A few quick days in Budapest gave us just enough time to meander our way along both banks of the Danube and gear up for the next action-packed leg of our trip. The current city was established in 1873 from the combination of the towns of Buda and Pest, and over the next three days we would venture to both sides to experience their very different personalities.
Follow the leader
Our day started with Pest, the more yuppie Eastern side of the city. We thought we'd join up with a free walking tour to get a better idea of the history, but after one too many cheesy jokes and "local legends" about this statue or that, we decided to break off and do our own thing.
Plus, the tour was all set to skip these cinnamon chimney cakes (Kürtóskalács), and we just couldn't bear that idea.
We strolled back home through Pest's lively streets and market stalls selling mulled wine, just starting to feel the crispness of fall.
Touring, our way
The next morning, we set out on a massive loop from Pest to Buda and back, taking in the serene grandeur of the palaces and cathedrals atop Buda's castle hill.
When we'd finally shut our gaping jaws, we crossed the river for one last time at Margaret Bridge, finishing our loop at Parliament around the lunchtime rush.
Through the hordes of tourists clogging the lobby, we could see that the next English tour wouldn't be offered until late in the afternoon. Unflappable, although not confident about absorbing anything from a tour in Russian, we headed for a local café to pass the time. We relished the opportunity to try goulash, a classic Hungarian stew, and threw back a few hard ciders for good measure.
When we arrived back at Parliament, the scene had calmed down quite a bit. But we hadn't.
We took ridiculous pictures of ourselves all around the marvelously beautiful building. Well, except for the heavily-fortified room containing the Hungarian Crown Jewels. You wouldn't want to try any funny business in there, with its two-meter mandatory safe zone and guards wielding sharp rapiers.
A little relaxation
After all the walking and touring we were ready to unwind, so we caught a bus to one of Budapest's famous Turkish baths. Along with paprika and coffee, the Ottomans left their love of a good soak behind after their roughly 100 year occupation.
There are dozens of thermal pool complexes in Budapest, and each has a certain reputation among locals: the hipster one, the tourist one, the one where the rich old ladies go to gossip, etc. We chose Széchenyi, the largest, for our first dip, as its eighteen different pools allow you to Goldilocks your way to the one that's just the right temperature.
While most locals post up at a pool for the entire day, we took our pruny selves home after just a few hours of soaking. We could have stayed and relaxed in this spicy, friendly city much longer than our three day stopover allowed, but we had to start prepping for our next adventure.
Our first foray into the Middle East begins in Israel!