Friday, 30 November 2012

Christmas Market, Budpaest

What a treat.

Situated in the Vorosmarty Square on the Pest side of the Danube is the annual Budapest Christmas. With more than 100 stalls, it takes up the whole square and more, and there really is everything you could possibly wish to browse and possibly buy. There is a never ending array of food and drink and even in a week eating breakfast, lunch and dinner you'd be hard pressed to sample everything the market has to offer.

With drinks ranging from the usual suspects of mulled wine and warm milk with caramel to grog, different beers and spiced schnapps you're never a warm cupful away from comfort, not to mention the food options with a range from run of the mill roasted chestnuts to rooster testicle stew with every posible variation of sausage in between: liver, buffalo, pork, beef, and many more besides.

More an array of photos than anything else, so feast your eyes on some of these beauties.

Main tree in the square

One of many eating areas

Classic mulled wine

It wasn't just food though of course so below are just a few snaps of some of the random tid-bits one could purchase for the festive period and beyond.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Budapest: Part III

I don't know about you but I wasn't overly enthused by the obnoxious fire alarm blarring at 7am on our final day in Budapest but it did do us the favour of ensuring we didn't sleep in and got off to the quick start we were after. We were out the door smartly with plenty of time to check out and finally make it to Chain Bridge, Lánc hid, the first bridge to be built to connect Buda and Pest.

Chain Bridge

As you pass the lions that sit at either end of the bridge, all you have to do is literally look up and you can see the Royal Palace up ahead on the Castle Hill, to be fair it is pretty much visible from most places in the city. Once across the river, it is possible to walk up but with time against us, we took the Funicular up to the top.

It was a little more overcast than the last couple days but we were very lucky with the weather really. It was a bit nippy but the rain held off all weekend until the girls made some comment about how it hadn't rained, inevitably it started to rain pretty soon after that.

All aboard


Can't quite handle the excitement

View from the top

The easiest way to see the sights up on the hill is just to go at your own pace. With it being a Monday, museums are closed so that already makes decisions easy and it was more a matter of seeing the buildings and ticking the boxes on our 'Too See List'.

This included the Royal Palace, home to the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Library. Around the building are the Lion Courtyard and a bronze statue of King Matthias, Hungary's ruler from 1458 to 1490, among other things.

Can't take her anywhere

Royal Palace

Matthias Fountain

A short walk away along the cobblestoned roads finds you at St. Matthias Church, named so mainly because he kept getting married there, and Fishermen's Bastion which was only built about a century ago to honour the fishermen who proctected this part of the city. As well as having excellent views of the Danube and Pest, there was also a guy playing around with an eagle and a falcon, much to the delight of Egan.

Trinity Square and Fishermen's Bastion

Looking along the Bastion

St. Matthias' Church

Just a bit more Bastion

With flight time looming, we headed to Vörösmarty Square to have a coffee at the popular Gerbeaud Café before indulging with one last meal at the Christmas market. Transit booked, we were whisked away to the airport to easily make our flight back into Stansted and time to reflect on a busy but entertaining weekend with great food and company. I think I'll have to go on family breaks more often.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Budapest: Part II

Sunday started with an early morning run on the Millenium Underground, which happened to be the first subway line built in continental Europe, sorry Paris. Cheap enough tickets at only 320 HUF (about a quid) and we travelled down under Andrássy Avenue until we reached Heroes Square, Hősök tere, the biggest square in Budapest. Rather than the usual layout of cafes surrounding European squares, this one was purely dedicated to the thousandth anniversary of Hungary in 1896.

Beyond the square is Budapest's largest park named City Park, Városliget, home to Vajdahunyad Castle, the City Park Ice Rink, Városligeti Műjégpálya, Budapest Zoo and the famous Széchenyi Baths.

The castle with its mishmash of acrchitectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, is immediately visible beyond the tree line surrounded by the man-made lake which is currently in use for the ice rink. During the summer months it is used for boating and I imagine it is a beautiful place to come down to have a picnic in the sunshine.

Before heading in that direction though, we made our way to the Széchenyi Baths, probably the most well-known ones in Budapest and one of the biggest in Europe. The grand main entrance leads into the main foyer where you attempt to figure out just what you are paying for, in the end it is a simple choice of a cabin or locker with your entrance fee. Seeing as how they were out of lockers the decision was basically made for us.

Once inside, all you have to do is change into your togs, shower up and hit the baths. There are three outside and a swimming pool (which you need a shower cap for) and a further fifteen inside. We started off outside in the 38 degree heat which was gorgeous compared to the short walk from the outside door to the water in the cold. After a while, we headed in and you have your choice of hot or cold pools, saunas and a massage if you wish. It was all very relaxing and brought back memories of the jimjilbangs from my days in South Korea, only differences being the fact we weren't naked and there were no monkey bars to play on.

A quick shower later saw us enter the castle and as luck would have it, there was a wine and cheese tasting event on, so for about 6 quid a head, you got to gorge on cheese and mix your wines, great stuff. Tasted a couple cracking reds, only 3 quid a bottle, yes please.

Castle with the ice rink in the foreground

Approaching the castle entrance
Outside at the Széchenyi Baths

Swimming pool at the baths

With time against us we decided to forgo the walk along Andrássy Avenue and took the subway to the Danube and made it in time for a boat ride just before it got too dark. It lasted around an hour and we were afforded great views of the banks of Budapest, getting nice angles for shots of places we hadn't had time to visit, the impressive Parliament Building for one.

Parliament Building
After quickly freshening up at the apartment, the evening's entertainment started with a concert in St. Stephen's Basilica, the largest church in Budapest and the third tallest building in Hungary. Nice to know that not all countries have gone mad with a bucket and spade.

The show was about one hour long and as well as being privy to excellent music, violin solos and singing, we were blessed with a lovely atmosphere within the church to appreciate it.

St. Stephen's Basilica

Getting ready for the show
Performing on the alter

Dinner at Nobu's Michelin star restaurant beckoned for us after this to round our evening off, co-owned by Bobby DeNiro no less. Delicious starters and mains came our way and I for one was pleasantly surprised at the portion size, could get used to that kind of quality for sure.

Chicken...yum yum.
By this time it was knocking on midnight and with a hefty chunk of Buda to explore in the morning, we called it a night and headed to the apartment to relax after our meal and polish off some cheese and wine purchased at the market earlier. Part III to follow, a quick round up of Castle Hill on the Buda side of the Danube before our flight home.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Budapest: Part I

Just before the busy run up to Christmas, my brother, sisters and myself thought it would be nice to get away and treat Mum to a little break away in Budapest, Hungary. Cheap enough Ryan Air flights are easy to come by so we've been looking forward to this little adventure for a while now.

With pick up arranged at the airport we soon found ourselves in our huge three bedroom apartment right in the heart of town and wasted no time getting out the door to explore the local area before things started to shut down for the night.

As luck would have it, the Christmas market was right around the corner on Vörösmarty Square and it was huge, with approximately 100 stores selling a vast range of products and a centre section dominated by all kinds of food, more on this to follow later. Once we'd had our fill we decided we'd have an early night so we could get an early start in the morning. With only the weekend and Monday morning we were going to have to make the most of the daylight hours to fit everything planned in.

Christmas Market

Saturday morning we were up early and out the door exploring the Pest side of Budapest first. For those who don't  know, the city is split by the Danube, with the hilly west side called Buda and the flat east side called Pest and it wasn't until 1873 that they unified to become one big city: Budpaest.

Anyway, proceedings started with a pleasant walk down Váci Street in the fresh air, one of the most well-known in Budapest, mainly due to it's shopping. It is a long pedestrian only zone with countless souvenir shops and quaint cafes selling the usual Hungarian fare. Just be sure that when you buy a deck of cards and the pack says 32, but the guys says there's 52, that you call him out on it, just ask Egan or else you'll end up spending the evening unsuccessfully trying to play Hungarian card games.

Walking down Váci Street

At the end of the street you come to the Central Market Hall, Központi Vásárcsarnok, which is the largest indoor market in Budapest. As with any market, fresh fruits and vegetables are prevalent but where we have our butchers shouting out today's deals, only the customers are shouting here as they vie for the days best deals and barge their way past one another to do so. So many cured sausages and fresh cheeses everywhere, difficult to walk through the place and not put your hand in your pocket at least once.

Central Market Hall from outside

Central Market Hall, Központi Vásárcsarnok, Budapest
Central Market Hall

Once out the building we crossed Liberty Bridge, Szabadság híd, to the Buda side of the city so we could check out what Gellért Hill had to offer. The obvious highlights here are Budapest's very own Statue of Liberty, Szabadság Szobor and the citadel, Citadella, not to mention the Gellért Hill Cave Church, Sziklatemplom, which can be seen whilst crossing the bridge.

The hill itself has many winding paths and stairs that lead to the top, with no obvious route other than to pick the path you feel leads best to the Statue of Liberty which is pretty much always in your sights regardless of the surrounding trees. Once at the top there are many vantage points where one can get great panoramic views of the Danube and the Pest side of Budpaest, with the Parliament Building and St. Stephen's Basilica being the obvious standouts among the crowd.

Walking around the citadel, you can go into the museum there if you want, you then have views of the Buda side of the city, again the Danube dominates most of the backdrop. Walking down, as always, is significantly easier as you continue to walk around with the Danube on your right, with the steps eventually bringing you to the St. Gellért Monument overlooking Elisabeth  Bridge, Erzsébet híd. 

Gellért Hill Cave Church Budapest
Gellért Hill Cave Church
Statue of Liberty Budapest Szabadság Szobor
Statue of Liberty
View of the Danube from Gellért Hill
View of the Danube from Gellért Hill

St. Gellért Monument Budapest
St. Gellért Monument (on the right)

With the forecasted rain holding off and the air fresh but not too chilly, we eventually we ran out of daylight with the girls enjoying all the shopping there was on offer. However, another trip to the Christmas market served as a decent end to the day with more drinks and reminiscing back at the apartment.

Getting their haggle on

A very enjoyable first full day in Budapest then with a busy schedule for Sunday including a visit to City Park and the baths there, a wine and cheese festival, a boat ride on the Danube and a fancy dinner in a Michelin star restaurant. Roll on Budapest: Part II.