Budapest had never really been on my list of 'must visit' destinations. We decided to look into it because a couple of our friends had been there separately and absolutely raved about it. We found some cheap tickets and got a recommendation for a good hotel, so why the heck not? Budapest.
My liver was a little trepadatious after having spend a couple of days in Brussels, but I assured it that Budapest would be different. I totally lied to it. We did at least (mostly) make a switch from Belgian beer to Hungarian wine. And there was to be pálinkas. If my liver had known about pálinkas it probably wouldn't have let me get on the plane. Sorry, liver.
Did you know that Hungary has 22 wine regions? We spent the better part of an afternoon looking for The Wine Center of Hungary (or something) which we had read about in the tourist brochure provided by our hotel. It sounded promising. Information on the 22 different wine regions, wine and spirit tasting, and so on. It was in the castle district, so we set off and tried to find it. A major red flag should have been that many different people we asked in that area had no idea what we were talking about. When we finally found it it was not, as I had been expecting, a large wine cellar full of barrels and information and samples. It was, rather, a dusty looking space reminiscent of a hotel conference room (in a pretty crappy hotel) with nary a person in sight with the exception of a guy at a counter who handed us a laminated list of wine tasting options at an obnoxiously high price. So, we reneged, and instead did our own Hungarian wine tour, winding our way down from the castle district hopping from one restaurant or wine bar to another, stopping for an occasional pálinka. At least we saw the castle.
After several hours of this we managed to find a hole-in-the-wall of a restaurant a bartender had recommended to Paul as having the best goulash in town. We sat at the bar and ordered some drinks and food. The goulash was reportedly fantastic, the staff was charming, the wine was good. Shortly after this picture (below) was taken I returned to my seat and in the process of hoisting myself onto the bar stool I smashed into the overhanging wine glasses with my head, sending shards of broken glass raining down onto the bar and into the well. All of the ice and lemons had to be thrown out and done over, and as we were leaving a while later I was still finding shards of glass on the floor. Apparently you can dress me up ...
We decided to go to a Turkish bath, which apparently is the thing to do in Budapest. We headed for an off the beaten path bath which had been recommended to us by the same bartender. She said it wasn't touristy and was where the locals go. Okay, then. I think that 16 years of working in aquatics has somewhat taken the joy out of this kind of thing for me. I'm not particularly fond of going into water anymore, and I hate getting my hair wet. I also have an in depth knowledge of pool chemistry and filtration, and if I haven't personally maintained the water or at least tested it it makes me a bit suspicious. The bath house we went to was indeed void of tourists, and with good reason. It was undergoing some sort of construction and I found it dirty and the water tepid even in the hottest pools. We didn't stay long.
After the baths we thought we'd head to the market where we could stock up on Hungarian paprika and other local specialties. I love markets and this one was said to be huge and spectacular. We arrived at about 2:15pm only to discover that on Saturdays the market closed at 2pm and to be told that it was totally closed on Sunday. Another fail. We did still get lots of paprika and wander around a couple of supermarkets, but not quite the same.
Although much of our trip to Budapest seemed a comedy of errors (and I haven't even told you how Paul and I somehow lost each other on the first night and each got totally scammed taking separate taxis back to our hotel...) we did try some really interesting Hungarian food. To put it mildly, we carbo loaded. Potatoes and sour cream were front and center in many of the dishes we tried. My personal favourites were the gigantic potato pancake smothered in sour cream, and the potato cottage cheese noodles (similar to spatzle) smothered in a sour cream sauce. We found an outdoor market on Sunday afternoon and sampled these and a few other things. I marveled at being in a country with liquor laws that allowed for beer and wine to be sold in plastic cups you could just wander away with. We were clearly not in Sweden. Or Canada.
Paprika stashed in our bags, we headed back to the airport on Sunday evening. Naturally, our taxi driver tried to scam us, but we were wise to his trickery. We headed back to Stockholm a little wiser, a lot fatter, and definitely in need of a liver cleanse. Thanks, Budapest, you were an experience.
All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2012