In early September, my aunts Donna and Kay took their respective husbands Clarance and Frank on a European river Cruise. Their point of embarkation was Budapest, so we flew down to meet them and see them off. We were joined by Lisbeth’s parents, which was fantastic, because yes, they’re fun to travel with, but also we had our hands full with our two girls and needed all the help we could get.

Ellen  rarely naps anymore, but she took a long one in baggage claim upon arrival even though it was only 3:00pm. June explored the entire baggage claim area while we waited for Frits and Karen to arrive. Our apartment, tiny but efficient.

I had very little idea what to expect. I knew that Hungary has been hit hard by the recession, and that wages are quite low, so I expected to see outward signs of poverty. I’d also heard from several people that it’s a great, clean, and afffordable city.

First meal in Budapest. The weather was perfect the whole time. We sat comfortably outside for most of our meals. Budapest of full of grand buildings, ranging from defunct to very well kept. The Hungarian Forint trades at about 230 per dollar, making shopping a weird experience.

We saw almost no evidence of hard economic times. Nothing like Porto, or Dublin, for example. We saw only a few people begging in four days, so that surprised me. And it is indeed a clean vibrant city, with lots to see. For some reason it feels like a bigger city than it is. It feels more like London than Copenhagen, even though it’s much closer to Copenhagen in size.

Just around the corner from our rooms Breakfast near the hotel. Looks worse than it was, but traffic in Budapest really moves along. Around the corner from where we stayed. The steel posts separating the sidewalk from traffic were much appreciated.

Budapest is also quite affordable. Not dirt cheap, but very reasonable, especially by European standards. I particularly enjoyed the restaurants. There are a lot of them to choose from, and the quality of the food and service was quite high given the price. Plus I had what might be the best steak I’ve ever had (I’m not a big steak fan, but wow) on Ráday Street — a must-see stretch of sidewalk cafes that goes on and on for blocks.

Lisbeth, leaving the hotel for a day of sight-seeing. According to Google Translate, 'pince' means 'basement', so this is the 'panic basement'?! There's a fair amount of English on signs and menus, but it isn't always coherent.

At first it’s tempting to assume that the Hungarians in Budapest speak English pretty well. In restaurants, for example, they seem pretty fluent. But this is an illusion that often goes away once you stray off the subject of the menu.

The buildings are, it turns out, a little more impressive to a guy that grew up in the American Southwest than they are to Europeans DSC_6121.JPG It's nothing like Copenhagen, but there are a fair number of cyclists in Budapest

Lisbeth found this out the hard way one night, on an urgent quest for diapers and baby-food. She quickly discovered that many of the cashiers had absolutely no idea what she was saying. A friendly woman in line offered to help, but she too couldn’t help. So Lisbeth had no choice but to mime baby food and diapers (oh I wish I’d been there — it sounds hilarious).

About fifty years ago, Copenhagen stopped using trolleys like this one. And they sold them to places like... Budapest. DSC_6129.JPG The post boxes are particularly weird.

We were extremely lucky in terms of timing. The weather was perfect to a degress that made it seem surreal. We ate almost all of our meals outside I never once felt too cold or too hot. Naturally when you’re new to a place you assume it is always like it is now, but the manager of the rooms we rented assured us that it was unusually nice.

A memorial in the Jewish district, honoring Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, who helped save many Jews during the war. DSC_6139.JPG A nice playground where Ellen tried the Hungarian swings (which are exactly the same as swings are everywhere) A nice playground where Ellen burned off some energy during our first day Ellen Ellen, Lisbeth, and June try out the swings

Before I left I wanted to come back. Four days is not nearly enough time to see a city like Budapest. There were things that I wanted to see but couldn’t because there just wasn’t time, even with Frits and Karen generously looking after the girls so we could go exploring.

DSC_6181.JPG A grand old building, apparently being left to the elements The Buda side of the city, from the Pest side Kay, Clarence, Frits, Karen, and Ellen sit down to breakfast at the Budapest Hilton Lisbeth, Donna, Frant, and Kay at breakfast at their hotel Matthias Church, which is perched high on the Buda side of town with fantastic views of the Pest side Matthias Church, which is perched high on the Buda side of town with fantastic views of the Pest side Aunt Kay, preparing for lunch on what has to be the longest street of sidewalk cafes in the world Clarence, preparing for lunch on on Ráday Street -- surely the longest street of sidewalk cafes in the world Uncle Frank, preparing for lunch on on Ráday Street The Pest side of the city, from one of the many bridges River cruise boats on the Danube Even in disrepair these buildings are fantastic DSC_6292.JPG DSC_6307.JPG The Chain Bridge, with St. Stephen's Basilica in the backround DSC_6339.JPG Matthias Church The House of Parliament Walking back to Pest across the Chain Bridge The metro stations seem modern... especially in contrast to the trains Heading up to the surface after a ride on the metro Ellen and Grandpa, or Not my child Don't know what's weirder -- than they still have pay-phones, or that each one is at a different height Not as much fun as it looks, apparently DSC_6522.JPG St. Stephen's Basilica perform one wedding after the other. Seriously. We saw three couples walking down this street. Another happy groom, and reluctant bride, by the looks of it St. Stephen's Basilica is a wedding factory on Saturdays, apparently The June-bug DSC_6655.JPG Ellen, moments before getting sick all over Frits as we walked into a restaurant

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