Friday, November 2, 2012

Budapest at Christmas

Budapest at Christmas is cold, but beautiful. Although I must admit that I find Budapest every day beautiful, regardless of the weather conditions. How could this city be not beautiful for anyone? :)
Budapest Basilica Christmas Market, Mpeti Photography
What can you do at Christmas in Budapest? Get cold? Get depressed? No way!

Here are five things to do at Christmas in Budapest:
(I don't even say that these would be the top 5 things to do in Budapest, they are just what  suddenly came to mind. But if you are not satisfied, see first the top ten things to do in Budapest, and then come back here to see if you get more ideas)

Visit the best Budapest Christmas market. This market is the biggest, the most festive, the oldest, the most traditional, the most rich in its programs, and has the best location (innermost Christmas market in Budapest downtown - Vorosmarty Square is the name of the 'ter' / square). Some clever and nice tour guides can also take you around some of the Christmas markets. This Xmas fair tour sounds reasonable (includes wine tasting too).

Visit the thermal baths of Budapest. As always, it is a great and fun thing to do in Budapest. What makes the winter baths special is that you can still sit outside in the cold weather, wrapped cozily in the warm thermal baths and the steams cushioning the open air thermal pools from the cold winter air. Szechenyi Bath is even open at Christmas!

Normafa Hill Budapest, Artúr Herczeg Photography
Go to the Ice Rink in the City Park of Budapest. This ice rink is huge and fun, you can rent skates on the spot, you can take the kids for a good skating and sliding, enjoy the music and the hot tea, drinks by the artificial ice rink. The setting is quite romantic as the rink is just by the side of the beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle (home of the Agricultural Museum). It may even be true that the skating rink is the biggest one in Europe... Honestly, I don't know, but it is surely big. :)

Eat a Chimney Cake in Budapest & drink Mulled wine: This warm cinnamon milk bread is shaped like a chimney (or cylinder), and is simple, delicious, good to go (kurtoskalacs is the Hungarian name of this lovely cake by the way, but can you say 'kirteshcallaatsh? Can you? Good news, You will survive!). The lovely cake is sold at the Christmas markets in Budapest as well as on the main shopping street (Kurtoskalacs on Vaci utca) and in other central spots in the city. Not a typical winter cake, but typically good in winter city walks. Winter cake? The Hungarian Christmas cake is beigli, the Hungarian Xmas candy is Szaloncukor (Salon Sugar - elegant name, eh?)

Go to the Buda Hills: if you love nature and winter fun in the outdoors, the Buda Hills are a great place to enjoy the winter beauty, especially if there is snow (usually in December, January and February in Budapest). You can go to the Normafa hill

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Budapest Then and Now Video Contrasting 1945 and 2008

If you want to see what major Budapest attractions looked like after the dismal times of the Second World War, right after the siege of Budapest, here is a nice video slide show with photos from 1945 and 2008: buildings, sites are shown from the same angle as then and now.

The Budapest photos in order of appearance:
  • Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsébet Híd)
  • Inner City Church (Belvárosi Plébániatemplom)
  • Church on Szervita tér
  • Deák tér with Kempinski Hotel Corvinus
  • Harminckettesek tere
  • Elisabeth Boulevard (Erzsébet körút)
  • Ulloi ut with the Museum of Applied Arts (Üllői út)
  • The embankment of the River Danube on the Pest side (Pesti alsó rakpart)
  • Attila út at Vérmező
  • Tunnel (Alagút)
  • Széna tér (the square neghboring Moszkva tér)
  • Moszkva square (Moszkva tér)
  • Margit boulevard (Margit körút)
  • Castle District: the Cupola of the Royal Palace
  • Castle District: the terminal of the Funicular Railway
  • Castle District: Eastern gate
  • Castle District: Dísz tér
  • Castle District: Edelsheim Gyulai Palace
  • Castle District: Holy Trinity Statue on Szentháromság tér
  • Castle District: Úri utca
  • Castle District: Viennese Gate (Bécsi Kapu tér)

The video has been made by Ábel Szemán

Monday, March 3, 2008

Best Restaurants Budapest Guide

The following guide to the best restaurants in Budapest Hungary shows how mixed the current culinary landscape is, more dominated by international cuisines than authentic Hungarian ones. Luckily, food (mostly) does not know politics and borders. Pick your choice out of the Top 33 restaurants selected by Hungarian food blog, Chew.

Asian (primarily Chinese)
updated on March 4th 2008.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Michael Palin in Budapest Gellert Furdo

One of my favorite comedians, and maybe even faces is Michael Palin. Although I am used to seeing him slapping somebody with a fish or saying Lobelt instead of Robert, I was very glad to see his amusing and informative travel documentaries too.

Here's his video of Gellert Furdo in Budapest (and Hotel Gellert):

"The later you arrive in Budapest, the better. The city at night is magnificent. I am staying at the Gellert, a Budapest landmark, now nearly 90 years old. Its glory is maybe fading but the Gellert still sits at the heart of Budapest life. I look out at Freedom Bridge, which connects Buda, etc. etc."

Szechenyi Furdo FAQ and Photos

Many travelers have recurring questions related to one of the most popular spa baths in Hungary: Szechenyi Baths (in Hungarian Szechenyi Furdo). So this great collection of questions and answers on Szechenyi Furdo FAQ will surely help you. If you think it could be even better, please share your comments to make the FAQ list a real guide for future Szechenyi baths visitors.
Besides, here are some great sneak peek photos on Nomadicity blog. Here is the one I liked most made by BlognDog:

OK, it was clearly a joke. Here are my real choices, first of all a video inside Szechenyi Baths.
And then some old photos, which more or less reflect the interior and fresh air baths in Szechenyi Furdo:

Visiting Szechenyi at night is a special feeling and a unique experience. You can go to the bath in summer, in winter - all year, even on public holidays

Friday, February 1, 2008

Poll: Best Cafe in Budapest

Budapest has many many good cafes with unique atmosphere and delicious cakes. There is a best of Budapest cafes article on the Budapest Blog of Luxury Hotels Budapest, but I have decided to make sure that what we think as best is standing on your feedback too.

So vote on your favorite Budapest cafes here on the right side (you can check more than one) and just let us know if we need to add some further cafes for the poll.

I know, it is not easy to compare an apple with a pear, but most travelers won't have time to check out multiple cafes, so help for those who have only a few days in Budapest (maybe squeezed in a Vienna-Budapest-Prague tour).

Is Budapest Safe For Tourists?

If you ask me about Budapest safety, I can wholeheartedly tell you that Budapest is very safe, especially compared to other big cities. What is more, if you are an American traveler, you may think that Budapest is super-safe. It is not 100% safe though: no village, let alone city, can claim that. After all Budapest is populated by 2 million people. Folks from the countryside as well as tourists increase the number.

So what makes Budapest safe?
This is not an official study, but I think my arguments are realistic and convincing.
1, Most of the people have no guns, neither do they keep guns at home. No wonder, homicide rates are relatively low (oftentimes connected to inner family business or gangster rendezvous). Most murder attempts happened in District 8 in 2005, so do not go deep into District VIII, especially at night. The closer you get to the city centre (District 5) in District 8 the calmer. However, we must add that this district is developing extremely dynamically, new buildings with new residents are pushing out older, poorer people who were more inclined to desperate violent acts.
2, Somehow Budapest thinks of itself as a safe city and acts accordingly. I don't know if you see what I mean. Now I am living in New Orleans and I know that New Orleans knows that it's dangerous - in the same token, Budapest knows that it's safe. So it's like a Pygmalion effect, sort of. Even at late night you can see people (young girls too) going home alone, without fear. And it's a great feeling to see people's confidence. Historically, it may be one of the consequences of the former communist era, but it's my opinion, so don't take it as a fact. After all, Denmark or Finland is safe enough without communism.
3, Efficient public transportation: most buses, metros, trams run even after 10 pm, and people do use them, so there is not much isolation brought about by private cars: you will travel with many people, buses after 11 and at 12 are still taking people home, there is life at night and people in the streets, waiting at stops, walking to bars or back home, etc. Staying in the US has opened my eyes that heavy reliance on cars also results in fewer people on the streets (fewer pavements to start with). Now one place is an exception: Margaret Island (Margitsziget) has no public transportation at night. So even if you walk to the island (there are good parties there in summer), only come and go there with more people, and hardly any money. Avoid dark patches in the green park, however inviting for a romantic kiss.
4, Good police? I don't know. Many people are complaining about Hungarian policemen (almost fifth joke is about 'the stupid policeman') - but then again, Hungarians tend to complain. Yes, people love complaining. :) So I don't know what to say: visibly, Budapest is not safer because of the police - I mean on an everyday level you won't see policemen standing at every second corner in a Morgan Freeman style. Which is a good thing. So they work, and they work. Just as the cameras in Budapest, which also greatly contributed to the decrease in crimes in District 8.

Thieves, Pickpockets, Shoplifters
If anything Budapest can 'boast' about is the number of petty crimes connected to stealing in one way or another. For instance, one thing that Hungarian tourists are amazed at in western countries is that they can leave things outside, in the garden, on the bench in the park, because they will very likely find them. As a Hungarian, you wouldn't do it at home, especially not in Budapest as it will disappear in a blink (last Xmas I left a gift bag from my girl friend in one of the boutiques at Mammut, and it was gone instantly too). So keep your bag under your arm, watch who is standing next to you on the tram, bus, or underground, and don't flash expensive jewelry. Mugging can take place at night in the worse parts of the city (as the aforementioned District VIII), but again, most of the central areas are very safe, well-lit at night and full of young party goers from Thur to Sat night (Sun nights tend to be calm, with fewer happenings) - you shouldn't feel unsafe.

Tourists as Targets
If you are a tourist you cannot hide it: you have the look and feel and map of a tourist. So does it make you a target? Yes and no.
Pickpockets will pay attention to you more (just as in any big city) and also ticket inspectors (unlike in other cities). As I said, watch your belongings (especially backpacks and bags with side pockets) on metros, escalators, and in crowds (e.g. at concerts). Of course, don't carry a lot of cash with you - or not in your bag, not in your pants hanging out from your back pocket, but somewhere more hidden. But otherwise, you have no reason to be on the alert.
Why ticket inspectors? Because they work on commission, the more people they catch red handed the more they earn. If you decide not to increase their wallets/ purses, don't forget to validate your ticket whenever you get on a bus, metro, tram, trolley, etc. and whenever you change lines. The best solution is to buy a 3 or 7 day pass and travel without limits (it is not good for the Funicular railway though).
Third, some guys and girls are selling their bodies at night along the River Danube (especially on Váci utca and on the Pest side, next to Hotel InterContinental - between the Chain Bridge and the Elisabeth Bridge. But you can expect to be sexually approached in certain bars too - for some supplemental revenue.)
Fourth, there are quite a lot beggars in central areas (especially metro stations sitting/ lying at the walls): some will recognize that you are a precious thing to get money from, so if you don't want to give them some money (usually a 100 HUF coin), just say NEM ('No' in Hungarian, pronounced as naem) and walk on. Some beggars will want more, even if you gave them something, so be prepared to walk away firmly. If you decide to give money, it is better to give it from your pocket rather than flashing your wallet. Just put some 50-100 HUF coins in your pocket in case you want to be humane.
Mis-billing: mis-billing may happen unintentionally - or intentionally, especially if you are a tourist. It can happen in stores or shops at the cashier, through waiters in restaurants, at different vendors, etc.. Run through your bill with a quick check if you feel suspicious of the total price you pay. What I have experienced in this respect was limited to some mis-billings at bars when we were with a bigger bunch (5 or more people staying for hours). Usually, they don't expect a bigger group to keep track of spendings, so it might happen that you end up paying more than you should. The vast majority of prices include VAT.
Scam: occasionally, if you are unlucky, you can run into scammers. Scam has various manifestations: some will pose as ticket inspectors (ask for ID with photo), some may pretend to be policemen (rare in Budapest), etc. There are corrupt policemen in Hungary too, and if you rent a car and stay longer in Hungary, you may experience a police bribe. If in doubt, ask for ID, ask for a bill/ invoice (check the amount stated) for what you pay, get all the documentation, and contact the relevant embassy for help and advice.

I hope you will have only good experiences in Budapest. Have fun and enjoy the city.

PS: here's what a Hungarian woman living in Budapest wrote as a comment on LA Times, Homicide report:

Shouting Man at the Funicular in Budapest

I know that it sounds weird, but the thing is this: according to some tourists, there is a pushy guy who is trying to force his tourist guide services upon you - usually at the Funicular railway near the Tunnel (at the foot of the Castle Hill) in Budapest. He seems to be harmless though, and may be just nuts: if you walk away he may feel that you remain in darkness without his guidance. Don't worry about him - there are crazy people everywhere, why would be Budapest's 2 million people an exception? And the whole thing just may be a mountain out of a molehill.

Now here is what Ms P76 from London asked on TripAdvisor:

Has anyone else experienced this rather strange man offering tours outside the funicular? He goes on and on about offering you a guided tour and becomes very agitated if you try and interupt him, and when you do have enough and walk away he shouts after you "you know nothing, you know less than nothing!"

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Budapest Travel Tips - Get The Inside Scoop

Budapest Pebbles is a loose and informal collection of tips and useful - weird - interesting info on Budapest - from an insider's point of view.

Now that I have spent more than half a year away from Budapest (in New Orleans) I have decided to go back to Budapest virtually and offer some guidance for foreigners who wish to travel to Budapest. I love Budapest, needless to say, and I also like travelling, getting to know new people and cultures - so I expect you are in the same shoes, more or less, when you are heading for Budapest. New city, new discoveries. Or maybe you are on business - just staying 24 hours in Budapest - stuck in a boring meeting, trying to find some excitement and relaxation after a long day. No matter why you are coming to Budapest or BP as it's often abbreviated by locals, you will surely find some interesting and practical tidbits, news, tips on the Budapest Blog - if not, send me your questions, (scathing or constructive) criticism, and I will try to answer ASAP. As much as my time allows while helping New Orleanians get back to normal (and more) after Hurricane Katrina. Yes, the New Orleans is still feeling the consequences of FEMA.

Besides, if you are struggling with the wealth of information about Budapest hotels, and you need a simple simple guide plus wish to stay at a good five star hotel in Budapest, I recommend the Budapest hotel comparison page (so far it only includes luxury hotels!). You'll find info on the truly centrally located hotels, some of them offering river-view, while others featuring a good spa or standing in the middle of the happening area.

I am also working on a Budapest Tourist Map (Budapest Tourist Map) - a map that I would find useful about New Orleans too - it is a spare time project so please bear with me. And really, let me know about what you liked and disliked so that the map and the site can be super informative. What's more The Best. :)

Have fun and get the best out of your Budapest stay! And don't forget: Hungarians may not be super smiling, but they are very friendly.

Anna Sebestyen

contact: BudapestPebbles [at] gmail [dot] com