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A Grand Budapest Weekend

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This past weekend we flew the quick two hours over to Budapest, Hungary to enjoy a long weekend in this Eastern European capital city.  Many of our friends had made similar trips last winter, and all found it far exceeded their expectations.  Here’s what we were up to!

The Grand Budapest Runaround

For my first morning run in Budapest, I decided to do a bit of a tour along the river, hitting up many of the major sights.  I started off running up the river past the Hungarian Parliament Building.  It’s really an incredibly large building and super-impressive in details.

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I then crossed the river after about 10 minutes of running, allowing me to track my way back down the other side.

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At the foot of the castle, I decided to climb my first hill of the day to the top.  I zig-zagged my way up the cobblestone road to the castle complex.

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It’s here I did a lazy loop around the top of the hill, before running through some of the courtyards:

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Oddly enough, I actually went through a small interior walkway to get through the castle walls.  Didn’t really plan on this happening, but had little choice to get to the other side of the wall.  I walked this short 15-20ft section.

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Once through I worked my way back down off the hill down to the river again, before beginning a slow climb back up.

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My goal at this point was the top of the much higher hill, where the Citadel lives.  Turns out, this hill was a @#$@#.

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It crests some 235m high, which means there was a lot of pain involved.  And it’s surprisingly steep at the end.  Once up top I did a loop around the fort/castle/citadel walls:

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From there I zipped back down to the river and across this bridge:

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Then it was just a straight shot home along the river, tempo style for the fun of it.  Definitely a great tour of the riverside of the city, and with very little cross-traffic to deal with either.  Here’s the route for those interested.

Nutcracker at the Opera House

Our first night in Budapest we hit up the incredibly beautiful opera house to see the Nutcracker (a ballet).  The opera house itself was stunning:

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While we lack any photos during the performance (none permitted), here’s some of the musicians in between acts.

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This was by far the most impressive performance I’ve seen of the Nutcracker.  While the performance was top-notch, we think in some ways the props and sets used within the theatre may actually have topped it a bit.  Really incredible.

A Food Tour of Budapest

Our friends found a great looking tour of Budapest – one that was a walking/eating tour.  Sorta like a pub-crawl, but for foodies and with tons of information.  So we hopped on board and went along for the four-hour walk.

Our tour guide was definitely a foodie, and more interestingly – knew a crapton of history (and was funny).  It’s very rare for The Girl and I to go on tours (of any sort).  We typically find them painful and annoying.  This is a rare case we definitely enjoyed, and it was almost entirely because our guide clearly loved what she was doing and was pretty funny.

The tour started at the massive central market, and then worked its way to a few different shops showing various locally made creations.  We’d eat at each one, from meats of all sorts (including pork tongue), to chocolates, to wines and cheese.  And a lot in between.  Rather than detail out everything, I’m going gallery style for this one.  Enjoy!

For anyone visiting, we’d definitely recommend them – awesome.

A Swimming Workout of Sorts

Saturday night, after walking all over creation on our food tour, we headed up to the Széchenyi baths.  Large hot-spring fed baths are popular in the city, and there are a few major popular ones to choose from.  Most would recommend the one we went to for a first-timer, so that’s where we headed.

It’s up in a park area, and is pretty much a complete and total tourist cluster-mess to get into/through.  So even though virtually everything about the entry process was less than optimal, once you manage to get in – it’s pretty awesome.

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There are a large number of heated pools, both inside and outside.  As well as many sauna rooms – most of which are displayed on this map:

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The pools all list the exact water temperature on small signs near them.

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Additionally, they also tell you that you aren’t supposed to eat slices of cake in the pool, apparently:

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We migrated from pool to pool – but ultimately found the outside pools the best ones.  Just the right temperature (not too hot) and also a more visually impressive experience:

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In addition, they had a lap-lane pool in the middle of it all.  Gotta be one of the more scenic lap swimming pools out there in Europe (though, my favorites globally would be this Barcelona pool, and this one in Sydney).

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We stayed probably about 90-minutes, which was enough to get the feel for the place and check it off our list.  On the walk back home, we passed this super-impressive ice-skating rink.  Seriously, it’s massive:

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As much fun as it would have been to go ice skating, we had reached our quota for large group activities for one day.

The 5K Rubberized Running Track

After my first run, numerous folks asked if I had run on the newly installed 5K long running track, around an island in the river.  As seen above, for my first run I went more touristy instead, so I skipped just past the edge of the running track.  Before that though, I should note that I started with The Girl and one of our friends that went with us.

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For my Sunday morning run though, running track it was!  I figured intervals would be perfect on it.  The track was just about 2KM away from our apartment, so about the right distance for a warm-up.  The track was actually the perimeter of an island in the middle of the river, as seen here on this satellite map:

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Once I arrived, it became clear what people were talking about.  It was an actual running track installed around the entire edge of the island:

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The whole thing was just a touch over 5KM long, and also had another paved path next to it.  The paved path was great if you wanted to get out of the way and walk for a moment, or just for other pedestrians to not block the running path.  It also had markings every .5KM, as well as markings for water and bathrooms.

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I noticed as I arrived at the island that there was some sort of holiday 5K/10K race going on – as everyone had Santa hats on.  Bummer, I so would have done it had I known!

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Additionally, later on as we headed towards the airport we’d see another race with more people, this time dressed up more fully as Santa.  Both of which we missed!

As for my run, I did 800m repeats at approximately 6:10/mile (3:50/km).  I just simply kept on doing them until I got around the island.

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Once I got to the end of the island, I decided to do a 10-minute tempo run back, at approximately 6:23/mile (4:00KM).  I had to add a tiny bit of territory to complete my 10-minutes worth.

Oddly, about half way through this some large bird decided to try and pick me up.  Seriously.  It landed on my head and started scratching.  WTF?!?!  Lasted a few seconds before I swatted it off.  Most random thing ever.  Not sure what type of bird it was.  Not a pigeon/seagull, sorta looked like a small hawk of some sort.  Just swooped down from a tree and tried to take me away.  Totally weird.

Anyway, a few minutes later I wrapped things up.  Here’s the HR data from that run, for fun:

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I’ll just leave that there for now. Reviews later in the week.

Eating at The Top Restaurants in Budapest

Seriously, we ate so much this weekend.  I think we never stopped eating.  It’s a darn good thing we walked like 20,000 steps a day.  Or that’s what I keep telling myself.  The ‘challenge’ with Budapest is that the food is just so cheap (everything is cheap).  So while we managed to get reservations at two of the top places in Budapest – neither dinner cost that much for their full tasting menus.  For example, this second place listed below was $30USD for a five-course tasting menu, or $41USD including the wine pairings for the tasting menu.

In any case, here’s some galleries from two of the places we hit up for dinner.

The first was the Budapest Wine Kitchen, which was right near our AirBNB spot.  This was ranked very highly by many sites, and recommended by others as well.  The style was sorta a blend of French-influenced eastern European food.  Here’s the menu…in Hungarian.

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Probably more French influenced than not.

It’s rare that you have a tasting menu that every single dish was awesome.  I’d say this was one of our favorite restaurants of the year – easily eclipsing many spots in Paris we’ve eaten at that have cost 2-3 times as much.  There wasn’t a single course or item on the menu that we didn’t love.  Pure awesome.

Next, we had reservations elsewhere, at another highly recommended restaurant.  But upon talking to our food tour guide, she recommended we try out Esca instead.  So we hit up via e-mail and got a reservation there for Saturday night.  The spot just opened a few months back, but she claimed it was probably the best restaurant in Budapest, even if the review sites hadn’t yet shown that.

(Side note: Sites like Trip Advisor are great for picking out well established restaurants, but for newer restaurants with few ratings, the ranking system is highly variable and can produce wonky results for the first year or so.  We’ve come to learn all the nuances of such systems with owning our own eating establishment.  Still, we find them useful if you know how to use them and what to watch out for.)

In any case, she was right.  This spot, while small (only 5-6 tables depending on configuration), will likely become one of the hardest to get into spots by summer.  No doubt.  We had incredible food there.  It’s only one guy in the kitchen (owner/chef), and one server.  He was trained in Paris, and we chatted a bit with him, super friendly.  Every dish was great, immaculately presented and with layers of flavor.

The cool part of the Budapest food scene is just how many up and coming spots are springing to life.  So many new restaurants, all of which you can eat at very cheaply and get world-class food.

With that, we’re back on the flight to Paris, but I think we’re all definitely up for returning again to the city.  I’m sure it’s beautiful in the spring/summer, but in winter it’s not as crazy-busy with tourists – and everything is just a bit more relaxed.  I’m not one that usually likes being a tourist to major cities in winter (I think you miss out on a lot), but this is one I’d place I’d consider an exception.  Oh, and in case you’re wondering – yes, Lucy did indeed make the journey with us.  She was all packed up in her little backpack carrying case that The Girl has for her.  She loves going in there. The awesome AirBNB folks were happy to have her there (which, btw, was called the ‘Grand Budapest Apartment’)

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With that, thanks for reading!

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60 Comments

  1. Laurens

    “Additionally, they also tell you that you aren’t supposed to eat slices of cake in the pool, apparently”
    Not while holding a cigarette anyway, according to the sign.

  2. Imre

    It’s awesome that you came here, too (I’ve been wondering when you will hit our city :)).
    Looks like you were running at most of my favorite routes (although I rarely venture on to the hill).
    Should have tried Normafa, too (at the outskirts of Budapest), if you like running in the woods, it’s usually less crowded than the island.

    Cheers from Hungary!

  3. Nrmrvrk

    Re: large bird… Similar thing happened to me at Cougar Mountain spring of last year. It was a Banded Owl though. I noticed some signs up at trail heads that summer warning about how territorial the owls were. They should have left a few tennis rackets next to the signs.

  4. Mike N

    Budapest certainly looks beautiful but I would never visit it as long as their current policies are in place. The current Hungarian administration is a shame for the EU and as long as they are in power I would not want to support their government financially by going there.

    • Imre

      You don’t support the government by visiting.
      You support the people who live and work here, and they deserve it.

    • Micke N

      I disagree, visiting supports the government by the taxes that is paid by my spending. I think countries like Hungary, Turkey, China etc with poor human rights records should be boycotted, not spending my money there is one of few ways I can protest. Besides, almost 2/3 of Hungarians support the current ruling party which means I very likely support a supporter by going there.

    • Okey doke.

      There are many places for political discussions on the interwebs, this isn’t really one of them. Just trying to keep things from spiraling out of control.

    • AndiT

      Actually, they got 2/3 of the seats in Parliament, but that doesn’t mean that 2/3 of the people support the current government. They received a bit over 50% of the vote, but a lot of people didn’t actually turn up to vote, because there wasn’t really anyone to vote for in the opposition. Check you facts before talking bs.

    • János Tóth

      Do not come if you are thinking so.

    • Zoltan

      I agree with Ray. Keep your political comments to yourself. Btw your country is probably partially responsible for the migrant crisis.

  5. Lajos Toth

    Well said Imre ! Exactly the point I wanted to make to Mike. Having said that, this is not to forum to discuss politics.
    In case you visit my country where I used to live in the summer, I truly recommend Lake Balaton including the 5.2 km swim across the Lake event in July. The very popular bike path around the Lake is ~ 200 km long and is scenic. You can eat,drink,ride,repeat, sometimes skip the ride if you don’t pay attention…
    Best,
    Lajos

  6. cj

    Lucy does not look very happy all squished up inside there :D

  7. Matt

    Looks like an awesome trip!!

    How has your experience with Suunto Traverse been so far?? As accurate as the (hyper accurate) Ambit3?

    • In this weekend’s runs runs, it was pretty good (near identical). I do find it far more finicky though when you arrive in a new place, just takes forever to find satellites.

  8. Rob

    Perhaps the large bird was sent by Limits…?! Seriously though, I was attacked by a seagull last year during a run in the Cairngorm Mountains. Scared the hell out of me.

    Thanks as always for the excellent post. Budapest is an awesome place to spend a few days.

  9. Robert

    Thanks for sharing, you had some great scenery to run through/by. All I get to look at these days is crop fields with nothing in them.

  10. Mark

    Funny about the bird, as last night I was watching Nature about Harpy Eagles which have evolved to pick up and eat primates. Definitely wasn’t one of them ;)

    I want to bike the Danube one day, and my wife wants to visit Budapest, so I appreciate the post!

  11. Janusz

    Nice trip.
    I’ve been to Budapest several times this year and I always go for the run on the island.
    It was sometimes crowdy about 17-18 but still nice place to run.
    Next time I have to visit those pools.

  12. GregTR

    It’s lovely to read you enjoyed your stay at my stomping ground! Budapest is indeed beautiful and a great place to visit. It was also great to read about all the foodie spots and happenings in town. I can’t wait to try some of it out myself next summer when I head back for a visit.

  13. Jimmy Stevenson

    Your bird attack incident reminded me of this episode of the Criminal podcast:

    link to thisiscriminal.com

    Also, I had a vulture circle overhead as I stretched one day. That got me up and moving pretty quick.

  14. Lajos Toth

    Hi Ray,

    1. Great review. Sorry for politics getting mixed in as well. IMO everybody should have ignored the guy who started to comment on this. Go to another forum for that please.
    2. I own a Garmin Epix. Somewhat frustrated the all the advanced metrics now available on the FR 630 is NOT on Epix. Can you comment on this ? Is Garmin planning the upgrade at all ? After all, the EPIX is supposed to be the latest top model..
    Thanks !

    Lajos

  15. Tim S

    Hi Ray, what camera were you using this time around for the run shots? It’s got quite a fisheye effect on it – GoPro?

  16. Fab

    It is quite unfair that both of you can eat all the food you take pics of, and still be able to run faster than I’ll ever be.

    really nice post from an awesome place, anyway.

  17. zealous

    thank you for the review. it’s hard to get myself to go out running in this cold, but hearing about my home from someone traveling so often and widely is certainly nice.
    the hill going up to the citadel is great though, isn’t it? :)

  18. Benedek

    The ice rink opened like two weeks ago in this season, and it’s fun to do Strava log while skating, because the area is a lake on Google maps. In fact, usually you can paddle in a boat in summer, however it is not as popular as skating in winter.

  19. Paul K.

    I want to be you. There I said it! Now when is that Freaky Friday thing going to happen where we switch bodies!!??

  20. Tim Grose

    Nice trip. That 5K “track” is that actually the same type of surface as a 400m running track? If so perhaps you could, in theory, do intervals in track spikes on it! Looks quite busy in one of your photos. Wonder if there is an etiquette for overtaking as looks tricky to get by two people.

    • Imre

      People are actually paying attention and pull over if they notice someone faster coming up. For most of the track, there’s a paved path or road next to the track, so you can overtake without hassle. And the pros are usually running inside on the roads, not around.
      There’s also an athletic center with a 400m track, so people save the spikes for that and run in trainers or spikeless flats on the loop.

  21. Urtman

    Interesting and pity – politics also was the first thing crossing my mind (my wife is jewish hungarian).
    Putting that aside, what a fantastic trip! I have also been swimming in this bath during light snowfall and visited the very beautiful modern symphony but somehow missed out on all the amazing restaurants. Should go back soon!
    I always find it amazing to imagine what this city must have looked like during its full glory in past centuries!

  22. David

    Ray,
    I’m surprised (and I guess a bit disappointed) that there is no picture of the bird attack. I’m certain you had a camera of some sort (or 3) with you.

  23. Gabe

    Ray – how are the pet fees for flying?

    In the states we pay from $95 to $125 per leg.

    Ridiculous but we enjoy traveling with our little dog.

    Is the dog backpack sturdy for flights? – it looks like it would just collapse in on itself. Neat concept though! We use Teafco link to amazon.com

    • It depends, sometimes Air France charges, and sometimes not. When they do, it also depends on where. Within France it’s 20EUR, within Europe, it’s 55EUR.

      We’ve only been charged once on a return flight from Nice, so it was just the 20EUR. I think Lucy is cute enough they don’t care. :)

      It’s a pretty sturdy bag, and has a bit of a hard-shell bottom of sorts that can also slide out – so it keeps it flat. Her curling up on one side is making it slant a bit.

  24. Kermit262

    Oh oh – I fear the Polar A360 optical HRM might be getting the hammer thrown down by Ray in an upcoming review.

    • MattB

      I was just thinking that…. it definitely looks to be a case in point for Ray’s position of ‘all optical HR is crap until proven otherwise’!

    • GregTR

      I guess we’ll see in a couple of days… But it certainly doesn’t look promising.

    • David

      Yep, the Polar A360 looks to perform as badly as the Fitbit Charge HR… the Garmin’s Elevate sensor and LifeQ’s sensor in the new TomTom seem way, way better… but still nothing is performing as well as MioLink’s 2+ year old wrist sensor and all of those still perform worse than the armband Scoche Rhythm+.

  25. Jeff D

    Which camera for your nighttime pool images? I assume same for opera house?
    Thanks!

    Jeff

  26. Dora

    Being a Hungarian living abroad thanks for taking me back to Budapest with this small tour. The place where I picked up my breakfast every morning while on university, first date place with my ex husband, bath after Budapest marathons. I am happy that you enjoyed our beautiful capital!

  27. dvorcsakl

    DC Rainmaker in my city!

    Yupi!

    Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities.

  28. Pete C

    Ray, I think the burning issue here is; was there a HR spike when the bird landed on your head and, if so, which device picked it up most accurately? I’m doing the Aviary 5k in London next year so would be good to know.

  29. Hi Ray, I wish I knew you were coming I would have invited you to our “Sziget Run” on Saturday. If you are ever back again let me know, we are developing 5km Run App for Run organisers. Long time reader, kicking myself!

  30. Tisztul_A_Visztula

    “For my first morning run in Budapest, I decided to do a bit of a tour along the river, hitting up many of the major sights. I started off running up the river past the Hungarian Parliament Building. It’s really an incredibly large building and super-impressive in details.”

    Afaik this building is the second biggest parliament in Europe and maybe the thirld largest in the world.

    During the visit you would have had the chance to ask what the heck my webname means ;-)

    PS: It is a big mistake to generalize when somebody has any feeling for or against any political parties/entites etc. It is like
    “all dogs are bastard, because one of them has bitten me”
    or
    – “I admire prisoners, because one of them gave me a lift home last week.” :-)

    • I don’t have any problem with folks having any political opinions they want (on either side of the issue). I just don’t want this to become a place for political discussions. It’s like talking politics at Christmas dinner or work – it never ends well. There are plenty of other places on the interwebs for it.

    • Nagy Zoltán

      Yep, indeed, X-mas is dangerous for political tqlks, especially if the knives are still on the table :-)

    • Lajos Toth

      Agree with Ray. I am Hungarian. Replied a few times on this post.
      Politics do NOT belong on this side please !
      Best,

      Lajos

  31. giorgitd

    When we lived in Lausanne for a year, we traveled around Europe quite a bit. Budapest was high on our list and we planned to go while family was visiting so we could all go together. And, most of us got some virus just before or while we were there – and I was one of those. So, Budapest was kinda of a blur for me in the 1st person and I hope to go back. Your post reminded me of the plan to return…

  32. Attila

    Hi Ray,

    Great that you visited this lovely city. Although I moved to the UK almost 20 years ago I love Budapest so much.

    Why not try the Spar marathon in October?

  33. Thx for this great article about Budapest.
    It’s a nice city.

    And thx for your point of view to explore this capital on foot.

  34. Bruce

    Thanks for the running suggestions! Just returned from Budapest and was able to get in a 6.2 miler with my daughter from the Four Seasons to the Island, around and back. Great way to start a great trip in a beautiful city. Keep up the solid work!