Buda-Pessht (BP) or Pessht – Buda
One side of the Danube is Buda and the other is Pessht. The Pesst side call itself Pessht-Buda and the Buda side calls itself, Buda-Pessht. Buda has the history and magnificence while Pessht has the future and the day to day. That difference conveys how I felt about my few days in BP. BP is city that is magnificent in its history, yet not overwhelming. The Hungarian people are one that is proud, yet humble and friendly. The wine and food were almost up to SF tastiness levels, yet cheap. The infrastructure in Pessht is very, old historic looking yet well kept. It is a city that marries an authentic cultural experience with every travelers’ desires.
The very first thing I noticed when I arrived at the hotel was how I was greeted – not with a customary smile, but a grin and a nod. So I decided to see if I could get the lady to crack a smile and after a few jokes she slowly warmed up. What brought a glowing set of white teeth was my election of a Hungarian cultural book instead of the customary 500 Sheraton extra points for check-in. She was so happy I was interested to learn about Hungary that she also gave me a folklore CD. At that point, I realized there was a great pride in the Hungarian people about their country that perhaps the normal traveler would not discover. I hoped to learn as much as I could about the country as I could.
Over the course of my two days, I realized the grin and nod was a customary greeting in Hungary and seemed to be a very common way to say thank you and your welcome. It showed that Hungarians are not a very open culture but one the certainly shows just the right amount of appreciation for you. Even one time, when I approached a lady who did not speak English, she gave me the same smile and nod. It was a curious gesture that one should notice while interacting with the people.
The city had just the right amount of great sites, all reachable during a daily stroll. On the Buda side, there is the Old Town that had a small Castle and Church and could be seen in a few hours. There are two big museums: the National Art and the National History Museum. The National Art museum has a mix of old and contemporary art but I did not go to the National History Museum. Outside of the National Art Museum was a bow and arrow shooting exhibit. I paid $5 to shoot 5 arrows and though I did not hit the bull’s eye, I did manage to hit the board. Try it!
Down on the river on the Pessht side, there is the world’s third largest Parliament, behind London and Argentina’s. In between Buda and Pessht is a narrow, man-made island called Margaret Island. I ran the 10k loop from my hotel around the island and back. Once stepping afoot on the island, a new world seemed to appear. There is a lush forest, gardens, ponds, and at the very Japanese garden at the far end. It is definitely worth an afternoon stroll.
Another widely visited tourist attraction is the bathhouses. They have a Roman-esque setting surrounding full size swimming pools with a variety of smaller thermal pools. Gellet pool had both inside and outside pools, places to relax, and cafes to eat at. It definitely made for a relaxing few hours. The other is called Schedty which seemed quite nice.
My only expectation of Hungarian food was Goulash, which I ate once a bachelor party campout. Beef stew originates from Goulash but has mor vegetables, spices and paprika seasoned meats. I will have to learn how to make this to the level that the Hungarians do. Another popular cuisine is duck with cherries and steak stuffed with liver and mushrooms. The portions were very large, even for American standards. In fact, everywhere you go you can buy liver of any animal – it is their delicacy. What surprised me the most were the not so sweet-sweets. I stopped off at several small stores to snack on the sweets made of almonds, poppy seed, cherries, and chocolates. While eating at a local restaurant – yes local – there was a NFL game being played. Apparently, NFL is a growing attraction for the meat eating Hungarians
The last night, my new friend who was from North Carolina and I spent one night at the Hungarian Opera House to watch Tosca. On the way back, I found a small, lively street called Kiraly Street in the design district. There were several very nice bars and restaurants including Divino – where one can taste over 120 Hungarian wines. I did not expect Hungarian wine to be so diverse and complex. Later I learned that Hungarian wine is as respected now as some Italian and French wines. I did not get the name of the street but there were mostly locals there, lots of restaurants, and a very lively scene.