Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Three Day Vacation in Budapest, Hungary

Every couple of years, our business partner for The Wirie goes on a vacation with his family. Since he is responsible for the assembly and distribution of our product, we usually put a notice on the website that new orders will not get shipped until a certain date, when he is back a week or two later. Mark, who is responsible (among many other things) for customer support, continues work, wherever we are. That’s what happens when the product is your “baby”, you are extremely responsible, you want customers to be happy and you hate catching up on all the piled-up emails and phone calls afterwards. That’s why Mark and I never go on a holiday. Luckily, our lifestyle as house and pet sitters is diverse and exciting enough as we move locations a lot and enjoy the weekends as mini-vacations.

My favorite view of the new-to-us city

This spring, however, we had the greatest of ideas! We did not take a full vacation as Tim set out with his family to Italy, but we added a few lines to the notice on the website, the automatic email response and our Wirie answering machine. It said: “The Wirie crew is on vacation from May 18th through June 4th, 2017. No orders will be shipped during this period and customer support might be delayed. Requests by email have a quicker response rate than by phone. Back orders will start to go out on June 5th and customer support returns to normal then as well. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”

Chain Bridge seen from above

It worked! It was amazing. It was great! 🙂 Mark’s “relaxed” attitude about responding to inquiries helped us tremendously, when flying to Belgium and being there the first two weeks, getting settled at my parents’ place, dealing with the jet-lag, going on a long weekend to Friesland, the Netherlands and even planning a little getaway, just the two of us. Not that there was much planning involved! Lack of time and feeling sick prevented us from making a decision and booking plane tickets until 40 hours before departure. I guess you can call this a last-minute trip. Our first choices, Barcelona and Krakau had become unaffordable this late in the game, so we went with a decent alternative: Budapest. Apart from a little camping trip to Acadia NP in Maine last October, this was the first real vacation (in a hotel!) Mark and I took since starting our business in 2009.

Since the plane didn’t leave until the evening of June 1st, Mark and I decided to drive to Charleroi (where our Ryan Air flight departed from), walk around town a bit and have lunch. This industrial city does not have much to offer. After half an hour of strolling through its dilapidated and dirty center, we ate a late Chinese lunch and opted to spend the remaining hours at the airport lounge. With our fancy credit card, we don’t only collect extra miles, but we have this amazing perk that is easy to get used to!! The lounges in Boston and San Francisco, however, were much nicer than the one in Charleroi…

Once in Hungary’s capital, we took public transportation (which is easy and cheap) to Hotel Charles on the Buda side of the city and arrived late. The lobby clerk surprised us with an upgrade for a bigger room, with a wider bed (two twins next to each other) and air-conditioning, which came in handy, as the temperatures reached into the nineties (30s Celsius) while we were there. We loved it! Sun, warmth and blue skies for three days. Once again, we lucked out with the weather and we took full advantage of it.

On Friday, our explorations started in earnest. We walked over one of the bridges spanning the Danube into the city center. We had planned to join a two-hour walking tour with the highly recommended “Free Walking Tours Budapest”. Our guide Peter led us around parts of town – the flatter and more crowded Pest side and the hilly, greener Buda side – and showed us an affordable, local cafeteria for lunch. We tipped him generously (which is the idea of the free walking tours J) and had our first typical Hungarian meal: mushroom goulash for Mark and a meat/potato lasagna for me. The portions were huge and heavy. We needed a minute to let our stomachs settle and start walking again!

We remained on the Buda side, the Castle Hill district, for most of the afternoon. I really liked strolling by the historic buildings and through the quit, narrow streets. Highlights like Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion are much busier. We joined the crowds for a visit inside the church with its colorful, painted and stenciled walls, and found a level on the bastion that had free access. The views were incredible and reminded me a bit of St. Petersburg, Russia.

We crossed the Chain Bridge into Pest again and glanced inside the cheaper and more intriguing St. Stephen Basilica. The interior was grotesque and spectacular with a lot of marble and glass-stained windows. By coincidence, we stumbled across its biggest attraction: St. Stephen’s holy right hand on display! He was the first king of Hungary. If pickled body parts creep you out, please skip over the next photo gallery.

Mark and I finished our first and busiest day in the Jewish Quarter with a quick pass by the Grand Synagogue, a drink at one of the famous ruin bars and a healthy dinner in a “street food” corner.

On day 2, Saturday, we took it a bit easier. Kind of. We walked to the Citadel, not too far away from our hotel and climbed to the top of Gellert Hill, the tallest one, where a massive monument welcomes the exhausted climbers. It is – ironically – called the Monument of Liberty.  It was erected in 1947 by the Russians to commemorate the liberation of Budapest and Hungary from the Nazi rule. It is also a communist monument to celebrate Hungary’s being part of the Soviet rule, as the citizens weren’t really free after the liberation, but remained occupied by the Russians. Nevertheless, Hungarians grew to love the statue enough not to remove it in 1989 when Hungary became a democratic country after decades. The views are spectacular, especially along the hike up.

Back down, we had lunch at the Central Market in Pest. Be warned that – at least at the stand where we bought our meals – you pay for the cardboard boxes used as trays and you pay for everything they suggest you take with the meal, like sauerkraut, red cabbage and pickles! It doubled the expected price of our lunch.

Our afternoon was spent relaxing at Gellert Baths – what a treat! Sitting outside was wonderful, soaking in all the hot baths, sporting different temperatures was divine, trying out a Swedish sauna and a Turkish steam bath was eye-opening (and very sweaty) and dunking ourselves in icy tubs was invigorating! When you are on vacation, you might as well spoil yourselves a little bit. The cost was $20/ person.

In the evening, we returned to the Jewish Quarter, by bus this time, to check out a couple of other ruin bars and have dinner. This area is famous for its (affordable) bars and restaurants. Walking back home around midnight, to see the “city by night”, we were surprised by the hordes of European youth and the not so young, getting drunk in the bars and on the streets. Budapest must be a popular college student, midlife-crises and bachelor party town!

Sunday was the day to check out of our hotel, store our bags to pick up later and explore another part of the city on foot. We walked for miles, along the National Gallery, over the Chain Bridge, past the exquisite Parliament building and deep into the city, all the way to City Park, where Heroes Square and Vajdahunyad Castle, a castle straight out of a fairy tale, draw most of the attention. We found an outdoor bar/snack bar to have lunch and took a nap on the shady lawn. Our vacation finished in the lounge of Budapest Airport, complete with a healthy meal and a complimentary full-bar!

Conclusion: Traveling with Ryan Air was not the best or most comfortable experience, but the planes left on time and the rides are affordable. If you know what to expect (next time!) it is not a bad deal. Mark and I truly enjoyed our long weekend away. We took it relatively easy, because we were not feeling 100% health wise and cherished the unusual “no rush vacation feeling”, but feel like we experienced a good chunk of the city, leaving enough undiscovered for a return trip!

(Click on the photos for a bigger version and captions.)

Insider tip: When withdrawing money in Budapest (at the airport or elsewhere), the ATM machine asks “Do you accept the local exchange rate?” Anyone would just select “Yes” as we did the first time. Don’t! While the machine notes there is no ATM fee locally, bad exchange rates and fees from our own bank caused us to lose over 10 euros on a withdrawal of 100 euros converted to florins. Instead (and we did this the second time around), select “No” as the answer and agree with “not knowing the exchange rate”. This transaction set us back only an extra 3 euros.

For more about Budapest, check out my blogging pal Anabel’s blogs who visited the city for a week in March.

Have you ever been to Budapest? What was your impression? What is your favorite city trip? Why?

40 Comments

  1. What a great escape! I am going to take detailed notes on your post and add them to my September plans, which include some time in Budapest. Lots of good info here (especially about the ATMs – ha), and I really enjoyed reading about your time away from work for a few days. I could actually FEEL your relaxation!

    • Lexie, that relaxation, that was quite a concept! I think we might try that again, one day. It seems to only be possible to do on vacations, though, or on a rainy weekend. If the sun is out, we have to explore our new, ever-changing surroundings with the dogs we sit. 🙂 How nice that you will be in Budapest in September. Where else are you going? I know you have been planning and anticipating a lot. What’s on the agenda??

      • We are driving and stopping to hike frequently, primarily in Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, a bit of Austria, and the Czech Republic. Can’t wait!

        • Sounds wonderful, Lexie! Especially about Slovenia, I have heard amazing things. I have a Belgian friend who is taking her family there, to the National Park, to go hiking as well in July. Enjoy!!!

  2. So glad you were able to take a ‘real’ vacation. Everyone needs time off to rejuvenate. Sounds like you had an interesting excursion. I love those old cathedrals – beautiful architecture.

  3. Wow Liesbet, you and Mark sure know how to pack a LOT into a three day weekend and yet still relax. I think that’s a special skill!
    I love your travelogues. You provide really interesting information, including lots of great details, and the photos are excellent.
    As for favorite city trip, I’m generally not a fan of cities – I like small towns and rural areas – but I did absolutely love San Francisco. The vibe was relaxed, traffic wasn’t too crazy, and there was tons to do.

    • Karen, one of the nicest things during that trip was not being in a rush (we didn’t leave the hotel until 10am every day), and not once (well, maybe once) talk about work. It was a new concept to me and one I gladly repeat one day. In general, we prefer nature to cities, but there are a few beauties out there. I second your choice of San Francisco. It is one of my favorites in the US (together with San Diego and Washington DC), and, at the moment, it is right across the bridge. 🙂 If we find the time one of the next two weekends, we might head into San Fran again for a waterfront walk.

  4. I’ve never been there, but your pictures make me want to visit. I’m sure you picked up several of those Babushka Trump dolls for gifts! I’m glad that you two were able to take a few days off without worries about the business.

    • Yes I agree with Jan. I have never been there and those photos of the Matthias Church and over the city are great. Will be interesting to see if you are able to do this on a regular basis, hopefully you will be able to. More freedom not having a dog in tow 🙂

      • Unfortunately, this will not happen on a regular basis, Suzanne, since we stick to a work schedule during the week. We do hope to go on some two-day weekend trips in the US, near the places of our future house sits, this summer. One of these (in New Mexico), actually, is without dogs, so that will be interesting. It was a bit weird to be without pets for eight weeks, visiting friends and family this spring!

    • It was a nice break, Janis, but I have to disappoint you – no Trump nesting dolls! No souvenirs at all. Actually, that’s a lie, I had some local money left at the airport, just enough for a shot glass. Small and useful. 🙂

  5. Our best friend was born and raised near Budapest, in fact he spent his summers learning to windsurf on a lake near there. I’ve never been anywhere in Europe, but one of these days, we hope to go (Hans has been several times to Germany, Austria, Rome, etc. Your vacation sounded wonderful and very glad to hear you were actually unplugged from work!

    • It was nice, indeed. Maybe one day, you and Hans can go on an extended European city trip holiday, Terri. There are so many amazing, historical places to discover. Nothing beats the US National Parks, though!! 🙂

  6. Staying up past midnight?! Seems like you really got to experience and enjoy a lot even though you weren’t feeling 100%. The pictures are amazing! How wonderful to finally have a bit of a more relaxed time away from work. Hopefully the next vacation will be sooner than another 8 years!

    • We are very impressed with ourselves every time we last past midnight, Lucy. This doesn’t happen often, not even on New Year’s Eve. We are still used to and more comfortable with Cruiser’s Midnight. 🙂 I have a feeling our next vacation will be before another 8 years, now that we tasted it (and know how to notify customers and not feel too guilty).

  7. What an amazing trip, and absolutely stunning photographs, Liesbet. I loved reading about Budapest in both your and Annabel’s blogs. Great tip about the ATMs. I will definitely keep that in mind!

    • Thanks, Donna. We didn’t find out about the ATMs until after doing some extensive research. Maybe a little side trip to Budapest from Spain this summer? 🙂

  8. How great you guys finally got a well deserved real vacation in a wonderful new city!. We have not been to Budapest but your wonderful photos sure make me want to get there! Looks like you covered a lot of ground in a few datys..

    Ooh I love hot baths, they are so relaxing and so much fun.The castle looks spectacular! Thanks for sharing your weekend getaway.

    Peta

    • Budapest is a city you get a decent feel for in three days. Nothing beats the location of your hot bath, Peta! And, much quieter and peaceful than Gellert Baths. 🙂

  9. Well, of course I loved this! I recognised all of it, except that we didn’t get round to trying any of the baths. Next time! And thanks for the mention at the end.

    • You are welcome, Anabel. I would have liked to split this long blog up (ideally over the separate days), like you, but I’m trying to stick to one blog a week (many other writing projects need my attention) and there is so much more going on in our lives right now, that I had to create the whole experience at once.

  10. How fun!! I’m jealous I have always wanted to see old buildings and architecture like that!!! And that food looks amazing!!!

    • I’m sure you guys will get to historic Europe one of these years. A second honeymoon, perhaps? Or a fifth anniversary… 🙂

  11. While Ryan Air or Easy Jet aren’t the nicest of airlines, they sure are cheap and a great way to get around Europe. We loved booking last minute flights on them when we lived in Scotland. Weekend in Paris for only 10 pounds a person? Sure, why not? 🙂 I would love to get to Budapest one day.

    • Those kind of deals sounds awesome, Ellen. Unfortunately, in our case, the tickets got higher the closer to departure. But, maybe we were looking at the wrong destinations. 🙂 My experience with last-minutes when I was still living in Belgium was the same as yours when you were in Scotland.

  12. I can tell you really enjoyed your ‘treat’, Liesbet, and it does look a beautiful city. I’ve never been. 🙂 Favourite? Florence, for sure. If I was greedy I’d add Porto, Paris and Edinburgh too 🙂 🙂

    • It’s hard to pick favorites, especially when it comes to places visited, pets and house sits. 🙂 I am not surprised that Florence is high up there, Jo, especially after your last visit. 🙂 Now, I have to check out Porto (and not only drink it) and Edinburgh!!

  13. Wonderful that you got a chance to take a real vacation. We have not been to Budapest but have heard great things and now will add your advice to the mix. Great tips about the extra charges at lunch and the ATMs. Hidden costs can really add up while traveling. As to Ryan Air it is a good budget airline. We had to wear our cycling helmets to avoid extra charges. Definitely got some looks.:)

    • Haha! That’s funny about wearing the helmets, Sue. I’m sure you were standing out. 🙂 I could see you two do a European multiple city cycling tour one day!!

  14. Thanks for the beautiful photos.And great idea leaving a message and contact by email! 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed the photos, Debby. Not sure what you meant with the “leaving a message and contact by email” – do you mean on the About Us page or so?

      • Sorry Liesbet. I meant good idea to leave a message on your business phone and website to inform customers about delayed shipping while you’re away. That’s considerate and letting them know they’re not being ignored. 🙂

        • Aha! I see. Thanks for clarifying that – I thought you meant leaving those things on the Roaming About blog. Yes, we are always transparent about what we do and which complications might arise and want the customer to come first (except when we are on vacation :-)). Actually, Debby, we are too honest and care too much about other people to be good (as in “successful”, as in wealthy) businessmen. Oh well – caring more about happiness than money is a good thing, right? 🙂

          • Be careful my friend. Exactly! There is such thing as being generous to a fault. 🙂 Happiness is most important, but we need money to live. 🙂

            • We are making sure we have enough money to live, and hopefully some to save as well. Let me just say that I’m happy we don’t need much and are low maintenance in life. If that were to change, we might have a problem. 🙂

  15. It sounds like a great break, Liesbet, and Budapest looks like a beautiful city. I’m going to have to keep my eye on Ryan Air deals once we finally get ourselves across the pond.

    Stephanie @ From the Towpath
    (I was too lazy to log out of WordPress and switch over to my regular SV Cambria)

    • Yes! Once you are in Europe, cheap flights are at your fingertips! Whenever we are there for a long time (and with some vacation), we’d love to take more advantage of it and plan a bit further ahead. 🙂

      (I was wondering why your comment came from “From the Towpath”! I’d do the same. Laziness is one of the many things you and I have in common. :-))

  16. Budapest is a spectacular destination! Excellent itinerary!

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