(Written by Janel)
Friday, March 11, 2016
Sleeping in the Royal Mansion does a body good.
After brief blog duties in which MP ruthlessly teases her loyal readership with meager hints, we emerge into the quiet Hungarian sun.
Foursquare (laugh not, I get some of my best cityfinds from the out-of-fashion app) suggests Zoska Reggeliző Kávézó as an excellent egg spot just six minutes’ walk away. The outside boldly proclaims its intentions with the universal ideogram for coffee, and the inside is coated with twee post-its. We get the catbird seat, as befits two princesses on the move.
We’ve sorted out by now that we’re staying on the Pest side of the river (Budapest is a conjoined city, much like Minneapolis-St. Paul). Morning feels ripe to hop across the Danube and give our salutations to Buda.
The iconic Chain Bridge is flanked by stone lions at either end (but where is their den?). It’s windy over the water, but today has all the promise of being gawgeous.
It’s absolutely worth it. The spire belongs to Matthias Church, which has been decked out with more candy-coated carvings than you can shake a stick at.
That bottom right image is a heat vent for a centralized system – especially neato given it’s an 11th century building.
Organ recitals are exclusively on Sunday. Damn!
We wander out and over to the ground of Buda Castle, where we observe the modest changing of the guard. I spy an echo of a raven and smile.
It’s a bit of a hike to our lunch destination, albeit mostly downhill. We keep seeing these mysterious signs on street corners and near doors. MP is guessing some kind of fire safety mechanism, but I’m not completely sold – why would there be multiple signs that are very nearly identical in one spot?
Guesses, dear readers?
At last, we draw upon our afternoon goal: Central Market Hall. The Internet is abuzz with hype for this place, and my fans are already too familiar with my little supermarket tourism fetish. In we go.
Before we can even make a single round of the stalls, we hail the barking of our dogs, high-tailing it for the prepared-foods section complete with tables and chairs on the second floor. The spread is massively overwhelming: sausages of all sorts and sizes, fried bread flying saucers topped with the sweet and the savory, overstuffed peppers and cabbage rolls, roasted goose legs galore.
The only way to possibly make a decision is to go with the most classic of Hungarian comfort food: a goulash stew heaped over a pile of pasta, accompanied by an icy cold beer. Simple and rib-sticking. Daddy would be in heaven.
Because too much is never enough, we grab a blood sausage to round out our repast. It’s less than photogenic, but hits the spot.
The stalls themselves are replete with paprika and sausage. We spy a long-horned skull from a sibling of the gray beef carpaccio we munched last night.
Thoughts of picking up this or that flit across our minds, but – let’s just be honest with ourselves – we are tuckered out from the hilly morning. It’s siesta time, so we leave the sausages be and head back to our princess chamber for a couple hours’ worth of snooze.
We make it back out fresh n’ ready around six, which leaves us two healthy hours before our dinner rez. Ever the hipster, I suggest a visit to a ruin bar.
The most famous ruin pub is Szimpla Kert, which translates to Simple Garden and is anything but. The place calls upon treasured memories of Berlin’s now defunct Tacheles, Madrid’s Tabacalera, and all the beach bum bars in Tonsai (not to mention The Overstay). It’s got that squat-chic art-grunge vibe going on without ever edging into mess; the overwhelming amalgamation of light and form, color and object, is far from chaotic. No, the arrangements here purposefully create a honeycomb of spaces in which visitors may happily create their own miniature atmospheres, from a rusty-car-cum-table-for-four to a wire-nested cove decked out with glitching computer monitors.
Any hipster concerns of legitimacy – that perhaps the most famous of the Budapest hipster pubs might not be unknown enough to be actually cool – quickly dissolve. At least for a pre-dinner beer, I fully vouch for Szimpla as fascinating.
During the hours of 6 to 8 in the evening, the place just about doubled in clientele. I have a strong feeling that, late-night, this place is madness. That might be a positive or a negative, depending on your groove.
It’s just a five minute jaunt to KönyvBár, a new concept restaurant where the chef changes out the special menu twice a month to feature a different book. See what books have been spun into dinner thus far on their site, including The Prince and the Pauper, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Animal Farm, and American Psycho.
Tonight’s offering is The Astonishing Power Of Color, which neither of us has read – but we’re all in for a palette for our palates. We tell the ultra friendly waiter to bring us the right quantity of anything from the color menu, plus a big fat Hungarian red.
- Painter’s palette of dips, tomatoes, and tortilla chips. More fun to play with than anything else – very cute idea, but needed more exciting dips to land the execution.
- “Contrasts” of soups: pumpkin, spinach and cheese, paprika. All exceptional, especially the spinach. “Has no right to be this good.”
- French rack of lamb with colored noodles and rainbow kebab of roasted veg. Super pretty, enormous flavor, perhaps the best realization of the color concept.
- Elegant Hungarian cherry liquor to accompany dessert.
- “Tricky red” dessert spread: white chocolate mold, raspberry jam, sweetened cranberries, strawberries.
- “Green balance” of salmon with herbs and excellent green beans.
After dinner, we take a new route back to our chambers, which causes us to stumble upon Gozsdu Udvar, a passageway lined with boozy restos, boozy bars, and boozy Brits. There might be more here than meets the immediate eye, but damn if the hen/stag parties aren’t out in full regalia.
At one point I think I spot the exact same obnoxious Brit that shouted for 2.5 hours nonstop behind us in the plane, and I grab MP’s arm and get her to look with me. However, as it turns out, there’s simply more than one obnoxious Brit wearing a shiny red footballer uniform with a pillow stuffed up the front. Of course.