Marta's Photo Album of Budapest, Hungary, May 2012
We departed Johannesburg on the services of Qatar Airlines on the night flight with a fast connection from Doha to Budapest the following morning. The flight to Doha takes approximately 8 hours and from Doha to Budapest it is approximately 5 hours.
Upon arrival we proceeded to immigration control and where met by our transfer company from Gullivers Travel and transferred to the 5* Sofitel Hotel in Budapest. The transfer takes around 40 minutes into the city centre.
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and lies on two banks of the Danube, the most beautiful river in Europe. Buda is on the hills and will always remain the royal city and Pest on the Eastern bank is the bourgeois town.
I cannot count how often I have been to Budapest throughout the years, and each time I am there I am captivated with this exhilarating and vibrant city. The injection of funds from the European Union has meant that Budapest’s magnificent architecture, mainly Art Nouveau and Art Deco in style has been restored.
This time we stayed at the fabulous 5* Sofitel luxury hotel which is located on the Pest side of the Danube. The lobby interior is spectacular and is modeled on a bibliotheca concept with an early airplane suspended from the ceiling. On arrival the concierge takes care of you in a most professional way. Our room was a luxury Danube view, which is a must in order to experience the view of the Danube. The Danube River is spanned by graceful suspension bridges and tunneled by a subway line. Our view was spectacular day and night. During the day we looked directly across the famous Lion suspension bridge to the funicular railway. At night the entire assemblage is illuminated and our room overlooking the famous chain bridge guarded by the lions sparkled with a myriad of lights, reflecting a living jewel. This was a sight to behold and well worth the additional cost of the room with this view.
The Sofitel’s beds are based on the French brand concept of The Mybed. This is exclusively designed for Sofitel and consists of a base, mattress and feather top onto which a fluffy duvet and pillows have been laced. This together with the linen transforms each one of your nights into a new and magnificent experience. The perfect sleep exists here in a sweet sensation of fluffy softness which envelopes your body.
The service at breakfast is impeccable; you are greeted personally, offered a variety of newspapers and then seated at your table. The variety of eats is staggering and all the food is freshly prepared. They have freshly squeezed carrot juice amongst the other fresh fruit varieties, herrings, cheese platters, an array of pastries and the freshest breads imaginable, they even have gluten free bread! The egg station is fabulous and they make great omlettes too.
We had tailored the trip around visiting a selection of famous museums and photographic and art exhibitions, famous coffee houses all of which are of great interest. We had decided to find our own way to the sites mainly using public transport which is safe and efficient.
The purchases of the local transport tickets are available at the business centre of the hotel which is most convenient. We found the undergrounds and trams not crowded and probably spent around R 50-00 per person per day getting around Budapest. The hotel has a great helpdesk where the staff advises you on the best route to take to your requested destination. We also experienced the services of the Sofitel’s gorgeous black Mercedes taxi. The cost was really favourable and the rate to the requested address was estimated upfront. I visited the spa at the Sofitel and had a wonderful full body massage which relaxed me greatly. It is advisable to book any treatment on arrival as the spa is much sort after there.
We visited the Dohany Street Synagogue. The complex consists of the Great Synagogye, the Heroes Temple, the graveyard and the Jewish Museum. The synagogue is the second largest in the world after New York’s Temple Emmanuel, was designed by Ludwig Forster and completed in 1859. The decoration is based mainly on Islamic models from North Africa and medieval Spain as it was believed that no distinctively Jewish architecture could be identified. It has been restored at great expense to its full glory. The restorations of this magnificent Moorish revival in design, place of worship began in 1991. This was funded by the state as well as by private people. Estee Lauder donated USD 5 million to the project. There is an entrance fee payable of around Euro 10 per person.
The House of Terror at Andrassy Street 60 is a museum now brilliantly curated, was the former headquarters of the Hungarian Nationalist Socialist movement and witness to two shameful and tragic periods in Hungary’s 20th century history. This museum commemorates the victims of terror, but it is also a memento, reminding us of the dreadful acts of the terrorist dictatorships.
We strolled along the chic Andrassy Street and went into Lukacs Cave Haz. This is located on north Adrasssy Street and has been recently refurbished with marble tables and heavy chandeliers. We ordered the ever so famous dobos torte with chocolate cream and caramel on top. It was the best and only cost around Euro 2 for a good size. The Dreher beer there costs around Euro 2.5 for a 500ml bottle. Muvesz Café is located on Andrassy Street and is one of those bohemian style cafes that you know would become your local if you lived there. We enjoyed people watching on the outside terrace, the interior is decorated with exquisite chandeliers, ornate plaster and the portraits of famous Hungarian cultural identities. The cakes are displayed in a rotating mirror cabinet, very charming and old world, I chose the gestanya puree with fresh cream (chestnut puree). The taste was explosive and well beyond my expectations. This set you back around Euro 6 as it is classified as a dessert. The cappuccino was delicious too. The highlight was the New York Café, now gloriously restored. Commissioned for the New York Insurance company in 1894, the interiors were conceived as a combination of Italian renaissance and Baroque styles, with great gilded columns, frescoed ceilings combined with lashings of marble and red velvet furnishings. The café serves light Hungarian cuisine and fabulous cakes of which we ordered a platter of miniatures, which then enabled us to taste their signature cakes.
We had reserved a month prior to travel a table at the famous Gundel Restaurant. The restaurant was founded in 1896 by Karoly Gundel, and quickly established itself as a culinary dining experience and exemplary service. Our lunch was on a Sunday so was buffet style with an array of Hungarian specialty dishes. There was a cold strawberry soup on the table; this was unusual and most refreshing. The wooden dining chairs are inlaid; crisp white lined adorns the tables which are set with heavy solid silver cutlery. In the background there is a pianist playing fine classical music which lends a very gracious air to the experience. The Gundel experience is arguably the finest dining in Budapest. A buffet with two soft drinks will cost one around R300.00 per person. The wine selection is superb with an excellent cellar and there is a great variety of vintages you can select from.
We visited the Museum of Fine Arts located in Heroes Square. Here there is a permanent exhibition of the old masters going as far back as the 13th century. There is a section which house classical antiquities and another section dedicated to the 18th century where one can see the Impressionists, beautiful Manet, Monet, Renoir and Toulosse-Lautrec just to name a few. One ideally can easily spend a day here. One of course can spend more time in Budapest; there is great night life, wonderful therapeutic baths which offer many relaxing treatments. The Gellert is the most famous and upmarket bath attached to the Hotel Gellert, built in 1918. The art Noveau main hall is topped by a vaulted glass roof. We had a great evening at the Lanchid Sorozo located across the Chain Bridge on the Buda side. The restaurant or bar is quaint with a collection of interesting things of bygone days, the atmosphere is fantastic and the place is always filled with locals. We also enjoyed a great meal of traditional Hungarian paprika chicken at Sorforras on Vaci Utca. The food was fresh and the atmosphere took our breath away. One can shop for the finest handmade kid gloves on Vaci Utca and be ensured that the quality is only the best. We located a shop in Regipsota Utca called Ekes 1883 that measures your hands and fits the correct size glove.
Budapest is great to visit all year round bearing in mind that it gets extremely cold from November to March. I visited the city in May and found the average temperature to be around 20 degrees which is comfortable and pleasant. There was one day when the temperature dropped to around 14 degrees and it is always advisable to pack something warm. There is much to do for everyone, shopping, eating out, nightclubbing, cruising on the Danube, cycling, walking, theatre, art exhibitions, and museums. Operas, taking side trips into the countryside to go horseback riding, wine tasting in Tokai, as well as a trip to Lake Balaton is not to be missed. The prices of most restaurants seemed to cost as much as our local prices.
General Info and Tips
Visas are currently required for South African passport holders. Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the return date.
Drink bottled water only. A smart way to see Budapest is with the aid of a Budapest card, available from Tourinform offices or online. The card is valid for 48 or 72 hours and one can access more than a 150 discounts for museums, cafes, restaurants and sight seeing tours, thermal baths and cultural events. With the card, Budapest’s extensive public transport network is free and there is also a generous 50% discount on the famous Danube river cruises. It really is worthwhile.
Money changing facilities are available at most hotels, but the rate is better at the money exchange bureaus outside in the streets. Travel with Euros.
Very special thanks to all the wonderful people who made our stay in Budapest so unforgettable.