Sunday, October 18, 2009


(8/21-10/21/09) As advertised, Budapest exudes Old World European charm. The wide lazy Danube River cuts right through the center of the city, naturally dividing what was originally two separate cities of Buda and Pest. The Pest side is home to the business and shopping center of the City, while atop the hills of Buda sits Castle Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Alongside the Danube, on the Pest side, is the spectacular Parliament designed to closely mimic London’s Westminster Abbey. From what we have seen on Travel Channel, Budapest also looks and feels quite similar to Prague.

Our rented Apartment was on the top (4th) floor of a courtyard apartment complex, with a view over the small street below. Not unexpectedly smaller than we have been accustomed to during our travels thus far, nevertheless the rent was at the top end of what we have paid. Unfortunately, the high rent merely reflects the unfortunate high prices found throughout Europe ever since the European Union was formed and the the Euro adopted as its Currency. While Hungary has not itself yet adopted the Euro, it is a member of the EU and in preparation for its anticipated Euro conversion, we understand it has "pegged" its own Hungarian Forints currency to the Euro. Bottom line, at this time, living in Budapest is definitely not a City we would call a "value". As a result, we severely curtailed our usual dining forays out choosing to cook more meals and avoiding other unnecessary expenses. We were, however, very fortunate to discover a local eatery only a block and half from our apartment that served up wonderful home-cooked Hungarian favorites with dozens of daily specials, including wild game, that was in fact quite reasonable. So, after trying a few different restaurants during our first couple of weeks, we finally gave up looking elsewhere and stuck to our local favorite we dined out usually twice a week. No problem, we really liked it and looked forward to our visits (and, the Staff got to know and like us too).

For our first 6 weeks of our Stay, the weather was divine. When we first arrived it was quite warm, but within a week or so tapered to beautiful Fall weather around upper 70’s during the day. And always, the Sun shined brightly as Hungary is known to have the sunniest country in all of Europe. This gave us plenty of opportunity for nice long walks, including a wonderful day hiking around the hills of Buda, with its upscale residential neighborhoods. We also liked to take walks along the Danube, and through the lovely gardens and park on Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. Only during our last 2 weeks, towards the end of October did the weather turn predictably colder, wetter and gloomier – not all too different than Fall in Chicago. As its gotten colder, we have enjoyed riding the streetcars (Trams) throughout the City, having purchased Monthly Passes to hop and off at our leisure. This has given us a chance to thoroughly explore the entire City, including its outlying areas. Hopping aboard the Suburban Railway also allowed us to venture 20-30km outside the City to the recommended nearby river towns of Szentendre and Vac. Though each was quaint and had some picturesque architectural buildings and homes, the towns were also a bit too touristy for our tastes.

During our Stay, I/Bob also contacted and met with the woman that almost hired me as a Manager the year before we left Chicago. An ex-pat American, she runs a legal recruiting company headquartered in Budapest which serves the large corporate lawfirms in most of Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, and now she says is seeking to expand East to India and West to South America. Who knows, maybe in the future it could be a job opportunity that might be pursued. Either way, she is a good contact to have.

We also explored Budapest’s history, which is more often dark than enlightened. The Country’s central location in Europe has no doubt contributed to its unfortunate past, having been repeatedly invaded and conquered by many different peoples. Recent history includes its domination by Austria and Germany, and following World War II by Russia and the communist party’s secret police. As a result the people seem accustomed to heavy-handed governmental and police authority. Indeed, the Police here still dress and act in a way more reminiscent of the goons from the past. Of course, I had to see the famed Dohany Synagogue, the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe, which was quite an emotional site. It is home to the National Jewish Museum housing many Judaica ceremonial religious artifacts left over from the sad era of Jewish ghetto detention during the Holocaust, and finally has a Holocaust Memorial Tree which is a metal sculpture in its Courtyard with thousands of brass leaves commemorating Jews who perished. From a different era, we went to the Terror Haza (House of Terror), which was the actual home of the feared AVH Secret Police from the two-decades of communist domination and terror following World War II. Like I said, Hungary has a dark history and is only in recent times beginning to emerge into the light.

In sum, generally we liked Budapest. It’s a pretty city, with wonderful architecture, the Danube flowing through its center, lots of cultural activities, and decent climate. But, of course, for us the big negative at this time is the high cost of living. Would definitely recommend for a visit, but not for a place to consider living for now. (P.S. For fans of our friend Mike Shaker a/k/a Monk's Pub -- sorry, no visit here in Budapest).

COMING UP: Leaving Budapest on Oct. 21 ’09. Our travels continue eastward. We fly on British Air (via London) to Goa INDIA, arriving Oct. 22. Though not considered a real contender for our new home search, we saw it on the Travel Channel and it looked quite exotic and beautiful. And it doesn’t hurt that we have also always enjoyed eating Indian Food. Though our true intent is to move on to Southeast Asia, it is still too early due to seasonal monsoons. So we thought Goa would be a nice diversion, and we understand it is a good value. We will stay in Goa for one month, before heading to Southeast Asia starting with Thailand, in the northern highland city of Chaing Mai.

FYI – For those who might consider visits to either country, planning ahead is essential, especially for India. A Visa for entry into India is mandatory and must be obtained prior to arrival by applying in person at an Embassy. It is valid for up to 6mos. prior to travel, but your period of stay in the country is still limited to 90 days. Thailand, while not quite so strict in that it allows Tourists from most western countries (USA, Europe etc.) to enter the country without any Visa, the stay under the Visa Exemption is limited to 30-days and cannot be renewed. So, if one wants to stay longer in the country (as we do), you must like India apply in advance at an Embassy outside the country for a Visa. The standard "Tourist Visa" allows a stay of up to 60days and is also renewable for another 30days (for a total of 90 days maximum). Of course, I am referring to ordinary Tourist Visas, and not to any kind of longer term residency Visa or for folks intending to do business or work. Then, even more complicated Visa procedures apply requiring more detailed information and documentation (not to mention sometimes steep fees).

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