5 Days in Hungary's Capital

A few interesting attractions I visited whilst in Budapest for 5 days.


A Tranquil Island in the Danube

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Praskipark on October 16, 2009

Margaret Island in the Danube is situated between Margit hid to the south and Arpad hid to the north. A fertile spot which is two and a half kilometres long and up to 500 metres wide. The island has shady parks, good swimming pools, romantic ruins, pretty cafes and elegant hotels and restaurants; just the place to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy city on a summer's day.

Despite its urban setting, the island is an oasis of tranquility. Private cars are not allowed but there are other forms of transport you can hire to get around. At the northern end of the island at Bringovar (Bike Castle) you can choose from a fun selection of vehicles such as pedal cars, electric cars, four wheel cycles, horse-drawn carriages and a tractor-train.

The Romans, the first to take advantage of the springs, established a park, a thermal bath and a fortress. Centuries later King Bela IV (1235-70) settled several religious orders here. These included a group of Dominican nuns, to whom he entrusted his beloved daughter, Margit (Margaret). The ruins and indeed the island's name date from that time.

Here, too, the Turkish pasha entrusted the ladies from his harem to eunuchs; this 'island of women' thus developed a legendary reputation in Christian Europe.'Palatin' archduke Joseph used the site for his summer residence, and had the botanical gardens laid out in 1796. His son Rudolph restored the Roman tradition of the thermal bath. After World War I, the island was declared a free public park.

Other attractions to visit on the island are the medieval ruins of the Franciscan Church and the Dominican nuns church and convent which are situated in a well tended park in the centre of the island. On the western side of the island, the Palatinus Thermal Baths have extensive open-air pools where nude sunbathing is allowed on the single-sex terraces. To the north, below the 57 metre high water tower, which you can ascend if you are not scared of heights, is the open air theatre which stages operas and concerts.

The Thermal Hotel, with therapeutic baths is open to the public and towers above the island's northeastern point: next door is a very stylish and elegant Grand Hotel. You can visit the luxurious cafes and restaurants even if you are a non-resident. After a coffee and a cream take an hour out to look at the picturesque and very attractive Japanese Water Garden which is close by. You can now drive to the hotels via the Arpad bridge.

To reach the the island take a Number 26 bus from Marx ter. If you are travelling by car, turn south midway across the Arpad hid bridge.

A pleasant and relaxing way to spend half a day walking on this tranquil island in the Danube. You could even finish the day off with a fine, hearty dinner at the luxurious Danube Grand Hotel.
Magaret Island

Budapest, Hungary

A Reminder of the Dark Days of Communism

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Praskipark on October 16, 2009

What is a country to do with the symbols of a hated totalitarian regime when the oppressors are overthrown? Usually, it is not long before the statues and memorials that honour the regime are overturned and destroyed amid scenes of joyous celebration. Conversely, no matter how much a society wants to forget reminders of a horrible past, the obliteration of historic truths does not have a place in a modern democracy. This was the dilemma that Hungary faced when Soviet hegemony fell apart in the year of 1989.

Budapest resolved this issue by establishing a statue park in the southwest of the city.The park opened in 1993 with 41 works that had previously occupied prominent positions in the city. A niche at one side of a monumental psuedo-classical red-brick entrance to the park houses a statue of Lenin; on the other side is a Cubist style carving of Marx and Engels. Revolutionary music blares out of a ticket office from early morning until dusk. From the same office you can also buy drinks with such names as Molotov cocktails and kitsch items such as Marx T-shirts and Che Guevara socks, to cans of 'the last breath of socialism.'

Huge statues of pre- World war II Hungarian communists and assorted Soviet heroes are arranged in six groups. A fierce, flag waving soldier based on a call-to-arms poster issued by the communist government in 1919 typifies the chunky totalitarian style favoured by Soviet art lovers. The statue was moved from its former position at the foot of the Liberation monument on Gellerthegy. Less imposing but quite evocative is the monument depicting the 1919 Hungarian revolution leader Bela Kun urging a crowd of soldiers and workers on towards the dictatorship of the proletariat. Given the nature of Communist ideology, it's not surprising that some statues commemorate groups, such as Spanish Civil war martyrs, rather than individuals.

The statue park was always on my list of things I should see in Budapest but I was really disappointed with the whole affair. I enjoyed the short journey out of the city by bus but the fact that the park is just plonked in the middle of nowhere has no appeal whatsoever. It is quite exciting to see the heads of Lenin and Marx rising above the field from the coach window as you approach the park. Howevver, it seems to me that the authorities have just picked up the statues of old and deposited them in a dusty field with no thought or organisation. There is very little information regarding the statues and once you have walked around and taken a few photographs there is very little else to do except go to the toilet which are very basic but clean, or buy some postcards or a piece of kitsch. It would make economic sense to open a small cafe or at least a rest room where videos of these turbulent times could be shown so people could understand why the statues are detested by the people of Budapest.

The park is dusty and very flat with no protection at all so I can imagine in autumn and winter it will be very cold and windy walking around. The road leading away from the park leads on to a main road which is a bit hectic. People waiting for the bus sat on a the bank of the road as there was no specific bus stop or shelter.

If you are a quick viewer and find you have finished the tour of the park before the bus back to Budapest is due I suggest you turn left as you come out of the park and walk along the main road where you will come to a small village shop. Here you can buy soft drinks and other foodstuffs. They don't sell pre-packed sandwiches but if you buy a bread roll the assistant will make you a cheese or ham sandwich.

To visit the Statue Park you can catch a non-stop bus that leaves daily from Deak ter (Mar - Jun, Sep-Oct - 11am and 3pm).

July - August - 10am, 11 am, 3pm, 4pm; November -Feb, 11 am.

Ticket price includes admission and return trip (allow 1 hour and 45 minutes in total).

Alternatively, you can catch a No 7 red bus at Ferenciek ter to the Etele ter terminus and then go to stands 7 or 8 and catch a No 7 yellow bus towards Diosd -Erd.
Memento Statue Park
Bathori utca, 22
Budapest, Hungary, 1054
+36 1 424 7500

A Pampas Steak for Hungary People

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Praskipark on July 5, 2008

I first came across this restaurant on our recent trip to Budapest. It was on one of those evenings when you walk around the city but can't make up your mind which restaurant to choose. We are terrible at choosing restaurants as we don't always like the same food and we are not very good at making decisions. We had passed by the restaurant every night as it is very close to the central market and main shopping street. The outside of the building isn't anything too grand in fact it has graffatti drawn all over the side wall as a lot of buildings do have in Budapest. I don't dislike graffatti but this wasn't a masterpiece - it only made the building look dowdier.

Peering in through the windows the scenario inside was a different story - nothing dowdy here. Bright lights, waiters dashing to and fro, a hive of activity. We decided to go inside and voila, the atmosphere was terrific.

A little bit of info about the restaurant first. It is well known in Hungary for importing argentinian beef fresh from the Pampas of Argentina. This is not practised in any other restaurants in Budapest or in the whole of Hungary. Hungarian meat is served as well but it is the fact that this speciality straight from the New World is served in this very stylish restaurant in the city centre.

Location

It is located in Central Budapest near to the covered Central Market which is worth a visit as it is fascinating, also close to the Vaci Utca shopping street, and Liberty Bridge.

Using public transport take the metro line (blue) to Kalvin ter station or the number 2 or 2A tram.

Opening times are from noon every day until 2pm.

The decor is very bright and stylish. Terracotta walls adorned with old maps of Argentina. Huge wooden tables with soft leather seats. Low hanging copper and brass lamps over the tables give the restaurant a look sophistication.

Waiter service is very professional, friendly and keen to help. if not a little over attentive at times.

It is very popular with locals as well as tourists so there can be queues waiting for tables although they seemed to be turned around pretty quickly. The atmosphere is very lively, if not a little too noisy. Music is Spanish - yes you guessed right - Gypsy Kings and played quite loudly. Altogether I would say the restaurant has a party atmosphere.

But what about the food? Ok - starters we chose Mozzarella Napoleon; a mozzarella salad with tomatoes covered in virgin extra olive oil, basil and pesto. This came accompanied by a basket of warm fresh bread. Couldn't help but dip my bread in the olive oil. I know it isn't very sophisticated but it is delicious!

There are lots of varieties of salads to choose from;

For example: Caeser classic - fresh lettuce leaves with croutons, capers, Caesar dressing and Parmesan curls,

Caesar Carlos - with chicken breast strips roasted on lava stone
Ruccola (rocket) salad - angus tenderloin with Dijon mustard laid on a ruccola bed

Prices range from 1290 Hungarian Forints (£4.20) - 2290 Hungarian Forints (£7.50)

Now for the main meal.

Well if you love steak you will be in for a treat. Lovely cuts of meat , all fresh from the wild pampas. You might ask why is Argentinian meat so tasty. It all started a long time ago, in the times of Christopher Columbus. He was known to have introduced Spanish Longhorn cattle in to the New World countries like Argentina, and over the years this herd has been cross bred with breeds from the Scottish Highlands, like Angus cattle and also Hereford cattle. The Angus breed is known for high quality meat.

So what cuts of meat can you choose from? Rib -eye, sirloin, rump, T-bone, tenderloin and New York Strip. You choose your cut of steak by weight and the portions are 200gm, 320gm and 480gm.

Are you drooling yet? The steaks are grilled on the premises so you can view the chef as he works. That aroma! Sizzling steak. We chose a 320gm sirloin each. It comes served on it's own on a white plate drizzled with chocolate. I've never seen this before and at first I was a bit dubious but it was delicious. I ordered my steak to be cooked medium-rare and it was cooked to perfection. Thin, lean and juicy. As a side dish you can have salad or a choice of side dishes ranging from chips or steak fries as they call them, croquette potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes, baked potatoes stuffed with garlic sour cream covered with roast bacon and melted cheese, corn on the cob, various salads, grilled pumpkin, onion rings and seasonal vegetables.

Steak prices range from 200gm - 1990 HF(£6.50) - 3990HF(£13)

320gm from 3190 HF(£10.40) - 6190 HF( £21)

480gm - 4270HF (£14) - 9570HF (£31.50)

How does this compare with UK prices. I don't really know - they look quite expensive to me but I never eat steaks in England so I can't compare. All I can say is thatthe meal was delicious and worth every penny.

Desserts - we didn't have any as I don't really have a sweet tooth but they had a wide range to choose from: Profitteroles, Pampas Cheese Cake.-Chocolate Mousse. Lemon Sorbet.-Apple Pie, Torta de Dulce de Leche (creme caramel tart), Ice cream, Brownie with vanilla Ice cream. These were all priced 620 HF which is just over £2, except Ice Cream but that was because it was a special with lots of different flavours with sparklers. The price for the special ice cream was about £3.

With our meal we chose a bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon which was served in two of the biggest wine glasses I have ever encountered. They were enormous. The bottle was brought by the waiter to a little side table. He opened the bottle gently and then we smelt the aroma and then tasted it. It was delicious. The down side here was that he only put a small amount of wine in to the glasses but then was hovering around the table waiting to top it up. I really dislike that in any restaurant as it is tiresome. I just like to be left alone with my bottle of wine to relax. As well as reds from Chile there were Argentinian wines, French and of course Hungarian. Also White and Rose if you fancy a lighter wine. Prices varied from £9 up to £30.

Oh I forgot to mention the house specialities which are;

Rose Ánade - Duck breast cooked rare with cumberland sauce

Spare Ribs- BBQ Baby Back Ribs from the grill with fries

Pork loin of Mangalica pig cured in spicy brine and roasted whole

Asado de Ternera - whole veal shank baked in a hot oven

Or if you don't fancy any of those how about this selection?

Csirkemell "Provence - Roasted chicken breast in Casanova sauce with garlic, tomato and mushrooms, served with saffron wild rice

Csirkemell "Relleno - Grilled chicken breast fillet filled with four kinds of seasoned cheese served with garlic mashed potatoes

Csirkemell "Mendoza - Chicken breast, spread with bacon and vegetables grilled on lava stone, topped with melted cheese

Pulykasteak "Asado - Roasted turkey breast cured with spices, served with a fresh mixed salad

Lazacsteak "Pimienta - Roasted salmon fillet cured with lemon pepper served with whole boiled potato seasoned with butter and chopped parsley

Lazacsteak "Aneldo - Roasted salmon fillet with a dill sauce served with whole boiled potato seasoned with butter and chopped parsley

Cápasteak "Congrejo - On butter mindly braised, ready-made shark steak grilled on lava stone with mediterranean shrimp stew and croquette potatoes on the side

(These have been copied of the menu).

A great selection but sadly vegetarians get a raw deal as apart from salads and side dishes all the main meals are meaty.

So what do you think of this little bit of Argentina in the centre of Budapest? I would love to know your thoughts. It's worth a visit and so is the city. Very swanky!

Summary: Great place to eat for meat eaters!



Pampas Argentine Steakhouse
Vámház körút 6.
Budapest

A Hotel in Budapest with a Funky Decor

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Praskipark on September 17, 2009

On my last trip to Budapest I was very lucky to choose a hotel within walking distance of the centre and quite a few of the main attractions. The Mercure Budapest was formerly known as The Taverna and is located about two minutes walk away from the bank of the River Danube. We arrived by taxi from the airport which is roughly about 17 kilometres and as I paid the taxi driver I remember thinking that I really liked the fact that the front entrance which is quite grand was on a main road with tourists milling around. I much prefer this than being stuck away down a dark alleyway.

I was impressed with the front entrance of the hotel with its glass windows shining through to the myriad of lights inside and beautifully manicured conifers sitting upright in purple pots with the Mercure sign embellished on the front. The last time I stayed in a Mercure Hotel was years ago in the south of France and I didn't remember it looking as grand as this one but then this hotel has just been renovated.

The staff on reception were smartly dressed and greeted us with a smile. The young man who took our details could speak very good English and although he was friendly there was an air of cockiness about him which slightly annoyed me. Having signed in we were given a swipe card to the room which was on the fourth floor.

There are seven floors altogether and 227 rooms. Lifts are in use and out of the 227 rooms there are only two suitable for disabled persons.

There are two types of rooms available - standard double and privilege double. We chose the privilege double.

Our room overlooked the road but wasn't too noisy as the windows were doubled glazed. The colour scheme was easy to the eye with white walls, wooden floor and long flowing curtains in an amber shade. To the right of the bed facing the window was a small desk and chair with a mirror hung above the desk. A table lamp in contemporary style was placed on the desk as was a steel tray of coffee/tea making facilities. There was also a small table centrally placed in the room which had a tray of bottled mineral waters and two glasses. This added touch was much appreciated as the room was boiling hot. I did manage to locate the control for the air-conditioning . All the furniture was white as were the lamp shades and bedding. Opposite the bed was a set of drawers in the same pristine white with a flat screen TV perched above. Satellite channels were available. It was a nice touch to have an English paper already placed on the desk on the day of arrival and every morning afterwards.

Other things to mention about our privilege room is that there is an ASDL Internet connection which is free to use all day and if you want to use Wi Fi then you have to ask for vouchers at the reception desk. Other usual items are on offer like mini bar, telephone, hairdryer, and a safe to put your valuables in, if you any. I never use safes as I tend to carry my meagre collection of valuables around in my rucksack but I know some people like to use a safe.

Now let's take a look at the en-suite bathroom. I have seen trendier bathrooms but overall the standard of our bathroom was pretty good. The decor was a mixture of white and buttermilk tiles. Because we had chosen a privilege double room we were lucky to have a bath and a high powered massage shower that nearly blew my head off. Two pairs of slippers were placed on the floor in front of the shower cubicle and hung on the back of the door where two luxurious white bathrobes. We had two oval shaped wash basins with a middle tiled surface area where hand towels were neatly folded. Behind the towels sat a wicker basket filled with various toiletries all bearing the hotel's moniker. Everything in the bathroom was scrupulously clean and just perfect really. I loved all the freebies - even the hair net!

The first night of our stay we didn't actually go down to the bar as we were starving and the hotel doesn't serve evening meals although they have a small selection of snacks at the bar. We went out on to the main street leading into the centre where we found a pub serving food. The following night after a day's sightseeing we went to the bar quite early for a beer. The bar area is really funky with bright orange and cream contemporary armchairs to the left of the bar. Cacti and those plants that are called 'Mother-in-law Tongues' were placed at intervals along the main seating area in enormous coloured pots. I thought the lounge and bar area was more like a dance floor as part of the floor was carpeted but then the central section was a highly polished tiled floor with a section raised slightly higher which led to another seating area overlooking the top of the bar. The seats here were a wacky purple and triangular in shape. it was all very 70's retro which I thought was a lot of fun.

What I didn't think was a lot of fun was the price of a beer. My husband came back from the bar with a worried look on his face. He had been charged £4 a pint. I think he thought that he had been overcharged so he went back to the bar and questioned the price. My husband said, 'Surely, this can't be right - these are London prices.' With a surly look and an arrogant voice the waiter said, 'I have worked in London and I can assure you, Sir, these are not London prices. I gently kicked my husband on the shins to warn him not to get into a fight about the price of beer as it wasn't worth it. I said, Remember, this is Budapest, not Warsaw. We came to the conclusion that it was better to order a bottle of wine which was cheaper at just under £8.

So what's left to report - the breakfast room. Very well organised and well set out. Again, interesting decor. Like another set from a Bruce Lee film. The room has a central serving area which has two separate oval bases with two wooden pillars reaching into the ceiling decorated with tiny lights. A huge buffet is spread on top of the oval serving areas. The food was the standard buffet you generally receive in this part of the world; a selection of cooked meats, eggs, cereals, various types of rolls and bread varieties, cakes, pastries, fruit juices, yogurts etc. All fresh and well presented. Once we had filled our plate and poured a cup of coffee we went and sat down on the modern tables in the seating area. Tables sat four and were very spacious. Extra baskets of bread were already placed on the tables every morning with a selection of newspapers. Nice added extra. I loved the glass paneling that led through to the entrance lobby from the breakfast area - different shades of lurid green, purple and orange glass. All very funky.

As I mentioned at the beginning this hotel is in a great location because some of the wonderful attractions like the Parliament Building is about 5 minutes away on the metro as is Elizabeth Bridge and St Stephan's Basilica. The Museum of Fine art is close by which is a gem of a building even if there isn't a lot of art exhibited by famous artists there. The National Museum is only a kilometre away as is the Main Market Hall - another interesting and fascinating place to visit. The nearest metro station is Ferenciek tere M3. The metro is fast, clean and pretty safe. The nearest train station, Nyugati is 1.5km away. If you travel by car there is an underground car park and the charge is approx 24 euros per day.

Price wise - We went in May and paid 99 euros for the room only. I don't think that is too bad to say that Budapest is quite an expensive city, anyway.

Overall, I liked the Mercure Budapest. The decor was good fun, especially the bar area. Our room was very comfortable and the double bed was one of the comfiest I have ever slept in. Breakfasts were fine and the location was superb with lots of good transport connections. The only down side and there usually is one - was the manner of some members of staff. I found some of the young men to be very patronising and a little supercilious. Apart from that we had a good stay in this central hotel and really loved Budapest as a city.
Mercure Budapest City Centre
Vaci Utca 20
Budapest, Hungary, 1052
(36)1-4853100

One of my Favourite and Most Beautiful Buildings in Budapest

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Praskipark on October 14, 2009

The Parliament Building in Budapest is one of my favourite buildings and one of the most beautiful in the whole of Europe. Situated at the western end of Kossuth Lajos Ter ( the square named after the leader of the 1848 revolution, whose statue stands in the northern part of the square) this magnificent building sits in all its glory on the Pest side of the city, watching over the River Danube. The best views of the building are actually from the other side of the river. To find this building take Metro Line 2 and alight at Kossuth Lajos ter.

When we visited last autumn small tents were erected in the grounds of the building and a group of demonstrators were walking around holding banners. I think students and people of the city were up in arms against the corruption of the governmental regime that was in office at the time. Luckily for us the demonstration was a peaceful one and we were allowed to go about our business in peace which was to view this mammoth piece of architecture.

Construction of the Parliament Building started in1885, and although the first session was held in 1896 -1,000 years after the Magyars occupied the country - the building was completed in 1902. Designed in neo-Gothic style and clearly influenced by London's Houses of Parliament (which seem quite small and humble in comparison), this huge building stretches 268 metres along the bank of the Danube, its 96 metre high dome towering above it. The impressive limestone facade facing the river, topped by 88 statues of kings, princes and hereditary leaders radiates wealth and grandeur.

The main entrance, decorated with lion statues, leads to the ceremonial stairway where Lotz's ceiling frescoes can be seen. Believe me, this is a wonderful sight. I just wanted to stand and stare for ages. The frescoes are so ornate and beautifully executed. On the landing is the bust of the building's designer, Imre Steindl. The fabulous staircase leads to the 27 metre high, 16-sided hall, whose pillars are adorned with statues of various Hungarian rulers. Another jaw-dropping experience and one I really recommend for any tourist visiting Budapest. You will not be disappointed at these beautiful sculptures.

Conducted tours are in English and available from Jul-Sep, Wed - Sun from 10am until 2pm. Oct-Jun - 10am only. Tickets have to bought from Gate X.
Hungarian Parliament Building
Kossuth Lajos Ter, 1-3 District V
Budapest, Hungary, 1055
+36 1 441 4904

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j73259-Budapest-5_Days_in_Hungarys_Capital.html

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