Wednesday, January 6, 2010

First trip (of many?) in 2010

With the new year came some new passport stamps.

The day after New Years, my sister Courtney, her friend Stenise and I embarked on a small Euro-journey to Croatia by way of Budapest, Hungary.

Some may ask why on earth we wanted to visit Croatia in early January. Fair enough. To answer that - our favorite cousin Jim recently relocated there for work from Ukraine. He has lived all over. When Courtney and I first started talking about her month-long tour of Europe, an obvious starting point was to catch up with Jim at some point. 

Getting to Croatia is not the cheapest, so we found alternatively affordable flights to nearby Budapest, a city that sounded intriguing to all of us. We arrived on the 2nd of January to a cold, snowy capital city. 

It is really a beautiful place, old, distinctly Eastern European, divided in two by the Danube River. We stayed on the "Pest" side and ventured to the somewhat lovelier "Buda" side in the morning by way of the famous Basilica and its surrounding streets.

We crossed the Danube by way of the Chain Bridge and toured around the winding streets, castles, palaces, museums and Fisherman's Bastion area of Buda. We found a Hungarian flea market and I purchased 2 bags of Paprika, the local favorite, one sweet, one spicy. Mostly, I enjoyed the simple novelty of being in a place where a different language is spoken. I just love that experience. Proud to say I more or less mastered the following words in 2 days-

"siya!" (hello!)
"kasanum" (thank you)
"karum" (please)
"vislat!" (goodbye!) 
"egge shegge dre!" (cheers!)

We had a totally delicious lunch of different kinds of soup in bread bowls. My tarragon chicken soup was superb, as were Court's garlic soup and Stenise's goulash soup.

The cuisine in Hungary is the sh*t, and a welcome change to my food horizons. Its heartiness reminds me of Scottish food, difference being that it actually has flavor and distinction and fresh vegetables. I almost feel bad writing this except that most Scots don't defend the food here either.

The lunch was delicious, and all subsequent meals followed suit, from the cheese platters to the goose legs to the perfectly cooked cabbage. 

My mom cooks a Hungarian dish called Chicken Paprikash for special occasions, or, any time we requested it growing up. I have no idea how a Hungarian dish became a staple at the Fyfe household- but what matters is that we got to try an authentic version while we were in Budapest. Honestly- it didn't compare to Mom's- but really close. And - who knew? Paprika is just another word for Bell Pepper. You live and you learn.

Speaking of which. Apparently you can't leave Budapest without a visit to their world famous bath houses, so we made a trip to Gellért Baths on the south side of the city. Stenise thought it was a bad idea so peaced out for the hotel bar, leaving me and Court to our own devices. 

I'll mention that if you don't like being confused, lost, or walking around in circles, don't go to Gellért. All told, we asked no less than 15 people directions in broken English/Hungarian before figuring out where we were supposed to go once we were in.

Beyond this ... I don't even think I can write about the experience on this forum because the language would be too explicit. Let's just say in signing up for a $10 massage we both had pretty close encounters with a large, burly Hungarian man wearing boxer briefs, and one of us left covered in chocolate. No joke.

With all of our bases covered, it was time for our next stop, Zagreb, Croatia. Unfortunately, our morning train out of Budapest turned into a late afternoon train out of Budapest, leaving us to sit in a cigarette-infused train station restaurant for hours, drinking cup after cup of espresso and the occasional, much needed, Jameson Irish whiskey. 

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