Jane’s Corner: Markets, Goulash, Strudel !
Welcome to my corner……of the world!
I invite you to travel along with me through my blog articles and many pictures. My love for travel started at a very early age through the wonderful opportunity to live, grow up and go to school in England. The experience was life-changing, and it was the catalyst for my long-time passion of exploring the beautiful and interesting places that other people call home.
The cities of Krakow and Budapest are about 275 miles apart and the most practical (although not the quickest) way to travel between them is by car or coach. There is no direct train route and there are several train changes if you choose the rails. It is, of course, possible to fly.
Once you arrive in Budapest, you will make an immediate comparison to Paris – the lights, the cafés and restaurants, the markets! Budapest has all of those features. The city’s name is a joining of the settlements of Buda and Pest on both sides of the Danube. It’s a wonderful walking city and strolling along the river on the lower side, Pest, and looking up to Buda, the high side, gives a wonderful understanding of its magic!
DINING: Hungarian cuisine is full of the favorite spice, Paprika, in all its varieties – sweet, smoked and hot. Where we use paprika as a garnish, this is the major seasoning in Hungary and it’s used by the tablespoon. I sampled the national dish, Goulash, (pronounced “Gool-yahsh”) and this is not your grandmother’s mixture of ground beef, tomatoes and elbow macaroni! It is a soup made with chunks of beef and vegetables but there’s not a noodle in sight! It is topped with sour cream and it’s hearty, satisfying and the ultimate comfort food.
It is often served with a cucumber and sour cream salad. I was delighted to find that strudel is a very popular dessert and the Hungarian version is really my favorite with its very delicate crust. Please don’t tell my German and Austrian friends that secret!
SHOPPING: You can spend an entire afternoon strolling down the Vaci Utca, the longest pedestrian street in the city, which ends at the central market. It’s lined with small shops selling embroidered lace products, wooden dolls, fur and leather clothing and other souvenirs.
There are many restaurants with outdoor patios and dozens of pizzerias and, after shopping, you can have a relaxing lunch and people-watch. We had a lunch of pizza and a glass of wine for 6 euros each. The central market is a very large two level building which is a beehive of activity. Be warned that it is very busy on Saturdays when it closes at 2pm. It is where locals do their shopping since there are many fruit, vegetable, meat and pastry counters. There are also endless stalls of souvenirs including paprika of every type and packaging. Don’t miss the opportunity to bring home some paprika; I recommend choosing a sealed package so that there are no problems bringing it into the country.
SIGHTSEEING: Buda Castle and castle hill preside over the city. In addition to the castle, it is a district with businesses, houses, shops and restaurants. You can spend an entire day exploring. There has been a castle on the site since the 13th century although it has been rebuilt several times, and is now a beautiful white structure with a cathedral adjoining it. The brilliantly-colored tile roofs and the turrets give a fairy-tale appearance. Be sure to get a ticket to walk out onto the castle walk for a spectacular panorama of the Danube and the Pest side of the city.
The most notable landmark of Budapest is the Hungarian Parliament building. It is expansive and imposing and, when lit at night, it’s breathtaking. That is the “money shot” and, like the Eiffel Tower sparkle, is worth the price of admission to the city! The best way to appreciate it is from the river – we took an evening cruise after dinner and saw many river cruise vessels sailing along with us. Don’t miss a visit to the New York Café for an over-the-top opulent experience! It’s like dining at Versailles with gilded and painted ceilings and walls. You can have lunch, dinner or coffee and dessert – be sure to make a reservation since it’s very popular. We had a chamber quartet playing traditional music, and I guarantee that you will never dine in more sumptuous surroundings.
For a study in contrasts, walk a few blocks from the New York Café to the Jewish district where a “hip” new neighborhood is growing out of buildings abandoned after World War II. Clubs known as “ruin bars” have been created with discarded furniture and every type of apparatus from typewriters to old radios hanging from ceilings and walls. Despite the unusual décor and funky name, the bars are clean and modern. In fact, the underground scene is where people “in the know” gather to dance and party.
CURRENCY TIP: The local currency is the Hungarian Forint (HUF) and the exchange is about 275 HUF to 1 US dollar. You will feel like a millionaire if you have forints! I did get 100 US dollars in forints and used euros easily as well.