Day 3: Sat. Sept. 23, 2018:
I had woken up in the night with hip pain and a headache. On my way back to bed Brent asked what time it was and I checked my phone, it said 6:30- we had made it most of the night! Hurrah! Until I realized I had never changed my time zone, it was just after midnight and we had yet to beat the jetlag. Brent was so worried about falling asleep yet in minutes all I heard from him was snoring. I eventually fell asleep and slept through the night but I was worried at first. My 8am wakeup call was a gentle staring-at by Brent. Right as we were leaving our room to head down and catch the ride to our tour we got a phone call saying they were here. Perfect timing. Once we got outside a bit of confusion ensued, there was a minibus parked outside and Brent boarded and asked if it was the tour and all he got back were confused stares. The cabby parked next to the bus perked up, we were looking for him. He drove us to a hotel across the river which was the starting point for our day trip. The plan was to go up by bus and see some small towns and then cruise back down along the Danube. We were delayed by 30 minutes waiting for the Italian couple.
Esztergrom was our first stop of the day. There was a giant beautiful cathedral high up on a hill looking down onto the river and across to Slovakia. We went on a tour of the grounds, circling the cathedral before finally getting to go inside. During our walk I realized that for some reason, all the dogs we had seen thus far were just so much better than the dogs we usually see back home. I had no idea why I thought this. We had a mini tour once inside the cathedral but the view of the domed ceiling was obstructed by restoration work. The altar was enormous and gilded in gold as far as the eye could see. After that we had 15 minutes of free time to roam about. We passed by a stand selling grilled Camembert, alas the guy seemed to just be setting up and it was not open yet. I checked on our way back as well but still no-go. We could here the church bells ringing- meaning we were late getting back to the bus. No worries we thought, everyone was probably just slowly making their way back. This was not the case. We got there and just saw rows and rows of white buses- we had failed to remember which was ours. Thankfully the tour guide popped his head out. We were the last ones back, everyone was already in their seats. We drove across the bridge to have a look at the cathedral in all it’s glory, sitting atop a hill overlooking the river. It was a little bit odd that all we did was cross a bridge and suddenly I could understand half the signs around us (Slovakian is close to Polish). Ten minutes later we were back on the bridge heading back to Hungary.
We drove to another small town, again on top of a small mountain/big hill for lunch. The gentle rocking of the bus and the passing foliage lulled me right to sleep. I tried so hard to stay awake for the views but I couldn’t stay awake and I woke up in the restaurant parking lot. The restaurant had gorgeous views and I could see why it was our pitstop, I did wonder whose idea it was and who was getting the kickback (if any). Lunch started with biały barszcz with goulash. When we first sat down Brent wondered if there was any bread in the basket, I said probably not given it was there when we sat down and there were no salad plates or butter. Once our soup arrived though I thought there had to be bread in there. This dish calls out for a good slice of rye. Turns out Brent had been right and our soups were saved- made better actually. Up next we were served a plate of sauerkraut, which everyone at our table immediately took to eating. I knew it was the side of our main and held out. They all ended up getting a second helping after the confusion was resolved. The sauerkraut was not that good, it was a bit dry and therefore rubbery. Our main was chicken and turkey, schnitzel and breast. There was no way of knowing which was which- turkey breast and chicken breast are virtually indistinguishable. The breast was kind of dry and the schnitzel was too greasy and I was not a fan of the panko breading- give me some regular breadcrumbs! The potatoes were the clear winner- having sopped up all the grease. The schnitzel was good when taken with forkfuls of sauerkraut. For dessert we had a sponge cake with rum-chocolate ganache and whipped cream. It was initially plated all nice & pretty but it quickly devolved into a sopping mess that was hard to eat.
Up next the bus took us to our final destination for this leg of the tour: Szentendre. Inevitably I had fallen asleep on the bus again. It was a combination of the gentle rocking of the bus and the large lunch. We went on a short walking tour towards the centre of town and then we were free to roam until it was time to board the boat for our journey back to Budapest.
It was really difficult to find the entrance to the Margaret Kovacs ceramics museum. We walked by a sign for it but it didn’t look right. We Googled it and Google said we had just missed it. Even still, we ended up in the exit café and gift shop. On our way out we ran into the tour guide who pointed us in the right direction while extoling his love for the café. Her ceramic artwork was beautiful.
We considered doing the museum of miniatures but first we would wander the town a bit to give ourselves a break. We stopped at the Museum of Marzipan shop to get some marzipan because why not. It tasted like the fruits it was shaped into and it was not overly sweet. It was some of the best marzipan I’ve ever had. It was cute looking and I felt kind of bad eating it, someone had worked really hard on it and now I was just destroying it. We wandered around, cutting down random alleys, backtracking when they didn’t lead anywhere. At some point we climbed some stairs and found ourselves on the grounds of a beautiful little white church. A boyband/pop-duo was nearby filming a tacky music video. One of them was in a bright cherry red suit. It was an assault on the eyes. The song they were singing sounded vaguely familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. Then I heard the words “Puerto Rico” and it clicked: Despacito. Brent was unsure but I kept insisting, what other song has Puerto Rico in it?! As we kept listening it became obvious I was right. From the church courtyard we could see the rooftops of all the little shops down below. On the edge of the wall below us was a cat lounging on a square of grass, cleaning itself and complexly oblivious to my desperate attempts for even a glance- simply being acknowledged by the cat was all I wanted. If it came over I would be overjoyed. Alas, it was not in the cards for me and I had to content myself with failing to photograph it thanks to my crappy lens (which would become a theme during the trip). As we walked down the narrow stairs beside that wall I saw two more cats! I was thrilled and just about ran over- squealing with joy. Only one of the cats was interested in me- which was more than I had expected. My fun was quickly ruined when a slobbery and rude dog came slobbering through looking all dopey. As we walked down a few more alleys we realized we had to get back to the boat. I was over the town. It was quaint, with cobblestones and lamp shades hanging like Christmas lights. On the flipside there were so many vendors all selling tourist-y crap and so desperate and calling out to passersby. We walked back along the river so we could say we saw everything.
We got some of the last seats on the top open-air deck, our tour group had now merged with regular customers on the boat. There may have been a reason that our bench was the last to be taken. We were seated in front of the most insufferable two guys of all time. What a day to leave the iPod back in the hotel room. Every day after this I always made sure I had it with me at all times. They were young, mid-20s, and just so dumb and such douche-bags. There were moments when it seemed unreal. I wondered if maybe I was witnessing performance art? Theatre among the people? These two could not be real. It had to be an act. One was taking a selfie, the other said, “haha, dude, the camera’s facing the wrong way,” to which Dummy 1 replied “memories, bruh.” One of them remarked how livable Budapest is and how he could totally live there for a few weeks. I wanted to turn around and yell. The lowest point was “Danube? More like smoke-a-doob,” which would only have made sense if he then proceeded to light up… which he didn’t! Thankfully Brent came to my rescue and offered me an earbud and we listened to Serial S3E2. This definitely makes him a contender for Husband of the Year- and he’d only been a husband for a week.
We entered into Budapest around 6pm just as the sun was slowly starting to set behind Buda Castle. Parliament was awash in golden light- reminding me why I love photography so much. We got dropped off near the hotel where we’d started. We walked back to the shopping arcade, I was in desperate need of hand cream and I’d seen a L’Occitane there. We had dinner at McDonald’s but we had to decide fast- there weren’t any kiosks and we had to order at the counter. What’s a McFarm?! A JackLiner?! We would have to research those later once we were back in the hotel room. The spicy McNuggets did not deliver what they promised: yes the breading was slightly seasoned but nowhere near something I would call “spicy.” The BBQ sauce was the clear winner: it was smoky and bourbon-y, way better than what we get back home. Brent had a weird pseudo-BigMac/QuarterPounder that had a different bun and a shortage of cheese. Instead of fries we got potato burgonya, which was basically a complicated way of saying potato wedges. I was tempted by the Snickers McFlurry but it was overpowered by how much I did not want to go back in line. This McDonald’s had the fastest service we have ever experienced anywhere. Brent was barely finished paying and already our food was on a tray and ready to go.
We stopped at what was becoming our regular convenience store (two times= we are regulars of course) for drinks. I found watermelon margarita that had a chicken on the bottlecap and a new cider I hadn’t tried before. We also grabbed the red Delirium I saw yesterday and some snacks. We slowly made our way over to High Note Sky Bar. It was confusing, as we got closer I kept craning my neck up to see the giant building but there were none more than a few stories high. What kind of rooftop bar was this? I thought it was going to be high up, the Toronto Star had promised me views of St. Stephen’s Basilica. On the way we stopped to gawk at a neon-lit obstacle course. It was confusing because it had a net all around it and there were no contestants in sight. We stood there watching, trying to figure out what it was, it was called DRON something. Then we heard a quiet buzzing and the event started. It was a drone obstacle course. Now the name and the netting made sense. It was kind of cool to watch them maneuver the course, making tight turns and not crashing.
We got to the bar early and asked if we could just be seated now. The problem was that Brent could not show the email confirming our reservation because in his phone it looked like it had been made for the following afternoon which made no sense. Thankfully because we were so insistent on having a reservation we were seated no problem. On the way I had wondered why there was no coat check, especially given this place was kind of on the fancy side. Once we sat down I totally understood, it was damn cold. I had forgotten that rooftop bar= outdoor patio. I was so mesmerized by the view of the castle off in the distance, past the ferris wheel that when Brent offered to switch seats with me I was confused. As soon as we swapped I saw why: this was the view I had come for: the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica all lit up. I had actually momentarily forgotten when we sat down. We started off with a round of Palinka- both because it’s a drink Hungary is known for and also because of the similarity to my name. We had an apricot one and a plum one. The apricot one was better. I ordered a glass of white wine because it was from the Tokaj region of Hungary, known for their wine. Brent’s first beer was a delightful local cherry beer that tasted like juice. His second beer was supposed to be an IPA but as the server poured it (terribly, one of the worst pour’s I’ve ever seen, all head) he noticed that it was dark. That wasn’t right. He came back with the correct beer and apologized. After he left I noticed that the IPA was called Double Check. I cracked up, it was perfect. Nothing on the food menu had caught our fancy, but we had gotten snacks earlier.
We gawked at the Basilica lit up from the plaza down below. Buda Castle was similarly lit up as were the Chain Bridge and the Liberty Bridge. The brownie Oreos were a lie. They just tasted like chocolate Oreos. The Le Coq watermelon margarita tasted like juice but that made it a perfect shower drink. I had done it. I had finally stayed up until my regular bed time. Goodbye jetlag!