Reviewing Budapest

Reviewing Budapest - Budapest, Hungary

We recently met up with Kari Hoerchler to get the inside story on her experiences reviewing hotels for EuroCheapo in Budapest.

(If you haven't already, be sure to read her Budapest hotel reviews.)

Okay, Kari, tell us about...

1. Favorite hotels.

The sight of the 50-meter swimming pool through the reception area window at the Hotel Császár was so gorgeous that my eyes at first mistook it for one of those vinyl, life-sized wall photographs. When it comes to budget accommodations, this hotel, which operates in conjunction with the Komjádi-Császar spa next door, is unreal.

The antique furniture at Kálvin Ház adds so much to the overall charm. After seeing hundreds of budget hotels with faux wooden furnishings, the sight of bed frames made of authentic trees was practically orgasmic. With matching chairs! I had to pinch myself.

Not only does Shándor host a beautiful guest residence at the K.M. Saga (with antiques packed in every room), he's a veritable treasure trove of useful information about Budapest. A Hun by birth, Shándor lived in Connecticut for 15 years. He claims Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster taught him how to clean floors while they were janitors together at Yale in the early 1980s. Ms. Foster was part of his inspiration to open his own guest house!

2. Favorite thing about working in Budapest

In Budapest, each and every person standing guard at reception immediately assumed I was visiting to help them get more business, attract more clients and bring in more revenue. As a group, hoteliers were open and warm enough to assist me. My broken Hungarian was never an obstacle.

3. What surprised you about Budapest?

Budapest is 1,111 years old and it's as clean as Copenhagen. Though there were indeed grungy buildings with bullet holes (which should be expected within a city conquered 39 times), for the most part the city is impeccably clean. The lack of litter took me by delightful surprise.

On May Day eve, the Deák tér area was swarmed with thousands of merry makers inbibing bottled brews. The next morning, there was not a single bottle to be found on the streets and the trash cans weren't overflowing. The clean scene was enough to make me wonder if the party had actually happened.

4. Funny story.

To the ears of a native English speaker, parts of the Hungarian language sound like a twisted version of my mother tongue. Hilarity ensued.

The slang Hungarian phrase for "What's up?"—"Mi újság?"—sounds like, "me you shag," a much bolder introduction than it actually need be.

"Nős" is the Magyar word for "women" and to enquire if a man is married, one simply asks, "Nős?" Sound like "noose" to anyone? On a related note, anything in triplicate is a "három."

The English word "May" sounds like the Hungarian word "méh," which means "uterus." While visiting hoteliers in April, I introduced them to EuroCheapo by sharing features "coming up in May." Some thought I was telling them about things "coming up/out of my uterus."

The list of ironic coincidences leading to misunderstanding goes on and on.

5. Favorite local food.

Are you trying to make me cry?

Let's start with the fruit soup. Having read about it in guide books before the trip, I ate it as much as possible upon arrival. At best, (from Kárpatia Restaurant) the fruit soup consists of a variety of fruits baked in cinnamon sauce. At worst, it's canned fruit poured into a fancy bowl. At a cafeteria on Kinizsi utca, a yogurt-y variation satisfied both my daily calcium requirements and my sweet tooth.

Speaking of sweet tooth, the marzipan cake at Gerbeaud is delicious. All the pastries I ate, with the exception of the treats at the tourist-populated Gerbeaud, went for around HUF183. The fancy cakes cost five times less than pastries served in bakeries in the United States and were ten times more satisfying.

6. Highlight of visit.

The unexpected highlight was simply hanging out with the locals and some people I met at the Red Bus Hostel at the Erzsbét tér on the eve of May Day.

Early in the evening, hundreds of young people started gathering on the tér. When I spotted groups of 16-year-old girls mixing cheap vodka with water in plastic cups, I was haunted by visions of American-style St. Patrick's Day debauchery.

By midnight, however, I was, along with my fellow hostelers, part of the mellowest, best behaved drunken crowd I'd ever known. No brawls. No tears. No cops! Two security guards—in a crowd of a thousand—checked bags at the entrance of the nightclub below the park. Yet the the masses stayed in control.

The expected highlight was a visit to the Széchenyi baths, pictures of which had made my jaw drop even before I arrived in Budapest. The pools at five-star hotels have nothing on this ornate complex, where revelers enjoy pool after pool of rushing waters at various temperatures. It's like chilling out at a Hapsburg palace with a thousand of your closest Hungarian friends. Since we left before the time had expired, we got back part of our admission fee. My tip: keep your receipt!

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