Budapest, Hungary
December 18-23, 2003


Beth and I were married in July 2003, but we didn't go on our "big" honeymoon until December. We chose to go to Budapest, Hungary, then Prague, Czech Republic, all this over about a ten-day period.

We were to leave on December 18th. When we awoke, we saw on the news that big snowstorms were shutting down airports back east, including Cincinnati, which was supposed to be a stop for us. So when we got to Phoenix Sky Harbor, we were able to get re-routed through Atlanta. So we flew to Atlanta, during which the stewardess announced that we were on our honeymoon and called us Mr and Mrs Sigler. Close enough. We had a couple hours in Atlanta, then a crowded flight to Paris, a couple hours there, then a quick jump to Budapest. We landed in the early evening, but it was dark by now. By now, 24 hours had passed since we started from Phoenix.

The taxi driver in Budapest drove quickly from the airport to our hotel. I thought we were going to die right there. But we made it. Here we were in Budapest! We were hungry, so we walked around the area and found a cafe, where we had goulash, plus other goodies. It was delicious, a good way to start our honeymoon.

We awoke the next morning and set out for a full day of sightseeing around the city. Our hotel was on a street paralleling the Danube River (called the Duna here), and it wasn't a far walk to get to the river. Unfortunately, there was dense fog, and the temperature was cold, about 30 degrees F. Across the river is a big hill called Gellert Hegy (pronounced "Hedz", meaning hill). We crossed the Erzsebet Hid (bridge) to steps leading every which way up the hill. After a few hundred feet, we were beneath the huge statue of Szent Istvan Gellert (St. Steven of Gellert), a Christian martyr killed in the 11th century (photo below). We then walked up to the top of this hill to a fortress called the Citadel, built during the Austrian occupation. Nowadays it's a tourist destination. However, on this day traffic was light due to the cold and fog. We toured the grounds, viewed the historical markers, and talked to one shopkeeper who had a large set of paraphernalia from the Soviet years. We snapped some more photos, then walked down the other side of the hill. Along the way, we visited a large church built into a cave, and then briefly visited a Turkish bathhouse at the southern foot of the hill (we went to this bathhouse a few days later).

Left: Beth near the Gellert statute. Right: Scott in front of a statue near the Citadel on top of Gellert Hill.

The Church built into a cave on Gellert Hill.

The Danube below us as we descend Gellert Hill.

The Turkish Baths.

Once down from Gellert Hill, we walked north toward the Old Town and the Castle district, about a mile away. We arrived at a funicular cable railway, paid a few hundred Forints (a few bucks) and got a ride to the top of the hill. This particular hill houses the traditional palace and governmental buildings, and today contains many fine old buildings, some dating back to the 1300s.

On top of the hill, we were met by some guy with a big Soviet-era moustache and trenchcoat, who introduced himself as "Istvan Alexei" and offered to act as our personal guide for the next few hours. Beth and I were not interested in a guide, and got a funny vibe from this guy. Whenever we'd try to kindly say "no" he'd raise his voice and say "Not to be interrupting me again..." and then continue to yammer on in Hunglish. Finally we just walked away from him, but he followed us, calling us names and declaring us "to have a world record for stupidity". At one point, I looked over and saw a couple Hungarian police guys (security?) watching all this happen. I looked at them and shrugged, using body language to say "what's up with this guy?". We were able to shake off Istvan, and go about our meanderings.

We then made our way to nearby Old Town. This area is dominated by a large cathedral (photos below), upscale housing built in the 18th century, ruins of an old church from the 1300s, some embassies, lots of nice restaurants, and lots of tourists. We ate lunch, then walked to the church and toured the insides. This cathedral has been bombed a few times and rebuilt, so some of it is fairly new, but built to resemble the original. It was about 4 p.m. when we emerged, kind of surprised to find it already nearing darkness. We decided to walk back to our hotel and get a nice dinner along the way. In this part of Budapest there were lots of places to eat. We also spent some time along the Vaci, a pedestrian street with lots of vendors and booths and people getting ready for Christmas. We listened to carols and walked around.

The cable railway leading up to the top of the hill, plus a view down to the Danube.

Old Town, with some of the old rampart walls visible.

The Cathedral.

Inside the Cathedral.

The Palace.

We spent most of the next two days (the 20th and 21st) walking around the immediate area of our hotel. We went back to Old Town again because that area definitely required another near-full day to properly visit all the nooks and crannies. The weather improved slightly so that the fog wasn't so thick, and the temperatures rose to the mid 30s. We decided to indulge ourselves and go to the Turkish Bath house. This place is very popular but mainly for the locals. The architecture is amazing. Budapest sits atop many natural springs and these pools are built over these springs. There is a central pool where men and women can intermingle, and then there are segregated pools. They do not allow nudity, however. The sign told us so: "The Management most kindly wishes to inform its treasured guests that bathing suits must always be worn, in place of stripping...".

I wore my regular American swim trunks, contrasting the speedo-wearing Europeans. I got yelled at a few times in Magyar (Hungarian) for whatever infraction I had committed. The staff speaks no English. In one case I forgot my bathing cap. Beth and I checked out the communal pools then the segregated ones. Beth says she got yelled at by the female attendant for not having a towel. We also wanted to go visit the Parliament and the National Museum, but both were closed for tourists when we showed up.

On the 22nd, we got bold and took the subway trains to outlying parts of Budapest. There are some old Roman ruins at Anquincum, about 8 miles north of downtown. We got there fine, once we figured out how and where to get tickets for the trains, and where to validate them. We got off the train at our destination and again found the place "closed", although we could easily walk around the perimeter. We also walked into a local neighborhood just to see what was happening. We then walked back out to the ruins. I wondered why the Romans always seemed to build their buildings about 3 feet high and without roofs (see photo).

Getting back to downtown proved to be challenging. The ticket-dispenser kiosk was busted, and asking people for assistance was fruitless because of the language barrier. So we just decided to board and hoped no train cops would be on the train. No one checked and we were just fine. The buildings outside of downtown were those huge, ugly Soviet-style blocks that went on and on forever, and graffiti was everywhere. That night we had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant called the Karpatia. Some gypsy musicians played some brilliant music and the food was wonderful. The restaurant itself was ornately decorated. This was our special honeymoon dinner to ourselves, to splurge at a nice place like this on our last night in Hungary. The next day we got on our train for a full day's ride to Prague, which you will have to read about by clicking here.

Beth in front of a tiger on Erzsebet Hid (Bridge).

Here are the Roman Ruins at Anquincum.

We took in a large market selling just about everything.

On our last day, the sun finally broke through. Here's our hotel.

And here's the Train Station.

a melded shot of two photos showing the Danube River and the buildings along it.

Budapest was incredible. It's a place that is still coming out from under its past which includes lots of foreign occupation (the Turks, Austrians and Soviets). Anyone older than 45 seemed to walk around, head down, as if they would be taken away at any moment. The younger people were completely the opposite. It has incredible architecture and beautiful buildings. It was thoroughly amazing and we made an effort to learn of its history, what best we could in four days.

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