December 18 - Shocked

As they surmised, both Crystal and Beverly woke up quite early, at 03:00; Justin followed a bit before 04:00.  We finished packing, and thankfully everything fit in our bags, even with all the coffee mugs and tiki mugs.  To make a little bit of room, we left a bunch of the N95 masks that we brought, and told the host to put them to good use.  To leave, we did the opposite of the steps we did to check-in, and put the keys back in the lockbox where we got them.  The Uber driver was there a bit before 06:00, before our 06:10 scheduled pick-up.  It was interesting to finally be in a car going through the city, after watching all of the craziness the past couple of days where as pedestrians we were constantly on watch for bikes and vehicles.  It was also interesting to be on the highway and in the new parts of the city, after walking around only the more historical and touristic areas for days.

We realized on the ride over that we weren’t sure what terminals we were in.  We checked our boarding passes, and they thankfully said T2B, but Beverly wasn’t sure of hers.  We decided to just get out at T2B.  We walked for a bit until we found an information screen where we typed in “Los Angeles” and found information on her flight - she just had to walk a bit further.  We said our goodbyes, and then we split paths.  Coincidentally, where we needed to go was right next to the information board.  Security wasn’t crowded, but was a bit chaotic and rushed, and we weren’t awake enough for that, but we made it through okay.

Past security, we looked for a Star Alliance lounge, but there wasn’t one, which was a little surprising with a decent number of Lufthansa flights.  So we decided to just go to a place at the end of the terminal with sandwiches, breads, coffees, etc., and got a table away from others.  Crystal read, whilst Justin tried to remember what we did the day before.  Meanwhile, Beverly texted us photos from the Air France lounge, playfully taunting us with everything edible and drinkable that was at her disposal there.  We were glad she got where she needed to go without much difficulty; we think this was her first international trip she’d taken by herself, so we figured that wasn’t the easiest thing to do.  We hoped she’d enjoyed her time with us.

It finally started to get light at 08:00.  We got a message that our gate had changed to D67, right next to where we were sitting, so we didn’t have to move to keep an eye on things.  There were several birds flying around inside - we had no clue how they got in, and wondered if it was like “The Terminal” for birds, i.e. they were here permanently.  As it got closer to boarding time, we didn’t see a Lufthansa plane or any indications of Lufthansa gate agents at D67, so we packed up our stuff and went down to D50 to check, and supposedly now the plane was back at D50.  But we didn’t see anything there after several minutes, so Justin walked down to D67 again, but Crystal texted to say the plane had just arrived at D50.

To board the plane, there was no vaccination or negative test check, just our ID.  Perhaps something on our boarding pass indicated that we’d already done whatever we needed to have done.  We’d bought first class tickets for today, mainly because they were only barely more expensive than coach, $20 or so.  After boarding, we saw why.  The only difference was that in the first couple of rows there was no person in the middle seat.  It was the same seats, with the same amount of legroom.  So it was good that we hadn’t paid appreciably more.  Justin ordered Bacardi, and even though it was on the menu, they said they didn’t have any.

We landed a little late at Frankfurt, and since our layover was short anyway, we walked hurriedly to the next gate, which had moved…10 gates further away.  We got there a little after the scheduled beginning of boarding, only no one had boarded yet.  So we’d hurried for nothing, except for a little exercise we suppose.  Again, there was no check of anything but ID.  The flight from Frankfurt to Budapest was a slightly longer flight, 90 minutes instead of 75.  There were two kids behind us, near kindergarten age, and their parents behind them.  This kind of irked us, because we much rather would’ve had the kids kicking their parents’ seats than ours.  Again there was no Bacardi - just don’t put it on the menu if there is none.

We arrived in Budapest mid-afternoon, and we could make out a couple landmarks from the plane, including Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube.  When we got off the plane, there were a couple people doing just cursory checks of Covid stuff.  We think they were just looking for a bar code of any type, which we had.  Crystal’s first opportunity to use her Hungarian language skills was just outside, at the taxi stand, to order us a taxi.  We got our taxi almost immediately, and took a short ride into town.

The taxi driver was kind of shocked that Crystal was speaking Hungarian, and mentioned that her Hungarian was good.  They had a short conversation in Hungarian.  Between that and finding out this was our third time visiting Budapest, the taxi driver got a lot chattier and friendlier.  He mentioned something that we were not aware of, which is that the Chain Bridge was closed for repair work.  Given that this is the bridge closest to where we were staying, we realized that getting across the Buda side would be much more difficult than we were used to.  The only traffic on our side was the last two blocks, which we easily could’ve walked in less than half the time.  We were staying right near St Stephens, and the roads around there are packed, plus there are pedestrians everywhere.

Once at the front door to the unit, we followed the directions, only there was no magnet in the lock box as expected.  Crystal pinged the Airbnb host and he apologized, and told her to get  help from the restaurant next door.  They used their magnet, and once we were inside the building we were able to access the lockbox on the outside of our specific unit and get in.  Once inside, we saw there was a second set of keys on the counter, and this set of keys had a magnet, so we were now all set.  We dropped off our stuff, then headed out to explore.

There were tons of people, we think more than either 2018 or 2019.  Our first stop was at Red Pepper, to make dinner reservations for tonight - they told us that they had no availability.  We were really surprised, since we’d never had an issue getting a table there before.  We walked over to the river to check out the views, then came back, as Justin had a Zoom call at 17:00.  While he was on his call, Crystal searched for restaurants and came up with a couple of ideas.  We decided on a place near the Nyugati train station, about a 20 minute walk from us.  It was quite brisk outside, much colder than Paris.  

The restaurant was called “The Great Hall,” and the name was apropos.  It was in an enormous room - we weren’t sure if it had been turned into a restaurant, or whether the restaurant was just designed to just be huge.  It was full of very interesting designs and decorations, and had a bunch of LCD screens that had artwork that “moved” (e.g., skies changing on a cityscape).  We both got goulash for an appetizer, Justin got a braised lamb shank, and Crystal got a duck breast.  The food came out really quickly, but meanwhile our drinks took forever.  Later in the meal, the dessert took forever, but Crystal’s espresso came 10-15 minutes earlier than the dessert that was ordered at the same time.  They comped us our palinka (Hungarian schnapps), as they seemed to realize the wait times were unusual.  We weren’t out of there until around 20:00, almost two hours after we arrived.  The waiter was amazed at Crystal’s Hungarian, and specifically that she’d gotten so good in such a relatively short period of time.

After dinner we headed over to Boutiq Bar.  When we visited in 2018, it was one of the best, if not the best, bar visits we’ve had.  We tried to come back in 2019, but the only two nights we were in town were 23 and 24 December, and it wasn’t open either of those days.  We checked its opening days and saw it was open on Saturdays, but not on Sundays or Mondays, so tonight was our one chance to visit.  We just wanted to get in, however that might be, even if it required standing.  As it turned out, this was exactly the case, but they mentioned that as soon as any seats opened up, we could move.  For the first round Crystal ordered a Senorita Margarita and Justin ordered a Selfie.  

After about 30 minutes or so, they said we could move to two empty seats at the bar.  This was welcome because it was quite warm in the bar, and we weren’t the most comfortable both standing and being hot.  At the bar, Crystal got a Space Zombie, and Justin ordered a cocktail with Anniversario and Passion and Vanilla and Dram and Lime, then a cocktail with mezcal, lime, ginger, and muddled Hungarian pepper.  We had a good time at the bar, and the drinks were tasty, but we’re not sure it’s still our favorite.  [We aren’t sure what is.]  The music changed after 22:00 from salsa to some more modern dance/rave music, which we weren’t a fan of, so we left shortly thereafter.  We got home around 22:30 and went straight to sleep.

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