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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Drinking and Bathing

Well, the excessive food and drink finally caught up with me. Are you surprised? To explain…

Yesterday we started early by walking to the Cathedral of St. Stephen, a – you guessed it – baroque church filled to overflowing with elaborately overdone statuary and paintings.

It was made even more memorable by the gorgeous model being filmed cavorting in a wedding dress in front. 

Then over to Buda and up the very steep hill to Matthias Church, a GOTHIC house of worship that is undergoing extensive renovations. There were still beautiful things to see inside.

We walked along the Fisherman’s Bastion, so called because the Fishermen’s Guild was responsible for that part of the city walls. Afterward we went to the Museum of Budapest History, which told the story of this very violently subjugated city – conquered by the Romans, the Mongols, the Ottomans, the Germans, and the Russians. Then, of course, time for cake and hot chocolate.

We had the single best meal of the trip at a little restaurant I noticed on the climb up to Buda. Delicious foie gras on homemade brioche to start. (My first foie gras! And though I disapprove on principle of goose abuse, in reality, well…yum. With guilt.) A chicken dish wrapped around bacon with some kind of fabulous cheese in paprika sauce. Veal cheeks in paprika cream with spaetzle. A chocolate soufflĂ© with palinka (a flavored Hungarian brandy). Just fabulous.

…Resulting in my slight bout of indigestion. But that did not keep me from going winetasting today. We took off for the wine-and-art town of Egar, about 75 miles northeast of Budapest. It’s a beautiful town full of (you knew it) baroque churches and a nice castle perched on top with a surprising art collection that included an unexpected Andrea del Sarto. Egar also has an area called the Valley of Beautiful Women, which is a large number of winery caves, some of which are actual caves, all boasting their own vintages and offering them to tourists at ridiculous prices. There’s a little motorized train that runs through the place to carry away the drunks. We tried 3 different wines, including a Bull’s Blood and an ice wine, before heading back to the city to try the baths.

Our hotel was supposed to book us massages, but either they didn’t or the Szechenyi Baths workers just didn’t care. We’d heard the people who work at the baths are rude beyond imagining, and were pleased that many lived up to their reputations. We weren't distressed by the lack of massages though. This enormous bath complex, the biggest in Europe, had dozens of different pools, indoors and outdoors, to try as well as steam baths and saunas, so we had plenty to do.

My favorite was a circular bath with a strong current that made everyone zoom around in circles, like a Lobster Quadrille. And of course the salubrious waters cured my indisposition.

We ate on a boat tonight – touristy but very tasty and also very beautiful. In the morning we’ll visit the art museum and head back to Croatia to fly out of Zadar. When we land we have to try to catch a bus to make the last train to Gent, and we’ll have about 25 minutes to do it. Extremely unlikely – especially as at present the buses in Belgium are on strike. Wish us luck!

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