Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 10

Goodbye, Budapest

When we booked with Trafalgar we were intrigued by the Be My Guest initiative. An evening with a Hungarian family. Once again Trafalgar hit the spot.

Schieszl Winery - courtesy of schieszl.huHalf an hour from the city centre is Schieszl Winery and restaurant run by Konrad and his family. The welcome was warm and friendly. We all enjoyed the private wine tasting. Three wines, red, rose and white accompanied by cheese and lovely breads. 40,000 bottles are produced here every year. An evening of much laughter and gorgeous food followed with an unlimited supply of wine.

Through an interpreter Konrad told the story of how, during the war, his grandfather hid a Jewish friend and family in wine barrels. His friend later became an attorney who repaid his grandfather’s kindness by helping the family buy back the winery lost following the war and communist occupation. Proving once again that it does pay to be nice in this world! A final toast by Konrad “Let us all drink to friendship”. A wonderful experience and one of the highlights of the trip.

I have not yet mentioned our hotel. Hilton Budapest City was an excellent base. The best bedroom of all 3 of our hotels. Attached to the West End shopping centre – a very English name in this very non-English city. So if you want to experience a thrill at the till then this is the place to stay. Modern and contemporary. Clean and efficient. Enchanting staff. 5-star luxury. Around the corner attached to Westfield is the train station designed by Gustav Eiffel of tower fame (not Blackpool).

Hungarian Parliament Building - by Maurice via Wikimedia CommonsNext morning an early start for a visit to the Hungarian Parliament building looking even more magnificent in the sunshine. Exquisite architecture and a memorable tour well worth the visit. It covers an enormous 18,000 square metres.

The Hungarian Crown Jewels were fabulous and have an interesting history. After WW2 they were given to the USA army for safekeeping from the Soviet Union. They were held in Fort Knox, Kentucky for most of the Cold War. Under Jimmy Carter’s presidency they were eventually returned to Budapest in 1978.

The coffee served in Budapest is as good as that in Prague and Vienna. There are some wonderful coffee houses. New York Cafe is lovely and comes Michelin recommended. Home to joyous cakes that lift the soul and perfectly brewed coffee. Hand carved wood and chandeliers provide an over the top experience. 120 years old. The most beautiful coffee house in the world? Maybe, I will let you decide.

Cafe Gerbeaud and Central Cafe are both national institutions too and a mecca for tourists and locals. Hungarian cakes are an art form with pastry chefs spending years perfecting their skills.

Our next optional tour was a short trip out of Budapest (18km) to Szentendre situated on the right arm of the beautiful Danube Bend. Mediterranean in feel this town really took off in 1928 when artists from the city moved here. Cobbles, higgledy-piggledy streets lead everywhere. Shops line the streets eager for your money – they take euros here. Musicians, writers and artists , some good some not so good, make this a popular tourist destination and a great choice for a short trip. Interestingly all churches, and there are many, face East.

Heroes' SquareJust off the main square we were given a demonstration on how to make the world-famous Goulash (gulyas stew or soup). Fascinating. At the end we were all presented with an apron with the recipe printed on it – in English of course. We moved next door into the main restaurant and were treated to the real thing, Blue Peter style – here’s a goulash I made earlier. Lovely. We experimented with the paprika. Red and fiery, some spice some sweet. Sprinkle at your taste buds’ peril. Martin Fischer once said “a nickel’s worth of goulash bets a five-dollar can of vitamins”.

Hungary sits on top of the largest geothermal reservoirs in the world. Here in Budapest 70 million litres of hot water rise to the surface each day. Budapestians have been taking advantage of this ever present hot bathing since Roman times – so they should be clean by now! Prague is the city of spires, Budapest the city of spas.

The visitor is spoilt for choice -120 spas to choose from and perfect to while away a couple of hours. Arrive jaded, depart refreshed with an inner peace and complexion glowing. Our skin felt all the better for it too.

Szechenyi Baths - by Dguendel via Wikimedia CommonsSzechenyi Baths are the largest medicinal baths in the whole of Europe with over 20 pools, 3 outside. Immerse in the city’s hottest water surrounded by opulent columns, mosaics and glass ceilings. It reminded me of Friday night swims at Doncaster’s Greyfriars baths – without the opulence of course. Then a big bag of chips on the way home and then watching The Prisoner on television. Life was so simple in those days.

St Stephen’s Basilica is a neo-Renaissance masterpiece, and one of Europe’s most beautiful churches. And one of the biggest too, it holds 8000. Named after King St Stephen, who else! Finished in 1906. To the side of the doors is a lift to take you up to the rooftops for stunning city views. The withered mummified right hand of King Stephen here in the cathedral shows, once again, how important it is to moisturise frequently whilst alive!

A final last supper in a fashionable restaurant on Buda Hill. Once again lovely food and a great atmosphere. Budapest has been a revelation. We will be back. Big and bustling yet so friendly.

The trip has been a tremendous success. Three nights in each city gives enough time to sample their charms and there are charms aplenty. Multiple re-visits are on our bucket list.

Tour director Paul Wormsbacher and driver Gabor Imre worked incredibly hard to ensure a superb holiday experience for all. Both had big hearts, big personalities, incredible local knowledge and always big smiles. Gabor’s driving was excellent and from the start we knew we were in safe hands. If all travel companies had reps as good as Paul then the world of travel would be more enjoyable and the world so much smaller and friendlier. No wonder Trafalgar have been awarded more accolades than any other company globally.

And our group? What a fantastic group of people.

Colleenand  Kaye, Tom and Lyn, Pedro and Susan, Julie and Laurie, Irene, the ever smiling Rajiv, Uma and Vandana and the three New Yorkers – Linda, Lydia and Rosie. Missing you guys already. Thanks for your friendship and companionship. It has been a real pleasure.

And to everyone else whom I haven’t mentioned thank you too and enjoy your travels – our paths may cross again one day.

See also

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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