Travel Diary: Sunny St. Stephen’s

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The Travel Diary is a retrospective blog about our 3-month long wedding trip in 2003. We’re sharing stories about our honeymoon across 11 countries, including accommodation details, recipes, travel stories, and the story of how 2 people started a lifelong adventure together.

The morning after our middle-of-the-night trek across the city, we were ready to concentrate on the beautiful new place we had arrived in. The hostel we had actually booked for our stay in Budapest was Caterina Hostel – a simple shared dorm in what turned out to be a quiet apartment complex right in the heart of the city, within walking distance to many of Budapest’s “must-see” sights.

The building itself was very old – the key we had been provided for our room was a long, antique iron key that looked like it unlocked a dungeon, not a dorm room. I’ve looked at their website (which didn’t exist back when we stayed there), and it looks like the place may have updated a little – when we stayed there, much of the charm was in the fact that we slept on comfy beds lining a large dining room, with a few threadbare persian carpets on the floor and an somewhat ornate chandelier hanging above. It really did feel like staying in someone’s apartment, rather than in a sparse hostel. As a result, all our dorm mates were quite respectful of noise, space, and property. Over the course of our travels, we’ve really come to enjoy those kinds of accommodations – staying in the spare room of a small family will always be preferable to staying in a hotel. We’ve met so many wonderful people that way!

Budapest - Busy Bodies

It was a beautiful morning – our first official day in Budapest – so we set off into the street, taking in the architecture, the people, the “buzz” of the city on a cool September morning. We wandered past the Opera House, knowing that taking in a show would not be in our budget this time, yet enjoying the beauty of the building from the outside anyway. Budapest is another wonderful example of how Eastern Europe has fully embraced the cafe culture. Every restaurant we passed by already had a large, full patio set in place, with diners angling their chairs towards the street in order to watch the world go by as they sipped their strong, sweet coffee.

Budapest

Breakfast becomes a thing of the past as you go further east until you hit Turkey – oh, the glorious Turkish breakfast! We will get to that in another entry, dear readers. For now, just know that as we travelled further East, the coffees became smaller, yet stronger. The breakfast became also smaller, yet sweeter. We were becoming accustomed to a bit of bread and jam for breakfast, but for some reason on this morning we were both craving a bit of old fashioned bacon and eggs. We found a place that had it on the menu, and treated ourselves to a filling, Canadian style breakfast. Every now and then, you need to treat yourself to something familiar, whether it’s food, a newspaper in your native language, or a treat you brought from back home. It can refresh you if you’re travel-weary, and keep you charged up for more new experiences!

With bellies full of bacon we continued towards that day’s big visit – St. Stephen’s Basilica, the most important church building in Hungary. It’s a stunningly beautiful building inside and out, and it’s main square is lined with charming bookshops and cafes.

St. Stephen's Budapest

St. Stephen’s also contains an artifact – the mummified hand of St. Stephen himself. Stephen I was the first king of Hungary around 1000 CE. The holy King was buried in 1038, yet his right hand was separated from his remains. It was said to display miraculous properties, as it was “incorruptible”. The mummified hand is housed in the church, and we were able to see it on display in the reliquary. We were asked not to take pictures, and we respected that wish. It’s important when visiting holy sites, government buildings, and museums, that the signs and instructions for “No Photos” be respected. Sometimes it’s due to the sensitive nature of the place you are visiting, sometimes it’s due to the disturbance of visitors clicking away at their shutters or vying and pushing for the best shots, and sometimes it is due to the damaging effect that flash photography can have on artwork and relics. Please be a good traveler, not a bad tourist.

St. Stephen's Basilica

From the top of St. Stephen’s basilica, you can get an amazing view of Budapest. Breathless, we climbed to the top of the basilica tower and enjoyed a spectacularly sunny view of the city all around us.

Budapest

St. Stephen Tower 2

We were glad that we took advantage of such a nice day, because the following morning, it was nothing but rain. Still, we strolled along the Danube in the drizzle, stopping in at a few sights along the way, enjoying every moment of our time in Budapest.

Rainy Danube

The people here are friendly, yet most are reserved towards travellers. Since the language might be too difficult for most English speakers to get by with, picking up a few words like “Please” & “Thank You” in Magyar tends to make the folks you interact with just a little warmer as they try to understand what you are asking them. And we would be wrong to let this blog post go on without telling you that even Hungary’s most basic table wine is absolutely wonderful, and you shouldn’t miss out on a chance to sample Hungarian wine whenever possible. We stumbled upon this little fact by accident after ordering a bit of table wine at dinner, and after being stunned by the quality of it, did some research to find that the soil and weather conditions in Hungary have allowed them to produce some truly excellent and unique wine. Move over, BC…

After a few full days in beautiful Budapest, we were packing up and getting ready to hop a train to Cluj-Napoca in neighbouring Romania! Excited doesn’t begin to describe how we were feeling. Romania is still known as the “wild” of Eastern Europe. It has an energy to it – a feeling of antiquity, tradition, and a depth of culture we had not expected. The train would be leaving first thing in the morning.

Next time in the Travel Diary, we head in to Transylvania!

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