Birthday Girl’s treat

Not having the facilities to throw a party I had to come up with something different, and that was a city break to Budapest.   Christine had mentioned Budapest as one of several European cities she wanted to visit, so why not??

Decision made but now to book it all on-line; I have a history of “cocking -up” any bookings I do on-line but fortunately Marian was here back in May when I first found the city break advertised with “British Airways Holidays”.   Starting so early was a great deal, it included Business-class seats both ways, so with Marian’s help I started the booking; thank you Marian for your help and guidance to make the “correct” booking.

The only other things to be done at a later date, was booking a hotel and a carpark slot at Heathrow.    Oh yes, this break was being organised surreptitiously; a surprise break, hopefully!!!!!

As we drew nearer to the time things got rather complicated regarding Dog sitters and various Christmas performances etc., that involved Mia etc., so I was forced to “let-the-cat-out-of-the-bag” to avoid clashes and disappointments,

Saturday 2nd December 2023.

Today we head to Heathrow, we are staying the night to avoid any unnecessary rush in the morning, unfortunately we will miss Mia’s Performance in her Pantomime tonight, ugh!!!

Arriving at the hotel and the booking was “correct “, I was beginning to think I may have got everything right; time will tell!!!

Arriving at the airport, at least Christine had one surprise as we headed down the “Business-Class channel”, this was a complete surprise I’m pleased to say.   After security etc., we head to Business-Class lounge where the pressure was off and we enjoyed our breakfast, accompanied by a few drinks!!

Food and drinks all the way, very posh!

It’s been a long time since we’ve flown around Europe in anything other than a budget airline and I must say it was good. Super service, bucket loads of alcohol and a very nice roast lamb lunch; the 2½ hr flight just “flew by” andwe arrived on time without a loud “fanfare”.

We cleared immigration, collected our luggage and headed to the taxi rank, fortunately there weren’t too many fpeople waiting.    Since my last visit, about 30+ years ago, things had changed, especially the airport; last time it was more of a big shed with few planes arriving rather than a modern complex!!  

Lamb was lovely

The drive into town was uneventful and took it about 45 minutes to reach our hotel.    Booking in was a doddle and our room was comfortable.    Having overindulged in the BA lounge, then again on the aeroplane, neither of us felt like any more food and drink, and it had been a long day so we decided to relax in the hotel tonight and be fresh for the ‘morrow.

After a good night’s sleep, we headed to the breakfast room where we found a comprehensive range of everything to cater for everyone, and we enjoyed it.

Our first stop today is the “Hop-on, Hop-off” bus; I’d pre-ordered 2 x 3-day tickets online; “another success” and their No 1 stop was by the St Stephen’s Basilica, a 4-minute walk from our hotel.   To our pleasant surprise, surrounding the Basilica was a Christmas market, we didn’t have time to look around now, as there was a bus just about ready to leave.

Basilica and market

This morning was nice and dry though cold, but we had expected that and had the appropriate clothing on.   The bus wasn’t full but of course the best “front” seats were taken.  The other difference from all the previous “hop-on’ hop-off” buses was they had put a soft-top on and as it had plastic windows things were a little blurry.   I know it’s cold but when we did these bus tours in Chicago and New York over Xmas, where it was also very cold, they left the tops off!!!!   

As per norm we stayed on the bus for the whole route to decide where we wanted to go, as we went round.   The bus took us through some extremely smart and beautiful parts of Budapest where the aristocracy lived during the Hungarian Empire.  We passed by the Synagogue and museum, through Heroes Square, identified which stop for the New Your Café, over the Danube into Buda passing the chain bridge and Buda Castle and noting where the funicular to take you to the top was, seeing the stunning Parliament buildings and returning to the Basilica an hour or so later.

Iron bridge

We stayed on the bus and decided to get off at stop No 13. Where we can have a wander eventually leading us into the main shopping street and on into “Szecheny Istvan Plaza”, one end of the chain link bridge.  It was here I stayed on my previous visit, but that was a different era!!!   Wandering along a street with wall-to-wall cafes and bars, one of which had several large gas heaters outside, so we stopped and, looking at the menu, fancied a couple of pancakes accompanied by rather large glasses of mulled wine with a shot of rum for good measure to warm us up, we were happy.

We wandered along through a pedestrianised shopping street with many well-known brands then headed down to the promenade along the Danube where there were many bronze sculptures.  By now the day was dull, cloudy and with darkness drawing in, we started the walk back to St Stephen’s Basilica,

By now locals were heading home from work as we plodded along the back streets until we turned the last corner and there it was, the Basilica surrounded by the Christmas market with all its colourful lights and lots of people milling around.   We decided we would embrace what was in front of us and enjoy “street food”, Goulash in particular, washed down with more Mulled wine.

We perused all the stall before deciding on Hungarian Goulash, I went for the beef version whilst Christine settled for the Chicken one.   Both meals were served in a cottage loaf with the middle scooped out, with the top of the loaf as a “top hat” to keep the food warm; a tall order tonight as it is cold!!!!

There were tables and benches everywhere, so eating wasn’t a problem and we sat watching the light show on the front facia of the Basilica, well at this stage it was just snowflakes falling, not too inspiring.    Anyway, after enjoying this tasty food we found a Mulled Wine counter and enjoyed one, well I did, Christine didn’t as it was too much like “hot wine”, no spices!!!  We continued our walk-about and then came across a sausage stall and the “smells“ enticed us to buy one, yes “one” as they were so big and juicy though the juice was in fact fat, never-the-less it was scrumptious.   This time we watched the “enhanced” light show as we munched our jumbo sausage; again, nothing spectacular!    Though it was a cold night, it was dry and aftereating our way through the sausage we found another mulled wine counter and this time it was the “real deal”, very warming and enjoyable followed by the 5-minute walk back to our hotel; a very enjoyable first day.

Tuesday 5th December

Birthday Girl today so a little late heading down to breakfast, cards etc., had to take priority, but after a hearty breakfast we headed to the hop-on, hop-off bus stop, our destination, “Szecheny Istvan Plaza”, stop no 2 and from here it is a pleasant 4-minute walk along the embankment to where the boats leave.  Unfortunately, we were early and had to wait about a bit, but at least we will be first on!!

Parliament building

Being winter the boat wasn’t full so we had space to spread out with the bar directly behind us.   This trip was all part of our bus ticket and lasted about an hour and gave us the opportunity to view both Buda and Pest from the River Danube and though it was a dull day, it was worth the trouble.

One of the many beautiful buildings on the waterfront

Off the boat and back onto the bus as we headed to the New York Café.   Tonight, I have booked a table at the iconic “Gundel Café Patisserie Restaurant” a recommended restaurant that has been around for about 127 years, and the comments on the website appear to confirm I’ve made a good decision.

Geoff enjoying the ambience

Again, there was a long queue outside the New York Café but today we are determined to “stick-it-out” and stand in-line, in the cold!!!   The good news though, people were leaving the café regularly so our wait was only about 20ish minutes.   Again we were recommended the New York Café as a “must go to place”, well as soon as we stepped in through the door we were “gob-struck”, what a magnificent building, the ceiling, the elegance, the space, the calmness, a million miles away from  this modern world.

Definitely a Wow building!

We were ushered up a beautiful stairway passing the string quartet along the way and up to a table on the mezzanine.   Once settled and had mouths had closed, Christine headed to the ladies, and I sat patiently waiting.   The first thing that struck me was the lack of “pestering”, apart from a waiter delivering the menus, nothing, and looking around me it was the same, no one was pestered   Knowing there was a queue outside I thought it would have all been about getting you in, serving you and getting you out as quickly as possible, but no, once in your time was your own!!!   Anyway, whilst waiting I ordered a couple of alcoholic drinks to kick-start things off and when Christine eventually returned, we studied what was on offer.   Her delay was the queue, but had she looked around where our table was, she would have seen there were the toilets on this floor, and no queues!!!!!

Amazing building

We enjoyed our time here, not rushing whilst taking in the ambience and enjoying our leisurely lunch and drinks and best of all, no waiters hassling us, but around when needed.

We even had a string quartet

Time to leave and after a last look back, headed into the street where the queue to get in was still there.  We headed to the bus stop; we must have just missed one as there was quite a wait, then back to our hotel for a wash and brush-up before heading out to the restaurant later tonight.

Another fine restaurant

Tonight we had booked a taxi as It’s a fair way away across town.   On arrival we were welcomed in, our coats were taken before being shown to our table.  Walking through the restaurant and looking up at the decorated ceilings that looked so exquisite on the website, didn’t really float our boat.  Our mistake was to go to the New York before coming here, the New York has no equal as far as we can see, still, we also came for the food experience.

More lovely food!

Don’t get us wrong the surroundings were very nice, the service excellent and there was another string quartet playing in the background.   Our starters were as expected, delicious and Christine’s main, Duck, was excellent but I on the other hand wasn’t quite so lucky as I had miss-read the menu; I ordered Veiner Schnitzel with vegetables and boiled potatoes, now boiled potatoes don’t do a lot for me but that didn’t matter as I had vegetables.   Unfortunately they were pickled vegetables, not my scene!!!!   Being my fault, I just enjoyed the Veiner Schnitzel and with what we had eaten this day, was sufficient.   The main thing is, “Birthday Girl“ had a nice, memorable meal and we did enjoy m excellent bottle of fine Hungarian wine with it.    We didn’t have desert as Christine was getting cold, tired and shivery so paid and got a taxi back to the hotel; it was getting late anyway.

Wednesday 6th December

Christine had a dreadful night, coughing and spluttering and feeling like sh1t but decided to get up for breakfast.   It was a good job we did what we did yesterday before she was struck down with this rubbish.

After picking at her breakfast, she insisted we went out so wrapping up warmly we headed out, but today there was snow about, although the local council had must have been out all night as there wasn’t too much left around, though the sky looked full of it.

As usual we headed out to the bus stop, but due to the weather there was a queue and they filled two buses!!!  Our destination was “Hero’s Square”.    Heroes Square, is one of the major squares in Budapest, noted for its iconic Millennium Monument with statutes featuring the “Seven Chieftains of the Magyars* and other important Hungarian national leaders, as well as the memorial stone of Heroes, often referred to as the tomb of the unknown soldier, though not.

After a brief wander around in the wet, damp and sleety rain we headed back to the bus stop, and we weren’t alone, most other people had the same idea and the queue filled another two buses!!!

The next stop was at the bottom of the hill, gateway to the Castle and old town on Buda; here we will catch the funicular, unfortunately Christine was decidedly unwell but insisted we went up to the castle etc.

Going up

At the bottom of the funicular was an outside bar where we indulged in a couple of nice hot mulled wines to warm us up before heading up to the top.  It was only a short trip but much better than following the winding path to the top.   Perched on top of the Danube’s left bank is “Buda old town”, a UNESCO heritage site with classical buildings, churches and royal palace etc.   We had a wander about and headed towards the old palace where we went in for a “comfort break” and at the same time enjoyed a cuppa and a nice cake, but by now Christine was proper poorly so headed back down the funicular.   It was a great shame we couldn’t really enjoy the view from the top looking across the Danube to Pest’s skyline, never mind we’ll have to come back.

Part of the grounds to the castle

At the bottom of the hill, and much to Christine’s disgust, l insisted we get a taxi to get back to the hotel quickly.  Once we were in our room Christine hit the sac; she was really not well, and I was quite worried having had a history of phenomena.

Whilst Christine slept, I watched a film or three, fortunately I had my headphones so didn’t disturb her.   Later in the evening I headed up to the roof terrace, as there was a bar up there and they did food.

Firstly I had to find the roof terrace, the normal lift didn’t go there.  Eventually I found a secondary lift that started two doors down from the top and went straight to the terrace; bigger signs may have helped!!!!   Stepping onto the terrace and straight into a snowstorm, the roof terrace was a large, insulated marquee type building but the entrance was around the corner; well planned!!!!!!!!    It was worth the effort, a managed to order food and drink with room service, so worth the effort.

Thursday 7th December 2023

After 18hrs of sleep, this morning Christine felt marginally better but we have our flights so after breakfast and an extension to our room, Christine dosed herself up with medication and we jumped into a taxi.

Budapest airport isn’t the largest and getting there too early didn’t help as we had to wait around for the BA desk to open, still we made ourselves comfortable in the café.   Two hours, on the dot before the flight the desk opened, and we booked straight in and headed up to the BA lounge.  I use the word lounge “loosely”, yes it was a lounge but with very minimum facilities and even less choice of “goodies” to enjoy, still never mind we have a meal on board.

With the way Christine was feeling, flying business class certainly paid off as we settled into our seats before the rest of the passengers boarded.

Again, a very comfortable flight though I had to remember I had to drive when we arrive, still we enjoyed our first Roast Turkey of the season, and I have to say it was rather nice.

Arrived on time but unfortunately no “airbridge”, we had to board a bus, just what Christine needed!!!!  Our bags were first to arrive, and we headed to the carpark bus.   Again, during my “booking-up’ process, unbeknown to me I had booked the business car park and as soon as we caught the bus, it was off, no other passengers needing their car; note for future, use business car park.

We have booked into another Heathrow hotel just in case the flight was delayed, we drive back home tomorrow.

The really good news is, everything I had booked online worked, I’ve conquered my issues!!!!!

* Seven Chieftains of the Magyars were leaders of different related Hungarian tribes in 830 AD who set up a confederation from which Hungary grew from

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