Mon. Sept. 24, 2018:
I woke up around 9:30am, Brent’s alarm clock hadn’t gone off and he had been woken by the cleaners. Alas, this meant I was going to miss the hotel breakfast which only went until 10am. We walked over to the Great Market Hall in search of breakfast. It was just like St. Lawrence Market in Toronto with vendors in a giant building, all selling fresh veggies and meat. The second floor was dedicated to a tourist tchotchkes as far as the eye could see. Nestled in the corner we found a few food stalls. On the first floor our only food options were some bakeries and a small café I found down a hallway. I did not have high hopes for the café, it was more of a souvenir and liquor shop. I was pleasantly surprised when the lady proceeded to grind some espresso beans and use an actual espresso machine. It was also so cheap! Less than $2CAD. I was floored.
From the second level we had a view of the market down below. The upper terrace was crammed with tourists and we had a hard time getting around. Thankfully we got past them and found a stand selling mini-sausages in a bread cone. They had two sizes and the mini was the perfect amount of food. It was not as easy to eat as a hot dog. I alternated breaking off pieces of the bread and biting the sausages. The larger size was more like a hotdog with a better bread-to-sausage ratio.
After breakfast we walked over to the funicular to get to the top of Buda Castle but it was closed for maintenance. The one day we intended to ride! Now we had to hoof it uphill again, my legs were still so dead from the previous day. At the top I had mistakenly thought that the building in the main square was the castle. I was expecting that we were going on a tour of a proper castle. I was surprised to learn that Buda Castle referred to the whole complex on top of the hill and the castle building itself was where the art gallery was. I was looking at the church now. Oops.
We paid admission to go up a spire in Fisherman’s Bastion. The sign said that the admission ticket included a drink. What they failed to mention was that they meant a soda not alcohol. We opted to pay for drinks instead, they had Tokaj wine and the view was beautiful. This wine, Tokaji Aszu, was a lot sweeter and more of a dessert wine. From the mini patio we had gorgeous views of Parliament, the Danube River and St. Stephen’s Cathedral and of course all of the bridges.
We walked around the alleys. For some reason we went into the Hilton hotel, Brent had read something about it but clearly, we were in the wrong place. There was no sign of a casino or a nice terrace. It was a nice bathroom pit stop though so I did appreciate that.
We walked to the other edge of the hill that Buda Castle sits atop and looked down onto the other side of town. We walked back to the art museum, aka Buda Castle proper. Lucy had told me that there was really good ice cream to be had there and I had promised I’d try it. There was only one stand selling ice cream that day (the museum was closed). It was the tiniest little scoop of lemon gelato I have ever seen and in the crappiest of crappy ice cream cones. Halfway through it was just cone and I had to toss it. I wondered if I had been trolled. Had this all been a joke? We went around back of the museum and wandered in the general direction of our hotel. There were lots of pretty views but there were just as many tourists in the way. The wind knocked over a selfie-stick being used as a tripod, that was pretty funny to see. On our way down, we saw some horses and some guys in military get-ups. One of them was even resting on what looked like an army-issue cot- adding to the realism.
My legs were hurting pretty bad, I was really looking forward to relaxing in the Gellert thermal baths. It was confusing trying to find the hotel entrance to the baths. I didn’t want to lug all my stuff and have to get changed. The robes in the room and the info pamphlet made it seem like there was a separate entrance for hotel guests. We went in through the public entrance and then backtracked our way into the hotel. Back in our room I read over the info pamphlet again more carefully while Brent went to the spa to ask how it worked.
We had originally planned on going to the zoo after the baths and before dinner but those fell through because the zoo closes so early. We had the entire afternoon to while away in the thermal baths. When we first got there it was a maze of hallways and signs. Eventually we made our way to the first thermal bath by the pool. I was not a fan of it. It was not that warm and I was starting to doubt this place. Turns out it was just a mini pool beside the regular pool. Brent reported that the regular pool was even colder. I was already set on not going in, I did not feel like putting on a swim cap and risking a headache from it being too tight on my head. We wandered off in search of some proper thermal baths. The brochure said there were many and I was hell bent on going into as many as I could.
I finally found a nice one that I could lounge in. it had been designed so that there were two mirror versions opposite one another. I (mistakenly) assumed that they would be the same temperature. They were not. It was 3 degrees cooler in the second thermal bath and that was enough to have me running back to the first one. Beside the steam room there was a tiny little pool and Brent tried to convince me that it was a super warm bath. Except there was a guy beside us who was about to step into it but as soon as his toes hit the water he swore and complained it was cold. I looked at the little chalkboard sign, 20 degrees?! No way. I much prefer the 38-degree bath. The steam room was not that warm. We had to sit on the upper deck and even still. It was steamy and humid but not that warm. I had to bail pretty soon though as it was getting hard to breathe.
We went to the outdoor thermal bath, it was nice even though it wasn’t as warm as the indoor one I had liked so much. The cooler air outside made it more tolerable. We went into the “outdoor” (in that the structure was outdoors) Finnish sauna. The sign outside said it was 75-85 degrees Celsius. They weren’t kidding. It was broiling in there. I had barely sat down and already I was desperate to leave. It felt nice but it was too hard to breathe and I was certain I’d faint. One minute in there and sweat was just pouring down my face. I’ve never been so grateful that my glasses have plastic frames. Metal would have burned my face. As we left we saw people getting out of the bucket bath outside. I went first, dipped my fingertip in and recoiled. It was so cold. But I didn’t let on. I pretended it was nice and warm and I let Brent go in first. It was revenge for earlier. We went back to the outdoor thermal bath. Brent went to check out the outdoor pool and returned stating that it was weird because it was only ankle-deep. I was too cold to investigate.
Back inside we planned on going back to the perfect 38-degree pool except when we consulted the map on how to get back there (it was that much a maze!) we discovered we had missed one room with two thermal baths and a sauna! Off we went in search of the illusive last pools. Our goal was to go into every one of them. The first bath was 36-degrees, just not as good as my ideal one. The second one was 40-degrees and it was everything I had dreamed of in a thermal bath. I was done. I did not need to go see the other sauna. Turns out that sauna was way hotter than the first one. After the outdoor sauna I was set, I did not need any more sauna time. In the 40-degree pool I figured out what the temperature of my LUSH baths at home had been (same range).
I felt so nice and relaxed after all that time soaking. We still had an hour before we had to leave for dinner. I had worked up an appetite hopping between all the baths. I got comfy in my bathrobe in bed and cracked open a cider. The Kingswood apple cider from Romania was not good. It was like apple juice with malt. I was not impressed. Because we had a one-hour walk- on cobblestones no less- I packed my heels in my purse. As I tried to put on my red & blue striped dress from the GAP (my go-to formal dress) I realized to my horror that the zipper was stuck and misaligned. My dress was toast and I didn’t have a backup. Panic set in almost immediately. I gave up and wore jeans.
On the way we stopped at LUSH so I could buy a massage bar for my itchy legs. They didn’t have the seasonal gingerbread one and instead I got Wiccy Magic Muscles, the thinking being that maybe it would help with my sore legs at the end of a long day.
Over the course of the walk I only got hungrier. Walking over the cobblestones I was discovering parts of my legs I did not even know could feel pain. We were early so we walked around the park for a bit. We saw the most well-behaved dog of all time, playing fetch while being on a leash. The dog wanted the stick so bad but did not tug once on the leash.
At Gundel’s I felt very underdressed until I looked at the group in front of us. Most of there were in fancy dress except for the one guy wearing trackpants. At least I was wearing purple jeans. Most of the people in the restaurant were dressed pretty casually but I still felt a little bit uncomfortable. There was a live band playing and periodically one of the musicians would walk around to tables and ask for requests.
With the bread we got a weird honey-mustard/butter combo. It looked weird but tasted oh-so-amazing. To the point that I now wonder about mixing the two and attempting to recreate it at home. Up next we got a “gift from the chef,” beef carpaccio with mushrooms. It was ok but I was expecting more from such a fancy restaurant, the dish was kind of bland. Brent had the clear fish soup, as recommended by his 1000 Foods to Try Before You Die book. I had the goulash soup. Mine was the clear winner, by far. It had giant chunks of meat and lots of paprika. Brent ordered the Dover sole for his main (despite the hefty price tag) again recommended by the book. We could see why it was so expensive when the dish arrived. They fileted and de-boned it tableside- which was super awkward as that is a rather difficult task, never mind when you have two people watching you struggle. I had the breaded quail. It made me wonder why so many Hungarian dishes are breaded and fried. The breading on the quail was so thick, a solid layer of panko crumbs instead of a light dusting of bread crumbs. I was not impressed. I was also not enjoying the sauerkraut, it was too dry. The house-made kettle chips were the best part by far. We were way too full for dessert after all that food.
We walked to Doblo Wine Bar for a nightcap. It worked out perfectly because it was at the halfway mark of our walk back. Brent had a pinot noir and I had a cuvee dessert wine, both from the Tokaj region. The bar was great and had a really nice atmosphere. There was a jazz band playing. I finally managed to unload some of my Hungarian currency, as the next day we were heading to Austria. On our way back we also walked through a shopping arcade that had been repurposed with restaurants and bars, creating a mini entertainment district for tourists (all the signs were in English).
In the main square I could smell the chimney cakes being baked as we came up behind a stall. I had to get one, it was our last night in Budapest and it is known as a Hungarian street food. Alas the chimney cake I had was stale, not freshly baked. It kind of made sense, they have to cool down before you can put ice cream in them but even still I was disappointed. I’d had a better one in Toronto. We stopped in at the 0-24 shop, brent got a few more beers for the evening and I got a Powerade for our day of travel tomorrow (and to use as a water bottle in the future).