Saturday: Krakow, Poland

We left Eger this morning and made our way to Poland. Krakow was five-and-a-half hours away.

Along the way we drove through some small, very interesting Hungarian towns. In one, cabbage was grown on a long stretch of land very close to the side of the road (there was a car right behind us so I couldn’t get a picture). We did stop at a pekseg (a bakery) and got some apple strudel since I doubted we would be eating anything until the afternoon. The two women in the bakery seemed thrilled to meet someone who spoke English (and of course baked goods know no language – I could just point).

We neared the border from Hungary to Slovakia and needed a vignette (toll permit) to drive in Slovakia. Getting one was was a bit of a puzzle. The truck stop we walked into smelled of old frying oil and the guy at the counter was annoyed before we even approached him. He demanded to know our car’s weight and class as though we would know it. We went back out to the car to try to figure out that information, but I just suggested we leave. Not far away I could see another small store that probably sold the permits.

The woman there was kind but said that no, the Slovakia vignettes were only sold in the “blue container,” a trailer – and she described how to get to it. The unmarked blue camper looked abandoned at first, but after a few minutes we had our permit. We learned later that this can be done online now. That is not as exciting though.

We arrived in Krakow at about 4:30pm and it was already dark. We are staying by the city square so we walked around there and found a restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner. By the time we left the restaurant, the weather had gotten much colder than we have experienced since being away. Tomorrow looks to be a sunny Sunday and I’m looking forward to seeing the city in the daylight.


photos: Krakow city square wrebath vendor this evening; Poland countryside; Crazy Hungarian money. 1,000 forints = about $3.30 U.S. dollars

Friday: Eger, Hungary

We left Budapest this morning. I would love to go back. It is such a vibrant city and I could look at the ancient buildings’ architecture every day. But we were off to Eger – a two-hour drive by the time we got out of the very busy Budapest.

Eger is in northern Hungary and one of the things it is noted for is its red wine. So once we got settled we tried some at lunch. Later we checked out Eger’s holiday market (the “Advent” market) which really does not open until tomorrow. It looks as though it will be a big deal, with a bandshell, lots of food and wine booths, and all sorts of holiday gifts.

Their holiday lights and Christmas tree will be lit tomorrow night too. We are just here overnight and the lights that are on make the city look beautiful.


photos: a tree in the center of Eger’s town square; a stream that runs into the Eger River; palacsinta – a rolled pancake tgat can have nuts, jam, or other things in it. We had chocolate‚̧

Thursday: Budapest

Today is our last day in Budapest so as content as we are here on this side of the Danube, we thought we should go across the river to the Buda side. So we walked over the bridge late this morning.

The view of the Danube River is beautiful, and today was a clear and warm day so it was perfect for a stroll.

We spent most of our time at the Buda Castle and its surrounding complex. The castle/palace was built in the 1760s and has undergone renovations and restoration through the years and it continues today, since numerous wars and lack of funding took their toll on the ancient buildings. The whole area is sensational to see and I’m glad we got a nice day today to do it.

We walked back across the bridge in the early afternoon and had lunch at Terv Presszo, an old family-run Hungarian pub-like restaurant. We had chicken paprikash, a dish I remembered from when Mrs. Toth, a Hungarian family friend who survived the Holocaust, would come to our house and make it for our family. We also sampled the Hungarian national aperitif, Unicum. We learned that the original formula is not available in the U.S. so we had to try it. Wow, it was strong, bitter stuff with a hint of the plum that it is fermented in.

We took in the holiday windows and decorations, and saw another holiday market being set up. There are at least four of them in the center of the city.

We shared a slice of chocolate cake before calling it a day. We will miss this beautiful city.

photos: Unicum, Hungary’s national apertif; a statue on the Buda castle grounds; the bridge entry from the Buda side

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