Wednesday: Budapest

Yesterday our food tour guide mentioned the New York Cafe, a hotel and restaurant originally built in the late 1800s by the New York Life Insurance Company. The cafe is often mentioned as the most beautiful in the world, and it was once a place where influential newspaper writers and editors would meet. We decided to have breakfast there.

It is easy to see what draws people to the cafe. It is sensational, with beautiful Italian Renaissance-style architecture that is perfectly restored. Breakfast was good, but I was more interested in checking out the hotel lobby and taking in the elegant building.

After breakfast, we walked to the House of Parliament, about a half-hour away on the banks of the Danube River, and took a tour. Aside from checking out a courtroom and seeing the heavily guarded Holy Crown (no photos permitted) we learned of the importance of the number 96 to Hungary. No building can be built to be over 96 meters, so it is not higher than St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Parliament building – important to church and state. Additionally, the main staircase in to Parliament has 96 steps, and the number figures importantly in other ways too numerous to mention.

We had lunch and it was pouring rain when we left the restaurant. It was still raining this evening, and about half of the Christmas market vendors were not there as we walked by. Music at the market were two talented guys covering the Rolling Stones.

photos: Where members of Parliament put their cigars when they went into the courtroom. These numbered spots are still there because they are part of the wood; the New York Cafe – usually packed with people; the main entrance to the Parliament building, from inside

Tuesday: Budapest

Today was a terrific Tuesday. It started off with finding a laundromat first thing after breakfast. As we waited, we met an interesting young barista from Baltimore at a coffee shop near the laundry. She made the 90 minutes go by quickly.

We dropped our clean clothes at our hotel and headed to the meeting place for a food sampler tour we had signed up for. There could be up to 12 on the tour, but only four of us were doing it today. Perfect! The mother and her 25-year old daughter were visiting from outside London.

We began in a giant food market. We learned about different kinds of sausage that are specific to the area and tried four different kinds. We checked out varieties of paprika, honey, and Hungarian Christmas candy as we walked through the huge 200-year-old building.

We left the market and walked to a fish restaurant, where we tried a sample of pates and small bites of well prepared fish as we learned about typical ways fish is served.

We visited a family-owned chocolate store, an eccentric old wine bar, a “ruins” bar – an idea developed about 20 years ago as a way to rejuvenate ancient rundown buildings. These are very popular and the one we visited was fabulous.

We had delicious matzo ball soup at a restaurant in the Jewish Quarter, then chicken paprikash and a tiramisu-type Hungarian dessert at another restaurant a few streets away. I’ve probably forgotten something, but the four-hour tour was five stars – with a very kind and able guide and fun fellow participants. Our food sampling ended up being quite a bit of delicious Hungarian foods.


photos: a quirky wine bar we visited; a family- owned, exquisite chocolate store; inside a ruins bar

Monday: Budapest

We left Pecs and drove to Budapest today – about 2 1/2 hours. The big city is beautiful, all decorated for Christmas and at about 55 degrees it is perfect weather to stroll around and get in the holiday state of mind. We parked our car and we don’t plan to use it at all for the time we are here.

We had lunch and checked out our part of the city, right on the Danube River. There wasn’t much boat traffic this afternoon and I wondered how busy the river got here.

I was surprised that Budapest has a giant(er) ferris wheel than Gyor so after the sun went down we took a ride to get a view of the city. They seem much more serious about their wheel, with two technicians in a booth operating the controls rather than a college girl pushing a lever. On the other hand, we were not offered blankets as we were in Gyor. It was lots of fun in both places and a good way to see the city lights.

We strolled around and walked right into a giant Christmas market, with lots of food, live music, and interesting gifts for sale. Wow, it was fantastic. We will have lunch there this week, but for now we got a few Christmas cookies.


photos: The city in holiday lights; music at the market; so much food at the holiday market, just one booth of a dozen.

Sunday: Pecs

Our plan had been to go to the Pecs flea market this morning, so after breakfast we headed there – about a 15 minute drive. Although the tourist office assured us the market was held every Sunday, as it turned out the webpage I read was more accurate. Markets are the first Sunday of the month. I guess it really didn’t matter since we were able to see a part of the city we would not have otherwise visited.

Fortunately, some restaurants and cafes are open here on Sunday and after lunch we walked to the giant Mosque of Pasha Gazi Kassim – a church that dates back to the 13th century. In 1766, the mosque was converted to a Catholic church.

The artwork is what makes the building so interesting. Frescos were painted in the late 1880s and are fantastic huge paintings.

We had coffee and dessert at our favorite coffee shop then enjoyed the rest of the sunny afternoon.


photos: Me seriously enjoying an Apertol spritzer; the ceiling in the mosque; our favorite coffee shop/bakery

Saturday: Pecs, Hungary

Today we drove from Gyor to the city of Pecs, in the center of Hungary. Pecs has a 2,000 year history and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a city filled with many cultures and it is a wonderful place to walk around with lots to see and do.

Like other ancient cities we have visited, the very large city square allows for limited car traffic. It is similar to a massive pedestrian mall.

We walked around all afternoon, stopping for lunch at a tavern, then coffee and dessert at a cute coffee shop run by a very nice and friendly English-speaking man and his much quieter wife.

I like to check out the English books section in bookstores we come across, so I did that. Most bookstores have at least a few shelves of books in English, and my biggest fear is not having a book to read (This won’t happen. My suitcase is full of them.)

Our little hotel has a decent gym in its medieval cellar, so I will spend some time there in the early morning.

photos: Pretty Pecs; the delicious reasons I need to hit the gym; city government building

Friday: Gyor, Hungary

The Gyor Book Festival is this weekend, so language barrier or not, of course I wanted to check it out. It is at the National Theatre, so I had the chance to see part of that building although the main stage area and audience seating was closed.

It was interesting to walk around and see all the vendors and there were speakers in some of the rooms – all parts I couldn’t enjoy. But a good inhalation of book puts me in a great mood regardless.

I left and went across the street to the Square Donut shop. I was disappointed that the squares were all pretty heavily iced and embellished. I would have gotten a plain one if there was such a thing. “Plain? I do not know this – plain,” said the young woman behind the counter.

We visited Bishop’s Castle later in the morning. There are a few hundred winding steps to get to the top, the castle’s lookout. It was worth the trip – the four-sided view of the city was gorgeous.

The cellar of Bishop’s Castle is where Bishop Vilmos Apor and others hid for protection from the Soviets during WWII. The bishop got shot protecting those people in the catacombs and he died a martyr. It is unsettling to be down there, with bullet holes still in the ceiling and some of the rooms just as it was.

We had lunch in a pub and walked around for a few hours, and planned the next few days when we will be in the ancient southern Hungarian city of Pecs.


photos: a view from the top of the castle; square donuts – not all that enticing; the start of the book festival

Thursday: Gyor, Hungary

We woke up to the coldest weather so far on our trip: 32°. By 9am it was not much warmer but then the sun came out and it was a beautiful day to walk around Gyor.

We went to the Janos Xantus museum in town and enjoyed looking at movie posters, contemporary metal sculptures, and photos from the last 100 years of Hungary’s history.

We walked from the older area of the city over the bridge to the busier part of Gyor where cars and trucks have normal road access they don’t have in the promenade area. It was not as nice as the old part, but still fun to see rhe Rabca river which runs through the city and is a big rowing river. There was no action on it today.

Back across the bridge again, we walked by workers putting up holiday decorations and we went into a 12th century cathedral that was decorated unlike any I have seen. The artwork, wood working, and decor were fantastic.

I had read about a part of a tree in the city that 300 years ago every craftsman/tradesman in the area had pounded a nail into for good luck. It was there, unprotected, easy to miss but very cool to see.

We went on the town’s giant ferris wheel this evening to get a bird’s eye view of the area.

Gyor is a delightful town.


photos: Gyor’s ferris wheel; when you walk past an open restaurant window; it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

Wednesday: Gyor, Hungary

We left Trieste this morning and although we would have liked to have stayed a few more days, the almost constant wind and heavy rain was becoming ridiculous. On to Hungary.

To cross through Slovenia and Hungary, tolls are paid via a vignette – a sticker on the car window. A car without a sticker means a €140 fine, paid on the spot. Stories are all over regarding clueless drivers who figured “toll road” means what it means in other countries: pay when passing through a toll booth. Fortunately we had read up on this and got a sticker in a shop close to the Italy/Slovenia border. Sure enough, police were on active lookout on the Slovenia/Hungary border.

The five- hour drive went fine until we got into the city of Gyor. Since the hotel was in the promenade/ pedestrian walk section of the old city, there was no way to get to it get there without parking in the garage and walking over – no big deal once we knew that, but GPS caused some frustration as we drove around looking for the hotel.

We finally found it, after parking our car and walking around inside the area closed to cars. We checked in and got the rest of our luggage and almost immediately went looking for dinner because we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We found a nice place within steps of the hotel – a good thing because of course it continued to rain.

We walked around for a while after we left the restaurant and eventually found a small dessert shop. Who knew “Gofri” means “waffle,” and that these things are gigantic.


photos: a vignette firmly attached to the windshield; wild and delicious gofri/waffle; Hungarian restaurant this evening. The old brick structure is interesting to check out.

Tuesday: Trieste

Today we visited the Castle of San Guisto, a fortress that protected the town in the late 1300s when it was under Austrian rule. Most of the castle is now a museum to display ancient armory, and the range of very old sword types is sort of startling, but impressive. Written explanations in English were throughout the armory collection, which made it more interesting.

I most enjoyed the panoramic views of the harbor from the windows of the castle and then out on the back deck (they probably didn’t call it a deck). Even with the constant rain today, it was still something to be seen. Afterwards, I met Marija, who runs the visitors center there. She wanted to talk about the Chicago Bears, who I know almost nothing about. Her husband runs football camps in Trieste and invites retired American football players to come over and participate so Marije knows many of them. She was fun to chat with.

Last night we tried to get into the Antiquarian Umberto Saba bookstore, a historical landmark I had read about and was anxious to check out. It wasn’t open when we went, so we tried back today but it was still closed. Perhaps the owner is sick, although I did read that he tends to keep his own hours despite what is posted.

On to lunch at the wonderful, charming Tavernetta. This small restaurant was fantastic – what could be better than five enticing choices written on a blackboard and a kind owner who was happy to make us comfortable.

Today we experienced Trieste’s “bora” – the intense winds that are unique to the area. When they are accompanied by rain they are called the “dark bora.” So today was a dark bora day, with winds so strong they pulled you with your umbrella. Or in the case of my traveling companion, wrecked your umbrella altogether.


photos: The castle provided the most beautiful views of Trieste; dessert- fantastic; part of the sword display at the castle museum.

Monday: Trieste

Trieste is a beautiful seaport city with a complicated history. It is just 12 miles from Slovenia, and has a wide mix of cultures. Trieste became an important music and literature center in the 19th century. Many writers, poets, and otherwise well known people have lived in Trieste: Italo Svavo and James Joyce among the more interesting.With all that said, it is a very cool, non-touristy place with excellent restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, and an arts scene that won’t really get underway for a few more weeks – late November.We had read about the osmisa, a tradition unique to the Trieste area. Osmisas are gathering places in a person’s home. Each day of the week, some of them are open. Anyone can go.We checked the osimisa website to see that of about 15 total, five of them were open near (30 minutes away) us today. We chose the one that sounded the most interesting (the owner makes honey, cheese, and salami) and set out. Like most, its open hours were pretty much all day: 9am-midnight.The osimisa was not easy to find, even with GPS. There are dirt roads, narrow passages, and unmarked roads, and then finally a small sign.We walked into the home sort of timidly. No problem – they welcomed us and the owner went to get his wife once he realized we spoke English.We ordered red wine (they make it), cheese and salami. We sat by the fireplace and it was a very interesting, very unique experience. People stopped in every few minutes for a quick glass of wine, or to sit and eat.We enjoyed our wine and snack (which turned out to be lunch) for about 45 minutes. I wished I had brought my book in from the car since it was a perfect reading setup. We left after paying €9.30 (about $12) for all we had.A traveling group of folk singers randomly stops in at osimisas during the week – in the early evening – and it would be fun to be in one when they showed up.photos: the center of the city at night; at the osimisa; interesting windows we walked past