From my New Year trip to Budapest in 2007.
by Essexgirl09 on February 12, 2010
Travelling with a group at a popular time such as New Year can often make finding hotels difficult. One year I was single so needed a single room, and this was proving to be difficult as many places did not offer single rooms and if they did they were not very nice so had to bite the bullet and get a room that was only a fraction less than the price of my friends' doubles. Apart from that the only criteria was that the hotel be centrally located and clean. The hotel Budapest Metropol certainly fitted the above criteria and when we booked the rooms there was an offer of four nights for the price of three on a bed & breakfast basis. We also requested non smoking rooms and quiet rooms and these were acknowledged but could not be guaranteed (although we did all get quiet, non-smoking rooms). In total I paid £196.87 for my room and the doubles were £223.88 per room. The hotel is in a fairly good location just one minute walk to Blaha Lujza Ter Metro station and a supermarket; less than ten minutes to Liszt Ferenc Ter, a street full of restaurants and bars (although there were other individual places nearer) and 15 minutes to the river. It also has an underground car park if you are driving into the city. The hotel originally opened in 1896, the same time as the Metro system opened in the city. The general décor is modern and is saved from being a bland chain style by utilising the Metro theme with the lift doors cleverly painted to resemble old style train doors. Different station names (with historical details) are given on each floor. It is a nice theme, which managed not to cross the line into tacky. The reception and communal areas are all spacious, but I am not aware of any ground floor rooms, so wheelchair users would need to use the lift to access their rooms (which could be an issue in the event of fire). The Reception desk in manned 24 hours and you can use the safety deposit boxes in the back office (there are none in your rooms). There was a small gift shop in reception as well. There is a small seating area here, it is a smoking section, but as the whole area is quite large and airy, it is unlikely to offend unless you are sitting close to the smoker. Check in was efficient and polite, the receptionist gave everyone a map (one of those free ones with adverts for 'interesting' bars for gentlemen on it) and marked where the hotel was and pointed out which direction the river was. My single room was small but adequate. There as a 4 foot/120cm wide bed, desk, cupboard (half a dozen hangers for trousers or tops/jackets as well as shelving) and low shelf for your case all in a matching teak type finish. There was also a TV (which could receive BBC World, but that was the only English Language channel I found, plus some pay-per-view movies and some music channels) and telephone (calls from 110 Hungarian Forint - just over 30 pence). I was pleased that lighting was adequate with an overhead light as you walked in, a desk lamp and two small nightlights over the bed, adequate for reading by. The bathroom had a bath with integral shower, toilet, sink, mirror and hairdryer (with safety switch so you can't accidentally electrocute yourself). There was also a small water glass and some complimentary toiletries (hair and body gel, conditioning shampoo and soap) which seemed to be of reasonable quality although not of any particular brand name. My friends' double rooms were all quite a bit larger and had a separate toilet from the bathroom, a larger bed (5 feet/150cm), more cupboard space and a table and two chairs. My room overlooked a small internal area. You could not go out on it, as it also looked down on the glass covered atrium over the snack bar/restaurant. As I was on the second floor, I didn't get a great deal of natural light, particularly as it was overcast for most of our visit. I found the reception, restaurant and cleaning staff to all be helpful and friendly, with the exception of one incident with a reception member (who had previously checked us in so efficiently). It was completely out of character with the service any of us received at any other time in the hotel however. We had pre-paid, but the hotel accepts all major credit cards or you can settle in cash - Hungarian Forint or Euro if you prefer. The buffet breakfast was extensive and served between 6.30 and 10.am, they weren't at all prompt in clearing it away, still topping up juices and croissants at 10.15, so late arrivals are still catered for. It is served in the Snack Bar area that serves drinks and snacks such as soups and small meals throughout the day at quite reasonable prices. There is a smoking and non-Smoking area here. Foods available for breakfast included hot sausages, bacon, boiled eggs, omelette, mixed grilled vegetables (lovely but I cannot get my head around carrots for breakfast), as well as cereals, fresh and dried fruits, breads (there was a toaster available), cold meat and cheeses and yoghurts. There were also coffee, tea and cocoa available as well as three fresh juices. The hotel offers three meeting rooms for corporate clients. There is a 'business centre' and the hotel also has Wi-fi but there were not notices of the price. The hotel does not offer a swimming pool or fitness suite (Budapest has plenty of natural thermal pools). I did not see any children in the hotel during my four night stay, there are no obvious child friendly facilities. I would recommend this hotel as it suited my friends' and my needs perfectly. A hotel closer to the river would be nice, but the price increases accordingly, so if you don't mind a short walk or hopping on the metro for one or two stops this is not going to be a problem. Not all attractions are by the river, and there are places to eat and drink in the area. The hotel is clean, and apart from one strange instance, we felt we could not fault the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff. The breakfast also represents good value and I would recommend getting that included in your price.
Budapest has a number of thermal steam baths (gyogyfurdo) and this has been a tradition since Roman times. It is an idea to give some thought as to which you bath you may wish to visit and consult your guide book or hotel reception for the latest suggestions. Some baths are all same sex or have separate men's and women's days which may not suit mixed groups; some same sex baths don't allow bathing costumes and some have a predominantly homosexual clientele. It is important to find one that you are comfortable with. As part of a mixed sex group we chose the Szechenyi baths which are located opposite Budapest Zoo in Varosliget (City Park), and is a traditional 19th Century style building. It is apparently the largest of the thermal baths and has the deepest and warmest wells. There is a small café there and various entrances. If going in winter I would advise going in the back (away from the Zoo side) as there the steam rooms and thermal pools are next to the changing rooms on this side, otherwise you would have to cross the outside pool to get from one to the other, and whilst this is one thing when you are dry, it is not so pleasant when you are wet and its cold. There are various prices and various treatments at this spa and it all seems a bit confusing at first. Signs are in English but the tellers at the cash windows where you buy your tickets don't speak English, if you have any queries. We initially just wanted regular tickets in regular single sex changing rooms, which were about HUF2,000 (£5.50), but were charged HUF2,600 (£7) which meant we got private 'cabins' or cubicles each, and it was too confusing to query. We then had to queue for about twenty minutes to go through to the changing rooms, which was annoying as our friends who had arrived ten minutes ahead of us went straight through. However, it was Saturday afternoon and no doubt a peak time. You can hire towels for HUF700 (£2) which are really large cotton sheets, and the desk is hidden away. The changing rooms were like a rabbit warren and we then had to find an attendant who wanted us to share a cabin. We had to show him our receipts to prove we had paid for individual cubicles (even though we weren't that bothered), it seemed we had been given the wrong colour cards. As it turned out my friend's husband ended up in the communal changing rooms after all. Other people we know who went also found it confusing, so I think that is something you just have to accept and get on with. Each cabin is a numbered wooden cubicle with a lockable door. Inside is a small bench and some coat hooks, once you are changed you summon the attendant and he writes a number in chalk on a small blackboard just inside your cabin. He gives you a wrist band that relates to this number, so you can prove that the cabin is yours. He locks and unlocks the door for you and you just have to remember your cabin number (which is different number than your wrist band). All signs are in Hungarian so although we found the indoor pools, next to our changing rooms, we couldn't locate the toilets or outdoor pool where we had arranged to meet the rest of our friends. When we entered the indoor pool areas there were a few shelves to leave your stuff such as towels and soaps. We actually located some of our friends almost immediately and we followed them through a maze of different pools to the outside one. I have to say I never thought I'd be persuaded to go outside in sub zero December temperatures in nothing but a bathing suit but I was. We first entered the pool right by the doors so there was a quick dash across the stone floor and down the wide steps into the water. The outdoor pools vary in temperature but were reportedly about 36C that day. The amount of steam rising was amazing, at times, people six feet away from me disappeared into the mist which was quite eerie. I was happy to relax by the steps here, but some people went for a bit of a swim but the pool was packed at this time so it would be quite hard to swim properly. There were also quite a few people playing chess or with waterproof playing cards. This pool was quite deep, and at 150cm tall, I could barely stand up on tip toes. There is another outside pool that looked like it would be better suited for swimming (I believe it is compulsory to wear a hat in this one) and a 'fun' pool with Jacuzzi and whirlpool. The Jacuzzi is situated within a horseshoe shape and when it stops the whirlpool starts. The current carries you round the horseshoe (the outside rim of the Jacuzzi) and as momentum builds up carries you on for another round, unless you swim out. The current builds up slowly and gets stronger and stronger, and at its peak I struggled to swim out against the current, and it took a few attempts but the water is not deep nor particularly rough and at no time did I feel unsafe. The outside rim of the horseshoe also has a stronger current than the inside rim, but it was a lot of fun and I didn't have as many bruises as I expected. I am guessing it lasts for about 10 minutes but I am not sure how often it happens. Back inside we tried out numerous baths ranging from 38C down to a (relatively freezing) 20C. There are also steam rooms and dry saunas. You can get various hydro therapy treatments, mud wraps and massages. They also provide other medicinal treatments. Bearing in mind how confusing it was to get into the pools themselves, I am glad I didn't attempt to have any of these. A few pools I noticed had equipment to lower disabled visitors into the water. There are also tubs of ice if you feel so inclined; some people were rubbing it over themselves. There are plenty of clocks around but hard to read outside through the steam. The toilets aren't great, but like most public swimming bath toilets always have a lot of water on the floor. I had flip flops, and in the loos and outside area they were welcome but became a nuisance as we dipped in and out of different indoor pools and I had to keep going back for them. The showers are in the indoor baths area and although they are individual cubicles they are in a communal mixed sex area. When you get back to the changing rooms you find your cabin attendant and point out your cabin. Hand him your wrist band and he'll check it against the number he wrote just inside the door. It is perfectly safe to leave your money and things here. Once you get changed, return you towel if you hired one (they take your plastic card as a deposit). In our large changing area there were two free hairdryers, this is a nice touch but were about as effective at drying your hair as an egg whisk. I didn't see any sockets you could use with your own dryer, I assume this wasn't the done thing as most people were locals and were happy to wait ages why you got arm ache trying to dry a strand of hair. When you leave you put your cards through a machine and it gives you a small refund depending on how long you have been in the baths. If you are there more than three or four hours you don't get anything returned. Make sure you put your cards through as sometimes the attendants take them.If you are visiting Budapest I think a visit to one of the thermal baths is a must. Szechenyi is in a lovely building and it is popular for a reason. Although it is initially confusing, once you are in it is fine. I went on a Saturday afternoon and it was very busy. It may be better to try a mid week visit if you are able. Although I would suggest going at anytime of year, I think the outside experience in winter with all the steam (which obviously doesn't work in the heat of summer) is worth braving the cold dash to the water for. I found that the baths area is clean even though there were many people about. If I went back to Budapest I would certainly visit again.
Translation: Magyar Borok Haza This self-guided wine tasting tour is in a celler located on the Buda side of the city close to Fisherman's Bastion and the Hilton Hotel. It is one of the more expensive attractions in the city at about HUF4000 (approx £10) to get in. It is open throughout the week but closes on public holidays. The attraction is open between noon and 8pm and they allow you a maximum of two hours there, so you need to arrive before 6pm to make the most of it. When you arrive you will be given a fold out map (which I then promptly lost) which shows a plan of the cellar which is divided into each of the 22 wine growing regions in Hungary, a small wine glass which you can take away to keep and a small packet of bite sized cheesy biscuits. You can leave your coats here and then head down to the cellar. This is no cold, dank or dark cellar but a well-lit one with plenty of light bricks and wood to make it look attractive. It is also full of bottles of wine. The helpful assistants explain what is happening. Tours are self-guided and you can walk around the cellar however you choose or follow the map as each section of the cellar is dedicated to a particular region. Firstly there are white ones, then red, and some that are mixed, with some sparkling wines at the end. The cellar stocks hundreds of Hungarian wines and in each section there are three or four bottles you can try. In most sections there are jugs of water so you can rinse your glass with (or drink if you are so inclined) and small barrels where you can chuck away any wine in your glass that you don't like. There are no restrictions on which of the opened wines you drink and how much of them you drink in your allotted two hours - I love a challenge! If a bottle is empty just give one of the friendly assistants a shout and he will open another for you. You can, of course, purchase any favourites, but not all wines can be tasted. There are not many of the top end of the price range open, being mainly bottom-middle end. I'm afraid I can't be too specific as to the prices to buy, but I think the majority of the wines available to taste started from about the equivalent of £6.00, but the notes I took didn't make much sense when I got home strangely…Apparently they change the wines available to taste monthly. We decided to start at the beginning in Area 1 which was a white wine region. My first taste was a Pinot Grigio and it was lovely, and I had the last sample from the bottle (you just help yourselves from the display of open bottles) so called the assistant to replace but sadly they had run out of that wine, and the chardonnay he replaced it with was not as nice, in my opinion. One thing I did like about the place was the informality, you don't have to feel you know anything about the wine other than if you like it or not. After we got our Jilly Goolden impersonations out of the way ("ooh it smells just like Wellington boots with a hint of moss…") we moved onto the next display (which was a different region). Each region had a map on the wall and some information about the wines of that area, but I have to admit that I didn't read them after the first region; valuable tasting time was being wasted! I was quite insistent that I wasn't going to tip any of the wines I tried away but drink them all, but to be honest some of them weren't very nice! In this environment though I did get to taste wines I would have not considered before. For example I found a really nice Muscat which I would never normally have drunk, assuming it would be too sweet for my taste, but I actually found it quite pleasant. I'm not a fan of red wines, but most of the red wine growing regions also made white wines, so there were still white wines to sample in the reds section. This is not the case in reverse, but generally there were more wines in each red section to taste so it was swings and roundabouts really. By this stage I had eaten all my cheesy bites and was starting on my friend's. Eating beforehand might've been a good idea…There were only a couple of rosés available to taste, and some quite pricey champagne type sparkling wines at the end, which were very drinkable. The relaxed atmosphere (and no doubt the alcohol) made this a very friendly place and you'll find yourself swapping tips of wines to taste and then tourist advice with your international fellow tasters by the end. I think all the visitors when we were there were international; this may not appeal to locals as much as it is one of the more expensive attractions we visited, but for West European travelers I think it represents really good value as the admission is cheaper than a bottle of House wine in most UK restaurants, and you get to try so many wines. If you are visiting Budapest, then this is an attraction with a difference, and although not cheap, ultimately offers good value for wine drinkers. We visited on a Saturday at about 6.15pm and although there were several other small groups there we didn't really get in each others way, as you just skipped to the next section if people are there and backtracked to the ones you missed. Our entire group (eight of us) enjoyed the visit and it was a good ice-breaker as some of us had not met friends of friends before. Needless to say we were all new best friends by the end of it, and no, we couldn't walk in a straight line when we left. I have to say if I ever went back to Budapest I would definitely come back to this place with friends. Cheers!
Karma is a lovely restaurant on Budapest's Liszt Ferenc Ter. This is a pedestrianised street off of a major road, Andrassy Ut, and close to The Oktogon (Budapest's equivalent of Piccadilly Circus). Along this street is an array of restaurants serving international cuisines. Karma is one such restaurant. We dined upstairs, downstairs there is a bar and tables, this is mainly for drinkers but you can eat here to. There is a more relaxed area at the back with sofas where most people seemed just to be drinking. Toilets are also on this floor and are modern and clean. The upstairs tables go around the room; there are banisters in the middle where you can look down on the people below. There were five of us eating late on this particular Thursday night between Christmas and New Year and the restaurant was quite busy. The upstairs area was all non-smoking although some smoke did drift up from the floor below. They had an extensive drinks menu, and most were about UK prices. There was a large range of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails, juices, milkshakes as well as beers, wines and an extensive range of spirits. For my starter, my friend and I elected to share an Aubergine dip with pitta bread and fresh vegetables. The vegetables were actually cucumber cut in lengths and slices of tomato. The pitta was lovely and warm. The dip itself did not have a strong flavour; it was creamier than hummus and very pleasant. It was comparatively expensive at HUF 1,350 (approx £4) to other restaurants we found. However, compared to UK restaurants the presentation and quantity was vastly superior. The rest of our group had soups which were large and meaty, practically full meals in themselves and were approximately HUF 8-900 (£2.50). One of my friend's soups had whole skewers of meat in them. The guinea fowl soup also offered something a bit different. The main courses on offer ranged from Wok dishes, pasta and Tandoori style dishes. Meat eaters were far better served than vegetarians with lots of poultry and game on offer, and some fish dishes. As a veggie, the only hot dish available to me was Tandoor vegetables - not exactly authentic Hungarian cuisine! Unfortunately there were no Tandoori dishes available as the oven was broken. I explained that I was vegetarian, and particularly wanted hot food as it was a bitterly cold day, and the only other dishes available were salads (although they looked quite interesting as salads go, it was minus 6 C outside and I wanted hot food!). I asked if they could make me one of the pasta dishes without the meat, and was informed that this wasn't possible as the pasta dishes were ready prepared. I think this is a shame, as it doesn't really take long to cook! He did however suggest to me Honey-chili Malay noodles with chicken and mushrooms without the chicken which I accepted as there was no other alternative. The noodles were spicy and filling, but the dish was a bit samey, as not a lot of effort had gone into adding other vegetables instead of the chicken. We were also charged the full price of HUF2000 (£5.75), which whilst not expensive by UK standards was not really fair by Hungarian standards for a plate of noodles with a few mushrooms in it! One of my friends had Turkey with potatoes and pumpkin puree which looked interesting and I was assured was also very tasty. The Venison and duck dishes also got the thumbs up, I was the only one slightly disappointed with their food. Saying that, all dishes were beautifully presented on contemporary crockery. We skipped desserts as we were all quite full, and also passed on coffees (although they had a wide selection). Our bill for five people including two bottles of red wine, two bottles of still water and a spirit with mixer came to the equivalent of just under £90. It has to be said that a lot of this money was drinks; to eat is actually very reasonable. The service was generally very efficient and attentive, and we usually managed to attract a waiter's attention without too much problem, there was also no problem with the language barrier and the menus were printed in Hungarian and English. One unusual practice we noted was that plates were cleared as soon as you finished, they didn't wait for everyone to finish, which meant they came to clear our table in three trips. At about 9pm a DJ came out and played a range of trendy 'chill-out' type tracks, which were quite inoffensive. Although we were seated quite near, the music was not loud enough to be intrusive and added a bit of atmosphere. We saw older children in the restaurant (teenagers) but there were no special meals for really little people so they would need quite sophisticated tastes as the food is not plain or simple. I would imagine it would get busy at weekends and peak times so worth getting there early or booking. If you miss out there are several other good restaurants on the street.
Andrassy Ut is a wide, tree lined Boulevard with some of the most prestigious addresses in Budapest. It also has one of the more horrific ones. No. 60 was the war time home of the Arrow Cross Party (Hungarian Nazis) and was later replaced by the AVO and AVH Communist terror organizations. Nowadays, as well as being a museum it is also a memorial to those that died under these regimes. There is a bookshop (free to get into), café and cloakrooms on the ground floor, you then go up to the second floor to start your visit, passing a Soviet tank on your way. The first room that you go into has various video screens showing archive news footage of the Nazis and the Communists. There are some distressing scenes of mass graves, and this museum cannot be recommended for younger visitors. One of my favourite rooms on this floor is called the 'Gulag' it is a large room and the fantastic carpet is a map of all Soviet occupied areas. Although it is in Hungarian, you can easily work out the main places, and the gulags ('Administration' or concentration camps) are marked. Around the museum are old fashioned telephones at various points, you can dial a number from a list and hear some information on a topic, however it is only in Hungarian. You also see reconstructed offices and read a moving report about the Hungarian resistance. There is less emphasis on the Arrow Cross (fascists) than the Communists though. When you go down the stairs (or lift) to the first floor you will see more offices and exhibitions, as well as a film (with English subtitles this time) and documentation referring to cases that were brought to justice after the reign of terror. There are also small displays on propaganda and examples of everyday life mostly done in a quite dark and even funereal setting as there is no real cause for celebration. Here you will learn about how the peasants were victimized, forced to work in factories or fulfill ridiculous quotas. It wasn't just the Jews persecuted under the Fascists, religions generally were seen as a threat to both the Fascist and Communist movements and this is also featured. As well as the persecutors you meet heroes such as Cardinal Mindszenty who stood up to these organizations and was given a trial. Bearing in mind the justice system had abolished the assumption of innocence until proven otherwise, and accepted hearsay as evidence, it was obviously a huge farce. He was subsequently imprisoned and on his release in 1956 lived in exile within the US embassy. At the end of the first floor you take a dark, slow three minute lift ride to the basement and you watch a film where an executioner talks about his work. Although they warn you the lift ride is three minutes you don't notice the time, but you will find it the most macabre lift ride you will ever take. There is an alternative for those who get claustrophobic. When you arrive in the basement you are greeted by an awful stench. This is the prison and torture area where prisoners awaited interrogation and the air is rank and stale. In fact my pregnant friend felt quite ill at this point. As you move along the smell seems to lessen (I don't think I got used to it). Here you will see reconstructions of the torture rooms as well as some gallows. The gallows actually came from a prison and were not originally here, no one was executed at this address although many died as a result of beatings received or suicide. The basement also contains the Hall of the 1956 Revolution which started from an initially unarmed demonstration against Soviet occupation and became a national battle in which over 2,500 died, and many more were injured or sent to the Soviet Union as Prisoners of War. Subsequently several hundred were executed including the Prime Minister Imre Nagy. As well as tributes to those that died, there is also a Gallery of Victimisers naming and shaming all the perpetrators, from those who actually committed the crimes to those that gave the orders. During your visits of the top two floors, loud, darkly atmospheric music is played. It is silent in the basement. It is worth noting that most signs and video footage in the museum are in Hungarian, and there is very little in English. Detailed A4 sheets with background info (in English and German) for each part in history are available to pick up as you walk through the museum and are very informative. There is apparently an audio guide available but we weren't made aware of this when we arrived. In spite of the harrowing topic and exhibits, I think if you have an interest in modern history then this museum is an essential part of your visit to Budapest. It is an important teaching aid for us all, so the same mistakes are not made again by a later generation. It is a shame that most of the exhibits aren't marked in English, but most visitors will find a wealth of background information in the sheets found in each room (usually behind the doors, so you have to check you haven't missed them). Admission HUF 1500 (approx £4.30) Students HUF750 Group prices available Free to Over 65s; disabled visitors (and their carers); teachers; students on Sundays. Audio Guide HUF1300 (English & German) No photography allowed There are toilets on each floor. Can be reached on Metro Line 1 to Vorosmarty Utca or trams 4 or 6 from Oktogon. Open: Tuesday - Friday 10am - 6pm Saturday - Sunday 10am - 7.30pm Closed Mondays
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