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Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Until a few weeks ago, we had envisioned Budapest as one city, but the fact is  there are many sides to this spectacular place.  From a literal perspective, there are two sides, Buda and Pest, sitting opposite each other along the Danube River. They officially became one city in 1873 and today are joined by a series of bridges and rail lines that make up the greater city of Budapest. However, beyond the two banks of the river, lie the many different faces of Budapest, and this is what makes it such a great place to visit; there is something for everyone.

Budapest for the History Buff

Like many other capital cities in Europe, Budapest features a historic castle quarter. Located on the Buda side of the river, Castle Hill is the place to go for the best views of the city, and it is home to several museums and monuments including, not only Buda Castle, but numerous churches, the National Széchenyi Library and Sándor Palace, the official residence of Hungary’s President.

Check out this spectacular diamond tiled roof of the Matthias Church on the Buda side

View of the Hungarian Parliament Building as seen from Fisherman’s Bastion

After exploring the castle district, take a ride on Budapest’s underground metro system, the oldest subway system in continental Europe. Many of the stations have classy tile work and a very historic feel to them. Lastly, don’t miss the Hungarian National Museum which houses great exhibits about the nation’s history and current archeological excavations.

Budapest for the Foodie

Eastern European food is generally not anything to write home about; but, we had high expectations for Budapest. The bar was set high by one of our favorite restaurants from home, a Hungarian spot in Denver called Budapest Bistro. We were not disappointed. Hungarian food takes the basic meat and starch components that are used in so many Eastern European countries and jazzes it up with paprika. This spice doesn’t add heat, but flavor. Some of our favorites included: chicken paprikash, rabbit in red wine sauce and garlic seasoned goose leg.

Chicken paprikash with spaetzle…this picture does not do it justice, we were more concerned with eating it at the time than getting a good shot

In addition to the traditional Hungarian restaurants that cover the streets of Buda and Pest, you should also check out the Central Market Hall (Nagy Vasarcsarnok). At a first glance, this market looks like any other in Europe with produce, meat and seafood stands, but upstairs there are several food counters where you can graze to your heart’s content. We particularly loved the stuffed cabbage rolls.

Nagycsarnok in Budapest – Home of many delicious Hungarian food stands

Budapest for the Party Fiend

If you don’t look closely, you may miss one of the most interesting parts of Budapest’s nightlife: ruin bars. Tucked into warehouses and dilapidated buildings, these bars are often unmarked and therefore easy to miss. Stop by during the day for a relaxing coffee or beer, or visit on a Friday and Saturday night to experience the liveliest atmosphere in town. Ruin bars are eclectically decorated, including anything from rusted old cars that have been converted into seating to toilets that are being used as planting boxes. They feature many types of entertainment from DJs to dancers to interactive art pieces.

Funky decor in Szimpla’s outdoor patio

Random and fun interactive art piece in Szimpla Ruin Bar. This basic circuit board controls a crazy assortment of lights, bells, whistles and music.

Hidden seating area at a Budapest ruin bar

If you want to read a detailed summary of ruin bars in Budapest, check out this post.

Budapest for some R&R

Likely brought into popularity when the Turks invaded Hungary, gyógyfürdő (thermal baths) are a traditional part of Hungarian life. These facilities usually include indoor and outdoor pools whose temperatures vary based on the minerals of which they are composed. Definitely set aside at least one full-day for relaxing in a fürdő during your visit to Budapest. We loved our visit to Széchenyi Fürdő, one of Europe’s largest thermal baths situated in the center of City Park. You can purchase tickets which provide access to various services, ranging from the use of the basic thermal baths for about 3,000 HUF to pool access with a private cabin, including massages and spa treatments for upwards of 9,000 HUF.

Outdoor thermal baths at Széchenyi Fürdő. These get up to 38 degrees Celsius – the biggest hot tub we’ve ever seen!

Locals playing chess in the thermal baths. They must be prune proof.

One of the indoor thermal baths at Széchenyi Fürdő

If public baths aren’t your style, no need to worry; head over to Margaret Island (Margitsziget). This island park sits right in the middle of the Danube River and can easily be reached by foot or by public transportation. The park is just over 5 kilometers around and has countless areas for picnicking and sunbathing. There are also tennis courts and trails for biking and running, if working out is your idea of relaxation. A small petting zoo, water park, ice cream stands and cafes make it a family friendly destination.

Budapest for the Arts Lover

If arts and theater are your thing, be sure to visit Budapest during the Budapesti Tavaszi Fesztivál (Spring Festival) which happens each year in March. We happened to be in town this week, and although we didn’t take advantage of its offerings, you can be guaranteed so see a wide variety of operas, shows, and live musical acts at venues across the city. During the rest of the year, the city houses several art museums, including the Hungarian National Gallery which includes a feature on famous artists from Budapest.

Frescoes at the Hungarian National Museum

As for our personal experience in Budapest…fantastic! Even before we arrived things were going our way. The night before we left Vienna, we saw a sign at the reception desk of our hostel that said “free ticket to Budapest.” Although it seemed too good to be true, we asked for more details. As it turned out, a fellow traveler had purchased a round-trip ticket and wasn’t going to be using the return. So, rather than trying to sell it, they asked the hostel to try and find someone who could use it. Funny how things like that work out; we were actually planning on doing the exact same thing with our round-trip tickets from the Czech Republic.

Free train ticket to Vienna thanks to a kind stranger!

But anyway, back to Budapest, it has been one of our favorite destinations thus far. Despite the fact that neither of us speaks a word of Hungarian, we felt at home. Before arriving, we had heard some bad things about Budapest being a “sketchy” city with lots of people out to scam tourists; so we had our guard up a bit when we arrived. As it turns out, everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful, and honest. Add the delicious food, sights, and activities, and you have all the makings of a wonderful city. If you are planning a trip to Eastern Europe DO NOT miss Budapest.

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Sometimes bad weather is a blessing in disguise; allowing you to get chores done, or serving as an excuse to just be lazy. Rainy, dreary Prague caused us to try something we had not yet done on our trip, spend the day at a museum. We know it must sound crazy, no museums in two months of travel? If you know us well, you know that we are not museum people. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the Jewish Museum in Prague.

The Jewish Museum is divided into several buildings throughout Prague’s old Jewish neighborhood, including four synagogues, a cemetery and ceremonial burial hall.

We learned that Prague held one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe, which was unknown to us before visiting the museum. During their occupation of Europe, the Nazis destroyed many Jewish monuments and neighborhoods but chose to leave Prague’s Jewish Quarter relatively untouched for the purpose of creating a “museum of an extinct race.” It is chilling to think back to those times. They even shipped Jewish artifacts from across the continent to Prague. Many of these remain, giving the modern Jewish Museum one of the world’s largest collections of Judaic art.

The Spanish Synagogue, interestingly designed in Moorish style

Just a few of the hundreds of Torah pointers on display at the Jewish Museum in Prague

Slanted array of headstones in the Old Jewish Cemetery

After the clouds lifted, we set out exploring the city by foot. The picturesque buildings, castle and bridges that span the Vltava River give Prague a fairytale feel. Adding to this whimsical atmosphere is the city’s Astronomical Clock. A clock may not seem too cool, but take our word for it; this one is. Not only does it tell the time, date, season, and current zodiac sign, it also gives a really fun show every hour.

The Prague Astronomical Clock just before putting on its hourly show

After checking out the old town and watching the clock strike noon, we headed for Prague Castle, crossing over the river on the Charles Bridge. The bridge and castle are said offer great views of the city, and while worth a visit, were a bit too touristy for our liking. We didn’t stick around too long.

Walking over Charles Bridge towards Prague Castle

Prague Castle from the backside, as we walk towards the Prague 6 district for lunch

While searching for an elusive beer garden (turns out these are more of a summer thing), we discovered that the real place to get a great view of Prague is from the bluffs of Letna Park. About a 10-15 minute walk from Prague Castle, this park was a perfect place to peacefully soak in the beauty of the city, bridges, and far off hills.

Beautiful view of Prague and the Vltava River from Letna Park

Our original itinerary for the Czech Republic only included Prague, but on a recent flight we had read an article about the Czech Beer Route in a magazine. As beer lovers, we were intrigued to learn more, so we did some research and decided to depart from Prague in the direction of Czech’s famous beer towns of Plzeň, České Budějovice and Český Krumlov.

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