Budapest Shopping: Buda

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ABOVE: Kimberley negotiates with an eager vendor at Ecseri Flea Market.

Ready to give that credit card a workout? The good news is there are fewer temptations than you’d find in larger cities like Paris and New York.

“The bad news is, there is none,” says Dabble’s Editor in Chief Kimberley Seldon. “Arrive early and bring cash. The selection can keep you busy for hours.”

1. “Vintage Herend Porcelain, turn of the century objets d’art and fine oil paintings,” says Kimberley, “are just some of the goods I look for at Ecseri Flea Market.” Visit during offseason when prices are very favourable. However, do be prepared to find busts and portraits of Mussolini and Hitler in multiple stands (though these infamous items are tucked away during warm weather months when tourists are more plentiful). History buffs may appreciate communist memorabilia. The market is open on Saturday. Cash is king, though many vendors take credit cards. Also check out these amazing painters in london.

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ABOVE: Herend porcelain.

2. Make sure to bring a good pair of walking shoes and wear sunscreen when you visit Szentendre, just outside of the city centre. It’s easy to lose track of time in this popular destination for visitors and local weekend pilgrimages. Nestled among the hills of Buda, the folksy village-turned-artistrefuge has shopping opportunities galore. Not to mention several museums, colourful restored buildings and restaurants decent enough to make spending four to five hours here a pleasant outing. Look for handmade pottery, jewelry, embroidered linen and hand blown glass to tempt your spending resolve.

3. Although the styles are diverse, Hungary has more than one famous ceramics house. In addition to Zsolnay’s Art Nouveau pieces (which are admittedly an acquired taste) there is the perennially pleasing Herend Porcelain. Founded in 1826, Herend specializes in hand-painted and gilded porcelain for a discerning worldwide clientele. Many of its classic patterns are still in production.

Budapest Architecture: Buda

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Architecture buffs may find Budapest’s range of styles somewhat head-spinning.

Roman amphitheatres, Gothic and Neo-Gothic styled cathedrals, Turkish baths and Secessionist (Art Nouveau) buildings give the city an architectural ambiguity that only underscores its many charms.

1. Though the original Royal Palace with its Gothic and Renaissance foundations was destroyed and rebuilt many times, the Habsburgs built a completely new, small Baroque palace in the beginning of the 18th century. Today, Buda Castle (Kiralyi Palota) houses the largest collection of Hungarian fine art at its Hungarian National Gallery. Explore the gardens and nearby restaurants and make a half day of the visit.

Dabble Savvy: Had history been different, we might know the names of Hungarian artists as well as we know Monet, VanGogh and Picasso. Hire a guide to enjoy the impressive collections.

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ABOVE: Ernst Galeria owner Eleni Koranis strikes a pose beside a 1920s iron rocking chair from Vienna. Her Pest gallery specializes in furniture, paintings and ceramics from the turn of the 20th century.

2. A visit to the lobby of the Hilton Budapest Hotel nets a surprising glimpse into antiquity, as it’s built on top of the ruins of a medieval monastery. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is in the heart of the Buda Castle district, beside Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. If it’s time for lunch, the Icon Restaurant offers spectacular views of the Danube River, Chain Bridge and Hungarian Parliament building.

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ABOVE: Zsolnay ceramic vase.

3. Like so much of Hungary’s finest architecture, Matthias Church (Mátyástemplom) is a victim of various invasions. Perhaps the most devastating, a century and a half of Turkish occupation, resulted in the whitewashing of ornate frescoes and confiscation of the church’s ecclesiastical treasures. One of the most striking features from the 19th century restoration is the church’s ornamental roof, covered in pyrogranite ceramic tiles developed by Zsolnay.

Dabble Savvy: Father and son, Hungarian natives Miklós and Vilmos Zsolnay, received worldwide recognition for their porcelain and ceramics. The iridescent, frost-resistant tiles were a popular building material during the city’s prolific Art Nouveau period.

 

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.