhibition in 1896 but it became so popular that it was rebuilt from stone and brick.

The Anonymous Statue at City Park

The statue of the hooded figure across the castle is that of Anonymous, the unknown chronicler at the court of King Bella III who wrote a history of the early Magyars. It was said that writers, both real and aspirants, touches the shiny pen tip for inspiration.

The Statue of George Washington at City Park

A walk around the castle revealed a familiar face. The statue of George Washington was erected here in City Park in 1906 by Hungarian-American. Look at the symbolic eagle taking flight. The combination of the man and his foul (bird?) made a strangely compelling photography target.

Timewheel at Procession Square

The Timewheel in Procession Square on the park’s western edge is the world’s largest hourglass, standing 8m high and weighing in at 60 tonnes. The “sands” flows from the upper to lower chamber for one year, finishing exactly at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Millenary Monument (Ezeréves emlékmű)

The Millenary Monument stood in the centre of Hosok tere, with a 36m-high pillar backed by colonnades to the right and left. Topping the pillar is Angel Gabriel, holding the Hungarian crown and cross. At the base are Arpad and the six other Magyar chieftains.

Millenary Monument (Ezeréves emlékmű)

The 14 statues in the colonnades are of rulers and statesmen: from King Stephen on the lefy to Lahos Kossuth on the right. The four allegorical figures atop: Work & Prosperity, War, Peace, Knowledge & Glory.

The Great Synagogue (Nagy Zsinagóga)

My last stop for the day was the Great Synagogue. Built in 1859, according to the designs of Frigyes Feszi, the synagogue contains both Romantic-style and Moorish architecture elements. It was renovated largely with private donations.

The Great Synagogue (Nagy Zsinagóga)

The synagogue is the largest Jewish house of worship in the world outside New York City and can seat 3000. That is indeed true, coz I actually counted the number of seats. It was hard not to be humbled by the sheer grandeur of the place packed into such small a place.

The Jewish Museum

In the annexe of the synagogue is the Jewish Museum, which contains objects related to the religious and everyday life of the Jewish community. I spent almost an hour here, immersed in the life cycle of the Jews, from birth to death, outlined in painstaking details with handwritten notes, artifacts and photos.

The Holocaust Memorial

On the synagogue’s north side, the Holocaust Memorial stands over the mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis in 1944-45. On the leaves of the metal “tree of life” are the family names of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims.

Enroute to Vienna

Right after this, I rushed back to the hostel to collect my (fortunately) packed backpack, and made my way to the train station. The journey from Budapest to Vienna took only five hours, a breathe of relief from my horrifying experience of Prague – Budapest. To top of the experience, I had the entire cabin to myself the whole journey! Watching the landscape of Hungary flew by while listening to Norah Jones was an experience to beyond.

Wombat's The City Hostel - The Place

Too soon I arrived at Wien Westbahnhof, the Vienna West Station. My chapter in Vienna was about to begin!

Click here for the full set of photos taken during my third, and final day in Budapest.

Budapest Day 2 РBasilica of St Stephen, The Parliament, Christmas Market, Holocaust Memorial Centre, State Opera House & V̦r̦smarty Square

The second day in Budapest was an adventure as I criss-crossed the town in my quest to visit as many tourist highlight as possible. But first thing first; I gotta get my train ticket to Vienna, and according to Lonely Planet that can be easily done at the MAV Passenger Start Centre, located at Erzsébet tér.

At Erzsébet tér, enroute to MAV Passenger Start Centre

Little did I know that the counters were closed on a Sunday! The kind man who was cleaning the office windows told me to come back the next day. I peered through the windows and saw MAV staff at work. Why can’t they work on a Sunday? I mean, they are selling train tickets, for goodness sake, and trains don’t stop running on Sundays. Luckily the view from the metro station to the centre was more than enough to make up the disappointment.

My next stop was the Basilica of St. Stephen, and I wanted to hunt for some food first before visiting arguably the top tourist spot in Budapest. But as I walked nearer to the church, which is located at Lipótváros, I heard the grand church bells toiling away, calling the church goers to go to mass. The sound was amazing; I had to quicken my pace just to catch up, and my jaw dropped when I reached the front of the church.

Basilica of St Stephen, Lipótváros

After a quick detour for food (my stomach was grumbling too much to be ignored la), I quickly went inside. Basilica of St. Stephen is Budapest’s neoclassical cathedral built, demolished and rebuilt over the course of half a century before its eventual completion in 1905.

Mass at Basilica of St Stephen, Lipótváros

Like any grand cathedrals in Europe, the interior of St. Stephen was mind-numbingly beautiful. The main draw for the crowd is the Holy Right Chapel, which contain the mummified right hand of St. Stephen and an object of great devotion. Unfortunately during my visit, the chapel was closed… and fortunately a mass was in session, and I was in for a treat.

After spending some moments in the church, I started to make my way to the parliament which is within walking distance from St. Stephen.

The Parliament of Hungary

The Parliament of Hungary has 690 sumptuously decorated rooms; however these are only available as part of a guided tour, which is free for EU residents but with-a-fee for other visitors like me. The building stretches along The Danube, and with the weak sun towards the east of the city, it was the perfect moment for some very awesome photography.

Christmas Market at the Parliament House of Hungary

Right behind the Parliament, away from The Danube, a Christmas fair was in full swing, complete with food stalls and performances. I spent some happy minutes here enjoying the famous German sausage (it was really huge and juicy… yes yes I know that sounded dirty) and the warm wine.

Holocaust Memorial Centre

Fuzzed up from my festive mood at the Christmas fair, the sobering experience that was Holocaust Memorial Centre was indeed a clash to my holiday flow. While in most circumstances, such a memorial centre would have been awe inspiring, this Hungarian version was certainly lacking… unless you speak the language, or some of the other European language. Those who speaks only English like me will find the memorial experience to be disjointed and confusing. Despite the glowing review from fellow travelers, I wouldn’t really recommend this.

Tea at the Lukács Café

After a disappointing hour at the memorial, I checked for a place for coffee break and found Lukács Café. A luxurious cafe located along the leafy Andrassy Ut, it offers (what else) excellent coffee and pastries served by an English-speaking wait staff. It was relaxing, though pricey, so if you have that extra forints I would suggest this place to unwind. It was also from here I bought the Beigli, a local Christmas cake for my Hungarian colleague… a taste from home for her!

Hungarian State Opera House

My last must-do stop for the day was the Hungarian State Opera House, which is located along the metro line at a station aptly named “Opera”. There wasn’t a show on at that time, but a banner covered a part of the building… come to think of it, most of the art-related buildings I visited during my trip were mostly covered in some sort of banners, which is kinda disappointing as the more interesting bits of architecture were not visible.

Budapest Christmas at Vörösmarty Square

It was close to 5 p.m. by then, and during that time of winter, the sky was already getting dark. Hurriedly I made my way to the Vörösmarty metro station, only to be greeted by yet another Christmas fair. This one is definitey more crowded than the last two I have come across. Themed as “Budapest Christmas at Vörösmarty Square”, a large part of the crowded were centered around a performance stage. I joined the Hungarians in a spot of real folk culture and traditional Christmas music – videos here and here.

Budapest Christmas at Vörösmarty Square

The performances were far from perfect, but it was heartfelt as evidently family members of the performers were in the crowd too! They were singing along and generally having a merry time, and I was glad to be part of the festivities. Of course, being the glutton I was am, I took in some traditional Hungarian food and warm mulled wine. There was just something about winter which made me hungrier than usual!

Giero at Andrássy út

After a quick fresh-me-up at the hostel, I went to a true Hungarian eatery last night and had the most mortifying experience ever. Despite what I read about it in my guidebook, I took the trouble to go all the way visit Giero at Andrássy útca. I won’t say anything about the food, except that it came out of a kitchen, served on a plate and very filling.

However, people come to this cavern because of its authentic Gypsy music – video here – and I certainly had an earful of it, as I am the only customer around. I know would feel bad if I don’t leave behind a hefty tip, seeing that the entire staff literally danced around me, so I did.

That marks the end of an eventful second day that I had in Budapest. I settled into a deep sleep with a contented heart :)

Click here for the full set of photos shot throughout the day.

From Hong Kong to Budapest via Prague

And so the journey of a lifetime begins. Ok, so not really the journey, but close enough nonetheless. It was my second trip to a wintry Europe, in the chilling month of December. Because of my work, I had to squeeze visits to three cities within ten days.

But hey, I am a hardy traveler, nothing can faze me!

My flight to Amsterdam on Air France

The journey begins at Hong Kong, where I took the flight to Prague on Air France. As I was checking in, I told the attendant that my knapsack sometimes comes off, because of the silly, unsecured zippers. You know what? She offered to wrap my entire backpack in a plastic bag, so the whole thing remain intact during my long flight.

How nice of her! An extra brownie point to Air France! Or maybe it was the staff if KLIA. Haha.

Transit at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

The journey to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, where I had a 3-hour transit, took approximate 12 hours. It was an excruciating 12 hours. I am not sure why, but usually I love long flights. Maybe the fact that Air France was nothing compared to Singapore Airlines which made me feel shortchanged. Kinda, anyway.

Starbucks at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

The transit at Amsterdam was over quicker than I thought. I spent a good portion of my time having my usual Starbucks (grande-sized Americano, extra shot, with a little milk) and writing postcards to some special people, before heading to the gate where I was to board the KLM CityHopper enroute to Prague!

KLM CityHopper: From Amsterdam to Prague

The journey from Amsterdam to Prague took a little over an hour (hence the CityHopper, see?), and after a hassle free checkout from Prague International Airport, I was on Czech soil! For real! For a moment I couldn’t believe that I am really in Europe… until the biting chill hit me squarely in the face. How welcoming, how nice. Oh, didn’t I tell you I love winter?

My first bus ticket in Prague!

Anyway, from Prague airport I needed to purchase a bus ticket (me! taking a bus! ha!) to make my way on bus 119 to Dejvická Metro Station, the very first station on Prague Metro Line 2, which can then take me to city centre. The journey was terrifying… for someone who can’t speak Czech, and the English announcement in the bus was as good as being in a total foreign language. But in the end I made it to the metro station with minimal fuss.

At Praha - Holešovice Train Station

From Dejvická Metro Station, I made my way to the second largest train station in Prague, the Praha – HoleÅ¡ovice. When I was doing my research prior to the trip, I was worried sick that I won’t understand the language and won’t be able to find my way to the station, despite having my faithful Lonely Planet with me. What do I know, right? The journey to the train station was as hassle-free as taking the MTR in Singapore.

I should really be more confident in my own ability navigating in strange land.

In the Neighbourhood of Holešovice

Since I have about five hours before my train ride to Budapest, I decided to take a short tour around the neighbourhood of HoleÅ¡ovice. HoleÅ¡ovice nestles inside the big bend of the Vltava, and runs west. It’s bisected by a major rail line and highway into distinct eastern and western halves. For decades, HoleÅ¡ovice was badly neglected. It was long considered he “German” area of he city and became rundown… but all that changed in 2002, when the Vltava flood inundated the low-level areas around the river, which prompted massive injection of development funds into the neighbourhood.

At the Exhibition Ground of Výstaviště

Holešovice is home to the vast exhibition grounds known as the Výstaviště. Many of the buildings were built to house the 1891 Jubilee exhibition and are still impressive in the faded-glory kind of way. These include the Prague Pavilion and the grand, Art Nouveau Palace Industry.

In the Neighbourhood of Holešovice

Sadly though, the VýstaviÅ¡tÄ› grounds have been allowed to fall into disrepair and look a little shabby these days. Some saving grace can be found in form of lovely trees and hidden garden pathways, but I didn’t linger in the area for very long.

Bohemia Bagel at Holešovice

Soon it was time for me to find some food (which I did at this lovely Bohemia Bagel), but on the way there I met my first crook! Actually, he didn’t look like a crook at all. All he did was to speak to me in Czech, and since obviously I don’t speak the language, he asked me if I speak English, to which I affirmed. Then he asked me for an Euro or two for food. Thing is, this young man looked perfectly normal to me. His clothes wasn’t tattered, his face wasn’t smudged, his eyes not all baggy and dark. But truth is I was too startled by my first encounter that I just shook my head and quickly walk away.

Actually, I should bought the guy lunch. It wouldn’t be too bad, would it? Anyway.

Bohemia Bagel at Holešovice

On to my first meal in Europe! I ordered this humongous portion of burger, together with a glass of mulled wine. It was also here I started my updating frenzy on my Facebook, where I post some nice photos with description on what I have done for the day. It was also here I got confused with the damn currency and left behind almost 50% in tips. The waitress must be damn happy!

On EuroRail enroute to Budapest, an 8-hour journey

It was getting dark, time for me to board my train going towards Budapest. A horrific journey, that was. Not only when the train started to move that an announcement was made about the train not having a dining car “due to safety reason”, when I only have a half-drunk bottle of water on me for a freaking 8-hour journey. The heavily accented announcements made at the several hundreds of stops did not ally my fear that I might just missed out Budapest.

It was a ride I endured in pure misery, not being able to sleep well, and it was only then I realised I have traveled for 30 hours without a shower. Yuck!

At Keleti Pályaudvar Train Station

But what do you know? Soon I have arrived at Keleti Pályaudvar train station. Hungry, tired, sleepy… and very lost. The whole place was very dimly lit and suspicious character was loitering around. I can’t find an ATM to draw Hungarian Forints and the metro station attendant can’t speak a word of English. Being panicked was an understatement of the night, but like all seasoned traveler will tell you, everything will work out in the end. And I like to call myself one, so yes, by midnight, I was safely tucked in bed :)

Click here to view all my photos from that 30-hour journey from Hong Kong, via Amsterdam, to Prague and finally ended up in Budapest!