While in London I spent quite a while wandering and reading in the amazing Stanford's Travel Bookstore. I could have been there all day but after an hour and a half I figured I'd spent enough time for one afternoon. While there I picked up pocket sized Lonely Planet books for both Prague and Budapest. These turned out to be great and best of all not bulky to be carrying around. They obviously didn't have all of the detail but enough of the major must-dos and some good other suggestions of walks and whatnot. After the few days in Prague I put that one away and moved on to Budapest. Seeing as I had done no reading up on what to do while there I figured my seven hour train ride from Prague would more than suffice.
I was originally going to spend five nights and four days in Budapest but the weather wasn't great and I was itching for some warmer temperatures. So in the end I cut it short by a day but still got to see a good amount of the city and didn't have to cram too much in each of the three days. The grey skies, patches of rain, and cool temperatures lent itself more to picking a few things to see and then enjoying some time in one of the fancy old cafes that are all over the city. Definitely some of the fanciest locations for an afternoon coffee - New York Cafe at the Boscolo Hotel and the Cafe in the Alexandra Bookshop were beautiful old spaces. The coffee is unnecessarily expensive, but you're paying for the fancy experience.
All of the photos from the three days are here.
Budapest's Castle area with Matthias church and the Fisherman's Bastion are fantastic and have great views looking across the river from the Buda side to Pest and the massive Parliament building that sits just across. The detail and paintings on the inside of St Matthias church, and numerous others, was beautiful. Floor to ceiling there was something to look at and admire.
The Old Synagogue in the Jewish quarter is stunning. I think I went in more synagogues over the week between Budapest and Prague than churches for once. Definitely shows that I was in a different part of Europe and for me quite fascinating since the last time I was in a synagogue was probably someone's Bar or Bat Mitzvah in 7th grade and certainly at that time I was not interested in looking around an admiring the space. I would have been more interested in when the party was starting!!
The Parliament in Budapest is a stunner of a building. It's got so many spires, details, and is just massive along the river front. In addition to admiring the outside I also did one of the tours to get to see the inside - for me it was totally not worth the money at all. It might have been the day that I did it on (they said it was unusually busy with actual activities within the building) but it was less than 30 minutes and two of the main things we didn't get to see. I was quite disappointed to not see the grand entry staircase which is supposed to be fantastic. It was also incredibly disorganized to begin with and trying to figure out where to be and what group to follow and attempt to listen to didn't lead to a good starting impression. Oh well!
Just down from the Parliament building along the water is a memorial called 'Shoes on the Danube'. It is simple pairs of shoes along the river bank as a memorial to Jews who were executed there but told to remove their shoes before being shot and then their bodies falling into the water. Seeing something as simple as shoes and of all sizes, men's, women's and children's makes for a memorable site.
One very small museum that I did seek out was the Miksa Roth House. Miksa Roth was a well known stained glass and mosaic maker in Budapest in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The house that he and his family lived in before the war is now a small museum and best of all they have a number of his pieces on display and then a rotating temporary collection. Looking up close at the stained glass and seeing not just the glass work but also the painting that he did over the glass to provide the details was amazing. I've seen a lot of stained glass throughout the various churches and what not but seeing it up close was quite different.
Last but not least I couldn't leave Budapest without taking in the local culture of Turkish style baths. There are numerous ones throughout the city and based on my research they range from feeling like a water park to much smaller traditional spaces. I was going to go to one of the larger ones, mostly to take in the architecture and see what they were all about, but I ultimately decided to head to a smaller one - not to mention that it was like half the price. Kiraly Baths was definitely no frills and seemed to be mostly locals (read seniors!) enjoying an afternoon of relaxation. There were numerous pools of varying temperatures, including a freezing cold dip(!), steam room and sauna. You just pop between them as you like. It was quite relaxing for my last afternoon there just before I then got an hour long Thai foot massage. I couldn't resist that either given that it was quite cheap - not Thailand cheap but way better than SF prices for the quality that I got!
With my bath experience complete, successful massage, and full belly from hearty Hungarian dinners each night I was done with the cold weather and looking to trade my boots and coat for flipflops and tank tops. Off to Greece I headed - 36 hours in Athens and then 4 days in Santorini.