Wednesday August 17: Budapest Hungary
Transfer to Hotel
I'm sitting in the hotel in Budapest, as I type this. In theory we still have this evening and all day tomorrow as part of our tour, but it really feels like we've already ended it. We left the ship this morning, so the boating portion of the trip is over. We are on our own for this evening and most of tomorrow. The only real Viking activity is that we're scheduled for "Budapest at Night" tomorrow evening.
Last night, both Amy and I slept reasonably well. We got up at our usual 6:30, did the final packing, I forgot to shave, we put our bags out into the hallway, and then we went to breakfast. While we were eating, we could see them carrying the bags up the gangplank and over to the busses.
Coincidentally, we had breakfast with Nancy and Duane, which was a couple that we sort of got to know throughout the trip, and which happens to have been opposite us on our first Viking lunch in Bucharest. They were going on to Amsterdam. Actually, I think 2/3 or 3/4 of the people were doing the longer cruise.
After breakfast, we cleared out our room, said goodbye to the house-keeper, I rested in a lounge chair on the top deck for a half hour, and we departed for the ubiquitous bus. We had about a 2-1/2 hour drive (with one bathroom break) to get to Bucharest. In a car, that would seem like a long trip, but it isn't as bad on a comfy bus where you can slouch down and sort of doze as the bus goes along.
We got to Bucharest around 11:45. Then we had two hours free time at the big market. We had lunch at the restaurant there. Then I used the restroom. I thought it was free for patrons of the restaurant, but I had to pay to use it. Apparently, I did things backwards. What I should have done was to pay to use the toilet, gotten a coupon at that time, and then presented the coupon to the restaurant, where my fee would be deducted from our bill.
I don't mind using currency like the Pound or Euro where the exchange rate is between 1/2 and 2. I find it much more confusing, for example, here in Hungary. The cost of an item is 8500 in local currency. Is this a lot? A little? I can't really tell.
After lunch (which was serenaded by a duo, with one guy playing the fiddle, and one guy playing some variation on a hammered dulcimer) we spent about an hour wandering through the shops there, looking for Christmas items. In hindsight, I wish I had bought some stuff at the Folk Art Museum yesterday. At the time, I didn't want anything for myself, and I wasn't thinking about Christmas gifts, so I didn't. But now I am thinking that the stuff there was probably of higher quality than the stuff you would get in the tourist shops, and it would help support the local artisans. Too late now.
Then we got back on the bus for the panoramic tour of Budapest. It was almost impossible to get decent pictures from the bus because of reflections from the bus windows, but I tried. We stopped for one short excursion, so we could get some decent pictures of a monument and see the (man-made) lake and a mock castle.
Then there was some more of the tour, and we ended up at the hotel. Too late, I realized that I needed my passport to check in, because I had left my passport in my luggage. So I had to go over to where they were unloading the luggage from the bus, wait for them to unload my bag, get my passport, and then rejoin Amy in line.
The hotel is pretty ritzy, and it faces the river, but first impressions aren't ideal. Amy wanted a cup of tea, but the coffee/tea machine seems to be not working. I took a shower, and the tub drained fairly slowly, so that I was standing in a few inches of scummy water by the end of the shower. (I waited for the water to drain, then turned the water on again long enough to rinse off my feet.) The TV system has a weather app, but the current conditions and forecast were all "N/A". The thermostat is interesting. It is marked "degrees C". The problem is that there are no numbers on it! There are a bunch of tick marks. Perhaps each tick mark corresponds to one degree Celsius, but without knowing what at least one tick mark corresponded to, it might as well have been marked degrees Fahrenheit or just "arbitrary units".
It was pretty hot today, which doesn't bode well for tomorrow, as tomorrow is supposed to be hotter than today. This is particularly the case as we will be on our own tomorrow during the day, so that we won't have a bus. Either we will be walking, taking a taxi, or using public transportation.
The hotel is on the east side of the Danube, so our window faces west. That means that any picture in the late afternoon (i.e. now) is pretty bad as you are shooting into the sun, and all of the landmarks are in the shade. It should look better tomorrow morning or possibly tonight after sunset.
We went out to have an early dinner (~6:30), with the plan to wander around after the sun had set and it was a bit cooler. We picked one of the recommended restaurants (Cyrano's) and got some directions from the Viking staff.
We got to where we thought it should be, but we couldn't find it. We looked all around, to no avail. Google maps to the rescue! I put in the name of the restaurant, and almost instantly found that we were one block too early. We went one block further, and it was obvious.
On the way, we passed through a "square" or sort of a paved park. There were two lines each with about a dozen wooden "sheds" or "stalls" being assembled. There was a really big celebration (St Steven's day) going on in two daysí time. I think it is sort of like the 4th of July but bigger, maybe like the 4th during the bicentennial.
We really weren't that hungry, but we wanted to eat sooner than later while the sun was still up, so we got a table outside. Amy ended up just getting an appetizer, Pigeon Breast. To keep up with the bird theme, I got roast duck. It was only about two dollars more than the appetizer, and while I wasn't sure I could eat all of it, I figured that it was better safe than sorry, and Amy could always eat more if I couldn't.
I started to order a lemonade, but on Amy's advice I switched it to elderberry. Over here, these seem to be more soda water flavored with the fruit of choice.
Amy got some sort of non-alcoholic cocktail, but she also tried to ask for a glass of tap water. The guy tried to sell us a bottle of water, but Amy said no. A bit later, he came out with two glasses of tap water.
I was glad I went with the duck--it was really good. I thought it was awfully dark, and I was wondering if the leg was even darker, but afterwards I found out that it was boneless leg meat. It was very, very tender, not dried out in the least, and very tasty. Amy's pigeon seemed sort of vaguely similar to liver.
There was a single slice of pepper on my plate that I never tried. At the end, Amy asked if she could have it and I said sure. Amy started eating it, and almost had a heart attack. It was apparently a very, very hot pepper. She of course spit it out, but she was gasping for air. She drank copious quantities of water.
Speaking of which, we were seated next to some sort of monument, and halfway through dinner, Amy noticed that there was water flowing out of it, and that people were drinking it and refilling water bottles. Amy was surprised that she hadn't noticed the water earlier. I opined that I wouldn't trust water from a source like that. A bit later, the water had stopped. Later still, it was running again, and someone was filling their bottle. I guessed that there was some sort of control on the opposite side.
After we finished dinner, we went around to the other side. There was a fairly heavy wheel. It turns out that this operates a pump, which presumably pumps water out of a well. The wheel was massive enough that it had enough inertia that you could spin it up, go around to the spigot, and catch the water coming out long before it spun down.
We wandered around a bit, and Amy got a chimney cake ice-cream. Think of it as a variant on a waffle cone. The chimney cake is make by rolling out some dough into a half inch snake, wrapping it around a wooden frustum of a cone, rolling that on a board to sort of semi-seal the coil into one unit, roll that in some sugar, and then put it on a glorified rotisserie to bake. Amy got a vanilla one with chocolate ice-cream inside. I didn't care much for the cone--it was chewier than cones back home, but the ice cream (soft serve) was tasty.
We wandered past the “Budapest Eye” (Ferris wheel), and down to the river. Amy sat there, while I went back to the hotel (which was right next to the river) to get my big camera and tripod. I met up with Amy and started taking pictures of the lighted buildings across the river.
A man and his wife stopped to talk with me, first about my camera, and then about life in general and politics. It turns out that he is Hungarian, but he has been living in Australia for the past 15 years. He asked me what I thought of Trump, and I told him in no uncertain terms.
Afterwards, Amy went back to the hotel, took a shower, and did some laundry in the sink. I wandered along the river bank looking for photo opportunities. I didn't get very far. The Chain Bridge (where we were) was closed for maintenance. The next bridge up was further than I cared to walk. I did go up a ways, however, and got some better angles on the churches and other buildings that I had been photographing across the river.
Tomorrow morning, we're going to try to get a somewhat early start, before the heat gets too bad.