Thursday

Travel Hungary. Unesco World Heritage sites, Ruins, Restaurants and Coffee Shops in Budapest


Parliament Budapest - The moment you realize that reality is better than a fairy tale

I jumped onto a plane to Budapest. From Berlin the flight time is one hour plus a few minutes. Just in case you wonder, Budapest in Central Hungary is the capital city of the country. Why am I in Budapest? I'm in town to drink coffee and eat cake, to photograph house façades and doors, to search for street art and to look at the Parliament at night from over the river Danube on the Buda side of town. Mission accomplished, Budapest is a fantastic town to visit.

Budapest: A perfect mix of ruins and Unesco World Heritage sites

The city is a photographer's dream; you find one grand city palace next to the other, mostly built during the 19th century. Ever since 1849 the Chain Bridge over the Danube connects the borough Buda with the borough of Pest. Buda and Pest combined gave the city the name Budapest. Do you know of any other town where they did this too?

Walk through the Jewish Quarter to learn about Budapest’s Jewish heritage, in this area of the city centre you’ll find the largest European Synagogue as well as many cafes, restaurants, street art and bars that found their home in ruins. Not far from there is the St Stephen’s Basilica, the largest church in town, that is named after the first king of Hungary. The impressive parliament building, designed in Neo-Gothic style, sits right on the banks of the Danube and could easily play the main part in any fairy tale, it looks so very magical. Imagine that it houses 691 rooms that are connected by 20 kilometres of stairs. 3,500 people were shot by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944/1945 at the banks of the Danube so that their bodies fell into it and were carried away. There is a Holocaust memorial near the Parliament, 60 pairs of shoes. How can something this atrocious happen in a magical place like this?

A short walk over the Chain Bridge, on the Buda side, there is the over 700 year’s old Matthias church. Its colourful ceramic tiled roof is an outstandingly beautiful feature. The seven towers of the Fishermen's bastion (the bastion is named after the fishermen who were here to protect it from a probable invasion by the Mongolian army) represent the tents of the seven tribe leaders that lead the Hungarians at the end of the 9th century. The grounds look medieval but were actually built in 1905. From here you have the most magnificent view over the city.

All over town there are still so many buildings that are in desperate need of repair, which allows one to imagine brilliantly how the city must have looked during the time of the cold war, before the Berlin wall fell and the iron curtain was lifted. 

Parliament Budapest

Fishermen's Bastion - Sunset over Budapest
 

Budapest is easy to navigate and it is a great walking town. There is a lot of traffic, as is in every bigger town. The air isn't as pure as one would hope it is, but never mind, just walk, it is a failsafe way to get to know the city proper. In case you want to use the metro. The M1 of the Budapest metro system opened in 1896, it is the first underground line in Europe, and is UNESCO heritage listed. Line 4 is a driver less one.

Here are a few places where you can recharge, in between and after sightseeing in Budapest ... You know, I walked so much, I felt 'hungary' most of the time ... (Funny right? I reckon Hungarians are a bit tired of this one).

Gettó Gulyás – Dinner at a barn in the Jewish Quarter

As I stroll through the Jewish Quarter in search of nothing in particular, just a wander you know, I walk passed this super cute restaurant. They won me over the moment I saw the dried meadow flowers in huge clay vases with which they decorate their window sills. I'm only human after all. I book a table for the same night. The walls of this place are covered in corrugated iron-sheets, and also corrugated plastic ones, there is straw stashed behind. These features create an atmosphere of having dinner in a barn in the country side. Since they offer home cooked-style food, I admire that somebody, who obviously must have very clever decoration skills.

At night the room is candlelit and cosy. I know it is a public restaurant, there are prices on the menu, but I could just as well be at someone’s home for dinner. The white bread to start with is freshly made and served thickly sliced. There are two vegetarian stews on offer, one with beans and one with mushrooms. I order the mushroom version with homemade sour cream and egg noodles. The Gombapaprikás házi tejföllel, tojásos nokedlivel (I copied that from the menu) comes with a lot of sauce, and that goes very well with the bread.

For dessert I order the cottage cheese dumplings. The Házi túrógombóc fahéjas tejföllel (again copied) are covered in bread crumps and served with a generous sprinkling of icing sugar and a sour cream cinnamon sauce. This isn’t too sweet and a perfect end to the meal.

Gettó Gulyás in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest

Details: Gettó Gulyás. Wesselényi utca 18. Budapest, Hungary. Phone +36 20 376 4480 Hours: 12pm to 11pm.

Printa – Eco Concept Store plus coffee shop in the heart of Budapest

Have a browse at this light and airy store in the Jewish quarter. Browse through clothing, unusual accessories or cute graphics and prints. Wares are all produced environmental friendly. This is the perfect place to stock-up your T-Shirt- and reusable cloths carrier bags cupboard (who actually uses plastic bags still). If you are after a Budapest-themed souvenir, this is where you will find it. Don't leave without having a coffee at Printa's two-table-big-café to enjoy the lively atmosphere.

Details: Printa. Rumbach Sebestyén u. 10, 1075 Budapest. Hours: 11am to 8pm. Sundays closed.

Solinfo Café – Where the light things are

The Café is run by a retailer for lighting fixtures, and the first things you’ll notice are the 12 different styles of lamps designed by Tom Dixon installed all over the place. There is easy listening Jazz music. Guests are a mix of locals, business people, tourists and guys with beards. The café is directly opposite the impressive Dohány Synagogue. There was a medal on the counter that said the manager came second in the Best Hungarian Barista 2016 competition. The Cappuccino, made from Vergnano espresso and prepared on an Elektra coffee machine had a delicious smell, it was a tiny little bit too weak for my taste.

Details: Solinfo Budapest, Wesselényi utca 6, 1077 Hungary. Hours: 8am to 8pm.

New York Kávéház (Café)

This is probably the most romantic café one can visit. Not only that, the cake alone is worth the trip to Budapest. The New York Café in Italian Renaissance-style opened its doors in 1894. Silk. Velvet. Chandeliers. It is here where heaven and earth meet. After I reject my allocated table in the basement (it is like wearing Crocs, there are certain things I don’t like) the smiling receptionist finds a beautiful table on the main level. I order the Opera Cake, and I can say it is among the best cakes I ate in recent months, and being a cake lover, I visit again to eat the Sacher Cake, and same same but different. Perfect texture, rich, melt in the mouth chocolate, not too sweet. There is a live piano player and when he finishes a two man group starts to play live gypsy music. The music has, just as the cake, the right sweetness … a dream really.

New York Cafe in Budapest

Details: New York Café. 073 Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 9-11. Phone +36 1-8866-167. Hours: 9am to 12am.

Mazel Tov – A drip from above in a stylish ruin restaurant

The wait of 40 minutes at the door felt like it was over in a blink, it was well worth it. Imagine a huge hall with a glass ceiling, decked out with ornate white garden chairs, wooden tables, and industrial style lamps over a colourfully tiled counter. Hanging flowers and garden lights create an al fresco feeling. You could in theory be somewhere warm, enjoying an open-air dinner on a balmy summer's night. I feel like cocoa powder poured into hot milk, it just feels right.

I get a table at the side of the restaurant, directly under the hanging plants, and every now and then a drop of water would fall onto my head. I find this too funny, since Mazel literally translates into “a drip from above.” What a coincidence. A DJ is playing mixed up cover versions of classic jazz tunes. Loudly. He is having as much fun playing the air guitar as the guests have with their food.

The restaurant is a heaven for Vegetarians. There are, if I remember correctly, nine vegetarian options. Gasp. I mention this since it is so rare for me to spend time with a menu at a restaurant. I have a ball to decide what to order instead of the usual quick scan for the (very often) only vegetarian dish on offer. The Tahini dip plate came with pita bread and classic, a green (Pesto) and a pink tahini (beetroot). My second starter is Grilled Eggplant. As a main course I have Mallawach. Yemen style pancakes with a boiled egg, tahini and a spicy sauce (the latter should undoubtedly be labelled as hazardous). The Vanilla pudding with rosewater and coconut had a lovely texture, the rosewater aroma was subtle but strong enough, I still wanted more after I finished, and not because I’m a gluttonous wolverine ... it simply was so good.

We stay till well into the night and the restaurant is still busy when I step out into the night and onto the dark streets of Budapest.  
 
Mazel Tov in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest

Magical Mazel Tov in Budapest

Details: Mazel Tov. Akácfa utca, 471073 Budapest. Phone: +36 70 626 4280. Hours: Monday to Friday 6pm to 2am. Saturday to Sunday 12pm to 2am.

My Little Melbourne Coffee – Bad Coffee is Over

If you live in Melbourne it is (I would go so far to say) normal to think, drink and talk about coffee all the time. The coffee culture in Melbourne is legendary, as soon as I became infected with that infamous espresso-drink-lifestyle-bug, I knew there was no going back. In Melbourne it is so very hard to get served bad coffee. You can imagine how my heart skipped a few beats when I saw the sign of My Little Melbourne. I almost run towards the store. There are posters of Brighton Beach in Melbourne, stickers from popular Melbourne local Café St Ali, you find Melbourne designed Keep Cups and even cookies made in Victoria (the Australian state of which Melbourne is the capital). There are only a few seating options, and there might be a lack of space for all the crowds queuing up for coffee, but there certainly is no lack of smiles despite all the busyness. The Flat White prepared on a Synesso with Workshop Coffee Espresso has a thin foam cover and tastes not too bad; it was sadly slightly on the weak side. In the window there are letters that say “We love to make coffee for coffee lovers,” and that reminded me of Market Lane, a roaster and café in Melbourne. The Melburnian baristas take it one step further of course with their slogan “We love to make coffee for the city that loves coffee.” If you love Espresso based drinks, this is the place in Budapest.

Details: My Little Melbourne Coffee. Madach Imre ut 3., Budapest 1075. Phone: +36 70 394 7002. Hours: Monda to Friday 7am to 7pm. Saturday/Sunday 9am to 7pm.

Budapest Coffee Shops: My Little Melbourne Coffee - Printa - Solinfo

Book Café Budapest – Lotz Hall

The Book Café is on one of Budapest’s grandest streets, on Andrássy at house number 39. Standing on the boulevard you see a seven-story high Art Noveau building. The heritage listed building is more than 100 years old. It opened in 1911 as a department store, and offered everything one could wish for. The former ball room hall was decorated with murals in neo-Renaissance style by Karoly Lotz. In WWI everything changed and the department store offered cheap goods. The owners had to flee the country in WWII, and in the following years of nationalization the department store became an ordinary warehouse before it became a store again. An investor bought the property in 2005, and in 2009 the bookstore opened its doors to the public. Walk through the bookstore and get up the escalator and you reach the magnificent café house in the former ball room. The welcome is warm; the choice of cakes huge and the coffee is not too bad. You can easily spend a few hours here eating cake, reading the papers or just people watch. The hot chocolate is delicious too, made from French Valrhona chocolate. I was so lucky to sit on one of the dark velvet sofas along the walls, under the huge mirrors from where I had the most spectacular view of the coffee house scenery.

Book Cafe - Lotz Hall in Budapest

Details: Book Café Budapest, Lutz Hall. Paris Department Store. Andrássy út 39, 1061 Budapest, Hungary. Phone: +36 1 / 461-5835. Hours: 10am to 8pm. 

Walking the streets of Budapest

Budapest. I end with a quote. Happiness, not in another place, but this place, not for another hour, but for this hour. Walt Whitman.

From Berlin with love

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Greetings stranger. I always try to be myself and to be a tourist as often as I can. I would love to get in contact with lots of hard travelling tourists who love to be out and about as much as I do. I am looking forward to all your comments. Thanks so much in advance.