Budapest: August 2015

Budapest: August 2015

Last year, we celebrated our anniversary in Prague and we thought that was a cost- effective move - Budapest is on another level again. (In previous years, we visited Berlin and Bruges – perhaps we should have carried on the ‘B’ tradition). Sensibility

All we saw in Budapest were healthy people, sensibly dressed. Everyone just seemed to make an effort and were pretty much immaculately and appropriately dressed, although rather than in a Milanese, over-groomed way, I got a sense of practicality and comfort. People dressed for the heatwave and carried water. I saw two men wearing suits and ties – I put them down for being British tourists. The parks had mist stations that we could walk past or even under to cool down. This wasn’t the weather to be concerned about washing hair that had been messed up by water. Rather this is weather where my hair stayed up and away from my face for the whole week! I did wear a sun hat though so that helped in walking under the mist showers!

Free water

Everywhere. Temperatures were above 30c the whole time were there in early August and when we first saw water bottles piled up in one of the major train stations, we thought it was for sale or a promotion – just to take advantage of the heat. But no, they were giving it away to ensure people drank enough. Some of the trains were very old without air con.

After that we saw this everywhere. There were taps too but in the main shopping drag, the city gave away bags of cold water to refill bottles (for us sensible folk who carried 2-3 with us) or just to drink out of the bag.

They were practically forcing the water on you. Just a delightful exercise for the city to undertake.

Value

We knew Budapest would be almightily inexpensive, to the tune off £8 for a main course in a Michelin starred restaurant. I just didn’t quite believe it. We barely needed our £150 each for the 5 nights. Especially as everyone was giving away the one thing we needed plenty of, 24/7; water. We also had ice cream all the time, to the tune of a few pence.

Hot

In Berlin we’d missed the 28c heatwave, In Bruges it was a pleasant 23c or so and Prague did get to a stifling 28c at one point. So I didn’t quite believe it when we saw the forecast of mid-30s. Not one for the heat – I seek out at least one or two snowy trips a year – but Budapest was testing, it felt hotter than the 34c most days and it never got below mid-20s, not even through the night.

Zebra Crossings

I just notice these when I’m abroad, particularly in old European cities as we have none (that I’ve seen) in central Birmingham. It’s just nice to be able to cross the road when I need to.

Pride

This place, like many of Europe’s cities has been put through wars and internal turmoil and yet this very old city is sparkling. There clearly is a lot of pride in keeping it clean either through people, well just putting litter where it belongs, or the city regularly cleaning up. Inevitably I make comparisons with the city I live in, in particular my Jewellery Quarter neighbourhood which is littered 24-7. Our street stopped receiving the cleaning service last year.

The other aspect that has been prevalent in every European city - and North American, come to think of it – is how well maintained it is. Every brick in this beautiful city is replaced like for like and work seems to be completely quickly, even in the 34c morning heat! I imagined the road-workers to start at 4am so they can finish before the temperature reaches its draining high by noon.

I’m unclear as to why in Birmingham, our wonderfully paved paths are dug up and then just gravelled over. Only to be dug up again for another reason within a year. Would we take out beautiful old craftsmanship and replace with cheap make-dos in our own homes? And then spend money doing it all again a year later?

Does this happen to other UK cities? I certainly don’t see it anywhere in London. Bruges has as many cobbled streets as the heritage area I live in and yet it’s kept its heel-wrecking cobbled streets. Rightly so!

Hospitality

This is amazing everywhere. We are greeted immediately like they really value our business.

Our Hotel Palazzo Zichy gave us 5 star service. I believe the true test of customer service is how a business deals with a complaint. Nothing went wrong so I couldn’t test that theory here. The lounge was open to residents all day till 5pm so we could help ourselves, hot drinks, bottles of water – more free water - and snacks. We got addicted to peanuts and savoury sticks!

The breakfast here is the best I’ve seen anywhere in Europe, with maybe the heart shape waffle making machine in Reykjavik. There were hot food, cold food, vegetables and fruit, cereals and yoghurts and of course pastries next to the two coffee machines.

This is where we really noticed how efficient staff are in removing empty dishes. Out of the way, out of sight and out of mind so we can go and fill our plates again. Breakfast is not my most hungry part of the day so I can never take full advantage of buffets before 10am but I did aim to have something different on all five mornings.  heard Chic songs during three of those breakfasts and you know what they say, ‘your day is going to get better after hearing a Chic song’.

The fact that every member of staff working here greeted all diners and then bid them a good day is what I will remember about this exemplary hotel experience. We had this all through the hotel, wherever we passed staff.

Ruin Bars

They’ve used up old (communist) buildings and turned them into pop up bars. Some seem very raw, others seem more permanent and we went to a view. One where we had to climb a thousand steps – well it seemed like it for an asthmatic – without any signage (health & safety not huge here but common sense seems to prevail). Back in the JQ in Birmingham, we have numerous beautiful and empty buildings which, if I ruled the world, would be used for something like this while a permanent owner/user was sought.

Ornate

It’s back to the pride; everything is kept how it was or repaired to look that way. There are very few 1960s/70s blocks that we see in the UK or in other countries. Perhaps because Hungary only became a democratic nation in 1989 and the world now knew the importance of keeping our majestic old buildings.

We went to the top of Castle Hill twice to see the view. At first during the day, when it was 35c in the morning and we were completely drained by the time walked to the bottom of the hill. Then again at sunset when the city lit up and we commemorated our last night with a lovely cocktail – mine’s a Rose Garden, as in ‘I Never Promised You a…’ at the lovely Hilton. Well, lovely service and interior. I can see why people didn’t like the building when it was opened in 1977 and I’m surprised the red carpet and grand entrance hasn’t been added to befit the Hilton brand. Last night drinks here sure topped a fantastic anniversary break.

Budapest: Baraka restaurant

Budapest: Baraka restaurant

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Eating in Vancouver