Budapest was beautiful and interesting, and the river views from the hills of Buda were spectacular. We had a nice breakfast at the hotel. I sat and wrote in my Traveler’s Notebook and made a drawing using the handle of my fork as a stylus and my cup of coffee as ink. Drawing in my journal with coffee has been a funny little ritual I began a few years ago as a way to capture my time in a new place.
Speaking of food, Christy had to have real Hungarian langos. Langos is a street food, deep fried bread traditionally topped with sour cream and cheese. There was a shop that sold langos not far away, about a kilometer or so. It was time for us to check out anyway so we gathered up our things, hopped in the car and drove to the store. The directions seemed easy and in hindsight they were but driving in traffic when you don’t speak the language can sometimes be nerve wracking and you tend to second guess yourself. It wasn’t too hard but we managed to find the store and thankfully there was a parking lot next door, it was a paid indoor garage. The garage was kind of cool because it had a car wash on one side, a tire shop on another and seemingly more shops the further and deeper you went. Picking a spot not far from the entrance we hopped out and headed up the ramp toward the sunlight coming in from the street above. A man walked out a doorway to my left and started talking to me in Hungarian. I replied “I’m sorry I don’t understand” to which he started walking toward me gesturing in different directions and talking more earnestly. To this I smiled, nodded my head and said “yes it is a lovely day isn’t it” and headed for the exit.
The shopping center turned out to be a grocery store of sorts, with three levels of small outdoor shops, each selling meats or fruits or vegetables with the locals strolling through buying their supplies for the week. I’ve been to outdoor markets all over the world and they range from horrible and frightening to homey and clean. I’ll never forget the platter of roasted rats in Laos. This market was neat and well kept, clearly falling into the homey and clean category. That’s something I noticed about Budapest in general, for a historic city, it was very clean. We walked up three levels and found the Langos vendor, success! Wandering back toward the parking lot I was a little nervous I might run into my new friend but he was nowhere to be seen.
Getting out of Budapest by car on a weekday morning was a traffic nightmare. We made a few wrong turns and it felt like we were stuck in a labyrinth, nearly an hour later we finally emerged onto the highway and plotted a course for Bratislava, Slovakia. Bratislava was on the way to Prague and would allow us to check another country off our list, and it was beautiful to drive through.
The countryside in this part of Europe was rolling hills and fertile farmland, you didn’t see many towns or houses, at least not from the highway but there were many signs for historic places to visit along the way. Ordinarily I would have loved nothing more than to stop and explore but it was such a long travel day we just kept moving.
As we got closer to Bratislava, we could see boxy rectangular buildings stacked up in the distance. We’d seen these before, the concrete high density housing known as “Stalins”. You read that right, “Stalins.” These buildings were named after the Soviet Dictator because he was the one that promoted their construction for the proletariat all across the USSR. We had learned about them in Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks were resentful of these buildings and considered them blight. We weren’t surprised to see “Stalins” in former Czechoslovakia but were happy to see the construction of newer more beautiful buildings going up around them.
The rest of the drive to Prague was even more beautiful with rolling hills, pine forests, and cool crisp clean air. Prague itself was a revelation, with Onion domes and old world charm.