We've spent two days in the city and it's really amazing how beautiful but also how different the city is. We're staying in a very touristy location near the river, so it's centrally-located (big plus!), but also centrally-located to lots of cheesy, touristy things (lots of casinos, Hard Rock Cafe, etc.).
Love locks in a Budapest park
The format of the trip is such that we get lots of free time in the afternoon, so I've been utilizing that to explore the city and get a feel for its character, which is harder to do when visiting museums or architectural sites.
St. Stephen's Basilica
Yesterday we visited St. Stephen's Basilica, which is the largest church in Hungary and really amazing inside and out. I've not visited too many cathedrals in my lifetime, but the grandeur is quite astounding. Unfortunately it was pretty dark inside so taking pictures was rather tricky.
St. Stephen's Basilica on the right, as seen from Castle Hill
Dome at St. Stephen's Basilica (that's God in the center, with rays of light projecting outward)
Last night we went to the ballet, a production of the Brothers Karamazov. I went with a group of people and we were very high up, in the nose-bleed seats. Luckily we had a pretty good view of the performance below, but the plot was a little confusing and once the Hungarian voice over began (is this normal for a ballet?), we all kind of got lost.
Today we ventured to the Buda side of Budapest (the city is split into Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube River; we are staying in Pest) to see the Castle Hill district and Matthias Church. After spending almost two days in the much more modernized Pest, walking around Buda was almost like stepping back in time. It's a quaint village, filled with small colorful cottages, cobblestone streets, and mosaic tiled roofs. The really amazing part was the view, though. Castle Hill overlooks the entire city so the sights are truly breathtaking.
Matthias Church in Castle Hill
At Buda Castle
The food so far has been pretty good. I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of Hungarian food, but I've been pleasantly surprised - lots of pickles and beets, which I really love, although I've stayed away from the various arrays of sausages. One thing I've been surprised at is how many gelato stands there are everywhere (and I mean everywhere). Sometimes there are several in one block. I told myself I'd wait and save the really good gelato for the Italian cities, but I caved in last night and got a scoop each of yogurt with berries and coffee. I was not disappointed. Apart from Hungarian food, we also tried an Italian restaurant last night after the ballet that was really delicious. My handmade pappardelle with porcini mushrooms was delicious, hopefully a precursor to some wonderful carbs in Florence, Rome, and Venice.
Tomorrow is our last day in Budapest, and we are going to the Museum of Fine Arts in the day and an orchestra concert in the evening. Then one last night in the city and a long bus ride the next day to Prague.
Buda Castle, as seen from a bridge connecting Buda and Pest
Other odds and ends:
-Tried my first shot of jagermeister and felt it in my stomach for the next hour or so. I was a fan of the beer chaser, though.
-Hair straightener does not work in Europe. This is a problem.
-The flight was so much better than I expected. I occupied my time with Moneyball, Young Adult, Mad Men, and The Big Bang Theory. What did people do on airplanes before they installed screens in the back of the seats?
-The weather here is reminiscent of summer Florida weather: short showers in the bright sun, 10-minute-long torrential downpours followed by intense sunlight and humidity (see: hair straightener not working being a problem).