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Budapest, Hungary

Before reaching the capital Budapest we stopped in at Memento Park, another site full of communist-era statues that have no home other than a tip. It wasn't as big as Grūtas Park in Lithuania but it did have some impressive statues. It was raining the entire time so our visit was shorter than anticipated.

From Memento Park we headed for the local campsite, where we dropped off the van and jumped straight on a train to the city. The Budapest underground is the oldest underground in continental Europe, and it shows – I don't think I've seen trains so decrepit. But they worked, and that was all we needed. 

Full confession: I'm a little bit of a Harry Potter fan, and I was keen to see the final installment now that it was playing in cinemas. We asked at the tourist office where we could find a cinema showing English movies, and she directed us to one a couple of kilometres north. Off we trudged, through the rain, past a McDonald's/train station that was designed by Eiffel (fancy), and 30 minutes later we reached our destination. The cinema was all the way at the back of a large shopping centre, and when we finally arrived we received the displeasing news that the movie was only being shown dubbed in Hungarian. Frustrating. The lady helping us directed us to a guide of all cinemas in the city and advised which movies were shown in English. We found only one on at a reasonable time (i.e. not 10:30 a.m. or p.m.), which was way over the other side of town, but we had a few hours to kill so it didn't matter much. 

While we were at the shopping centre we decided to test the Hungarian food scene. First up was fried cheese, coated in breadcrumb. It was just a gigantic slab of cheddar cheese, which was sickening after a couple of bites. Next we shared a chicken paprika stew (whole pieces of chicken in a creamy paprika sauce) and an equivalent beef version, which were both excellent and more than made up for the cheese. It turns out that paprika was discovered in Hungary, so it's used in most dishes. By then we were ready to explode and were grateful for the long walk ahead.

 

And a long walk it was: two hours door to door, including photo-stopping time for me. On the way we passed the massive, Gothic Parliament House, which was absolutely fantastic - one of the best buildings we have seen in Europe so far. We were also mesmerised by great views of Castle Hill over the Danube. I couldn't wait to come back to explore it properly.

Finally we arrived at the cinema, bought our tickets and 3D glasses, and waited around for another hour until the movie started. The lady serving us asked if we had brought our own 3D glasses with us. Do people really own 3D glasses? Especially tourists? Well we do now, I guess. After all the effort I'm happy to report that the movie was exceptional, completely worth the struggle and now I can focus on exploring Budapest. 

Once the movie was over we caught a train back to the city and wandered through the centre to see the sights at night. Most of the buildings along the Danube were brilliantly lit up in white and yellow lights, with the reflections off the water adding to the dazzling sight. We haven't seen a city at night for so long because of the extended daylight hours up north, and we really appreciated the darkness once again. It was so enthralling that we missed the last train and had to walk an hour back to the campsite. We did a lot of walking today.

The next day we headed straight for Castle Hill, on the Buda side of the Danube. Of course with a name like that it was a steep climb to the top - I think my fitness will improve a notch or two while I'm in this city. Several buildings were scattered around the summit, the best of which was an old fort called Fisherman's Bastion. It was exactly like like a fairy tale sandcastle - it almost didn't seem real. From various vantage points along the Bastion were views stretching across the Danube and over to the Pest side, which would have been amazing if we had blue skies instead of the hazy grey that blanketed the city. Parliament House once again impressed us, its size and architecture nothing short of breathtaking.

 

We continued walking along the Hill and browsed through a few souvenir shops, where Danny absolutely had to buy a Hungarian t-shirt with a Trabant on the front (something about "the people's car” - it means nothing to me). We also tried Transylvanian barrel bread – basically a long strip of donut-like bread spiralled into a hollow barrel shape and coated in cinnamon sugar. Delicious. 

Naturally Danny wanted to investigate the local alcohol scene, so we headed over to the Royal Wine House. Even though the cost was astronomical, it didn't stop us sitting down to sample three sparkling wines (they were okay) and three pálinkas, a local fruit brandy. Once I heard that pálinka has an alcohol content between 40% and 60%, I decided to skip over these. The idea is to scull it all in one go, so you get both the burn of the alcohol and the taste of the fruit base. Not my kind of drink. Danny didn't mind it, but he wasn't in any hurry to buy a bottle.

Once we were outside again we took a quick stroll around the Palace before making our way down the hill and over the bridge into Pest. We did a self-guided tour of significant buildings in the area: the Great Synagogue (fantastic on the outside but was too expensive to explore inside); the Basilica (huge and equally as impressive); and the Opera House (average-looking, but with a fabulous foyer). Finally we visited the Terror House, a former headquarters of first the Nazis and then the Soviets. Now it is a museum, with reconstructions of offices, torture chambers, cells and execution rooms. Visually the place was superb, more professional than many museums we have visited, but nearly all of the information was on typed A4 sheets of paper that we had to pick up when entering each room. We weren't in the mood to stand around reading small print, so we tried to take in what we could see and then read the sheets of paper later. I'm not sure we learnt much. 

When we left it had started raining, and didn't stop for the rest of the night. We knew we had to find dinner in town as we still don't have any gas, but most of the city was deserted. We found a Hungarian restaurant that had a goose liver section, and once Danny saw that we weren't going anywhere else. Our first course was the typically Hungarian goulash, which I discovered was a soup and not a stew. It came out with a huge dome of bread covering the bowl, and tasted exceptional. Next Danny ordered fried goose liver, which was crumbed and served with rice and chips. Not what he was expecting, and not as good as he had hoped. I tried veal stew, which wasn't especially memorable. The disconcerting part of the experience was hearing the "bing" of the microwave every minute or so, and only getting lukewarm meals. When we received the bill we found that the waiter had given himself a hefty 15% service fee, which was definitely not deserved. So overall it wasn't the best dinner we have eaten.