Thursday, April 26, 2012

Budapest- Part Zwei

Budapest never really crossed my mind before our weekend there. When I remembered that it's in Hungary, I immediately thought, "Okay, goulash. I know about Hungary." The goulash doesn't disappoint but an unexpected treat is the wine. There are 22 wine regions in Hungary and we decided to sample a few of their outputs at the House of Hungarian Wines.

Upon arrival at the unsuspecting entrance, we noticed a large 'CLOSED' sign on the door. We were incredibly disappointed and we stood on the sidewalk scratching our heads and wondering why it would be closed at 2pm on a Saturday. As an afterthought, my husband slightly pushed the door and it opened. We shrugged our shoulders and tiptoed inside, hoping that our luck had just changed. We stood at the counter for a moment and began to think that maybe it really was closed and they just forgot to lock the door. 

We heard a cough from the back and suddenly a young man appeared. He looked surprised to see us as he wiped some crumbs (remnants of a quick lunch) from the corners of his mouth. 

"Oh, hello..." he said.
"Hi!" we cheerily replied. "We know the sign says you're closed, but the door was open so we just came in... hope that's okay."
"Uhhh, sure. You want to tasting some wine?" he asked.
"Well, yes. If that's possible."
"Okay, okay, I see. Well... is it just you two in your party? You have no friends?"
"Right. Just us. We don't have friends," we replied uncertainly.
"Okay, okay, well, here is an offer of our tastings. You choose and we will go."

We chose to taste five wines: two whites, two reds, and a rose. Once our selection was made, he led us down to a cellar and sat us at a bistro table. He was young, excited, and knowledgeable about Hungarian wines. Throughout the course of our tasting he told us that his family operates a small winery outside of Budapest. In fact, he is attending school to learn how to be a winemaker so he can one day turn the small operation into a thriving business.

I was impressed with all of the wines. We were even able to join a small tour group as our sommelier showed us around the cellar. The House stocks around 700 different wines. Wine safes are also provided for private collectors to safeguard their booty. Perhaps one day, in the far future, we can rent a safe to stock our expensive, worldly collection of wine... but until then, just a visit to the House of Hungarian Wines will satiate us. The rose wine we sampled was the best I've ever tasted. 

Matyas Church was next on our list of Things to See. The exterior of the church is astounding. Its roof is decorated with multicolored glazed tiles and the stained glass windows are beautiful. We paid 10 Euros to go inside and unfortunately we were disappointed because the church is currently undergoing restoration. What wasn't closed off was covered in plastic sheeting and various power tools and buckets of cleaning fluids were scattered over the floors. We went through a 'museum' that was probably set up to justify charging spectators 5 Euros to walk through a construction zone. There were some interesting reliquaries but if we had it to do again, we would have been satisfied just gazing at the exterior.

After stopping for a quick snack and more delicious Hungarian coffee (this time with homemade cinnamon syrup!), we took our tour from the top of the city to its depths. The Labyrinth of Buda Castle is a 1,000-yard section of the dungeons and caves that run beneath Castle Hill. Our tour was self-guided and we were the only ones in the labyrinth. It was much spookier than the Valkenburg Caves. 

Dimly-lit arrows are tacked onto the walls and if you happen to miss one of them, you will find yourself at a crossroads, inky blackness enveloping you in every direction. In some places, you are crouched over completely because the space is so low. Cold water drips from the walls and ceiling in one section. Since we were the only tourists inside, I began imagining us turning down a wrong path or falling into an ancient well. Twice, as if on cue, we heard a scraping noise and a caretaker/cave dweller emerged from a dark tunnel, pushing a wheelbarrow. He didn't acknowledge us as we quickly moved aside and watched him pass back into the nether regions of the caves. Scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom began to flash through my mind. I 
conjured up the sound of distant, thudding drums and images of secret sacrificial rituals taking place in a dungeon somewhere. I asked my husband if he thought my suspicions could be true. His expression was incredulous and he slightly rolled his eyes before continuing through the maze. I think I have an over-active imagination.

Finally we saw the exit ahead and I was grateful that we made it back above ground to safety. No kidnappings or rituals for us, thank goodness!

We had dinner reservations for 8pm at the Pest Buda restaurant. If nothing else, its name is easily remembered. It was recommended in our guidebook and the concierge at the hotel seemed to approve when she made our reservations. Once again, we had a wonderful meal. I ordered fish stew to start. My entree was a chicken dish with paprika and egg noodles, and a side of cucumbers with creme fraiche. I love Hungarian food. It's rich and flavorful, and the accompaniment of Hungarian wine is the cherry on top. Pest Buda is a small family-owned restaurant. The staff are exceptional and our waiter was friendly and attentive. 

I didn't know much about Budapest before our vacation there. Now I'm anxious to learn everything about this beautiful city and I can't wait to return so we can drink Palinka (fruit wine), soak in the Turkish baths, eat more goulash, and visit some museums. We had only one full day in Budapest and I think we accomplished absolutely everything we could manage but a complete visit should be at least three or four days. 

I'm definitely 'Hungary' for more! Haha... I bet I'm the first to ever make that joke!

Matyas Church at Night

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