Exploring Buda

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We arrived into Budapest late in the afternoon and by the time we’d checked into our lovely hotel, the Prestige Hotel, we had time for a quick walk before our dinner reservation. We decided to head out and get a look at the Hungarian Parliament from the other side of the Danube. All was going well until we started to feel the odd spot of rain as we crossed the Chain Bridge, it had been glorious all day and so we dismissed the idea of going back for an umbrella. We made it across to a point where we were level with the Parliament and the grey clouds had rolled in. We had time for a few photos before the heavens opened and we had to dive for cover, getting completely soaked in the process. Not a great start to our trip – thankfully the rest was much better (and drier!).

Our first morning in Budapest was spent on a segway tour of the city with Yellow Zebra, which was a brilliant way for us to quickly get a feel for the city and also to learn something of the history of the city. It also spared my boyfriend’s knee which is not great after a lot of walking, although being the Sport Billy that he always was prior to all of the knee surgery, he took to the segwaying like a duck to water, enjoying slaloming between obstacles at the back of the group. I highly recommend it if you’re in Budapest and fancy a guided tour, even the most apprehensive from our tour were whizzing around after five minutes.

Our second morning was spent not on the Pest side of the city where we were staying, but rather exploring Buda. It’s a great way to spend a (largely inexpensive) morning or afternoon in Budapest.

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Budapest only became a single city (unifying Buda, Obuda and Pest) in 1873. Buda is located on the hilly West bank of the Danube, whereas Pest lies on the flatter East bank. Buda is the quieter and more residential side of the city, so we opted to stay in Pest, although we were keen to spend some time exploring Buda. Wanting to beat the tourist groups (and taking advantage of our hotel’s fantastic positioning only minutes from the Chain Bridge) we got up early one morning and headed across the river to take the funicular up to the top of the hill. Although the funicular only cost a few Euros, it’s a perfectly doable walk if you fancy a bit more exercise. Do walk across the many bridges over the funicular track though as you get a fantastic view across the Chain Bridge and over to St Stephen’s Basilica.

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A short stroll away from the funicular is Fisherman’s Bastion, a beautiful terrace which looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing and which offers lovely panoramic views across to Pest and the Hungarian Parliament. Although we got there just before 9am we definitely weren’t there early enough to have the place to ourselves before the city woke up. If you do want to pretend to be queen of your own Bastion I’d definitely suggest getting there earlier than we did, it’s open and accessible all day and night though so I’m sure you can find a time to enjoy some solitude there.

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We enjoyed an early morning ice cream before having a stroll around the quiet tree-lined streets.

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Doing my research I’d read about Cafe Ruszwurm, a tiny cafe founded in 1827 with a lovely wooden counter inside housing a variety of cakes and pastries. We got there around 10.15am and were lucky enough to still be early enough to get a seat, apparently it gets very busy. We would have sat outside but the surrounding area was in the middle of all sorts of construction, mainly to fit out a Jamie’s Italian next door.

We selected drinks and a cake for me and a chocolate croissant for my boyfriend and sat down to tuck in. Both homemade they were delicious. Go there early (it’s never too early to have cake!) and enjoy.

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Budapest is a city of far too many beautiful sights and angles and I came home with a memory card bursting at the seams with far too many shots of the Parliament and Chain Bridge as viewed from Buda. Some of the best views both up and down rive come from the grounds of Buda Castle.

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My advice would be to not only visit once but to go back as dusk starts to fall, because there’s something magical about standing looking over the city and watching the lights of the city come on as blue hour falls.

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Budapest captured my heart, if you haven’t visited then put it on your list of places to visit. A lot of people go with friends and have a cheap week full of bar and club hopping. Personally, I’d say you have to go with someone you love to really do the city justice, it’s utterly romantic and watching the sun set from Buda is magical.

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Exploring Budapest’s Central Market Hall

Budapest Central Market Hall food and souvenirs

When I was researching what to do on our recent holiday to Budapest (seriously, can people please start using the word ‘holiday’ again? If you’re visiting somewhere for a break for a few days it’s holidaying, not travelling) I came across recommendations to visit Budapest’s Central Market Hall (or Great Market Hall) and it looked like a great place to spend some time, so that’s where we headed late one morning after an early stroll in Budapest City Park.

We hopped on the number 2 tram which whipped us along the bank of the Danube southwards to Fővám tér where we popped out from underground and found ourselves right at the doors of the Central Market Hall.

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It’s the oldest and largest indoor market in Budapest and was built around 1897. It’s absolutely cavernous inside, with stalls on two layers and both tourists and locals browsing the variety of wares on offer.

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The upper walkways are lined with stalls selling a variety of Hungarian goods, designed mostly to appeal to tourists. You can pick up an array of wooden goods, blouses and T-shirts emblazoned with tributes to Budapest, paprika in a variety of novelty forms and other knick-knacks and souvenirs.

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The ground floor level is dedicated to grocery stalls selling just about everything you could want – fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, fish, pastries and more.

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Although I am a meat eater, I draw the line at foie gras. It was everywhere in Hungary and graced probably every menu we were given, if you’re a fan though, it’s available to buy to take home at the Market Hall.

Budapest Central Market Hall food and souvenirs

In the central aisle there were stalls selling semi-precious jewellery and also succulents and other potted plants and herbs.

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In one corner of the Central Market Hall building we found a weird colour changing egg, which for the life of me I cannot find details of on the internet which would, in the absence of photographic proof, lead me to believe that I may have made it all up. The lesson of the story being to explore all the nooks and crannies as you never know what you might find!

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It’s impossible to spend time around food and not want to sample something of the local cuisine, so after eyeing up the food stalls upstairs on our initial recce, we finished our visit with a return to the stall selling Lángos, a Hungarian deep fried flat bread that is classically topped with sour cream and grated cheese, but which can also be loaded up with just about any other topping you can think of, including vegetables, meat and even comes in sweet versions with Nutella and fruit. As it was sort of lunch time I opted for the classic version. Served warm it’s delicious, although would have been better with a more mature cheese, rubbery mild cheese never quite does it for me, but that’s personal preference.

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If you’re visiting Budapest and have some spare time then the Central Market Hall is a great place to while away some time and perhaps also pick up a few souvenirs for home. The market is closed on Sunday, opens at 6am on other days, and closes at 5pm Monday, 6pm Tue-Fri and 3pm Saturday.

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Afternoon tea at the Savoy

If visiting Highgate Cemetery is probably not what most people would think of as a birthday treat, then afternoon tea might be and so that’s exactly what I spent a Sunday afternoon doing with my mum the other weekend. While thousands of others were running around the streets of London for the Marathon we headed over to The Savoy for afternoon tea in The Thames Foyer, a gorgeous light-filled space containing a gazebo and tiered centrepiece of hydrangeas and roses.

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We were led across to a table in the gazebo where we had a great view of the room (we love a bit of people watching) and we were handed menus from which to select our tea – a traditional high tea (savoury) or traditional afternoon tea (sweet) and also our tea selection. Both of us having a sweet tooth, we went with the traditional afternoon tea and chose The Savoy Afternoon Tea Blend to accompany it.

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Our cake plate stand quickly arrived loaded up with sandwiches and scones. Our sandwiches were an assortment including ham and mustard, coronation chicken, smoked salmon, egg and cress and mozzarella and tomato on pesto bread. Although we were told that the sandwiches were unlimited and we could have more if we wanted, we knew that with afternoon tea the key is pacing – there’s always so much more food to come.

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The scones were both plain and raisin and came accompanied by both clotted cream, strawberry jam and, slightly more unusually, lemon curd.

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Cream first, jam second!

Afternoon tea at the Savoy Hotel Thames Foyer London scones

Unlike many afternoon teas when one layer of the cake stand is devoted to tiny pastries, at The Savoy they come over with a whole platter of beautiful little morsels from which you can select as many as you like to try. We started with three each – a blackberry mousse, a strawberry macaron and a passionfruit eclair. We both agreed that the eclair was our favourite, although they were all delicious.

Afternoon tea at the Savoy Hotel Thames Foyer London pastries

Part way through dinner a pianist had struck up in the corner of the room and was playing a variety of tunes, in particular a nod to Bowie’s recent death with a few of his songs, including one of my favourites (from Labyrinth) As the World Falls Down. It was lovely.

At the time I booked I noted that we were going for my mum’s birthday and asked whether they might be able to stick a candle in something and when we arrived our waitress had checked casually whether we were there to celebrate something special, at which point my mum told her it was for both of our birthdays, so when the pianist struck up with happy birthdays and cake plates and candles came out, ours came with two. A lovely touch, thanks Savoy.

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As if that wasn’t enough cake, we still had more to come – a choice of either a Victoria Sponge cake or a chocolate cake. As our little birthday cakes had been chocolate we went with the Victoria Sponge. Light, fluffy and topped with fresh cream and a strawberry. Exactly what we needed as a dessert course.

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We waddled out of The Savoy onto the street and back to Temple tube station where the London Marathon runners were still going. I almost felt guilty that they were running for hours for charity and we were just eating cake, but I was mostly too full of good food to care.

London is full of afternoon tea options and it’s difficult to know which one to choose for a special occasion, afternoon tea at the Savoy is fantastic and I’ll definitely return at some point, now, what’s my next excuse for visiting?

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Highgate Cemetery

I’ve always been fascinated by cemeteries, particularly old cemeteries with ornate graves (I loved visiting Melaten Cemetery in Cologne) and so Highgate Cemetery has always been on my ‘to visit’ list of London places to go. My mum also wanted to go (it must be in the genes) and so when she came down to London  the other week to visit for our birthdays (they’re only two days apart) we decided to head over to Highgate Cemetery. Whereas the East Cemetery is open to visitors generally, the West Cemetery is only open to visitors on organised tours, these can be booked during the week but at the weekend you just have to turn up and wait for the next available tour (they’re every half an hour).

In order to get there if you’re coming from Archway tube is up a hill and then through Waterlow Park, which is actually a lovely park, especially on a beautiful spring day.

But it was Highgate we were really interested in. We got the last two tickets for the first tour and we quickly set off with our guide. Highgate opened in 1839 and is one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries. I visited Tower Hamlets Cemetery one of the other six a few years ago during Open House London, but Highgate Cemetery is probably the best known and houses some rather famous inhabitants.

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The flowers were out in force and the sun was shining, although it being April we were subjected to the odd intense shower of hail which soon passed before the sun emerged again – seriously, what is going on with the weather this year?!

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We were taken round and showed some of the graves and interesting features of the cemetery. For example, the photo below on the right shows a rather visual way of indicating the grave of a military man – an inverted cannon as part of the railings.

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The grandest and most impressive part of the West Cemetery starts at the Egyptian Avenue, an avenue of tombs flanked by obelisks which leads up to the Circle of Lebanon.

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After being taken around the Terrace Catacombs and peering into the beautiful Mausoleum of Julius Beer (no longer open but possible to see inside via a virtual tour) we continued our tour of the graves and were taken to see Nero the lion and were told tales of the grave’s owner George Wombwell.

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The graves vary in age (there are still plenty of plots available and even a new mausoleum under construction near the entrance) and also in style. My favourite were the most ornate. I love an angel.

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After finishing our tour of the West Cemetery we moved across the road to the East Cemetery, the admission price for which is included in the West Cemetery tour price. It’s markedly newer and more well kept.

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Like the West Cemetery, the graves all vary in style and we spotted quite a few unusual ones, including this book style grave – very novel!

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Douglas Adams’ grave was plain save for a pot of pens which had been placed there to house the collection of ballpoint pens that people left in tribute to a writer who had bemoaned their habit of disappearing.

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Of course the most famous of the graves is that of Karl Marx. Standing on a corner it’s the most imposing of the graves in the East Cemetery and a number of people were there to pay homage to Marx.

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Jeremy Beadle’s grave (below left) was more understated than I expected. The grave on the right though didn’t beat around the bush with euphemisms, I liked its straightforward approach to the subject of death.

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Highgate Cemetery is well worth a visit for anyone and I’m so pleased I finally got to visit.

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