Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Onward! We Journey Forth!" (Honeymoon Edition, Pt. 2)

So, when we last we left our couple, they were enjoying relaxing days in the sunny streets of Prague. But the adventure was about to shift into high gear...

So, after the most pleasant puddle jump flight either of us have ever experienced, we landed in Hungary. Again, not much planning had been done up to this point, but shout out to P.A. and my other friends who have been to Budapest for their suggestions and ideas. The first night, after we got off the plane, we just sat in the hotel and laid our strategy. That is, after sampling the signature dish of Hungary, chicken paprikash. Believe me, if you like sour cream or paprika, Hungary is the place for you. Shout out to the Budapest City Break for creating a tourist map with splendid routes for self-guided walking tours of the city's sites - you da real MVP of this trip. 
Our well-used tourist map
Our first full day in Hungary, we realized we were on the Buda side and much of what we wanted to see was in Pest (Buda and Pest being the two sides of the city divided by the Danube River, and united by 6 bridges and a love for sour cream). Still, we took our first walk across the famous Chain Bridge and immediately were taken by the gorgeous buildings. Prague had a lot of great architecture, but Budapest celebrates its historic buildings and bridges and other infrastructure in a much more intense way. As Reptar put it, "Even their manhole covers are pretty!"

(Interesting fact about the Chain Bridge: According to legend, the architect who designed it proclaimed that if someone found a flaw with it, he would commit suicide. And of course, an intern - or whatever the 19th century equivalent of an architectural intern was - piped up and pointed out that the lions have no tongues. The architect didn't commit suicide...although he did die not long after. Also...apparently the lions do have tongues.) 

After crossing the bridge, we found the gorgeous Parliament building and its lovely gardens, and were introduced to the word lapidarium - "place where stone monuments and fragments of archaeological interest are exhibited." It's actually way more interesting than it sounds, and some of the history was actually quite engrossing. Well, for me, at least. Reptar deigned not to spend quite as much time examining the pieces.
Later we would walk Vaci Street and its many boutiques, merchants, and all other matter of shopping. As you can imagine, there aren't a whole lot of Indians in Budapest at any given time, so Reptar and I got a few stares here and there, but more importantly, we were magnets for restaurateurs and store employees looking to sell their wares. One girl walked up and immediately asked, "India?" We simply nodded, unsure of what else to say. 
"Oh, India, great! So for you...Saabon? Saabon?" She offered us two small translucent rectangular prisms, one bright blue and one bright yellow. We each picked one up and stared at each other, and then I asked the question that was on both of our minds.
"Do we eat it?"

"No!" the girl replied, "It's saabon!" At our continued blank stares, she finally understood. "So...I speak more Hindi than you both do?"
Turns out, saabon is the Hindi word for soap. She was selling us Dead Sea soap. Reptar loved the soap. It made her skin feel smooth and tingly. 

I hated it. Stupid dead sea soap. We actually took a detour so I could find a bathroom and wash it off my hands.

But it was made up for by going to St. Stephen's Basilica and witnessing one of their weekly organ concerts. I mean, I know I talked about cathedral concerts in Part 1 of this post, but I had no idea. I thought I knew how beautiful music could sound in a huge church. But the organist at St. Stephen's Basilica took his throne and blew the doors off the place. I think his rendition of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor actually punched me in the face. Or at least the ear drums. I was floored by the beauty of both the cathedral and the music.

Day 2 was...well, it was a pretty far walk. I've had to apologize and/or humorously confess to this a few times now, so I may as well state it here for the record: I kept telling Reptar (not falsely, as I was convinced of it myself), that we were walking about 2-3 miles a day, despite her protests. We later looked at it on Google Maps...we were walking close to 8-9 miles a day. So, as is bound to happen so many times in the near and far future, my wife was correct and I was not.
Of course, if she'd listened to my advice and worn sneakers instead of sandals, her feet, legs, and back would not have ached quite as much.

Anyway, we walked to the Balna, or "The Whale" - a uniquely-shaped shopping center with interesting restaurants and a delicious lamb burger in one of its restaurants. From there it was off to the Zwack Museum, where they distill the Hungarian answer to Jagermeister known as Unicum, as well as host the largest collection of mini-bottles of liquor (17,000!) in Central Europe. Fun fact: Peter Zwack once came to Buffalo as an ambassador - they have a letter of praise signed by Mayor Byron Brown, as well as Bills and Buffalo memorabilia in a display case. Pretty cool!

Later that night we went on a beautiful evening dinner cruise along the Danube. The food was delicious, the wine was lovely, the view was gorgeous. The one thing I would change is that we should have taken the 10 PM cruise - it's even prettier at night.
That's the single biggest difference between Prague and Budapest. Budapest has a significant nightlife. In Prague, there were a few restaurants and bars open late, including that jazz club we enjoyed on our last night there. And I'm sure there was more, too, but it seemed like by 10:00 PM or so, things were wrapping up. In Budapest, on the other hand, it seemed more like the lights were still up, people were still out in droves, and more was happening. Even the street musicians and buskers were out later (which is why I also own a CD from a Hungarian group...although it's mostly instrumental smooth rock covers of American songs, it's not bad).
On Day 3, we decided to stay on the Buda side of Budapest. The Castle District is truly beautiful, with its gorgeous scenery views and intensely beautiful architecture. The history seemed to flow out of each building and mountain. The biggest treat for two fledgling physicians was getting to see the Hospital in the Rock, an underground medical facility that served both as hospital and neutral sanctuary for victims of the war-ravaged and under-siege Budapest during WWII. Later we enjoyed the Museum of Military History (well, we raced through the exhibit because it seemed like they were basically closing each wing for the night right after we finished seeing it). We finished off the day by finding out that jazz clubs in Budapest fill to capacity much faster than clubs in Prague, but we enjoyed some amateur blues musicians instead and Reptar re-discovered that she is a major fan of tiramisu. Finally, again on P.A.'s advice, we headed to the Ruin Pub Szimplakert - unsure of what to expect on a Wednesday night, but instead finding a cool vibe, good beer, and some really intricate graffiti. 
On our last full day, we checked out the artsy district of Andrassy Avenue, finding the opera House and several rehearsal spaces that brought back pleasant memories of college when I played drums for modern dancers in similar rooms. The House of Terror Museum brought home (and brought it hard) the devastation the Nazi Party and the Soviet Regime caused to Hungarians. Heroes Square, City Park Lake, and Vajdahunyad Castle rounded out the trip, and then it was time to pack and collapse.

Notes on the trip home: Budapest airport was ridiculous. I have never seen a more disorganized check-in area. Rope lines are useful for a reason, Budapest Airport. Other than that, it was quite pleasant.
And how did we finish off our incredible honeymoon adventure?

We got home and, for our first meal in the USA, had Chipotle. It was delicious. NOM NOM.

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