Excellent Vacations: Budapest, Hungary and Salzburg, Austria

Budapest, Hungary
Updated August 29, 2014

Flew United Airlines and Lufthansa. Lufthansa was excellent in every area, but I am noting some problems with United Airlines in the last few paragraphs. I would recommend using Charlotte, NC as the US connecting airport to Europe with Lufthansa. It is small, efficient and a much better experience than Washington-Dulles, Detroit, Newark, JFK, Miami or Atlanta.

Budapest was a major positive surprise for me. Vienna, Austria has been rated now the best city to live in for two decades. My niece has been living there working for the European Union and kept reminding me since May 2012 that Budapest has improved at a fast rate and it appears to be better than Vienna now. I could not believe it - until I arrived. Taking a taxi from the airport is not very nice. Too many buildings are reminders of the communist days after WWII. The city center has always been very interesting to visit and I have never seen it this beautiful before. The beautiful historical buildings, as well as many 20th century and older buildings have been restored beautifully and many are lit up at night very artistically. The city is safe and a great city for walking around day or night, for its restaurants or for many interesting tours or entertainment. The pictures below may show you part of the excellence and beauty that I have seen here. Make sure that you carry with you a 200 Forint coin. Many public toilets need it for automatic admission. The first story on my humor page well illustrates the need to carry that 2oo Forint coin in Budapest (www.alpar.com/humor.html). We do not accept any liability for loss of bodily functions while you read the story while in the USA or any other country, just because you do not carry a Hungarian 200 Forint coin.

The best guide book with map on Budapest is DK Eyewitness Travel Budapest, and you can order it from amazon.com .

We used the K & K Hotel Opera. Fantastic place, outstanding service, and having stayed at the top ten hotels in the world during my career, this place has the best breakfast layout of them all. Very helpful front desk.

You get the best taxi rates if you have the hotel arrange for a taxi. They can also arrange your pickup at the airport. You can pay everywhere with a credit card, including your taxi driver. Vewry convenient. They will run your card in front of you with a small portable network connected device that stores nothing but establishes communications with the bank. I don't know why we don't use such things.

Budapest is a fantastic city for walks:

The area between Lanchid (Chain bridge) and Margithid (Margaret Island Bridge) on the Pest side, if possible is very pretty, after it gets darker especially.

Szent Istvan (St. Steven) Basilica - beautifully renovated, this area is also very nice. They have excellent organ concerts here. 10 minutes' walk from Lanchid

Parliament and area. Touring the parliament is a must. St. Steven of Hungary was the first Christian king in Europe in the year 1000. His crown was handed over to the American forces for safe keeping during WWII by a Hungarian general. We kept it at Ft. Knox, then returned it to Hungary several decades later. It is on display with only two honor guards at the Parliament. The "background" security is very good.

Andrassy ut (street), starting from Deak ter. Make sure you stop for a coffee at Alexandra Konyvesbolt (book store) on Andrassy ut 39, and go up the escalator to the first floor - the cafe - inside is an old style cafe beautifully renovated. The pastries are fantastic. Chestnut puree is my favorite, but it is seasonal.. It will blow your mind AND the scale that you will step on.

5 minutes away from the book store on Andrassy ut walk to Liszt Ferenc square, full of restaurants, cafes, very pleasant.

On Erzsebet korut 9-11 is the New York Cafe, very famous and just restored. IT IS BEAUTIFUL! Going here to eat is a must. New York Cafe.

Some of my favorite restaurants (all informal, smart casual dress code):

The Gundel Restaurant has been world famous for a long time and during the years of communism the government allowed the original family to keep running this restaurant. Gundel is formal (tie excepted) and you could see some heads of state and other famous people there. Gundel owns the Bagojvar right next to it (Baw-goy-vahr, accent on first syllable always in Hungarian). This place is fantastic, and casual dress code, but not like WalMart. There is a regular menu, plus one handwritten on a large chalkboard on the back wall. The chalkboard has the best food in my experience. There are many unique and great foods in Hungary. I am very partial to fruit soups. Try them whenever you can. More importantly, try BOTH restaurants and you will have a great time! I prefer the Bagolyvar.

Hungary has some excellent wine and I would recommend trying them. The manager at Gundel and Bagojvar called up for me their wine supplier, the name of the store is Veritas (the address you can find at your hotel). It is very close to the New York Cafe. "Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos", a robust dessert wine was the favorite of Louis the Fourteenth, Peter the Great, Franz Liszt, Hitler and I could go on and on. Any year is excellent, and so is "Szekszardi Bikaver Taller", especially 2008 red wine (all words must be there!).

Nancsi Neni (pronounce "nahn-chee neh-nee") http://www.nancsineni.hu/eng/index2.html Ordogarok utca 80, Budapest. Fantastic food.

Klassz (pronounce "Klawss") - Andrassy ut 41, very close to the bookstore I wrote about earlier. You can not reserve but even if you have to wait it will not take long. A small, great restaurant. http:www.klasszetterem.hu

Borkonyha WineKitchen, 3 Sas Utca, Budapest , Hungary

Csalogány 26, 26 Csalogány St., Budapest , Hungary

Menza (pronounce as in English) - on Liszt Ferenc square, 5 minutes from bookstore on Andrassy, furniture and style 70s style Hungary, very reasonable prices, I find it very interesting. http://www.menzaetterem.hu

Deryne (pronounce "Dayreenay") - in the Buda side, one block from Lanchid, take a taxi there. Address is Krisztina ter 3. You need reservations, the hotel can do it for you. Hungarian and international. http://www.cafederyne.hu

Hungary is an excellent place for wine tasting. <a href="http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/undiscovered-hungarian-wine">Read about it here</a>.

Horsmanship was very important in Hungary for many centuries. They offer vacations on horseback as well that are well organized.

We took the express train from Budapest to Salzburg. Another time we flew in with Austrian Airlines from Frankfurt. I would highly recommend trains like this in Europe. They are very smooth, fast, comfortable, clean, serve food and on time, every time. You cannot even feel when it starts. But...the local trains in Hungary can be a bit less pleasant, like sometimes the toilet not working.

Salzburg, Austria has been my favorite city for many years. There are many beautiful 19th and early 20th Century buildings, beautifully restored and repainted, plus many much older ones in the old town. Going up to the big castly on top is a must, and i would recommend reserving seats for a concert on the top of the tower. You will be taking the stairs there with about 145 steps. For me the scenery within Salzburg and for many miles around is the most beautiful in the world. My favorite composer, Mozart was born here. Salzburg is a very musical city, with the summer Mozart Festivals being its high point. If you want to see the only scenery that will make you believe that this must be in Heaven, go and see the Salzkammergut area outside of Salzburg. The Sound of Music was filmed there. Unfortunately Salzburg has deteriorated in some areas.

The tour operators put too many things into the tour schedules. That makes for not enough free time anywhere and fairly crowded conditions. THE SUPERMARKETS ARE FABULOUS. Outstanding quality choices in produce, meats, cheeses, fruit, drinks, wine, liquors, with excellent and very helpful service. They will even make a sandwich for you to order.

Salzburg was very active in the past even in off season. I found it very strange that by 9:30 PM the streets became much quieter, people disappeared, many places closed and even the beggars moved on. The food quality at restaurants, with a few exceptions, was not as good as before and that includes desserts. Again with a few exceptions, the service at most establishments was slow and the servers seem to be not so eager to please the customers. CafeŽ Tomaselli is a famous and very old cafeŽ, about 400 years old, that Mozart frequented writing his music. To my surprise, after ordering an ÒEiskaffeeÓ there, if one wants to order some pastry, they have to summon the pastry server that takes some time, who must be paid immediately and separately after she puts the pastry on your table. The other server was paid later. It was all so cold, inefficient and impersonal as well as improper for a place like CafŽ Tomaselli in my opinion. It was a very festive day all around Cafe Tomaselli when this happened, but the place was less than 50% occupied. Maybe it was a management problem in a place whose location and history was optimal. For me this was very sad.

To confirm return flights and get seats assigned with Austrian Airways was very challenging. After trying for three hours on the telephone and the Internet, I asked the hotel for a nearby travel agency, where I was told that they can help only if I made reservations through them. That is an impossibility for a traveller who lives elsewhere. Austrian Airlines also told me at their Vienna office, their headquarters, that they close at 8 PM, so one cannot do anything about seat reservations, or reconfirmation of flights until they open again. Their website had problems. To go to the airport for this purpose by taxi and return would have been a $60 expense. The only Internet cafŽ that COULD have provided good Internet service perhaps was at the train station quite far away Ð and that can be a significant inconvenience if you have some important communications to deal with during your trip. This is unusual in Europe where the Internet service is much faster than in the USA and less expansive.

Lastly there are many beggars on the street in Salzburg and even at church entrances (one even walked after me INSIDE the cathedral). I am sorry, but I don't like that. I did not see a single beggar who showed any deformity, and most were young. One beggar jumped up to speak to two friends, and then pulled out a fairly new iPhone to make a call. So being a beggar has become a profession it seems, because i never saw any evidence of Austrians showing any prejudice against foreigners. However, all jobs have some requirements like math end language skills at minimum, that some immigrants may not put enough effort into.

This was not the old, fantastic Salzburg any more. It was a much more expensive and different version of the old. I would rate Budapest on top followed by Vienna.


The Parliament from a night cruise on the Danube

The Parliament photographed from the Buda Castle side.

A nice hotel lit up artistically.

Buda Castle.

St. Matthias Church in the castle district.

Many wonderful outdoor restauants. It's not MacDonalds, is it???!!!

The beautiful building above is the world famous pastry maker, Cafe Gerbaud in Budapest, Hungary.

Perhaps the most famous one is the New York Cafe below:

The above "manhole covers" are beautiful and made of brass. They were all over as we walked in Budapest.

The pictures below were taken at a family dinner at a fantastic restaurant called Nancsi Neni (Pronounce nahn-chee nay-nee). I was fortunate enough to taste almost all dishes that I photographed.

You have no idea how great these dishes taste. I get hungry just looking at these pictures!

My grand niece Nora and her husband Peter. They are very nice kids and live in Vienna, Austria.

Nora and her brother Oliver.

Nora's and Oliver's mother and father, Suzie and Steve (Zsuzsi, pronounced Zhuzhi, and Istvan, pronounced Ishtvahn). I love them and I am very proud of them. They appeared to have done an outstanding job bringing up their children. Nora's father formed his private company, an engineering firm, at a difficult time in communist Hungary when private company formation was first allowed under the law with a maximum employees of only 7 if I recall correctly. They became very successful and started with practically nothing. I cannot tell you how much I admire Zsuzsi and Istvan bringing up a fantastic family AND a very successful business at the same time, at a difficult time when starting both. Very few people have done that.

I have to confess. One of the best pastry shops and Cafe's in Europe is Gerbaud in Budapest, Hungary. Here I am very happy after eating three different desserts that were fabulous. I should have taken a picture of them for you, but I was way too excited to think of that.

St. Steven's cathedral in Budapest

Right on the southwest corner of St. Steven's square we found the fabulous ice cream parlor called Gelarto below. The owner went to Italy to learn to make ice cream and a very pretty way of presenting it. She not only had the various wonderful assortment of fruit flavors, but in some cases there was a touch of a very nice aroma added to the authentic fruit flavor of the ice cream, for example just a touch of lavender, that made the ice cream a fabulous experience. When she and her crew prepared an ice cream cone, it would look like a flower, like the one displayed in the upper left of her entrance as you look at it from the outside. This place was a great experience.

The National Opera House offers world-class performances at all times, and it is very beautiful. See the pictures below.


On Andrassy Street, close to the Opera House, on the other side of the street we found a fabulous modern book store that was selling an excellent selection of wine. We took the escalator up one floor, and we found ourselves in what this building original was; one of the old original palace's great rooms, converted to a coffee house that looked very impressive as you can see in the pictures below, serving fabulous desserts. I had a strong will for a few minutes and left without eating any. NEVER AGAIN!!!

This is an unusual chair I saw in the hotel in Budapest. I decided to build one at home from tropical hardwoods with a curved seat and curved back, and added only two narrow legs for making it springy. I never counted on the problems I encountered making it with those curves, reclining angles and the legs that had to come down vertically from the seat's curved surface and back to the rear for the "skis". The three pictures below show what I made. The woods I used are paduak (red) then mahogany from the outside toward the center, then wenge (black) in the center, and bubinga for legs for its proper strength and springiness I wanted. These woods are mostly from the African Congo, and their hardness is twice that of oak. Cutting the joint angles was very difficult (at least for me it was) to produce a ten degree seat angle downward, a ten degree recline for the back and the angles on two surfaces of the attachment blocks of the legs to the curved seat. It was incredible pleasure to see the end result working just right. I created a mock-up first from cheap pine wood for experimentation and to learn to deal with these complexities.

This building in the Castle District still has bullet holes in it from WW2.

The two pictures below are showing the Catle District at night.

Kecskemet is a very interesting town one hour south of Budapest by car. Some buildings have a unique style that has been influenced by the occupation by the Ottoman Empire 500 years ago for 150 years. The designs you see on the buildings are made with tiles incorporating the design made at an old famous porcelain manufacturer near the city of Pecs in Hungary, called Zsolnay. The following pictures also show a very interesting horsemanship show in a town called Lajosmizse, for which Hungary has been famous for many centuries. One can see 1-6 month old horses here that are absolutely adorable. Unfortunately I played with them and forgot to take pictures. They also raise the famous Lippizaner horses here that are very light gray in color, and I never realized how big these Lippizaners are compared to other horses. The famous Vienna Riding School in Austria uses Lippizaners to put on a fabulous horse show.

This cute German five year old was very entertaining on the express train from Budapest to Salzburg.


Salzburg, Austria

The above castle is very impressive and the views from it are fantastic. They hold concerts in the top room of the tower, and it will take about 145 steps to get up to it from within the castle.
The pictures below are from the beautiful Mirabell Palace's gardens.

The picture above just shows how well stocked the supermarkets are with wine and liquor (premium brands). You should see how fantastic the rest of it is! You can even ask them to make you a sandwich with the bread/roll, meats, cheeses you select and the choices are much broader than in our supermarkets.
The following three pictures are from Eagles Nest, Hitler's favorite place to relax. It is in Berchtesgaden Germany, a short distance from Salzburg Austria, and the winding single lane road to get up to its base is quite an adventure. At the base you walk into a tunnel that leads to a large elevator, all original construction, that takes you up to Eagle's Nest. It is a beautiful place. The two black birds just kept begging me for a piece of the cheese cake I was eating. Several times. One was not enough.

Outdoor dining like in the picture below is very common, and very pleasant.
The six pictures following it are from Salzkammergut, a beatiful lake district, where the movie The Sound Of Music was filmed. Beautiful - and it must get very crowded during the tourist season.

Very old and simple, brass "doorbell" system: Four hanging handles are numbered with Roman numerals. A wire connected to them goes up to the appropriate floor, where a bell is connected to it.

Several hundred years ago it was customary to have a business mount a "trade-related display" that extended in to the street a few feet. Salzburg has many originals and some newer ones on its famous shopping street, Getreidegasse. I find most of these interesting along with the architecture and the long covered passage ways from Getreidegasse to the next parallel street. See if you can find the trade sign for McDonalds!


I stumbled upon a really cool restaurant called Alter Fuchs (Old Fox) and the next seven pictures show it's entrance and the interior. The food was excellent, and the stuffed foxes were a great decoration. The building is about 500 years old. The Austrian beer is so-so, while the Hungarian beer that is made in Sopron (Shohprohn) was outstanding. The best beer I found in Germany and the Czech Republic.

I walked into an Austrian supermarket and found it very interesting. They had great bread, pastry, cold cuts and sausages department, about 8-10 different mustards some of which taste great but we don't carry them, a very complete wine and liquor section. Checkout design was much faster than ours: the checkout clerk sits, moves and scans merchandise with her right hand from the right through the scanner then with the left hand to the bagging area. There is a touch screen at the far side of the flat scanner in front of her where she can activate a number of functions like opening the cash drawer which is in her lap area, end of transaction and so on. A major difference from ours is that the customer bags the items purchased. The merchandise choice for completing great recipes and cooking was also very extensive.

A few impressions upon return.

Security at the airports (Frankfurt, Budapest, Salzburg) was handled faster than in the USA. New equipment handles shoes without you having to take them off and adequate staffing to keep the lines short. In restaurants the waiter carries a wireless credit card reader and printer to you when you pay, your credit card is always in sight, the customer authorizes the transaction on the credit card reader, and the transaction is immediately forwarded to the bank, all to maximize credit card security.

On departure from Knoxville, the United flight left 3 hours late. The reason was weather in Newark. I checked it on the Internet and there was no weather problem in and around Newark within the needed time frame. Not a problem, there must have been a good reason for the delay.

NOTE: Hungarian is one of the two most difficult languages in the world. There are more letters/sounds in Hungarian than in English, and therefore some letters have to use combinations of letters. Although there are several sounds that we do not have in English and an English-speaker will not recognize, it would be a good idea to learn to pronounce the Hungarian alphabet. An English speakers' Hungarian pronunciation of street names, restaurant or other attraction names, will not work without knowing how to pronounce Hungarian letters. Hungarian is a phonetic language, you pronounce the individual letters. Well most of the time.

Getting a replacement flight in Newark to Frankfurt was very difficult, cost three more hours. I was already scheduled for a Lufthansa flight, but the United flight change/continuation desk with only four people behind it was extremely slow in Newark. When I was getting too close to my Lufthansa departure time, after a long wait in a relatively short line, I saw two United employees who were just standing around (Jose Batista and Stephanie S.) having a discussion. When I approached them to see if something could be done like getting more help to get to my scheduled flight to Frankfurt, the male United employee, Mr. Jose Batista (Sept 5, about 6:30 PM at EWR international arrivals terminal) was very rude and used impolite and inappropriate language with me. I walked up later after I got a pen to write his name down, and he continued his tirade although I kept my mouth shut. Finally I got to the change desk and the gentleman there told me to go to the other terminal giving the gate number where a United flight was about to depart for Frankfurt. Had to take a taxi, reenter security again at the other terminal, without being given a boarding pass. At the gate at first they declined, then a male clerk was kind enough to check some things and they let us on the plane to fill empty seats without a boarding pass and then I entered the flight with the door closing behind me without a boarding pass and without showing me on board in Frankfurt upon arrival. So, it was a challenge to find a connecting flight to Budapest. Except for Mr. Jose Batista, the United employee in Newark, everyone was very polite and helpful. The long wait in the very slow and short line, Mr.Batista's behavior, and being sent without a boarding pass for the continuing flight yet they let us on the flight (thank God) seemed to be a significant security risk in my opinion, and less than ideal management oversight at United Airlines.

Lufthansa operated very efficiently and solved the problem in Frankfurt.

I am sure that all US airlines and all their employees do not behave like I experienced with Mr. Batista at EWR, but I will probably not use United again. He may be an excellent employee, but employing him or anyone else who acts in a hot-headed manner with customers, should not be exposed to customers. I was angry because of my delays, but I was looking for some sympathy and understanding to solve my continuing flight connection problems and not insults from a United Airline employee. It is possible that he had a bad day and this is the only time he behaved that way - but unlikely. It is up to his management to decide.

Upon landing at Newark International on the return from Frankfurt, one experiences very slow processing, very slow security checks with huge lines, crowded conditions and a dirtier airport. It feels like an arrival in a third world country. The Knoxville, Tennessee airport is magic in comparison; very clean and beautiful, with relatively fast security processing.

I lost three hard salamis that were excellent, and three great bottles of wine in customs on return. I did not check the fine print in the latest US regulations. I do not think it was reasonable, but the agents were polite and acted according to the law, which I did not check on departure. The duty on any wine you bring home is rediculously low.