Danube Boat Brings the River Back to Budapest

Budapest finally got what it’s been missing – a way for everyone to enjoy the Danube, not just tourists, freighter captains, and the odd nouveau-riche speedboat owner. With the new boat service run by the public transport system, you can get from Buda to Pest and back again, and from Római part in the north to Kopaszi Gát (Rákoczi bridge) in the south for just 400 forint (free with your BKV pass!) and no traffic jams.

The boats zigzag up and down the river, running every half hour on weekdays and every hour on weekends – more boats were put into service after 2,000 people took a ride on the very first day, July 1st. The stops are well-marked with the new BKK Duna logo  (BKK is basically the company that now runs the BKV), and there’s a glass-covered waiting area, which unfortunately during the current heat wave does more harm than good, but good marks for effort.

It’s a motley crew of boats, some mildly restored clunky old ones, some more modern, but I suppose that keeps it all very Budapestian. The captain and crew are still BKV employees, so you can expect the usual grumpy service and not much knowledge of English. But the schedule and the information boards at each stop are detailed and informative enough to get you where you’re going. Download the schedule here: http://www.bkk.hu/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Hajózás-Menetrend1.pdf

My friend Hunter and I boarded at the Erzsébet bridge stop, which is actually closer to the Marriott. There wasn’t much of a breeze as we gazed at Castle Hill and then the Parliament, with a detour over to a small bay in Újpest where rowers and kayakers were plying the waters.

 

We traveled all the way to Római part, where kids were learning to kayak and people were wading in the water or strolling the tree-lined promenade along the shore. Swimming isn’t allowed or recommended in the Danube here, not because of the water quality, but because of the strong currents. You could take the boat here and then go to the family-friendly swimming pool complex called Római Strandfürdő, which has quite a bit of shade compared with others in Budapest, a short walk inland. http://www.budapestgyogyfurdoi.hu/en/romai/history

We had a smoothie on the shore at one of the little bodegas serving lángos and palacsinta (fried dough and pancakes) and other beach-type food, took a short walk to see the restaurants and sandy shores, and then got on the next boat back to downtown, where there was finally a breeze washing over the upper deck. The boats are not fast – we chose to get off at Jászai Mari tér and take the No. 2 tram further down the river to get there faster. But the boats are perfect for an outing with friends or family. My next destination will be Kopaszi gát, the gorgeous park-restaurant-beach complex in southern Buda…

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An eXtremely Fun eXperience

I got a sneak preview of the new eXbox! No, it’s not a video game console, – which is pronounced eex-box in Hungarian – it’s much better. It’s an indoor extreme sports palace that opens today in Budapest!

When I say extreme, it’s just my kind of extreme. Challenging, but not over the top. The kids started with rollerblading, whizzing around the huge track in this 4,500-square-meter fun park, located in a warehouse in district 11. I went for a “ride” on the bungee trampoline, where you get strapped into a harness and can bounce almost as high as the 8-meter ceiling. I even did somersaults, yay me!

Then there’s a climbing wall, with real climbing shoes to rent and a qualified instructor, and a huge indoor ropes course built by the folks at Orczy Kalandpark, another one of my fave Budapest destinations. I’ll be back to try climbing and navigating the ropes course, but most of all, I want to learn to freeline skate – these are like two tiny skateboards, one for each foot. Here’s a pic!

And I haven’t even mentioned the awesome retro-Budapest buses that serve as snack bars. The seats have been taken out and set up outside, with more retro-cool seating on the roofs of the buses! Could not be cooler, in my opinion. Which, in the interest of full disclosure, is not unbiased. Friends of mine came up with the idea and made it happen, and I did the English text for their brochures and website. But since they’re friends of mine, that makes it even cooler, right?

So, the problem of what to do with kids in the heat, the rain, or the cold is SOLVED. And not just the kids – the coworkers in need of a break or a team-building event, the family reunion or corporate party… the retro-bars have a full menu of beers and cocktails. We stuck with lemonade, homemade and wonderful.

Oh, and don’t tell my kids, but I might even head over there for a skate, a jump or a climb one day when they’re at camp, or school, or at their grandparents’… but heck, I’ll teach them all I know.

Check out eXbox on http://www.exbox.hu/en/ and https://www.facebook.com/#!/eXbox.hu!

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Hungarian Artists Worth Watching – Zagabo

I have a reason to be happy when it’s raining. Zagabo, the Hungarian design brand, has been making this fantastic raincoat since its founding three years ago. That’s when I bought the hot pink version…

Gabi Szabó (somehow this became Zagabo) is the creative force behind the brand, which features everyday clothing in comfortable fabrics, spiced up with vibrant colors, unusual details and fun patterns. The colors are what drew me in, and indeed, I get lots of smiles when I wear hot pink on a rainy day in Budapest.

“It bugged me that people think you have to wear black and beige to be elegant,” Gabi told me. “I long for bold colors and have found that other women do, too.”

Zagabo’s new summer collection is all cotton, for comfort during Budapest’s heat waves, but also feature colors and contrasts, including stripes that just sing of summer. Here’s a fun summer outfit (right) with a bit of the stripes.

Zagabo has a maternity collection, too, and one comment on the brand’s Facebook site says it’s so gorgeous it’ll make you want to be pregnant. So watch out, ladies.

Zagabo, i.e. Gabi, makes her collections continuously available, so even if you like something from prior years, or from the maternity collection created in 2010, you can still order it. She says this is a popular element of her design concept – meaning, her things never go out of style!

You can find Zagabo online at www.zagabo.com, in English, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/#!/zagabo. For a personal look at these lovely creations, visit her showroom at Százados u. 3, near the Aréna Pláza mall and the stadium, or find her at the WAMP design fair http://wamp.hu/en along with my favorite jewelry designer, Vadjutka www.vadjutka.hu.

I sure hope it rains soon!

 

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A great source for expats seeking to travel within Hungary

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Beyond Balaton

Of course there’s a lot to see and do on the shores of Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest lake. This time, though, after attending a beautiful wedding at a perfect little hilltop church overlooking the lake, we decided to go beyond….

To a place called Kis-Balaton, i.e. Little Balaton. This was once part of Lake Balaton, until it dried up into swampland, only to be re-filled into a separate lake in the 1970s. It’s now part of a national park, and as such, there’s only one spot you can visit: Kányavári Sziget, a tiny island you can stroll around in about an hour.

But what a rich hour that is – witness the dragonfly that landed on my son’s shoulder and stayed for a long ride, ducks, gulls, cranes flying overhead, a family of wild geese touring the edges of the reeds, and frogs making quite a racket in the shallows.

Back over the bridge to the mainland, you can buy homemade pickles and jams from ladies who look like they’ve always been there.

Then, just a short drive down the road, is the Buffalo Reserve! That’s right, hundreds of buffalo, grazing in fields and wallowing in mud. Plus goats wandering free among the visitors, herds of  majestic Hungarian grey cattle with the sculpted horns grazing in the distance, donkeys, horses and even a few puppies. The black buffalo are native to Hungary and very tame – there are a few young ones in the visitors’ area for you to pet, along with the goats that jump on and off the playground equipment. Then there’s a trail to follow, with signs in English and Hungarian about the wildlife and natural phenomena of the area, including instructions on how to build a bat house for your backyard.

All very worthwhile – the kids had a great time and so did we. And something different from all that Big Balaton has to offer, although we managed to grab some lángos before we went to Little Balaton.

How to get there:

Slightly tricky, since we got lost, thinking that the Zalavári Emlékpark had something to do with Kis-Balaton, but the Emlékpark is an EU-financed pair of buildings showing pictures of what you can and should go out and actually see for real. Kis-Balaton, i.e. Kányavári Sziget, is between the towns of Zalavár and Zalakomár. Don’t go into Zalavár. Kányavári Sziget doesn’t seem to be marked on Googlemaps, so it probably won’t be in your GPS, so get ready for an adventure. The Buffalo Reserve, Bivalyreservátum in Hungarian, is well-marked on the road south toward Zalakomár. And it’s on Googlemaps: http://goo.gl/maps/KwFF

Enjoy!

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Top Weird Hungarian Foods to Try (or Not): Part III

Egg noodles. You can’t go wrong. Kids love ’em. Put something with a cream sauce and you’re ready to go. Well, get this. Hungarians put poppy seeds and sugar on them. Or ground walnuts and sugar. Or sauteed cabbage and sugar. Can you believe it? Read on for more about these, and about the one egg noodle invention that really is worth trying (No. 5)…

4. These egg noodle concoctions are called mákos tészta, diós tészta and káposztás tészta, respectively, and are hugely popular at preschools all over Hungary. Grownups order them at cafeteria-style eateries where they like to indulge in such nostalgic dishes. Apparently it’s another way for Hungarians to claim they’re eating a healthy main dish when it’s actually a dessert. (Hungarians primarily do this with palacsinta, crepes, which are considered a perfectly good main dish after soup in many households.)

I must make a slight exception for káposztás tészta, the cabbage one. This is often prepared with salt instead of sugar, and lots and lots of ground black pepper. After the finely chopped, sautéed cabbage is tossed with the noodles, many cooks sauté it further to get a crispy, browned effect on both. Now THAT is one Hungarian noodle dish worth trying. The other one follows…

5. Túrós csusza is one of Hungary’s culinary wonders, although it still qualifies for the Weird list in my book. This is the same egg noodles, tossed with sautéed bacon and then topped with a mixture of sour cream and túró (cottage cheese). When I say sautéed bacon, however, I mean just the fatty part, which of course is a delicacy here. It does fry up into a nice greasy pool of, well, grease, with crispy bits of fat floating around. It’s important to dump the whole thing into the pasta – no skimming off the fat, otherwise you’ll have missed the point! The melted fat makes the pasta slippery, hence the name, from the verb “csúszni,” to slip. It also makes it sufficiently salty, offset by the tangy-lumpy sour cream and túró. Fantastic.

I often put fresh ground pepper on mine, but don’t tell Hungarians – apparently this is just not done. I also had the Szeged version once, with sauteed kolbász (paprika sausage) and that was scrumptious too.

I attempted to make túrós csusza in the US once. They have egg noodles, bacon, sour cream and cottage cheese, right? Well, the egg noodles were fine. But the bacon was not fatty enough, the sour cream was also low-fat compared with the Hungarian, and the cottage cheese? Well, you can probably guess that it was a poor substitute to the Hungarian. That goes for all American dairy products  – no flavor at all, compared with the lovely milk and yogurt in this part of the world!

Anyway, túrós csusza was a complete flop in Michigan. Needless to say, I haven’t tried to introduce the poppy seed and walnut versions in the US either, because I just can’t wrap my brain around putting sugar on noodles. Can you?

A link to my previous posts on weird Hungarian foods: https://adriknows.com/2012/04/18/top-weird-hungarian-foods-to-try-or-not-part-ii/ and https://adriknows.com/2012/04/16/top-weird-hungarian-foods-to-try-or-not-part-i/. Enjoy. Or not.

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Three Countries in a Day… a Day Trip from Budapest

Breakfast in Hungary, lunch in Slovakia, dinner in Austria and then back home to bed in Budapest. It can be done! And enjoyed…

It’s just a two-hour drive to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia,which was once the capital of Hungary. Hungarians still call it Pozsony. We were able to park in the old town and stroll the streets, and quickly found a delightful café w ith organic ice cream, the chocolatiest I’ve ever had.

We walked up to the Grassalkovich Palace, the residence of Slovakia’s president, where we watched the changing of the guards outfitted in bright red and blue. The palace was built by the same Count Anton Grassalkovich who built the one here in Hungary at Gödöllő, which I mention because it’s where my husband and I had our wedding reception. I mean, if you’re going to marry a dashing Hungarian, or any other European for that matter, then I think you have the right to go all out with the princess thing. Anyway, both Grassalkovich Palaces were once the home and meeting place for the Austro-Hungarian aristrocracy and the Habsburg monarchy, since Grassalkovich was advisor to Empress Maria Theresia.

After a stop for lunch at an Art Nouveau-style, rather touristy restaurant opposite the Palace (we had halusky, of course, the national dish of dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon), we strolled back down to depart for Austria. We contented ourselves with seeing Bratislava Castle from afar, and agreed that next time we’ll ride the elevator up to the UFO that hovers over the Danube –  the observation deck of the Novy Most Bridge.

Just 45 minutes in the car and we were at the Neusiedler See, a lake called Fertő tó in Hungary. The two countries share this lake, though the Austrian side has most of it, and is home to most of the cute villages that line it. The area is both vibrant and relaxing – people are windsurfing and biking, kids are playing at the many playgrounds that dot the shore, but there are plenty of cafes, ice cream shops and quiet walking paths along the lake. It’s a good bike ride in spring or fall, 133km around, of which 38km are in Hungary. I mentioned it in this post http://wp.me/p1Mrmn-5L.

We walked along the reedy shore, made plans to come back in summer for the outdoor theater performances at the Lake Stage in Mörbisch (this year features Strauss’ Die Fledermaus http://www.seefestspiele-moerbisch.at/home/index.htm).

Then we had dinner at a heuriger in Podersdorf, http://www.jagakoella.at. This is the quintessential Austrian summer experience – dinner outdoors of soup (try liver dumpling or garlic cream) followed by wheat and rye breads with Austrian hams and cheeses. And wine… Blaufrankisch (Kekfrankos in Hungarian) from the neighborhood.

Then down to the lakeshore for great Italian ice cream, and then it was two hours’ drive back home to Budapest.

Here’s a map of our trip:  http://g.co/maps/dbdxa

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