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.
I then crossed the river after about 10 minutes of running, allowing me to track my way back down the other side.
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.
It’s here I did a lazy loop around the top of the hill, before running through some of the courtyards:
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.
Once through I worked my way back down off the hill down to the river again, before beginning a slow climb back up.
My goal at this point was the top of the much higher hill, where the Citadel lives. Turns out, this hill was a @#$@#.
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:
From there I zipped back down to the river and across this bridge:
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:
While we lack any photos during the performance (none permitted), here’s some of the musicians in between acts.
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.
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:
The pools all list the exact water temperature on small signs near them.
Additionally, they also tell you that you aren’t supposed to eat slices of cake in the pool, apparently:
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:
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).
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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’)
With that, thanks for reading!