In recent years, Budapest has become a destination for travelers. It was only 1991 when the streets of Budapest were still under Soviet occupation, and Karen and I were well aware of Budapest’s evolution in such a short time. The city’s beauty has been well documented, and so we embarked on an ambitious day trip from Vienna. The train is 3 hours each way, and we knew we would have to cover ground quickly when we pulled into the station around noon. But the weather in Budapest had other ideas.
When we exited the train station, the Hungarian capital felt like a foreign country more than any place we had been. With the temperature below 20 degrees and the wind whipping across our faces, we took cover in a nearby coffee shop to get our bearings and warm up. It was well worth it, as we stumbled into the home of the “square donut” and some fine coffee. Serendipitous and a good start.
From there, we took a taxi to City Park, which is home to the Szechenyi Baths, Vajdahunyad Castle, Heroes Square, and the largest outdoor ice rink in Europe. The boys walked out on a frozen pond for the first time and we all paid tribute to the tomb of the unknown soldier at Heroes Square. After nearly an hour braving the cold, we sought cover in an Italian restaurant on Andrassy Avenue.
After lunch, we took a taxi cab to Book Cafe and Lotz Hall. Cassius has never seen a bookstore he didn’t like, and even in another language, shelves lined with books strike his fancy. What makes this bookstore truly special is that it is connected to Lotz Hall, which may be the most beautiful room on planet earth to sit with a book and a coffee. The palacial ceiling and walls are lined with decorative, inlaid gold you might expect to find in the Palace of Versailles. It is truly spectacular and worth a quick stop for anyone who travels to Budapest.
After escaping the cold at this beautiful venue, we walked to The Great Synagogue–the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world. It seats 3,000 people and stands as a glorious monument to the Jewish faith, its history, and its complicated past in the Austro-Hungarian region. It’s filled with decorative wood, stained glass, and a warmth rarely found in religious buildings. On our whirlwind day, this stop was a must and it lived up to its promise.
After a little walk to stop at a Hungarian restaurant for coffee, tea, and dessert, we called a cab to take us on a tour of Parliament, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastión, and the Royal Palace before heading back to the train. Each was special in its own way. The Parliament building is the second largest in Europe and is incredibly striking. Atop the Castle District, the Matthias Church glows majestically and Fishmerman’s Bastion looks out over the glorious palace and the entire city landscape with the Danube splitting Buda and Pest in two. All around us, the lights glowed. People strolled down cobblestone streets and peeked their heads into quaint shops. Down below, the busy streets stretched out into the distance, filled with taxis and horns and the rush of this ever changing city. Our day had come to its conclusion, and our driver took us back to the train station, which is an architectural wonder all its own. By now the light had faded, and we sensed the harshness that greeted us at this very same spot early in the morning. The cold winds re-emerged as night burrowed in, and we were ready to take cover. Moments later, we boarded the luxury confines of our high speed train. The kids plugged in their electronics and we were on our way back to Vienna. The sleek, train plunged unapologetically into the dark landscape, carrying us headfirst into 2017. Budapest seemed to be moving at a similar pace, vanquishing the remnants of the Cold War in search of a future that is impossibly bright.