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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, May 19, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesBUDAPEST: TWO TOWNS, ONE RIVER AND LOTS OF LOVERS

BUDAPEST: TWO TOWNS, ONE RIVER AND LOTS OF LOVERS

Budapest is a conglomeration including the hills of Buda and the plains of Pest that are divided by the Danube River within which sits Margaret Island. The city’s public transit system — buses, trolleys, trains and subways (including one of the oldest subways in the world) — is so good that almost everyone uses it. Given wait times at transit stations and in-transit vehicles, Hungarians engage in lots of hugging and kissing. My wife and I found it a marvelous spot to visit this spring.
Contemporary history is not Hungary’s big thing. The Hungarian people are not happy with the Turkish, German and Russian occupations. Even today, Hungarians believe the French and Germans are controlling the European economy in order to buy Central Europe. Marxim, a small pizza joint off the beaten track in Obuda, publicly displays mementoes from the Stalinist era. The government moved to close the place once but relented when the owner claimed he simply had a very non-threatening museum. We spent some time there, but the pizza was not good, the memorabilia were not spectacular, and the couple we sat next to apparently believed we were Russian or German and left before I could dissuade them.
We saw nothing to remind us of the German occupation. There are a few minarets left from the Turks, but the struggle with Turkey was so long and such an intimate part of Hungarian history that the minarets have been allowed to survive.
Shopping in Budapest is still a contest, with thousands of small shops. Pest has two new malls not quite completed, and the Obuda district has one under construction. Even the malls are a collection of relatively small shops selling specialty items. One of the most enjoyable pastimes is looking through the numerous antique stores. Beautiful furniture, paintings galore, china, crystal, jewelry and costumes provide something for everyone. Among the offerings I yearned for was a pair of centuries-old helmets that had been worn by Magyars, the early ethnic Hungarians.
Hungarian painters did not appear to know the meaning of the word miniature. We spent one afternoon in the National Museum viewing room after room of works on canvases that would cover many of walls of our house. Battle with the Turks, dying fighters, landscapes, country scenes and jillions of religious icons fill the rooms along with gigantic statues and historic jewelry.
We took a train to the northern fringe of Budapest one Sunday and visited an attractive Serbian Orthodox Church and museum. The entire front third of the church sanctuary was a mass of icons. The museum had an extensive collection of historic icons saved from Serbian churches throughout Central Europe. The icon is true folk art, and the majority of them do tell a story.
Many of our friends have reacted to news of our visit to Hungary and Budapest with the question, "How are the pastries?" My reply is, "They are excellent, and not nearly as sweet as most." This usually brings a laugh. The fact is, Hungarians bake a large variety of pastries, but they do not use much sugar in the dough and filling and usually top them with powered sugar rather than a glaze. The cheesecake is most enjoyable; it is made with small-curd cottage cheese and really is relatively low in calories. Eating carefully, we managed to sample two pastries a day and return to St. Thomas at the same weight we had when we arrived in Budapest.
The food in Budapest is colorful, hearty, and inexpensive. You can, on the other hand, spend to your heart’s delight, and we did one night at Grundel’s: four hours of memorable food, delicious wine and enjoyable dinner mates at adjoining tables. The rest of the time we paid about $20 per evening for the two of us, including two glasses of wine, dining on goulash, venison, smoked pork, lamb and beef entrees. The wines were excellent, priced at about a dollar a glass or a couple dollars a bottle. The soups were extremely good with a heavy emphasis on cream bases. One of my best meals was sour cherry soup and smoked pig knuckle with red cabbage.
We visited Budapest in late March to experience both spring and the music offerings of the Budapest Spring Festival. Our first week there, it snowed; the second week, everything budded; and the third week, the flowers came out. As for the festival: We enjoyed a flute concert with the Budapest Strings in the Obuda Community Center; a Bach festival in the magnificent Matthias Church; and the Hungarian Philharmonic, the ballet "Romeo and Juliet," and Bartok’s opera "Bluebeard’s Castle" in the glorious State Opera House.
On our way to the State Opera House one day, what should we happened upon but a parade featuring a goodly number of the Eastern European equivalent of mocko jumbies. According to the Spring Festival information sheet, what we saw was a Pagan Christening procession, a ceremonial parade with dancing to commemorate "the unceasing, eternal struggle of the past millennia between the pagan and sacred, with giant puppets, stilt walkers, masked figures, music and dance."
The festival also included contemporary music in a funky neighborhood recording studio and a classic guitar concert in the Marble Hall of the state radio complex. The operetta "Ball in the Savoy" played at a modern theater, while the National Dance Concert took place in a large community theater. Our 16 tickets to eight events cost a grand total of $85.
After three weeks, we decided the most interesting thing about Budapest is the architecture. Walking the city streets, you keep spotting one interesting-looking building after another, moving back and forth through time. You can find buildings dating to almost any reasonable time period because of the destruction and subsequent reconstruction that have taken place. When a building was badly damaged, it was either restored with better materials or replaced with a new version. Even today, there is a major archeological event involving the resurrection of ancient buildings taking place next to the Royal Palace.
We traveled to Budapest on the Hungarian National Airline MALEV and stayed three weeks at the Grand Hotel Margitsziget with half board — breakfast plus your choice of lunch or dinner daily — and 45 spa treatments (see separate story) for $2,000 each.
We learned of the package from Frommer’s Budget Travel Newsletter on the worldwide web at www.frommers.com and booked with the Hungarian specialists at Tradeco through Evelyn Vasques at Discount Travel. We studied the Budapest Spring Festival schedule on-line at www.fesztivalvaros.hu and booked our seats on-line with the festival office. Our good 79-year-old German/Swiss friend at the spa said it all: "Budapest is the best bargain in Europe."

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Budapest is a conglomeration including the hills of Buda and the plains of Pest that are divided by the Danube River within which sits Margaret Island. The city’s public transit system -- buses, trolleys, trains and subways (including one of the oldest subways in the world) -- is so good that almost everyone uses it. Given wait times at transit stations and in-transit vehicles, Hungarians engage in lots of hugging and kissing. My wife and I found it a marvelous spot to visit this spring.
Contemporary history is not Hungary’s big thing. The Hungarian people are not happy with the Turkish, German and Russian occupations. Even today, Hungarians believe the French and Germans are controlling the European economy in order to buy Central Europe. Marxim, a small pizza joint off the beaten track in Obuda, publicly displays mementoes from the Stalinist era. The government moved to close the place once but relented when the owner claimed he simply had a very non-threatening museum. We spent some time there, but the pizza was not good, the memorabilia were not spectacular, and the couple we sat next to apparently believed we were Russian or German and left before I could dissuade them.
We saw nothing to remind us of the German occupation. There are a few minarets left from the Turks, but the struggle with Turkey was so long and such an intimate part of Hungarian history that the minarets have been allowed to survive.
Shopping in Budapest is still a contest, with thousands of small shops. Pest has two new malls not quite completed, and the Obuda district has one under construction. Even the malls are a collection of relatively small shops selling specialty items. One of the most enjoyable pastimes is looking through the numerous antique stores. Beautiful furniture, paintings galore, china, crystal, jewelry and costumes provide something for everyone. Among the offerings I yearned for was a pair of centuries-old helmets that had been worn by Magyars, the early ethnic Hungarians.
Hungarian painters did not appear to know the meaning of the word miniature. We spent one afternoon in the National Museum viewing room after room of works on canvases that would cover many of walls of our house. Battle with the Turks, dying fighters, landscapes, country scenes and jillions of religious icons fill the rooms along with gigantic statues and historic jewelry.
We took a train to the northern fringe of Budapest one Sunday and visited an attractive Serbian Orthodox Church and museum. The entire front third of the church sanctuary was a mass of icons. The museum had an extensive collection of historic icons saved from Serbian churches throughout Central Europe. The icon is true folk art, and the majority of them do tell a story.
Many of our friends have reacted to news of our visit to Hungary and Budapest with the question, "How are the pastries?" My reply is, "They are excellent, and not nearly as sweet as most." This usually brings a laugh. The fact is, Hungarians bake a large variety of pastries, but they do not use much sugar in the dough and filling and usually top them with powered sugar rather than a glaze. The cheesecake is most enjoyable; it is made with small-curd cottage cheese and really is relatively low in calories. Eating carefully, we managed to sample two pastries a day and return to St. Thomas at the same weight we had when we arrived in Budapest.
The food in Budapest is colorful, hearty, and inexpensive. You can, on the other hand, spend to your heart’s delight, and we did one night at Grundel’s: four hours of memorable food, delicious wine and enjoyable dinner mates at adjoining tables. The rest of the time we paid about $20 per evening for the two of us, including two glasses of wine, dining on goulash, venison, smoked pork, lamb and beef entrees. The wines were excellent, priced at about a dollar a glass or a couple dollars a bottle. The soups were extremely good with a heavy emphasis on cream bases. One of my best meals was sour cherry soup and smoked pig knuckle with red cabbage.
We visited Budapest in late March to experience both spring and the music offerings of the Budapest Spring Festival. Our first week there, it snowed; the second week, everything budded; and the third week, the flowers came out. As for the festival: We enjoyed a flute concert with the Budapest Strings in the Obuda Community Center; a Bach festival in the magnificent Matthias Church; and the Hungarian Philharmonic, the ballet "Romeo and Juliet," and Bartok’s opera "Bluebeard’s Castle" in the glorious State Opera House.
On our way to the State Opera House one day, what should we happened upon but a parade featuring a goodly number of the Eastern European equivalent of mocko jumbies. According to the Spring Festival information sheet, what we saw was a Pagan Christening procession, a ceremonial parade with dancing to commemorate "the unceasing, eternal struggle of the past millennia between the pagan and sacred, with giant puppets, stilt walkers, masked figures, music and dance."
The festival also included contemporary music in a funky neighborhood recording studio and a classic guitar concert in the Marble Hall of the state radio complex. The operetta "Ball in the Savoy" played at a modern theater, while the National Dance Concert took place in a large community theater. Our 16 tickets to eight events cost a grand total of $85.
After three weeks, we decided the most interesting thing about Budapest is the architecture. Walking the city streets, you keep spotting one interesting-looking building after another, moving back and forth through time. You can find buildings dating to almost any reasonable time period because of the destruction and subsequent reconstruction that have taken place. When a building was badly damaged, it was either restored with better materials or replaced with a new version. Even today, there is a major archeological event involving the resurrection of ancient buildings taking place next to the Royal Palace.
We traveled to Budapest on the Hungarian National Airline MALEV and stayed three weeks at the Grand Hotel Margitsziget with half board -- breakfast plus your choice of lunch or dinner daily -- and 45 spa treatments (see separate story) for $2,000 each.
We learned of the package from Frommer’s Budget Travel Newsletter on the worldwide web at www.frommers.com and booked with the Hungarian specialists at Tradeco through Evelyn Vasques at Discount Travel. We studied the Budapest Spring Festival schedule on-line at www.fesztivalvaros.hu and booked our seats on-line with the festival office. Our good 79-year-old German/Swiss friend at the spa said it all: "Budapest is the best bargain in Europe."