December 18, 2013
Today we got a little bit of a late start. We woke up close to 10 and then Laszlo took us over to his local market to have breakfast – strudel! We parted ways afterward so that he could do some shopping and we could see what we wanted to on our last day.
First we wanted to buy our train ticket to Bratislava so we stopped by the train station to pick those up and then we headed over to Buda to see the Castle District. We took the metro most of the way, but decided to walk across the Danube on the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest’s iconic bridge. It was the first permanent bridge linking the two sides, Buda and Pest. It was heavily damaged in WWII during the German retreat in 1945, but has been restored and is beautiful today. Of course, it is winter so walking across it today wasn’t the most enjoyable experience, but we can say we’ve done it!
Once in Buda we took a funicular up to the Royal Palace and surrounding area (Castle District). We chose to forgo the palace and instead walked up to St. Matthias Church, a gorgeous neo-Gothic structure topped with a dazzling multicolored tile roof. It is spectacular. And the interior, which took me by surprise, is just as beautiful. The walls and ceiling are painted with different scenes and designs. The colors aren’t bright so sitting inside was calming and comforting. It really does give off a feeling of refuge from the outside world.
Just outside the church is the Fisherman’s Bastion (Halaszbastya), seven small towers that represent the seven Magyar (Mudjar) tribes who claimed Hungary. From the Bastion there are fantastic views of the Parliament and Pest just across the Danube.
Since we were up on a hill and it was colder today, we were chilled to the bone after those few sights so we headed down the street to take a break in a charmingly cozy coffee shop- Ruszwurm. We had tea, coffee, and a delightful chocolate cake. We stayed there for a while, warming up, writing post cards, and refueling. Then we begrudgingly went back outside to brave the cold and get back into Pest.
We returned to the Christmas Market – this time it was dark when we arrived – and it seemed more festive already. The Christmas lights were on, there were more people, the steam rising off the food and mulled wine just put you in the Christmas spirit. We bought a few things we had seen the previous day and then sat down to a steaming bread bowl of goulash. It was great. Warmed us all the way through. Then, mulled wine and hot chocolate in hand, we set out to finish our shopping.
After watching some of the live music we decided to thoroughly warm ourselves by going to the thermal bath. There are a few in the city, but we chose Széchenyi which is in Városliget (City Park). It was a little confusing at first. The main entrance was closing in a hour when we arrived and we couldn’t find anyone to help us (we had seen online that the baths were open later). Finally someone told us to walk around to the back and there we could access the pools until 10. Once we made it back there we paid and were given “watches” to access our lockers and enter the spa area. The locker rooms are gender specific so after splitting up we each put our belongings in a locker, changed into our swimsuits, and met in the hallway. We rented towels and then went up to the outdoor pools. There’s nothing quite like walking outside in 30 degree (F) temperatures in just a swim suit and a towel. BRRRRR. We quickly set our towels on a bench and high-tailed it into the pool. It was glorious. I think we stayed in the pool for about 1.5 hours before getting out to shower and change. The steam rolled off the pool all around us, sometimes getting so thick we could hardly see in front of us. It was beautiful. And warm.
We eventually forced ourselves out of the pool and back to the locker rooms to shower and change. We decided to end the night with a beer. We went to a Scottish bar off Andrássy- I think it was called Caledonia. We had a little food, a nice dark stout, and then we walked back to Laszlo’s. A great way to end our time in Budapest.
Tomorrow morning we are leaving for Bratislava. Although we were only here a short while I thoroughly enjoyed our stay and would love to come back again some day.