4 things to NOT do in Budapest (and things to do instead!)

I recently whisked the boyfriend and myself off for a cheeky weekend away to Budapest, Hungary, as his Christmas present. (Aren’t I the best?) It was a wonderful trip, and the first we’ve taken together on our own since July’s excursion to Edinburgh! It was the perfect excuse to kick-back, relax, and eat some Goulash.

Thought I’d flip things on their head and compile a list of things to not do if you find yourself in Budapest, because there’s honestly too much to tell you to absolutely do.

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1. Don’t bother with the Hungarian National Assembly (Parliament) Building Tour.

I know, it’s number 1 on Trip Advisor, I know it’s the largest civic building in Europe and I know it’s beautiful, but everything you want from the tour is unceremoniously denied you, like Nescafe was denied Hungarians living under Communist occupation (bit of a leap there…)

The tour costs around 2000fts or £5 per adult with an EU passport, so it’s hardly breaking the bank, but the building is on the far north-eastern tip of the city centre region and kinda on its own, so you’re committing to trek up there.

Regardless though, what you want (well, what I wanted) was some juice, some gossip, some insider tid bits and things that you’d never forget like, “President whats-his-chops once vomited here after a particularly lively state dinner in honour of the German Chancellor.” We got none of that. Instead, I learnt that the building is 96 metres high and boasts 96 steps within it’s central entrance hall, both to commemorate the millennia of Hungary and inauguration of the building, in 1896. Snore. I also learn that if you put all the carpets together, from end to end, (which may have actually been more fun) you’d have over 2.5km of carpet. Fascinating.

Honestly though, you do get to see the infamous wonky-topped crown and some nice ceilings, but I just wanted more history, more about the occupations and the building’s innovations and technological advances. Some of my thirst was quenched, however, in the post-tour exhibition, where multi-lingual TV screens walk you through aspects of the building’s history, including the totally bizarre Communist Russian obsession with putting giant red stars on everything, including the top-most steeple of the central dome of the Parliament building. Ridiculous!

Things to do instead:

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on Jan 31, 2016 at 8:31am PST

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Walk up to the Citadella on Gellért Hill, (District I) it’s 100% free and the views are priceless. There are many beautiful aspects in Budapest, the city is named the jewel in the river Danube’s crown specifically for the many stunning views that line her banks. But, those from the Citadella are ten times better.
 
 Wander the streets of Old Town on Castle Hill, (District I) where you’ll find the former royal palace, Buda Castle, now the national gallery, library and museum, as well as St. Matthias Church and the current President’s house where, if you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll witness a changing of the guard ceremony!

Tour the St. Stephen’s Basilica, for 200ft (or 50p) you can tour the beautiful RC church in the centre of Budapest, (District V) on the Pest side. Its gilded ceilings and effigies are like something out of the Vatican. 


2. Don’t just think you can eat anywhere

Whilst it pains me to say this, as I wouldn’t want you to think I’m anything but in love with Budapest, Hungary isn’t exactly known for it’s food. Whilst we did taste some gorgeous Goulash, sensational steaks and Scallops you’d dive into the Danube for (if, y’know, they were there…) this wasn’t the case in all restaurants. It would pay to do a little research before putting bottom to seat if you want to avoid frozen pizzas and McDonald’s like deep fried Camembert.

Places to eat instead:

Spoon restaurant, a boat restaurant just beside the Chain Bridge, on the Pest side, (District V) with incredible views of Castle Hill, the Chain Bridge and the Citadella from its decks. The food is Hungarian/European, with expert staff and a great house Prosecco too! For two courses, for two people, with drinks, expect to pay around 35000fts or £85. 

Marvelosa, a gorgeous little independent restaurant, with cooking like Old (Hungarian) Mamma used to make. At the foot of Castle Hill’s cable car (District I) on the Buda side of the Chain Bridge, you’ll find this little cafe/bistro facing the river. Decorated like a Gypsy just found her forever-home, the restaurant gives a new meaning to cosy. If you can, grab the two-seater upstairs table in the window, for perfect people watching aspects out onto the promenade and down into the restaurant via the cut-away mezzanine.  Two courses with ample Dreher (local larger) for two people, expect to pay around 11000ft (£27).

3. Don’t go out of you way to visit the 8th District for evening drinks

Famed for being the once-Roma ghetto of Budapest, District 8 had an urban regeneration Salford City Council would be proud of, that came in the 1800s bringing with it beautiful palaces erected by the Hungarian aristocracy, giving the area a new name – The Palace District. Since then, the area was neglected and bullet holes form WWII and the 1959 revolution are still visible in the densely built-up area. Now though, the location has a reputation for a somewhat kaleidoscopic night-life with everything from live poetry readings through to street prostitution. Needless to say, we were excited to experience it. But, it was a bit of a let down. 

The supposed centre of things, Mikszáth Kálmán tér, just behind the National Opera House, was sleepy and quiet. We spotted the Lumen cafe, where the local indie types drink craft ales and eventually sat down for a dinner of mixed emotions at neighbouring Darsham Restaurant up Krudy Gyula utca (street).



Budda Bar, just by the Elizabeth Bridge on the Pest Side (District V), is a bar worthy of royalty. But no, not former European dynasties, this temple is one dedicated to the East. With a cocktail list boasting such delicacies as Sake and velvety and refreshing cucumber Kiwi Kukama, there’s enough to entertain you for a whole evening.
There’s a little bar on Fo utca (street) off the Chain Bridge round-about on the Buda side (District I), the name escapes me, but it’s a hilarious little boozer where the locals go. Wall’s filled with random memorabilia (crap) and a double Jamesons is like 2p.

4. Don’t visit the over-crowded baths

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Rather advice learnt from experience, this was advice I took before headed out to Hungary in the first place, citing Rudas Baths at the foot of Gellért Hill, (District I), as my bath of choice. Dating back to the Turkish occupation, the baths is mainly a mens-only space, but I popped by (when the boyf couldn’t be arsed leaving the apartment before our flight home) alone on a mixed day. The baths are enormous and whilst many tourists did find the baths too, there were lots of locals floating around. There are steam rooms, saunas, cold dip baths, ice washes, a swimming pool and pools with spring waters enriched with calcium, magnesium, fluoride ions, hydrogen-carbonate, sulphate and sodium for joint pain and well-being. 


Courtesy of budapest.hu

The number one attraction though, has to be the roof-top pool with views out over the river, a must-dip!


See more of my trip on my Instagram @jordanjmcdowell
Check our my restaurant reviews for Budapest on my TripAdvisor contributor pages

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Paris Calling

Hello all,
Just a quickie (Oh la la). I’m off to Paris for a few days. I’ll be taking in the sites, food and Champagne. I’m hoping to update with bits and pieces from my excursions throughout the trip but if not, I certainly will when I’m back.
Be good, look after Blighty for me.

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Fairytale of New York, Part IV

WARNING, those of you that do not appreciate Sex And the City discontinue reading (and buy the boxed set immediately!)
Sex and the City - The Complete Series (Collector's Giftset)
Those of you that do, will appreciate that an NYC trip wouldn’t have been complete without Mother and I (what-a-gay) dragging Adam on a SATC Tour Bus for three and a half hours of fucking hilarious SATC times.
We were picked up outside The Plaza (a must for my next trip methinks) on Fifth, the scene of the:
Carrie: Your girl is very lovely, Hubbell
Big: I don’t understand,
Carrie: You never did…
scene. 
What a killer! We were then whisked off in a superbly comfortable coach (with a loo, you don’t see that these days in the UK) and two screens for SATC clips galore.
The tour took us right through the city to highlight some of the major scenes and destinations that were featured in the HBO series and in the two movies. 
The first stop took us to The Pleasure Chest XXX Shop where Charlotte purchased her bunny (Ahem), we also stopped at Budhakan, the scene of the (first) rehearsal dinner in the first movie (yes it is as gorgeous as on the screen). We then paid a visit to the park in The Village where Miranda smacked her face off the floor in front of Steve’s new girlfriend (who works at MasterCard) Debbie. Oh yes. 
 Us, unaware that Adam intended to take a pissing photo…
Us, slightly more aware…
We were treated to cupcakes here and got to shop in FRESH, home of products actually slapped onto SJP’s face and featured in the show. I got a lipbalm and Mother bought out their soap stock. Loads of other locations were spotted INCLUDING ‘Pastis’ where Samantha chucked a Dirty Martini in Richard’s face and said:
Dirty Martini? Dirty Bastard.
HAHAHA! It was here that we saw Russell Brand, randomly…
Lastly we indulged in Cosmopolitans at Aiden and Steve’s bar, Scout (actually called O’Neill’s). 
A-mazing.
I recommend it to EVERYONE. Even Adam had a laugh and he was included in our reference to the show because our lovely guide (Staci) showed us clips on board the coach. So there is no excuse.
Book here.

End.

Fairytale of New York, Part III

Sunday brought with it some Supersized-Jumbo-Full-Fat BARGAINS! We hopped on our bus and headed down down to The Financial District and the Mecca of discount designer shopping in Manhattan, Century 21 Department Store.
Whilst waiting for the store to open and recovering after some girl from Queen’s mistook me for Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter, we stumble. The scar in the ground was huge and it was hard to believe the magnitude of the 110 story buildings that once towered over the surrounding buildings. We felt humbled..

…then the doors opened and sentimentality was paused whilst we surged through the crowds inside the huge store.

I managed to get two beautiful shirts, slim fit, one electric blue by Pierre Cardin and a steal at $17.99. The other, in a steel grey by Calvin Klein at $20.00.

Next we came across winter accessories and I found a bright indigo Ralph Lauren lambswool scarf for just $15.00 and a thick black and grey stripy one from Calvin Klein for $9.99, I also nabbed some black leather Calvin Klein gloves for $12.99. I know. Amazing.

Throw in some CK Pj bottoms and a CK leather wallet that Santa is wrapping up for me from Mother and I think you’ll agree that I had a pretty successful trip. The theme seems to have revolved around American Designers and this is probably me being a tight shopper and going for those items that are cheaper (as they’re US Designers..) But I’d like to think it was because I wanted to make my items American and therefore souvenirs.

Mother got a gorgeous rabbit hair bobble scarf in a deep red colour and a matching glitsy top plus a few other bits and Adam got a heap including a lush puce Calvin Klein shirt that I might steal if he isn’t careful.

 …and on the right is the Statue of Liberty and on the left is a VERY pale Adam!

If you’re planning on a trip to NYC for shopping purposes make sure you pass by 22 Cortlandt Street (btw Church St and Broadway) in the Financial District for some TKMaximum bargains. (Did I just say that?)

That night saw us sat in premium seats for NYC Christmas Tradition, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, starring The Rockettes! The show was absolutely unbelievable, as you can imagine. One thing that I loved was the blaitent logo whoring. Happy Holiday shoppers carried macy’s bags (chief sponsors) and Capital Bank was written in the music hall’s Xmas decs! 
Anyway, I can’t express how well the performance was done in words and so I’ll leave you with this incredibly cheesy advert.


End.

A Fairytale of New York, Part II

We were up before the Hot-dog stands on the Saturday and ready to tackle NYC.

We never went into the Subway system, except to ask a nice lady with a huge Afro to change a $5 note and to stare at the turnstiles and gasp: “Oh, so this is a Subway”, what tourists! Anywho, we preferred to see the sites of old NY whilst traveling so used a combination of open-top-ultra-touristy-bus and the classic Yellow Cab.

Planning on an NYC excursion? Get a bus ticket! They’re hop-on-hop-off (imagine that phrase in a Queen’s accent, lush) and you get to see EVERYTHING, plus there is a running commentary from the ace Tour Guides. We trundled on down through Time Square to The Garment District. You know the place, where Fashion Ave. is? The Garment District is called thus because it used to manufacture clothing, now it is home to the designer show-rooms and advertising agencies.

We visited The Empire State and met Kevin Bacon who took us on a helicopter ride around New York. I’m serious. It’s called New York Sky Ride, a simulator on the 2nd floor of the Empire State that takes you around the city via air. After regaining balance and supressing the urge to vomit we made our way to Macy’s Herald Square flagship. The only place to be at Christmas.

My preconception of Macy’s was based on Cole’s Department Store in Miracle on 34th Street. I was not disappointed. The store was magnificent and the staff, as usual, were exceptional. I bought a winter woolly jumper from their Menswear Store and we had a Starbucks (one of many) on the mezanine staring at the insanity of the consumer-hype. I was a happy pea.

No this gent isn’t me, and that jumper isn’t mine either. But, he is a Macy’s models and that jumper is a Nautica jumper similar to mine. Pictures tomorrow will confirm this. 
20% off at £39.99 + 10% because we were British! 

After a bit more shopping in the chains around the store we headed uptown on Fifth Avenue for New York Public Library. I know, the literary in me came out here. After passing various fashion shoots on the infamous steps we went inside and were, naturally, searched by security. The library was beautiful. I’ll stop there because you’re probably yawning. For those of you that appreciate Sex & The City, however, these are the steps that Carrie ran down in film 1.

The rest of the day took us to Grand Central Station (immense) where I resisted the urge (rather successfully) to not scream “Sometimes I feel like I live in Grand Central Station, Tonight I’m not taking no calls ‘cos I’ll be dancing!”

 
Later that night we hit a gorgeous little Italian near Central Park and after a bit too much Pinot hopped aboard a Horse and Cart for an evening trott with Junior the horse and the driver (whose name escapes me).

End.

A Fairytale of New York, Part I

I’m back, from the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. It was rather fantastic.

Everything I had imagined New York to be was true, but better in the flesh. The streets really do steam, the city really does never sleep, it really is a city so great, they named it twice! New Yorkers are so lovely too, they’re widely considered the rudest Americans, but that compares nothing to how awful Londoners are! (not offense, you know it’s true!) New York is a small city and is easily navigated, it reminds me of Manchester, a slightly bigger, and strangely not a necessarily busier, Manchester. I felt right at home.

We stayed just off Time Square on West 47th Street and Broadway, pretty much as central as you can get. Upon arriving we dumped our bags with the bag-check and headed for Time Square. It was just ridiculous. A theme park. Did you know, it is a legal requirement to have your building covered in advertising in the Time Square area? I know, right! We headed for the Disney Store (obviously) and were blown away by the lovely American people telling us to have a Magical Day. By the last day Mother was saying it to everyone…

That evening saw us meander the Time Square area and have dinner in the thick of it. We were exhausted and couldn’t wait to start our next day. I’ll let you in on what I bought and where I bought it over the next couple of posts. But for now, look at our faces sat having coffee right slap bang in the middle of the centre of the universe….

End.

New York, New York

So. I’m off to New York City on Friday (very exciting). Off for shops, culture, shops, SexAndTheCity tours and more shops. I’ve never been to the city before and am so looking forward to experiencing it for myself and to be able to say, “well, when I was in New York..”. Not so keen on the bed-bug scenario…I have bug-spray.

The map that forms the centre of the New York Issue and the plans for our trip!

I’ve been studying the Stylist Magazine: New York Issue from back in May, it has been like a Bible, to meticulously plan every milisecond of my visit (much to the worry of the two poor souls accompanying me). It was great because it informed me of places I didn’t think existed, like Justin Timberlake’s (not-at-all-hurtful-on-the-wallet) restaurant in the Upper East Side or the Boat House Restaurant in Central Park where Carrie and Big fell in the pond. (yes there is a distinctive SATC vibe running through this trip, I blame Mother).

Want to see the preliminary itinerary?

I’ll post once I’m back. Be good.

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