An Excellent Eastern European Adventure – Part 2 – Hungary
On Saturday morning, we left Ljubljana and went to Maribor, the second largest city in Slovenia. We were there for the Lent Festival, a major arts festival held every year at the end of June/early July. After feasting on spicy sausages and fried bread, we took cover during an intense hail storm, and marveled at the rainbow afterward. The next day we headed to Hungary.
We decided to drive to Budapest, and followed our “tried and true” plan of finding the city’s center to explore. Well…this city was a bit larger than we expected. In fact, Budapest is HUGE. We drove through several “centers” (remember, this is actually a combination of two cities – Buda and Pest) before stopping at the train station to ask for a city map and information. We ended up parking nearby a promenade shopping area that was full of tourists. This was the only time in our trip where we noticed American tourists. Many of the shops were closed, so we opted to eat lunch in one of the many outdoor cafés. We had expected to have mediocre food in Hungary, but this was not the case. All of our meals were delicious, and some were even downright impressive.
Parliament building, Budapest
Upon returning to our car a few hours later, we were shocked to see a big orange ticket on the windshield, and a triangle boot on the wheel. We had inadvertently parked in a residential spot, and had to pay a hefty fine to remove the boot. As we tried to figure out what to do and where to go, we were pleasantly surprised by the compassion and generosity of the local merchants. A woman in the store next to the parking lot lamented that we would be paying a “very big sum”, and kept apologizing. She didn’t have a phone, so we went to the Marriot Hotel and a bellhop made a phone call for us to arrange for the police to come back to remove the boot. He also was very sad for us, and was so nice that we actually went inside the Marriot to secure a room for the night! Apparently the ticket (the equivalent of 50 euro or about $75) was what many working people of Budapest earn in two or three days. We were humbled. Even the policeman who came to collect the fine and unleash our wheel was apologetic. He realized we were clueless tourists and told us he wished he could waive the fee, but he couldn’t.
We ended up in a luxury executive apartment suite that night, our big splurge of the trip. But even that was reasonable. A room that would have easily cost $700 per night in Chicago was a mere 130 euro, or about $200. That night we went to St. Stephen’s Cathedral to hear Mozart’s Requiem performed, and then walked along the river at night, viewing the oldest and most famous bridge in Budapest – the Chain Bridge.
Chain Bridge, Budapest
The next day, secure in the knowledge of our car safely parked at the Marriot, we took a bus tour to see the major sites of Budapest. As we were crossing one of the northern bridges, we noticed a gigantic banner, alone in its nightmarish visual glee, of an American fast food chain exclaiming “I’m lovin’ it!” Oh no!! Our hearts sank, and we wondered what public official could have possibly allowed such a thing. It was tacked right onto a gorgeous 19th century building, advertising hamburgers and fries. A discussion began about how we had not seen ANY obesity at all in our travels…and how this invasion of a fast food empire will likely impact that fact in a few years. Shaking our heads, we vowed to continue to eat only in local restaurants, both here and at home.
After a boat tour up and down the great Danube, we headed out of the city into the countryside. We noticed Lake Balaton on the map, and knew that this was likely a wonderful spot to spend our next night; where the vacationers were likely Hungarian. It did not disappoint.
On the terrace, Siofok, Hungary
Using her natural talents, Lily negotiated a room above a bar/restaurant near Siofok where we could see the lake from our terrace. After enjoying a cold beer, we headed downstairs to the restaurant, where we were served a delicious fish dinner, presented with aplomb by a chef destined to be going places very soon. The owner, who had taken a liking to us due to Lily’s hard-core negotiation skills, complimented us with pear grappa for the ladies, and cherry for the gentleman. It was magnificent, a perfect ending to our meal. We ordered a second glass. Our last night in Hungary was spent in the graceful presence of a soft lake breeze, listening to the murmured chatter of holiday patrons, happy to be alive and in the sun. The next morning, we headed for Croatia.
Click through for Part 3 – Croatia.
Read Part 1 - Slovenia
Becky Burns, our Soulful Traveler editor, is an educator living in the Chicago area. Her column will give you insight and inspiration, taking you to the core or essence of the travel experience, something we all feel as a result of exploration and discovery. Look for her monthly postings describing local exploits in and around Chicago, regional road trips in the Midwest, national
adventures from coast to coast, and overseas excursions. You are bound
to be inspired and enriched, nodding your head in agreement as a
familiar reminiscence comes to light again. You can find her work at www.beckyburns.com or www.soothethespirit.com