The last day of our cruise was jam-packed with activities. Uniworld obviously wanted to make up for the low water problems by adding as many activities as could be squeezed into our last day in Budapest. Fortunately we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the Gundel Gardens restaurant after our visit to Heroes Square, which gave us time to re-charge our inner batteries.
On the way to the restaurant, I noticed a clunky little white car parked along the curb. It stood out among the sleek modern cars and I realized it was a Trabant.
The Ramblers have an interest in automotive history and I had read about the “car that was made out of cardboard in East Germany.” Actually while the Trabant frame was made out of steel, its body was formed of a hard plastic (Duroplast) in the days before fiberglass was commonly used in cars. While it wasn’t particularly study, the Duroplast was light weight. This was a good thing because the Trabant’s tiny engine (600 cc) produced perhaps 26 hp and slowly accelerated to its maximum speed of 62 mph.
The Trabant was built in East Germany from 1957 to 1989 and in Germany from 1990-1991. The Trabi, as it was called, was a joke in the West, but a prized possession in East Germany. Those who had Trabants took good care of them as if you ordered one, it might take years to get it. The average Trabant ran for 28 years. Today they are collected by some who appreciate a low cost way to buy a collectible car. Trabi enthusiasts race them in rallies and modify them in various ways. However, the one we saw parked in Budapest didn’t seem to have been modified in any way.
Gundel’s is located in the city park, near the Budapest Zoo.
The zoo seemed a little neglected although it has a famous history, in fact it is one of the oldest in the world, founded back in 1866. Many of its buildings seemed to be in an intriguing art noveau style. I learned later that the zoo is quite up to date, although the paint on the buildings was somewhat faded, like many others in Budapest.
I wish we could have had a chance to visit but our busses rolled right past and stopped at the door of Gundel Gardens.
Gundel’s is probably the most famous restaurant in Budapest. It was founded in 1910 by Karoly Gundel and taken over by his son in the 1930’s. Unfortunately, the Gundel family lost the restaurant when it was socialized by the communist government of Hungary in 1949. After the fall of communism, it was taken over by two Americans and restored to its former glory.
Gundel’s serves traditional Hungarian food and Hungarian wines. Would have love to have seen a menu, but Uniworld had ordered us a traditional Hungarian lunch and the famous palescinta or crepes with chocolate sauce for desert.
The wines were also Hungarian and excellent. The entree was chicken paprikasz, The food was tasty and efficiently served by waiters in traditional formal uniforms. We sat at large round tables with fellow passengers, who by this time, were our old friends. All in all, it was a very pleasant experience in a beautiful paneled dining room, and over too soon.
Gundel’s has a tiny gift shop where I was able to buy some equally tiny cook books as souvenirs for the cooks in our family and some Hungarian chocolates. The Rambler had finally realized she would be boarding a plane for home the next day and had bought absolutely nothing for her family and friends at home. However, our next stop was the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Matthias Church, and I knew from a previous visit that I would be able to buy some authentic Hungarian paprika there. Must be in the genes because we all enjoy chicken paprikasz and use lots of paprika. Most of the better Hungarian brands are not imported into the US, so it makes a great souvenir.
The sun had come out again when we reached our last destination, the Fisherman’s Bastion.
We had stopped there the previous December on the Christmas Markets cruise. However we didn’t bother to walk onto the viewing platform as the skies were pouring down chilly rain. Today the view of both Buda and Pest with the Danube in between, was wonderful. Many consider it the best view in Budapest. Despite its medieval appearance the Bastion was built between 1899 and 1905 of white stone. Its style can only be described as a meeting of Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque.
it looks like something that might have been conjured up by Sleeping Beauty and King Arthur.
The Bastion has seven towers, representing the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian basin in 896 AD, which later became Hungary. To reach the viewing terrace from the lower level streets, you must climb a massive double staircase but if you were bussed to the top to view the Matthias Church, you need climb only a few steps. If you are wondering how this fairy tail confection got its name, it was built on the site of an old rampart dating from the middle ages.
This particular rampart was defended by the fishermen who lived in a town on the bank of the Danube.
The day we were there, a book fair had been set up in the square in front of the Bastion. The Rambler had a brief thought of buying a children’s book in Hungarian for her little grandson, however cooler heads prevailed and she later settled on a T-shirt.
We didn’t enter the Matthias Church, which is actually St. Stephens.
You can read about it in my Christmas Markets post on Budapest. It is beautiful both inside and outside and has an amazing tiled roof, much like the Stephensdom in Vienna we had seen the day before. The Ramblers decided they surely would not like the job of replacing the tile on that roof.
As we walked back to our bus, busses were not allowed at the top of the hill, I noticed a small supermarket. Just what I was looking for. I knew they would have a variety of paprika’s and at better prices than the souvenir stores. Sure enough, they carried an extensive line of what seems to be the Hungarian national spice and I was able to chose an excellent variety for the family at home. At this point, we hadn’t even seen our hotel yet but when we got there, we wouldn’t have time for the great paprika hunt, and I was right.
In Budapest, our friends from the MT were split up among four or five hotels, all close to the Danube. Ours, the Sofitel Chain Bridge, was visible from the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Pest side of the Danube, however we didn’t realize this at the time.
As we neared the hotel, we could see a number of police vehicles and police personnel in riot gear. Fortunately they were ready to leave and we were able to check into the hotel with no problems. We later learned that there had been a protest about the Syrian refugees right in front of the hotel. Luckily we didn’t get caught up in it.
The Sofitel was also a 5 star hotel but very different from the Ritz, much more modern in decor and architecture. However, it had one thing the Ritz did not, a wonderful view of the Danube and the Chain Bridge.
The Ramblers could have just relaxed in their room and enjoyed the view but that was not an option as we would be going to a folklore dinner in about an hour. We had a strong temptation to miss it, but if we did, we wouldn’t have a chance to say good-bye to our friends from the cruise, or eat dinner. Actually the Sofitel had a fine restaurant but we ended up going to the Czarda dinner with our friends from the cruise.
Getting there was half the fun.
We learned that the Szeker Czarda Restaurant and hall was on an island in the Danube and it was not easy to get there. We went quickly from urban to rural, and our bus driver had to carefully cross an arm of the river on a narrow old bridge. Wish I could have taken a picture, but it would have needed hopping off the bus, which wasn’t going to happen. The restaurant itself looked like a hunting lodge and its reception room was furnished as a rural Hungarian home would have looked around 1800. We were welcomed by smiling hosts who offered us a traditional shot of fruit brandy and a piece of salty cake. From there we were ushered into a large room with banquet style tables where we were served a home-style Hungarian meal accompanied by Hungarian wines.
From the beginning we were serenaded by an excellent Gypsy band and as the meal was winding down, the Honvel Dance Ensemble entertained us with traditional folk dances. The dancers were wonderful and the Ramblers were glad they had chosen the Csarda Dinner. At the end, the dancers invited some of the guests to participate, as I slunk back in my chair. Dancing has never been my forte. Not surprisingly some of our fellow passengers did step forward and at least one of the guys did very well.
When the performance ended, we knew it was time to head back to our hotels, but there was time to exchange hugs with many of our friends. On the bus, we realized how tired we were, and sank gratefully into our seats for the last drive to our hotel. We got a short tour of Budapest at night; it is one of the most beautifully illuminated cities in Europe.
When we finally got to our room it was almost 11 PM. The Ramblers debated whether to put on our jammies or just sleep in our clothes. The jammies won, but it was really hard to get up when the alarm went off at 3 AM. We had an early ride to the airport; our van was to leave at 3:45 AM.
One thing to keep in mind if you get your air fare from your cruise company, you are probably going to leave the boat early. They want to clean the ship ASAP as the next group of guests will be arriving shortly. So we with our luggage, sleepily headed for the waiting van. The Ramblers were the last to climb aboard which just shows how tired we were.
The Budapest Airport is small and this was early on Sunday morning so we were amazed to find a huge crowd already there when we arrived. As it turned out, they all wanted to leave because of the refugee situation. It was not fun to be part of a struggling mob, but Uniworld had a representative there who helped me print out our Lufthansa boarding passes. We got our bags checked and then managed to get to the back of a very long line of people waiting to get through security. The Hungarian airport personnel were overwhelmed by these unusually large numbers and for a time we wondered if we would make our connecting flight to Frankfort. Fortunately we did make it, although because of the metal I carry around, I had to endure a very unpleasant search. I have found that explaining that have had a double hip replacement makes absolutely no difference to the security people. The Senior Rambler must have looked harmless because he got right through. C’est la vie!
On the final leg of our adventure we enjoyed an uneventful flight on Lufthansa. Due to the kindness of a flight attendant, we were able to move to the Lufthansa extra comfort seats. I had tried to book them at Frankfort, but the representative was not very helpful. When we boarded we walked right past a bunch of empty extra comfort seats. As tired as we were, it was wonderful to move up for a long flight. We had bulkhead seats, and even though the same crying child was again on board, it gave up early on the return trip.
Again we were glad to see our daughter waiting after going through customs. As we didn’t have anything to declare except paprika, we walked right through with a “Welcome to Atlanta!” Another great trip for the memory bank….