Budapest Experiences: Pest

Travellers keen to save some steps on the way up to Buda Castle can ride the funicular for 840 HUF (US $3.75) each way. On busy days, wait times can be up to half an hour, but it may be worthwhile if a 30-minute climb through parkland doesn’t appeal to you.

Dabble Savvy: Sit in the lowest car to enjoy the best views of Pest as you head down the hill.

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1. Spend a cultural evening at the Hungarian State Opera where the music and skill of the performers will charm even reluctant opera goers. The magnificent Neo-Renaissance style building, completed in 1884 and modeled after the Vienna Opera House, is one of the city’s most beautiful.

Dabble Savvy: Hungarians dress up to attend the opera. A simple black dress or an elegant pantsuit is a good choice. Folk Dancing is a popular Hungarian pastime and concerts are available throughout the city and even on boats which cruise the Danube. Ask your concierge for a recommendation as locations change frequently.

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2. Széchenyi Bath and Spa is one of the largest medicial baths in Budapest with18 pools in total, 3 outdoor and 15 indoor. Rain or shine, locals and visitors take to the water, enjoying the healing benefits of the thermal water and some of the city’s best people watching.

3. The lyrical Moorish Revival style architecture makes Dohány Street Synagogue one of Budapest’s most recognizable buildings. Its history makes it one of the most memorable. Built between 1854 and 1859, the fanciful decoration derived from Islamic influences. A guided tour includes the Great Synagogue, the Heroes’ Memorial Temple, the graveyard, the Holocaust Memorial and the Jewish Museum.

Dabble Savvy: Unless you wish to worship, avoid visiting on the Sabbath (Saturday) and holy days.

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ABOVE: There are no words to accurately describe the impact of the empty bronzed shoes. Echoes of the men, women and children forced to stand at the river’s edge to be shot, falling into the Danube, following World War II. Their stillness speaks volumes.

Budapest Architecture: Pest

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ABOVE: A distinctive onion dome atop the Moorish revival style Dohány Street Synagogue.

1. Admirers say Art Nouveau is stunningly beautiful, with its fanciful forms, shimmering colours and stylistic freedom. Detractors have a different opinion, suggesting the 19th century style is simply dreadful. Regardless of your position, Budapest offers some fine examples of the style which is frequently referred to as Secessionist. The Budapest Zoo is one such example, though some sections veer heavily towards kitsch.

Dabble Savvy: It’s worth a stroll to see the front gates if you’re in the neighbourhood anyway. Budapest Zoo is near the Széchenyi Baths, Gundel Restaurant and Heroes’ Square.

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2. Hungary’s most important church is St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István Bazilika). The 10th century neoclassic style church is named for Hungary’s first king, Stephen I. Avoid crowds and visit in the evening when the artfully lit exterior shames even a full moon. If you plan to do a daytime tour, there is a small fee.

Dabble Savvy: Fans of the macabre may want to pay an additional fee to have the lights turned on in the ‘Chapel of the Holy Right’, to view the mummified fist of King Stephen.

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ABOVE: Every detail of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace is memorable. The lobby’s graceful Peacock Gates are in the Secessionist style (Art Nouveau).

3. A stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace is a pampered experience. Every detail is perfection, every service exceptional—staff stand at attention as guests walk the hallway en route to rooms distinguished by carved walnut doors. Located near the foot of the Chain Bridge, the impressive Secessionist building has an illustrious history—first as headquarters to the Gresham Insurance Company, then a girls’ home for etiquette and, during World War II, as barracks for Soviet soldiers who burned the furniture for warmth. Restored in 2001, the renovated staircases, stained glass and mosaic tiles by Zsolnay create a lasting impression.

Budapest Shopping: Pest

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1. Closed to cars, Váci utca is Pest’s premier shopping street. Despite the usual suspects, like Italian department store Coin (Coincasa section has fun bedding and kitchenware) and the typical tourist spots where you’ll find Hungarian gifts no doubt produced in China, there are some lovely stores selling clothing, jewelry and porcelain. Don’t miss the chocolates at Csokoládé & Delikat.

Dabble Savvy: Chocolate shops are always air conditioned, making them a real draw on the hottest days. Bacchus is a wine shop with a good selection and attentive staff. Café Molnár’s sells kürtoskalac or rolled donuts with coconut, cinnamon, chocolate and almonds.

2. Sure it’s touristy, but there’s no way you come to Budapest without at least a cursory visit to Grand Market Hall, (Nagycsarnok). Most of the goods fall into the souvenir category, but there are some exceptions including lovely leather bags, Bavarian textiles and exceptional food. Find a lunch counter on the second floor and enjoy a spicy Hungarian sausage with red cabbage and cold beer. Then check out the selection of paprika on the main floor.

Dabble Savvy: There is a clean, coed public toilet at the back of the market,130 HUF (US$0.60).

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3. Ernst Galeria owner Eleni Koranis (ABOVE) eagerly shares her enthusiasm for Hungary’s turn of the century artistic accomplishments. Her design-savvy shop is filled with fine art paintings, ceramics (including pieces from world-renowned Zsolnay), as well as sleek furnishings from Eastern Europe.

Welcome to Budapest

Before politics compromised Hungary’s influence, its capital twin cities—Buda and Pestrivalled Paris as a centre for fine art and artistic and intellectual achievement. Though evidence of Budapest’s post-Nazi, post-Communist restoration is abundant, the process is by no means complete, leaving an opportunity for the curious traveller to witness the past while watching the future emerge.

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ABOVE: Romantically described as the Pearl of the Danube, Budapest is a city of extremes. Pest’s dramatic skyline features St. Stephen’s Basilica at its centre.

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Twin cities, Buda and Pest are divided by the Danube River.

ABOVE: The Gothic spires of the Hungarian Parliament building in Pest.

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ABOVE: Baroque sculpture on Buda’s Castle Hill.

Budapest Food: Pest

Conversation flows as easily as the local Tokaj wines and lusty European beers.

First time visitors are bound to leave with a newfound respect for hearty Hungarian food (chicken paprikás alone is worth the airfare) and the enthusiasm with which locals participate in the enjoyment of a good meal with friends.

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1. A must-visit gem of Hungarian home cooking is Café Kör. The restaurant is fairly small, not terribly picturesque, and the staff is not overly affectionate. However, the meal makes these minor issues tolerable. Perfect goulash, sublime veal tenderloin and a Viennese style, thinly pounded wiener schnitzel with parsley potatoes are just a few favourites.

2. Klassz lives up to its name which means super rather than classy, as we initially guessed. The bistro style setting is cozy and contemporary and the food has an international rather than Hungarian vibe. Its location at 41 Andrássy út is another bonus, as it’s an ideal spot for a stroll before or after dinner.

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3. Andrássy útca with its wide sidewalks and celebrity storefronts is the street locals like to think of as Budapest’s ChampsÉlysées. It’s also home to a second location of Baldaszti’s, the gourmet grocer and restaurant. Come for lunch and enjoy the lively industrial chic atmosphere.

4. Café Gerbaud is an iconic café but truth be told it feels lost in its history. Sit outside and have an iced coffee or enjoy an artisan pastry from the front counter. Otherwise, there are better places for a sit down meal.

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5. Grocery Store gifts: Always a great resource, grocery stores frequently carry jams, sugars, and sweet treats that are gratefully received back home. For foodie friends, pick up a bag of poppy seeds for 449 F (US$2) or crushed walnuts 729 F (US$3.30) and pair with a cookbook to make traditional poppy seed or walnut pastry roll known as “beigli”.

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ABOVE: Dabble travellers enjoy a group strudel stretching session. (FROM LEFT Debbie Fellows, Pamela Landry, Pat Pfrimmer, Sharron Cook and Kimberley Seldon.)