June 28, 2012 Budapest, Hungary
The incredible beauty of a city set along the Danube River with fairy tale castles, noble mansions, and hidden doors revealing courtyards full of life combined with the heat and humidity of a terrible summer day in New York City. It’s the sort of day which can only get better with time….because we knew how incredible it was…even as we walked, sweat, (maybe smelled a little), and looked wherever we could for relief. Good news for us: we head to the much milder climate of Warsaw tomorrow. Bad news for the Weiss’ (at least weather wise), the temperature is expected to climb another 15 degrees by Sunday.
It began with a modest plan: leisurely (20 minute) walk to the Grand indoor Market set alongside the Danube, a tourist river cruise, and then an evening tour of the city with Esther. An easy morning at the apartment and a 1 pm departure.
The instruction was simple: follow this road 20 minutes to the Danube. Budapest is set very much like Paris with massive wide boulevards. How much easier could that instruction be? (foreshadowing? Yep.)
Within minutes, we were already melting from the heat and humidity. We made what we thought was a wise decision to duck into a café, get the girls (and us) ice cold liquid refreshment (in this heat, forget water (we already got that) girls, get yourself something sweet too). Then, we continued the walk, block by block, heat by heat, crabby, kvetchy, irritated Dollinger family. Four Weiss’ were walking ahead while we had Jesse and Gilly with us.
At the 20 minute mark, no sign of the Danube. We continued for 10 more rather painful minutes until we got to a Western Union office. Surely, they speak English and can direct us. They did not speak English but were able to communicate that the Danube was the OPPOSITE direction we were walking.
This is geometrically impossible, by the way. When you walk down a wide boulevard for half an hour, you can’t end up…farther away from the river than when you started. Yet, this is what the man was explaining.
He urged us to reverse course and head back the way we came. Not a chance. If we did that, we’d end up back where we started…only even more frustrated.
The day was getting worse.
Executive decision: we are getting out of the heat and going underground. The Metro stop was across the street and we were told that the subway could get us to the Danube. Down we go, ticket purchase, and then try to get directions on how to navigate a system written in Hungarian to get to a place we do not know.
Lucky for us, a British man heard our plea to the station guards and gave us clear instruction. (unless he did a real good job faking the accent and was from Omaha?).
At this point, we knew that this was going to be a great experience; a great story; and a wonderful memory….just not at that moment…when we were hassled, stressed, hot, dehydrated, hungry, and bringing two Weiss children whose parents were probably already at the Grand Market (indeed, they were).
Two stops on the Red Line, transfer to the Blue line, two stops on the Blue line, surface, look for the statue, and you’ll find the Market.
Thankfully, we ran into a couple from South Carolina (actually he was from New York and she was from Colorado originally but I don’t think that really mattered…even though they needed us to know that). They were heading to the Market so we followed them.
And without a means to communicate with the Weiss, we were thrilled to see them there waiting for us.
The day is getting better.
We spent half an hour in the HUGE market, filled with fruits, vegetables, souvenirs, and every form of dead animal ready for human consumption imaginable. “Shayna, look,” I exclaimed, “that full-dead pig sitting in that refrigerated case is wiggling its ears!” Shayna was not thrilled, kashruth issues aside! (The butcher had attached strings to the ears and was doing his own marionette show).
From there, what else…back to the heat and humidity. Not much in the way of decent food (lots of meat, lots of treyf, very little air conditioning). Finally, we settled (and we did settle), for an air conditioned pub. We purchased every vegetarian item on their food menu…pre-made refrigerated pizza heated on a little hot plate, something called Nachos which was really MSG-laden tortilla chips with a big luscious bowl of cheez whiz. (yuum). At least the grilled cheese looked and tasted like grilled cheese.
Back to the heat.
By now we headed to the River for a one-hour cruise. Zvi found us a boat with air conditioning, free drinks, and half the price of the other companies. Yeah. (They even had Hebrew language headsets available). Did I mention free wi-fi on board? (which isn’t a great idea if you’re supposed to be watching the sites rather than your iphone. Discipline!).
Hydrated, cooled off, sitting for an hour, we felt a whole lot better.
We met up with Esther and headed out for five hours of touring on the mini-bus. We spent most of the time in Pest, driving and walking, walking and driving, to see the Parliament building, an amazing public library that used to be a mansion for nobility, Embassy row, Budapest’s version of Broadway, and lots of shopping streets.
At nightfall, we crossed the Danube to Buda, the medieval walled city on the top of the hill overlooking the river. We walked through the old Jewish ghetto, heard about the early history of the region, took lots of photos (Shayna is up to 500 pictures by now), and then, about 10:30 pm, walked up to a lookout to see the Danube, its bridges, and the night skylines on both sides of the river. It was spectacular (and I’ll post photos as soon as I get to it!).
Thoroughly wiped out, we got back after 11 pm…and were ready to sleep for days…except we promised the girls dessert as an incentive to get them through the walking and the heat (that, by the way, when we thought we’d be done by 9 pm. Thank you). Alas, we headed out to find a gelato stand and by midnight got the girls to sleep.
And in case you’re wondering, Budapest is set with radial streets. Some curve in circles while others run straight to the center (the river). We, apparently, missed a hard right turn to stay on the straight street, ending up, without knowing it, on a radial street that…dare I say it…radiated us away from the river. The story was no fun yesterday…it’s a little more fun as I write it today…maybe we’ll be laughing about it by the time we see you all on our return.
On to Warsaw..