19 December - Socttish Hungarian

Neither of us slept great, perhaps because we knew we had an impending alarm at 05:15.  It didn’t take long for us to get packed and to clean up the room a bit.  For the first time ever, we were going to be flying Wizz Air, which is a budget European airline somewhat akin to Spirit or Frontier in the US.  We knew from browsing their web page that there was a good chance they’d deem our backpacks too big for the cabin, so we’d re-arranged our packing this morning such that we could check the backpacks.  We had to pick the most critical stuff for Crystal’s small duffel and for Justin’s camera bag, and then hope for the best with Wizz Air not losing the backpacks.

Our taxi was downstairs before our scheduled pickup time, and we were ready, so we left about 06:10.  We took what seemed to be an incredibly circuitous route to get out of central Rome, with lots of twists and turns, including going right past the Colosseum one last time.  Shortly after that we found ourselves on some straight(ish) roads and finally a highway heading west to the airport.  We got to the airport around 06:45, and had no issues checking in our bags or getting through security.  In fact, we were at our gate around 07:30 for a flight that wasn’t supposed to depart until 09:20.

After sitting and reading for a bit, we saw on the screen at our gate that our flight was delayed by about 40 minutes, and we hoped that wouldn’t continue to slide, as we had lunch reservations in Budapest.  Fortunately the 40 minute delay never got any longer, and we took off around 10:00, and landed a bit before 12:00.  All of our bags came out in a timely fashion, and we considered our first flight with Wizz Air a success, all things considered.

Outside, it was substantially colder than Italy, but it was also substantially drier as well.  Crystal used her Hungarian skills to ask for a taxi, and it was a straightforward 30 minute ride to our hotel.  We realized that we had only ever flown into, not out of, the Budapest airport.  We also realized that we had only ever flown out of, and never into, the Vienna airport.  This was our 4th trip to Budapest in 5 years, but Dewey and Clarita’s first visit since 1999, when they traveled with Heidi and also with Dewey’s father.  They were commenting on things they recognized, and things that seemed different since the last time they visited.

Our hotel was in a slightly different location than the past couple of years - this time we were a little further east, east of Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Ășt (a major north-south street several blocks inland from the Danube), just a block or so from the Opera House.  We picked this hotel, Casati Budapest, because it was both highly rated and also because it was the hotel containing our favorite bar in Budapest, the Tuk Tuk Bar.  We figured if we stayed at a hotel with a great bar, we’d always have a good place to get 1-2 final drinks before heading upstairs to crash.  When we checked in, we asked the person helping us about Teddy, the bartender we’d hung out with on several occasions.  We don’t remember the exact language, but he said something like “oh, Teddy doesn’t work here any more.  We fired him, he was being an asshole to everyone who worked here.”  Okay then, so much for “he moved on to a different opportunity.”  We’ll never know the story, but it would probably be an entertaining one.

Heidi and Tom were set to join us later in the day, so we had 3 rooms at check-in.  2 were normal rooms, but 1 was a junior suite, as we think when we booked there were only 2 normal rooms left.  Once again Dewey and Clarita kindly gave us the largest room; we suppose that’s one of the perks of choosing all the hotels in the first place.  Whatever the reason, it was/is appreciated.  Our room was massive, with a separate couch/chair sitting area, and a separate WC from the bathroom with the shower and sink.  We had a little bit of time to unpack, and put on an extra layer of clothing, before heading out to lunch

Our lunch reservations were at 14:00, much later than we’d been eating, but purposefully so since we didn’t want to be rushed after landing from Rome.  We walked over to Retek, a restaurant we hadn’t eaten at before, but in a part of town we were very familiar with.  For the first time since Salzburg, it was nice to be able to walk around knowing more-or-less where we were going, and not having to navigate every last twist and turn through town.  At the restaurant, Crystal told them that we had a reservation, but they told us we were actually at the “other” Retek, just outside and around the corner.

The other Retek got us seated, and we took off our multiple layers of coats to get seated.  Justin ordered the fixed Retek menu, which consisted of goulash soup, roast duck leg, and a dessert.  Crystal ordered stuffed cabbage.  Dewey ordered the duck leg, and Clarita ordered the chicken paprikash.  Everything was tasty, and certainly a big change from Italy.  Dewey commented that some of the dishes seemed to be modern twists on classic fare, such as the way the dumplings were prepared and presented.  We hadn’t really noticed, we just appreciated that everything tasted so good, particularly the goulash soup.

After lunch, Crystal wanted to head up Andrassy Street to go to a store that she orders from online regularly; one that doesn’t have a physical location in or near San Diego.  Dewey and Clarita wanted to see some of the sights along the river, so Justin walked with them since he knew the way.  They walked over towards the east end of the Chain Bridge, which apparently had just reopened to vehicle traffic (but not yet pedestrians).  From the riverbank, they headed north up to the Shoe Memorial (Dewey and Clarita had not seen it before), up to Parliament, then southeast to Freedom Square (and Reagan statue), south to the St Stephen’s Christmas Market, and then they split up.  Dewey and Clarita stayed near St Stephen’s, and Justin went back to the hotel to meet up with Crystal.  She was about to start a Hungarian class (in hindsight, this possibly could have been in person), and then was supposed to meet the brother of her San Diego Hungarian teacher (Kati) to pick up some books to bring back to Kati.

So Justin headed out on his own for a bit, going up Andrassy Street towards Hero’s Square.  It was nice to see the Opera House without scaffolding or huge tarps; it had been under construction every time we’d visited in the past.  It was very brisk outside, but comfortable enough with the appropriate clothing.  There weren’t many people at Hero’s Square, perhaps because they seemingly were all next door at an outdoor skating rink in front of Vajdahunyad Castle.  There were frozen puddles here and there along the street, so the ice rink probably didn’t have any issues staying frozen.

Heidi and Tom arrived at the hotel around this time, so Justin turned around and headed back to the hotel.  He met Crystal at Tuk Tuk Bar, and Crystal messaged Heidi and Tom to head down as well.  We had a drink before they came down, and got another quick one when they arrived, before we all headed off with Dewey and Clarita for a dinner reservation at 21:00 at Hungarikum Bisztro.  We hadn’t been to this restaurant either, but the menu we’d seen online caught our attention.  Our waiter was a character, constantly cracking jokes and making sarcastic comments.  He also had a very boisterous voice and a very odd (to us) accent, as he sounded Scottish despite very clearly speaking Hungarian fluently.  

Putting he and Dewey together was trouble, and we spent a decent chunk of the meal cringing at their jokes.  It was very entertaining if nothing else.  Crystal ordered bean soup, Justin ordered bean soup and (another) duck leg, with a raspberry fizz and vodka.  Tom ordered goulash soup and stuffed cabbage.  Heidi ordered a duck leg.  Dewey ordered stuffed cabbage.  Clarita ordered the goulash soup.  The table also split a meat and cheese plate, plus two bottles of wine.  We may have been the last seating, and we noticed as our meal went on that most of the other tables had headed out.  We got two rounds of Palinka - the first one we ordered (meggy), and the second one they brought us gratis (apple).  Clarita wasn’t nearly as much of a fan of palinka as she was the limoncello in Italy.  The waiter chastised us for not shooting the palinka, but we felt like sipping.  We finally left around 23:00, and went straight back to the hotel and crashed after our long day.

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