The Wine and Beer of Hungary

We had heard in advance of going to Hungary that it was known for the wine that it produced and we certainly weren’t disappointed. In addition to having several wine regions that produce very interesting wines, we also discovered that Hungary has a craft beer scene, at least in Budapest, that is very similar to what we have in the United States. We also went to a specific wine tasting with a charcuterie board where we learned about the various wines as well as the history of Hungary.

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The Dreher Lager

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Wine Tasting

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Many Varieties of Local Wine

The region that we heard the most about for producing excellent wine was Eger, which grows both red and white varieties of wine. As far as red wine from Eger, the Bull’s Blood or Egri Bikaver was really good and came with an interesting back-story. Legend has it that in 1552 a small group of soldiers were drinking wine in preparation for the upcoming seige of Eger and bull’s blood was added to the wine to give them extra strength and stamina. The group was able to successfully beat the larger group of Turks and the legend was born. In addition to the Bikaver wine, we also had an “old” Chardonnay wine from Eger that had been aged for 4 years, which was delicious.

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Chardonnay and Egri Bikaver

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Dark Beer

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Charcuterie Board

We also tried wines from other regions including a sweet dessert wine from Tokaj, which is in the northeast corner of country. We also tasted an interesting wine from the Sopron region, which is in the mountainous area in the farthest western part of Hungary. In addition to the wine tasting, we tried many different wines during our time in Budapest. We also tried a couple of the fruit brandies called Palinka, which is an aperitif and is quite popular. We tried both the plum and apricot versions of Palinka and enjoyed both.

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Palinka

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Sparkling Wine

Many of the restaurants that we went to had at least a dozen different craft beers on draught. The national beer seemed to be Dreher, which is a lager and was available at almost every place that we ate. We prefer darker beers, so we had several of those as well. We didn’t make it out to the countryside, so we don’t know if it is similar to Germany where every city has their own beer, but Budapest seemed to have a lot of choices to offer.

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White Wine and Bull’s Blood Wine from Eger

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Dreher Logo

For anyone who likes wine, a trip to Hungary will certainly provide the opportunity to try a lot of different wines. We would certainly recommend a wine tasting, whether by visiting some vineyards or doing one within Budapest. For those that prefer beer, plenty of options abound and all of the ones that we tried were certainly very good.

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What Is Your Favorite Thing About Traveling?

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St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest

One of the focal points for any visit to Budapest is the St. Stephen’s Basilica. Located in the Inner City District, it is in the heart of the old town region with all of the restaurants and shopping. Visiting the basilica is free, but there is a recommended donation of 200 Ft (~2 euros) for entering the cathedral. The inside of the cathedral is quite beautiful with all of the ornate gold arches and wonderful domes. Another highlight of the basilica is the observation deck, which has spectacular panoramic views of the city from a different perspective than those of the Castle District or the Citadel.

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The Front of the Basilica with the Bell Towers

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One of the Ornate Interior Dome

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Focal Point of the Basilica

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View from the Observation Deck

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Golden Arch

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Roof of the Bell Tower

We actually visited St. Stephen’s Basilica twice, once on a rainy day to see the interior of the cathedral and then a second time when the weather was better to go to the observation deck and take photographs of the city. Due to its central location, the cathedral can be quite crowded with tourists, so you’ll want to be patient as you walk around the cathedral. Depending on the time of year, there can also be long lines waiting to get up to the observation deck, but we didn’t have too long of a wait while we were there.

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Standing on the Observation Deck

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Walking Towards St. Stephen’s Basilica on a Rainy Day

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Beautiful Details

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Looking Down at the Pedestrian Street that Leads to the Basilica

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The Giant Wheel Viewed from the Top of the Basilica

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Amazing Views

St. Stephen’s Basilica also offers organ concerts at different times during the week and a schedule is available if you are interested. The cathedral is named after St. Stephen I, who was the first king of Hungary. Construction began in 1851 and it wasn’t completed until 1906. The domes of the basilica and the Parliament Building are the same height and they dominate the skyline of the Pest side of the Danube River. They were purposely created to be of equal height in order to symbolize the balance between church and state in Hungary.

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Matthias Church in the Castle District from the Top of the Basilica

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Famous Church Organ

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Looking Up at the Dome

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Parliament Building

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One of the Bell Towers

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Royal Palace (Buda Castle)

It is possible to get guided tours of St. Stephen’s Basilica, but we found that most people just tour the cathedral on their own. The basilica is one of the most important sites to visit during a trip to Budapest and we would definitely recommend taking the time to go the observation deck for the views.

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Memorial Inside of the Basilica

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One of the Many Arches

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Ornate Roof in the City

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The Streets of Budapest

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Glowing Statue

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Beautiful Pulpit

 

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Unusual Focus

As we’ve been going through our photographs from Budapest and Bratislava (over 1,700), we have found a few unusual photographs. Regardless of where you travel, you will often find statues that focus on the hands of the subject as the can be very expressive. Whether it is welcoming, comforting, an offering of peace, or fists of aggression, the hands can be as emotional as the eyes. One of the photographs that we’ve included here was taken at the hotel bar where we were staying in Budapest. After a long day of walking around the city, we stopped for a glass of wine and there was a weird green light that glowed underneath the bar top. It actually made for a strange effect and we couldn’t help but take a photograph of our hands. Do you ever find yourself taking photographs of odd subjects during your travels?

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From the Hungarian National Museum

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Peace Offering in Bratislava

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Glowing Hands

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Hands Towards the Sky

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A Comforting Touch

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The “Watcher” Taking a Break

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Getting Ready to Strike

 

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The Royal Palace (Buda Castle) in Budapest, Hungary

On our first full day in Budapest, we crossed the Chain Bridge and took the funicular (which is a type of railway that goes up the side of a mountain) to the top of the hill in order to walk around the Castle District. The Royal Palace, also referred to as Buda Castle, is certainly one of the most dominant features in Budapest. Whether during the day or at night, when it is lit up, the palace can be seen from almost everyplace in Pest. There are definitely many wonderful things to see within the Castle District, but the Royal Palace is the most important site to visit. As we’ve mentioned before, Budapest is really two cities, Buda and Pest, that were combined when the first permanent bridge was created, so Buda Castle is the main site to visit on the Buda side of the river.

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The Royal Palace Dome

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View of the Royal Palace from the Citadel

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Archway to the Main Courtyard

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Fountain Depicting Hunters

Unlike a lot of other palaces, the inside of the Royal Palace is not a representation of what life would have been like hundreds of years ago when the aristocrats lived there that can be toured. Instead it houses both the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum as well as the Hungarian National Library. One of the most interesting features of the Royal Palace is the fountain depicting a hunting scene that is in the main courtyard. Like many palaces, the Royal Palace is really a complex of buildings with the main residence being the main focal point. This makes for an interesting mix of architectural styles as you walk amongst the complex.

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Royal Palace from the Danube River Cruise

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Royal Crest

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Statue on the Palace Grounds

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Another View of the Palace

We decided to take the stairs along the castle wall back down to the river, which gave us wonderful views of the city. No surprisingly considering the size of the Royal Palace, many of our photographs of the palace were actually taken from across the Danube River, the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica, and even from the Citadel, which is also on the Buda side of the river. Seeing the Royal Palace lit up at night with its reflection in the water is probably one of the most iconic images of the castle and is even the main picture on the castle’s website. It is pretty much impossible not to see the Royal Palace during a visit to Budapest, but it is certainly worth taking the time to go to the Castle District and walking around the grounds.

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Palace Viewed from Across the River

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Looking Down the Funicular

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View of the Parliament Building from the Palace

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Building in the Castle Complex

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Stairs We Climbed Down

 

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The Food of Budapest, Hungary

It certainly shouldn’t be surprising that you can find just about any type of cuisine that you would like in a city the size of Budapest. Especially in the tourist areas, you can find restaurants featuring traditional Hungarian dishes, but you are just as likely to find Italian, Asian, Mediterranean, and even Mexican restaurants. It is also not surprising that you can find plenty of American fast food restaurants throughout the city. When it comes to Hungarian food, it is definitely meat and starch (potato/rice) forward and vegetables are almost an afterthought. One of the things that did surprise us were the number of restaurants specializing in burgers that we found everywhere. Not fast food restaurants, but just restaurants that offered many varieties of burgers on their menus.

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Goulash Soup

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Beef Tenderloin with Letcho and Fried Potatoes

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Chicken Paprikash

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Boar Cheeks with Napkin Dumplings

Goulash soup was probably the most common item that could be found on almost any Hungarian menu, but it is truly a soup and not what most of us think of when we hear the word goulash. You will also find meat stews listed and sometimes it will even be listed as goulash stew. Another common menu item is Chicken Paprikash, which is chicken and cottage cheese noodles covered in a paprika sour cream sauce. Cottage cheese noodles are pretty similar to spätzle. You will find many menu items that feature “letcho”, which is a pepper and tomato stew that can be combined with different proteins or eaten on its own. Another common item that you find as an appetizer is duck liver pate with the local flatbread, very similar to naan.

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Goulash Stew

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Duck Liver Pate

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Lamb Soup with Duck Liver Dumplings

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Leg of Goose with Red Cabbage

Needless to say, there are plenty of other choices for Hungarian dishes including boar cheeks with dumplings and lamb soup with duck liver dumplings. There are also Hungarian deserts such as an almond cake, but one of the most famous is probably the chimney cake. We got our chimney cake from a food truck where it was cooked over burning embers. It is then coated with your choice of flavors and we decided on a simple cinnamon sugar. Since burgers were so prevalent, we did decide to get a burger one day and since we like spicy food, we ordered a spicy burger. It turned out to be so spicy that we were barely able to eat it.

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Spicy Burger

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Chimney Cake

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Traditional Almond Cake

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Grilled Calamari

With six days in Budapest, we didn’t limit ourselves to just Hungarian food, but also ate some seafood and Italian food as well. In the main tourist areas, you will sometimes find that the restaurants offer a “tourist menu”, which is usually a three course meal focusing on Hungarian dishes. It is probably focused on those tourists that come from the cruise ships that stop in Budapest where the people only have a single day in the city. We found some of the best restaurants tended to be in the Jewish Quarter and we even ate an excellent meal at an Israeli fusion restaurant called Mazel Tov that was recommended to us by several people.

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Spaghetti Arrabbiata

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Fried Calamari

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Cooking Chimney Cakes

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Mussels in White Wine Sauce

When visiting Budapest, you will certainly have plenty of options of restaurants to choose from. We definitely enjoyed the different meals that we ate and it would be difficult to choose a favorite, but you should certainly try some of the paprika based dishes. All of the restaurants usually had English as well as Hungarian descriptions as well as German sometimes. Many of the tourist restaurants also include picture menus, but we didn’t find those to be necessary. Fortunately we did a lot of walking during our time in Budapest, otherwise all of the heavy meals might have taken their toll on our wastes.

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Pastrami Sandwich at the Israeli Fusion Restaurant

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Buffet on the Dinner Cruise Ship

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Fresh Olives

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Spoon Restaurant on the Danube River

 

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Day Trip to Bratislava, Slovakia

There are several options for taking a day trip out of Budapest, Hungary, some within the country and some to neighboring countries. One of the most popular is to Vienna, Austria, which is about 3 hours from Budapest, but since we have been to Vienna previously, we decided to go to Bratislava in Slovakia. Located about 2 hours outside of Budapest, Bratislava is an interesting city with a rich history. It is the largest city in Slovakia as well as the capital of the country. In addition to getting to visit the city of Bratislava, it also gave us an opportunity to see the Hungarian countryside.

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Bratislava Castle

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Walking the Narrow Streets of Bratislava

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Inside of St. Martin’s Cathedral

The history of Slovakia is somewhat complex as it was part of Hungary for centuries until Hungary was broken up into Nation States and the country of Czechoslovakia was created in 1918. Then, in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia split and Bratislava became the capital of the new nation. As one can imagine, with a history that spans back centuries, but with their independence being relatively young, their is a true sense of national pride. Although there is some mistrust of Hungary due to the fact that Hungary retook the region during WWII, it seems that recently they have come to appreciate the relationship and the tourism that comes from Budapest.

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Fisherman’s Square in Bratislava

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Modern Bridge with UFO Restaurant

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Statue of

Our tour started by visiting the Slavin War Memorial, which honors the 6,845 Soviet Union soldiers who died freeing the country from German occupation. The highlight of visiting the memorial are the amazing views of the city, the Bratislava Castle, and the modern bridge with the UFO restaurant suspended above it. From the views of the city, it is clear that Bratislava is a city that is growing and many modern skyscrapers are starting to dominate the skyline. Obviously, our tour was focused on the historic areas of the city.

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Slavin War Memorial

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Modern Skyscrapers

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Statues of Soldiers at the War Memorial

Following the memorial, we stopped at the Bratislava Castle. Although you can’t enter the castle as it is now the home of government offices, walking the grounds is quite beautiful with its gardens and fortress walls. The original castle was destroyed and the current castle was rebuilt in the 1950’s, although a few of the original features remain. There have also been recent renovations to the castle, including the adding of a statue of King Svatopluk I, who was a Moravian ruler.

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Michael’s Gate

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The Dome of St. Martin’s Cathedral

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Historic Building

Finally, we spent time in the old town area of Bratislava. St Martin’s Cathedral is certainly the focal point of the area and was actually where the kings of Hungary were crowned for over 300 years. The tower of the church is modeled after the Hungarian crown and is another example of the complex history of the area. As with most cities in Europe that were once surrounded by medieval walls, the walls were taken down centuries ago to allow the cities to grow, but one of the gates, Michael’s Gate, still remains and is one of the most interesting features in the city. There are also many historic mansions that were built by the wealthy aristocrats in the region that have now been converted into stores, restaurants, and hotels.

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Memorial for Victims of the Holocaust

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Gardens at the Castle

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Famous Statue Called the Watcher

We had originally scheduled our tour for earlier in the week, but the weather forecast for the day of our tour called for rain and cold temperatures, so we rescheduled it to later in the week. We were definitely happy with that decision since the weather was decidedly better, although still cool and overcast. Bratislava is definitely worth visiting if you have the opportunity and we are glad that we decided to add it to our itinerary.

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View of Bratislava Castle

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Bratislava Castle Up-Close

 

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Our Overall Impressions of Budapest

We certainly enjoyed our week in Budapest, which included a full day trip to Bratislava in Slovakia. Although the weather didn’t always cooperate, we managed to adjust our schedules to account for the rain and definitely made the most of our time. Budapest is a beautiful city in Hungary with a lot of wonderful architecture and unique features that can be found throughout the old town areas. Sitting on the shore of the Danube River, it has been flooded and rebuilt over time, but there are many buildings that are centuries old and represent many different architectural styles. We found the historic districts to be extremely walkable, but there is an excellent public transportation system, at least within the city itself.

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St. Stephen’s Basilica

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Vajdahunyad Castle Near Heroes Square

After traveling 20 hours, including layovers, and arriving early on a Sunday morning, we got settled into our hotel and headed out to get acquainted to the area. Unfortunately, after asking the concierge for directions, we misunderstood which way to go. When we reached the main street, one of the ringed streets that circle the city and denote historical borders of the city throughout its history, we turned the wrong direction and headed away from the river and the Inner City district. Since we thought that we were heading the right direction, we were surprised to see that the buildings were not historic and beautiful, but rather very utilitarian as one would expect from a country that was occupied by the Soviet Union. When we reached the main train station, we were pretty confident that we’d gone the wrong way. We managed to find a good restaurant for lunch and then walked back towards our hotel and to our intended destination.

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Royal Palace in the Castle District

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Chain Bridge Looking Towards Pest

The city is broken up  into several districts and there are certain ones that must be on your list to see during your time in Budapest. Without a doubt the Castle District with the Royal Palace should be high on your list of places to visit. It is important to understand that Budapest is actually made up of two regions that are separated by the Danube. The side with the Castle District resides in Buda and the Parliament and Inner City are in Pest. They were distinct cities until the Chain Bridge was built and the cities were combined to make the single city of Budapest. There are important sights to see on both sides of the river, so we crossed the bridges several times during our stay.

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St. Michael’s Church in the Buda Castle District

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Parliament Building Along the Danube River

To understand the culture of Hungary, it is important to understand its history, which hasn’t always been pleasant. They have been conquered many times and also chose to side with Germany in both World Wars, which didn’t work out well for them. They also used to be one of the largest and most powerful countries in Europe and their borders and influence have been drastically reduced after the losses in the World Wars. They were also absorbed by the Soviet Union after the war, which was another tragic period in their history. There is definitely a sense of pride and optimism with their inclusion in the EU, but they don’t shy away from their history, including the role that the holocaust played within the country.

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Heroes Square Monument

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View of Buda from the Citadel

All in all, our initial impression of Budapest is that of a historic city with a complex history and culture. From the Hungarians initial migration from Asia to the Carpathian region, their ability to withstand multiple occupations, and the decisions that led them to be on the wrong side of history, there is much more to understand than just the typical palaces, castles, and cathedrals that dominate most visits to cities in Europe. In some ways, the fact that it rained a couple of days during our trip added to our impression of the city and its somewhat dark history. We look forward to providing details about each of the important sites to visit over the coming weeks.

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Inside the Courtyard of the Great Synagogue

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Historic Tower in the Castle District

 

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Day Three in Budapest

Yesterday was another rainy day, but we definitely made the most of it.  First we went to the Parliament Building, then saw the monument called “The Shoes on the Danube” (which we’ll explain later), the Saint Stephen’s Basilica, a wine tasting, and then the Hungarian National Museum before heading to dinner. It was exhausting, but completely satisfying. It seems like the weather is turning better, so we are definitely looking forward to drying out over the next couple of days. There are still so many things to see, but until then, here are a few photos of our day.

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Parliament Building

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Shoes on the Danube

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Inside of the National Museum

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Walking to the Basilica

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Wine Tasting

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Inside of the St. Stephen’s Basilica

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Standing in Front of the Parliament Building

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Museum Exhibit

 

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Wet and Rainy Day in Budapest

Despite some cold and rainy weather, we managed to have a wonderful second day in Budapest yesterday. The highlight of the day was the Dohany Street Synagogue, also known as the Great Synagogue since it is the largest synagogue in Europe. It is fascinating and beautiful, but the history of the holocaust that accompanies it is equally tragic. Afterwards, we went to one of the ruin bars in Budapest, which are bars built in dilapidated buildings with an artistic and colorful flair. Many more places to visit tomorrow, but here is a taste of our day today.

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Hungarian Street Art

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Details Inside the Dohany Synagogue

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Having Drinks at a Ruin Bar

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The Synagogue is Beautiful

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Museum Depicting the Jewish Ghetto of World War II

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Walking the Streets of the Jewish Quarter in the Rain

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Whimsical Art at the Ruin Bar

 

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