I suppose it is about time I do a recap of our amazing office trip to Budapest. After all, it has been over 3 months since we visited. The weeks leading up to the actual trip were filled with lunchroom chatter about what clothes to pack, where to go, what to eat, how cold would it be, OMG will be freeze to death, as well as waiting anxiously for our Schengen visas, because not everyone had free access to Hungary. Thankfully, no one got a rejection, yay! Bar a handful of staff who didn’t join us, it was a rather large group, 28 I believe.
Please click on the images to view the full size. ETA: Fixed the image links so now you can view the full sizes. Sorry about that.
On the day of our flight, I was lucky enough to squeeze in a meet-up with the Amiras for the last meeting of the year (separate post about that to follow). And then the sky celebrated with us by flashing some fancy, deep hues at sunset. This was taken in a moving car so it’s a little blurry, but if you view the full size, you can just about see the silhouette of JLT where our office is on the two photos on the bottom left.
After saying bye to my boys, I waited at the new Al Maktoum International Airport, or DWC as we like to call it, with some of my office mates who were already there. As soon as we checked in our baggage and got our boarding passes, we sailed through passport control and sat down for a quick meal at McDonalds (don’t judge, there was nothing else there). See just how excited we were?
It wasn’t really ideal to haul my camera around the tight cabin of the airplane so I had no decent photos of us during the 6-hour flight. iPhonograpy was the order of the day! The flight was rather eventful – we had free seating so we tried to sit close to each other as much as possible. The fare didn’t include meals so you had to buy if you wanted to eat or drink, luckily we had fries and burgers at McDonald’s before we left! Anna and I sat next to each other and managed to get a bit of sleep but WizzAir didn’t switch the freakin’ cabin lights off! We stayed up throughout the rest of the flight, playing musical chairs and just chatting with everyone. So when we touched down at nearly 3am, everybody was eager to get off the plane and start experiencing Budapest. It was 3C when we landed and we had to walk down a plight of those moving stairs into the open freezing air to get into the buses taking us to the main terminal. Welcome to Budapest, the wind howled!
Some of us took longer to clear immigration and passport control on the other side. We unfortunately arrived when the grumpiest Immigration official was on duty. But since it was a large group, they let everyone through eventually. As soon as everyone retrieved their luggage, we found the sweetest little old man waiting for us at the main lobby. He kept a head count and as soon as everyone was out he went to get his big bus. Meanwhile we were standing outside in freezing cold, stretching our legs and already talking about our itinerary for that morning.
Budapest in the early hours of the morning was quiet. The trip from the airport to our hotel, even though it was dark, fit right into what I imagined it would be. Quaint but clean little streets, billboards with foreign words all over them and stunning architecture. Checking in to our room at the Corinthia Hotel took a while as there were quite a few room assignments to sort out. Luckily, my room mate Anna and I had our shit together even at 3am so we were tucked in before everyone else. We had only a few hours of sleep before we had to get ready for breakfast and a day tour of the city. After breakfast, Anna and I walked around the corner of our hotel just to see what the place is like. Our doorman just looked at us and mentally shook his head because we walked out into the cold sunshine with no jacket, hat or gloves on. It was freezing! There were flurries floating in the air by the time we rounded back to the hotel. Needless to say, we never left without covering up again!
Did I tell you that I knitted about a dozen hats for this trip? Here are some of the hats I made. I planned to have eveyrone wear the hats and then take a group photo but forgot how it was like with a large group – much like herding six year olds esp with the boys! These hats served us well. I even doubled up during the day because one hat was not nearly warm enough!
Our day tour started out well – everyone made it to the bus on time! Linda, our tourguide was excellent. We first headed out along Andrassy Way towards Hero’s Square. It was a very pretty avenue lined on either side with impressive buildings, most of which were now used as embassies and consulates. I can imagine it would be lovely to walk along this avenue in the spring or autumn. We stopped for photos obviously, and even in the bright sunshine it was cold! I had to quickly take my right glove off to use my camera but then have to put them back on before my fingers freeze off. We then went down the other end of Andrassy where we caught a glimpse of the State Opera House where we were scheduled to see La Boheme on the Sunday evening.
That was the first time we saw the Danube River as we crossed it on Elisabeth Bridge on our way to Buda, the western, hilly part of the city. This is the older part of Budapest, where older, more expensive real estate is located up on the hills overlooking the Danube and everything below it. Our tour bus took us to Gellért Hill where it started snowing as soon as we reached the top where the Liberty Statue or Freedom Statue was located. Along the way, there were kiosks selling the usual souvenirs which were closed shut when we made our way back to the bus due to the sudden snowfall.
Downhill, we stopped to visit St. Matthias Church, but sadly it was closed for renovations. The exterior of the church was still impressive and I could only just imagine how magnificent the inside was. Right next to the church was the Fisherman’s Bastion, a long stretch of terrace overlooking the Danube and the city of Pest. It was a fort defended by fishermen against invaders in the Middle Ages, hence the name. It boasts an excellent restaurant where we had lunch on our second day in the city.
The terrace of the Fisherman’s Bastion offered a great vantage point for landscape photographers. There were far too many tourists however to get a steady, unobstructed view of the Parliament. I made do with what I have and these are some of the highlights of our trip to that side of the city. I would have loved to have gone back in the evening because the city must have been beautiful lit up at night!
After lunch at the hotel, we had the afternoon off. All the ladies decided to take a walk from the hotel to the Christmas market in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. We met at the lobby of the hotel at 3.30pm and started walking. By the time we reached the end of Andrassy, it was getting dark already and it wasn’t even 4 o’clock! The square on front of the basilica was transformed into a little Christmas village complete with an ice rink for children! The basilica was closed but there was a music and light show on its facade afterward. There were stalls selling handmade chocolates, jewellery, hot mulled wine, breads, soups, everything! It was beautiful! Apparently, Meghan Markle who plays Rachel Zane in one of my favourite TV shows, Suits, was also at the same place at the time I was there! She posted a selfie on her Instagram account that same evening. Wish I bumped into her!
On our way back to the hotel, we passed by the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe located along Dohány Street. We even came across some rabbi, which was admittedly a little bit scary as it was on a dimly lit side inner street. It was very cool though as I have never seen a rabbi in real life before! By the time we got back to the hotel, there was a proper snow storm! I had to protect my camera so zipped it inside my padded jacket. Wet snow is not fun.
We had enough time to rest, take a shower and get dressed for our Christmas dinner. But first, some group photos in front of the massive Christmas tree in the hotel lobby. I was prepared for it because I brought my tripod along and some wide telephoto lens. Again, trying to get everyone in place was a nightmare but I guess rumbling tummies meant they all wanted to get it over and done with so we could eat!
Our tour bus took us to the restaurant, which was in an unassuming part of the city, secluded in a side street but it was a wonderful place. Rézkakas Bistro is a tiny place (the third photo in the gallery is where all 28 of us were seated!), but it was a very warm, welcoming place. The food was amazing, the band, oh the band was the best! We were probably the noisiest patrons they’ve ever had! We were up dancing in the tiny spaces between tables, clapping our hands, tapping the tables, stomping our feet and singing along if we could sing along! We loved them! And I bet they loved us! I only have a vague recollection of what we ate but I remember it was very delicious. Even the wine they served was very good. I did not care much for the dessert wine though.
After dinner, there was a bit of debate outside the bistro as to what we should do next. Some folks decided to be good and headed back to the hotel for an early night in. Some, myself included, decided to see what else the city had to offer when the sun went down. There was not a lot, sadly. We tried to get in to a club where there was a long line of people waiting to get in, but someone went in first for a look-see and apparently it was not very good. We walked back to where someone spotted a wine bar so in we went. We had a couple bottles of champagne between the 12 of us. There was a decent enough DJ but not enough space for dancing. When one of the girls started feeling sick, some of us decided to get a cab back to the hotel. We stayed up in someone’s room, where someone stripped down to their underwear to get ready for bed, talking until around 2.30am however and I have very little recollection of what we talked about even to this day!
The following morning was a free day for us. TripAdvisor was a great help when I was planning my itinerary for our free days. I shared the list with the ladies but, sadly, most were a little worse for wear after the dinner the night before so I ended up walking the city on my own. On a very cold, but quiet Sunday morning! I wanted to get to the Melbourne Cafe but could not for the life of me find it so I kept on walking in the general direction of the Danube. Once I saw the familiar red rooftop of the Parliament, I got my bearings, but in the meantime I had a great time taking photographs of doorways and buildings and balconies which were so full of character! Budapest is a very beautiful place, full of history and culture. I would love to go back when the weather is a lot friendlier and just walk everywhere!
I did not know you could buy tickets to get a tour inside the Parliament, but no matter, I was happy just to see the building. Sadly there was a huge construction around it so the square was blocked by fences. I had to walk a long way around to get to the other side. But it gave me a chance to see more of the inner streets including a bronze statue of a man on a bridge in an island in the middle of a residential area. It was the perfect spot for a photograph! The highlight of my morning stroll, however, was the Jewish memorial along the banks of the Danube. I didn’t care how cold it was or how long the walk was going to be, I was determined to see this memorial for myself. And I am glad I made the effort. From the Parliament, there was a railroad separating me from the Promenade and the only way to get there was to walk all the way down the street, just before the base of the Chain Bridge and then walk back along the riverbank on the opposite side of the railroad tracks. It was a humbling, moving sight. You would not think that these were just replica of shoes cast in iron. You’d stand there motionless in what was a most horrific moment when innocent Jews were shot to death by militiamen and their lifeless bodies fell into the river. I got very emotional just being there. A truly humbling experience and I am glad I went there.
I took a taxi back to the hotel where I found three of the guys waiting around the lobby. We were supposed to have lunch at the Fisherman’s Bastion but it was still early so they asked if I wanted to tag along as they went in search of a place to get drinks. On the way, however, I got distracted by a huge shop with the sign that read “Bernina”. Oh no! I had to go in. I just had to! I ended up with my much-needed walking foot and piecing foot for my sewing machine, and maybe just a few fat quarters which were in the sale bin. Lunch was amazing and we had a good afternoon rest before the opera in the evening. I am an opera virgin and to be honest I was so tired that I might have dozed off in some of the slower parts of the play. I was wide awake during the crucial ending though and was able to appreciate the talented cast and the amazing sets! Glad I chose to go to the opera instead of finding my own evening entertainment.
Before too long, it was time to say goodbye to beautiful Budapest. The guy in the purple hat at the bottom right of the photo had to be there because it was a miracle that he was even there at the airport with us! He was good-naturedly drunk most of the time and almost lost his passport which turned out to have slipped between his bed and side table, so it was a miracle. God bless you, Si!