Monday, September 10, 2007

Margaret Island, Markets and More

After putting our hostel hunt to bed and spending a good evening tasting Hungarian wines, Tyler and I dropped off our bags and prepared for a day of Budapest sightseeing. We decided to tackle a few of the must-dos on our sightseeing list: Margaret Island, the Central Market Hall, and try out one of the baths in town. So we dropped off our bags at our new hostel and hopped on a street tram to get to the island.

Now, this is a little of an aside, but one thing that sometimes frustrates me when travelling is experiencing good mass transit options...because we don't have it at home. In Budapest, you've got three metro lines running out from the city center, tram lines that run in circles around the city, buses, trains, and fast trains for people getting out to suburbs. I can't help but think that if it can be done here, there's no good reason for Seattle to keep dragging it's feet. And Seattle just can't be a great city with traffic congestion and lacking multiple options for moving people around.

But after ranting about that mid-ride, Tyler and I stepped off the tram and made our way onto the island. Margaret Island lies in the center of the Danube, a bit north of the central part of the city, and was long a secluded bastion for monks, nuns and churches. It is named after Saint Margit, a daughter of King Bela IV who vowed to give his daughter to the Lord if he could hold off the Mongol invaders. He did hold them off, built a convent for his daughter who then took to the life and became a saint. Today, it is a green and tranquil place near the city, filled with gardens, some ruins, and pools. It also feels a bit like a Budapest version of Greenlake, as it's edges are a nice track, filled with runners and speed walkers getting a workout near the city.

Margaret Island in bloom

Budapest's Space Needle...or Water Tower

Mid-island, we came across the Water Tower, about the same vintage as the World's Fair in Seattle and bearing a bit of a resemblance to Seattle's main monument. Then we continued north to a very nice Japanese garden, complete with ponds with koi, turtles, and lovely statues.

Tyler in the Japanese Garden

Statue in the Japanese Garden

Getting hungry, we decided to leave the island and head to the mainland to get some food. After passing by a fountain that was now making coordinated movements with classical music, we climbed back on the tram (which conveninently seem to run about every two minutes) and went to Budapest's Central Market Hall. I was already intrigued having read about it in Eddybles, and I was anxious to stumble upon some inexpensive and delicious market food. So we found a huge warehouse into which at least two Pike Place Markets could live and wound our way around, my enjoyment tempered by the rumbling in my stomach. Finally, Tyler looked up and saw the food stalls were above us and calling my name with sausages, beer, and langos, a Hungarian fried bread traditionally served with sour cream and grated cheese (yes, very healthy). After chowing down, we went back to better appreciate the available goods. While we've been to many markets around the world, I'd have to say that this is the one to go to for meat. There were a plethora of stalls devoted solely to meat--sausages, goose, pork, beef, you name it. After a dessert of some warm strudel, we left the warm stalls of the market for the cold and windy streets.

Budapest's Central Market Hall

By now, it was cold, threatening rain and our feet were a bit weary, so we decided to go check into our new place for the night. And what a relief it was. While it cost more than we really wanted (or needed) to spend, we were happy to find we had our own little Hungarian flat for a few days. One nice thing about hostels in Budapest is that they mostly seem to be set within regular apartment or business buildings, with huge stone facades and central courtyards. Seeing a full size bathroom with a tub of our very own and a kitchen and a large living/bed room, we were pleased to spend a few days in relative luxury before heading home. So we decided to hold off on the baths one more day to have more time to appreciate them, enjoyed our little living space and then had a nice dinner at a cute little cafe just 15 minutes walk away.

Although we'd had a rocky start in Budapest, this was a pretty pleasant little day.

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