Budapest With Friends

The summer started off with saying goodbye to friends who we had known for the last two years, and meeting up with old friends (from 6 years ago) who’s children turned into new friends for the kids! It is so hard to say goodbye to friends, especially when kids and parents are equally close. It does help when on the same day you can fill the empty hole in your heart with brand new friends! Didi and Willow were both really lucky to be able to distract themselves form the disappointment of buddies moving away with fast new pals. It has been a mix of emotions for sure!

Luckily we are getting good at staying in touch from afar. Family won’t be able to visit for a long time and we have had to get creative over the years with the comings and goings of military life. Soon we will be finding out our next assignment, and it will be our turn to say goodbye. In the meantime, we continue to make every effort to harness the time we have here in Hungary.

Day trips are usually long, but they’re always memorable and rewarding! This time in Budapest we ate some great food and did a few new things for us. Dining in Budapest is always a treat as there are options from all over the world and they’re all so good. Prices are a bit higher than in our hometown here, but they’re always less than what we’d pay in the states.

SÁO

When we arrived, our first meal was at Sáo Asian fusion restaurant. We got so much food, but still managed to finish it all and not feel gross. HA! It was so delicious and fresh, and in spite of being cash-only, we highly recommend! We didn’t have a reservation but they made room for us, which was super nice.

We walked all around Budapest, trying out a few new coffee joints (Blue Bird Cafe and My Little Melbourne) and then making our way across the Széchyeni Chain Bridge to the Castle District where we finally explored all around Buda Castle.

BUDA CASTLE

We had Buda Castle (and the whole city) almost to ourselves. Tourism has plummeted with restrictions on travel and everyone taking extra precautions with Covid. We continue to wear masks here in stores and public transportation, and everywhere requires social distancing and has hand sanitizer available. In general, I think Hungary has done a decent job mandating precautions during this time, as has most of the rest of Europe.

I have been drawn to Buda Castle ever since reading “Accidental Empress,” an historical fiction novel based closely on the life of Empress Sisi of Austria. The story means a lot as I’m living here, but it is one I recommend to everyone as her entire life is fascinating. She had a great love of the Hungarian people, as well as a secret love for the Hungarian Prime Minister, Andrássy. In turn, the people loved her, and there are numerous statues and tributes around the city to commemorate her impact on Budapest and the Hungarian people.

This royal palace was first built in 1265 for Hungarian kings, improved upon in the 1700’s and then reconstructed after the war in the mid 20th century to resemble the palace we see today. It is situated proudly at the top of Buda hill overlooking the Danube – a truly regal placement. I just learned that this is the setting for Katy Perry’s “Firework” music video, which highlights lovely Budapest, too!

CIRKUSZ

After Buda Castle, we wanted to hit up the Budapest Zoo. Since the weather cooperated, we walked back down the hill and across the chain bridge visit Cirkusz for brunch – Eggs Benedict for days – and then grabbed gelato nearby at The Sweet. After, we hopped into a Bolt taxi to the zoo. Bolt is in several countries in Europe, instead of Uber, and it is often much cheaper, too. Our feet needed a break!

BUDAPEST ZOO & BOTANICAL GARDEN

Since moving to Europe, we have been to a few zoos, so we wanted to compare this to the others. We had heard that it “felt old – in good ways and bad ways,” so we wanted to see for ourselves. Typically I have mixed feelings about zoos, and although I find them interesting and educational for the children, I also can’t help but feel bad for most of the animals. I have noticed that the children have started to pick up on that too, and have been saying the same things. Here in Budapest the zoo has loads of animals and is generally a “nice” zoo – but there’s no question it is cramped for space. In nearby Veszprem, in comparison, most of the animals have around 3 times the amount of living space as right in heart of the city of Budapest. It would be nice to see some updates to this space, as I can see it has the “old world charm” that is great for the visitor’s ability to see and enjoy the animals, but also is poor for the animals. The buildings and facilities are looking run down in many areas and can really use an upgrade.

All that said, they certainly have built up quite the menagerie! The kids loved seeing alligators, giant otters, and some animals right at our fingertips like the giant iguana and BATS flying around our heads in a makeshift cave. Yikes! I pointed out the bonsai trees in the botanical garden (see above) and the kids loved it as they are the inspiration for our dog, Bonsai!

My favorites are the animals that we would never typically see on our continents, but they’re also the ones that make me the most sad. Polar bears, rhinos, elephants, giraffe, and the great apes tug at my heart strings. At least the elephant below appears to be smiling!

We got a kick out of the baboons that happened to be living with big horned sheep and acted a little too much like frisky humans. I was also impressed to see hippos, which I don’t believe I have seen before in person! I do, however, live with three monkeys, as evidenced by this photo:

MAZEL TOV

From the zoo we walked all the way back to Mazel Tov where we ate dinner, sore feet and all. Boy, we logged a lot of miles that day! Mazel Tov is a delicious Mediterranean restaurant where we could get our fill of hummus and falafel. It has an artsy “inside out” atmosphere that feels like you’re sidewalk dining.

Two years ago when we moved to Pápa, I never expected to eat out (or be able to) as much as we have, mostly because we were conditioned to avoid it in the states due to high prices and young kids. Here in Hungary (and most of Europe), places are kid friendly, and here it is especially affordable. We have loved giving our kids ample opportunity to learn proper dining behavior in a receptive environment, all without breaking the bank!

What a yummy meal at Mazel Tov!

The next morning we met up with our friends and headed to the Gellért Hill playground for some fun. We walked across the Liberty bridge, enjoying beautiful views over the Danube and across to Gellért Hill and the Liberty statue at the Citadella.

CSÚSZDAPARK (Gellért Hill Playground)

We had heard how fun this playground was and couldn’t wait to try it – “best in Budapest!” our friends told us. Well, they were right! This multi-level playground entertained our kiddos for hours, and even when it began to sprinkle, it didn’t stop them! The slides were awesome, the climbing is fantastic, and there’s something for everyone. There is a port-a-potty nearby, although I can’t say I recommend it, so plan accordingly! Soon we were joined by our other friends who were scheduled to leave Hungary, and we visited for a while until the playground got a little too busy for appropriate social distancing…

As great as it was to reconnect with old friends (and watch our as children became fast friends), it was just as hard to say goodbye to our dear Pápa friends who we had a great time with here. It’s never easy to find the right words to share, but in the military, we always hope it’s “until next time” instead of goodbye.

We shared a final meal at Trattoria La Coppola, discussing the future, reminiscing a bit and sharing some laughs, then grabbed one more gelato at Lavendula before saying our goodbyes. Until next time, Ella and Nora! (The photos of the girls holding hands melts my heart!)

On our next trip to Budapest we planned to visit the Palatinus Strand Baths on Margaret Island. We had never been to Margaret Island before, so we were glad our Budapest friends knew their way around and could help guide the way! The kids were SO excited to see their pals again, and it was so cute to see each of them had a buddy for the water park!

PALATINUS THERMAL WATER PARK (Palatinus Gyógy-, Strand- és Hullámfürdő)

We took the bus – a new adventure for us – to a bus stop near Margaret Bridge where we walked onto the island. Since no vehicles are permitted on Margaret Island, we made our way to the fürdő (or thermal bath) on foot. The entire island is a beautiful, peaceful, landscaped park with fountains, enormous trees and tons of green spaces. If I lived in Budapest I would frequent this island for sure! We loved watching the “dancing fountain” and happened to catch it’s musical performances twice – on the way on and off the island – and it only plays once per hour!

The kids were so happy and distracted with visiting with each other that they probably could’ve been content just hanging out in the park all day and doing cartwheels, but we had even more fun planned! The Palatinus water park (once again super affordable at around $25 for me and the three kiddos to enter a place that would easily be $100 back in the states) has around 10 pools including a wave pool that makes HUGE waves! There are a few good slides for the daring older kids, and plenty of warm areas to splash and swim in for all ages. We had a great time – and we tried our first langos! (Pictured below, like a fried dough with sour cream and cheese. Not bad!)

Wave Pool! Watch out, Willow!

After our fun day at the pool we enjoyed a lovely dinner with our friends before heading back home to Pápa, about 2 hours away. On days like this the kids zonk right out in the car and bedtime is a breeze. We look forward to more visits with friends before our time in Hungary comes to a close! As big as the world is, we are fortunate that the Air Force can make it feel like one big community. It’s a small world after all!

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