A White Christmas in Budapest

December 29th, 2010

By Tom Carter

We spent the Christmas weekend in Budapest, one of the most beautiful of European cities.  We stayed in a spa hotel on a large island in the Danube.  The river goes through the middle of the city, dividing the old towns of Buda, in the hills on the right (west) bank, and Pest, in the flat land on left (east) bank.  The hotel has multiple indoor pools of varying temperatures, a large jacuzzi in one pool, sauna, steambath, exercise equipment, and clinics with doctors available.  It’s all in one large building complex — go from your room to the elevator, down to the ground floor, and there it all is.  Sounds ritzy and expensive, but it’s neither.

Budapest also has a very nice Christmas market in Vorosmarty ter, the square at the foot of Vaci utca, the walking and shopping pedestrian street in Pest a couple of blocks off the river.  Among all the vendor stalls you can get gluhwein (hot, spicy red wine), food of many kinds, and various handicrafts and Christmas items.  On the far side of the square is the large Cafe Gerbeaud, famous for coffee and pastries of all kinds; it also has fantastic ice cream.  There’s also a piano in the Gerbeaud that was destined to be on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, but for reasons I’ve forgotten, it didn’t make it onto the ship.

We were in Budapest five days and four nights, and despite the fact that it was cold, windy, and snowing, it was well worth the five-hour drives from Belgrade and back.  Comes the inevitable pictures (click to enlarge):

The inner garden of the hotel, with snow and frozen ponds:

Looking from the hotel across the island to the hills of Buda:

The Christmas market in Vorosmarty ter and Cafe Gerbeaud:

Cooking up the gluhwein — as good as any in Germany or Austria:

Colorful pottery and dolls for sale at the Christmas market:

Christmas munchies:

Handicrafts at the Christmas market:

Pork knuckles, anyone?

Even the kids seemed well-bundled and warm:

Except for your thoroughly frozen humble correspondent…

Who thawed out later in the warmest pool at the hotel…

And finally recovered in the steambath!

Don’t pass up a chance to visit Budapest, not matter what the season.  It’s an experience you won’t forget!

(Google Earth:  Hotel 47.533902 19.052774; Vorosmarty ter 47.496630 19.050618)

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8 Responses to “A White Christmas in Budapest”

  1. Lisa |

    Great trip report, Tom! I was wondering. Do they really wear shorts in the steam baths there, or were you wearing them for our benefit?

  2. Clarissa |

    Beautiful pictures! Thanks for posting them and giving your readers a chance to experience vicariously some of the wonders of this great city.

  3. Tom Carter |

    Lisa, no nude areas at this place, although some of the swimsuits push the concept to its limits. The people there include men, women, and children of all ages. I’ve been to Baden, Austria a few times — that’s another of my favorite places, especially for the huge glitzy casino. The spa area is a few blocks from the central hotels, so you have to walk it, but they’re just as good. The sauna/steambath area at the Baden spa is clothing optional, with no children under 12 allowed in the area. I’ve done the commando sauna bit, with a very reluctant friend, and I don’t recommend it for a whole lot of reasons. For one thing, you see sights you could do without seeing, and for another in that heat things that shouldn’t shrivel do and things that should don’t.

    Clarissa, I wouldn’t even try to say what city I’ve been in was the most or least beautiful. Budapest has its drab areas, like any other city, but it has many examples of fantastic old imperial era architecture. Some of the city had to be restored after the destruction of WWII, but they did a good job. The people are nice and friendly, too, despite the burden of a very weird language. I lived in Budapest for a year and a half at the beginning of the decade, and I’ve been back many times since. I’d move back there in a heartbeat.

  4. larry ennis |

    Thanks for sharing your trip to Budapest. I would imagine it was the ideal place to spend Christmas. Is there much opposition to the holiday because of the religious implications?

  5. Tom Carter |

    Larry, Hungarians are about 52 percent Catholic and 16 percent Calvinist. The remainder are other religions, in small numbers, and non-believers. On the right, there aren’t many (if any) fundamentalist or evangelical Christians to take offense at every slight, and on the left there don’t seem to be any anti-religion zealots who object to any and every reference to religion, including religious references in Christmas. You see a few Muslims around, mostly in the form of women wrapped in their religious garb, so there must be some Muslim men around. They don’t seem to make a stink about things. Overall, it’s a nice, peaceful difference from the U.S.

    Serbs are Serbian Orthodox 85 percent, Catholic 5.5 percent, Protestant 1.1 percent, and Muslim 3.2 percent. Again, there’s little religious strife, and Christmas is a fully accepted religious holiday. Given that most are Orthodox and follow the old Julian calendar, Christmas is celebrated on January 7, which is the beginning of a three-day celebration.

  6. d |

    Cool place to spend Christmas,good pictures. Missed you at home,our traditional Christmas. This year,however,no arguements,screaming or crying.It was kind of boring,but pleasant and calm,with way too much food,as usual.
    Kyla got her Rapunzel doll,Flynn, castle and Maximus,the horse,from “Tangled”. I highly reccomend that movie to one and all,extremely cute.romantic,and beautiful,espially in 3D.

  7. Clarissa |

    Sorry to get off topic here, but I wanted to wish a very happy New Year to everybody on this blog. Thank you for intelligent, stimulating passionate discussions, and I hope we will have many more in the coming year.

    Happy New Year, friends!

  8. Tom Carter |

    Thanks, Clarissa! Happy New Year to you, too! We appreciate your thoughtful comments on Opinion Forum, and we look forward to many more in the New Year!

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