This post is long overdue, and has been in the queue for several weeks.  Nevertheless, I enjoy writing reports and re-reading them in the future.  Unfortunately, if I don’t write them immediately when I return from the trip, I have to think hard about the notes I’ve scribbled down to try reconstructing the trip.  Better late than never, so here we go.

In late September/early October, Sophie and I decided to book a small vacation when I visited her in England from early Nov, 2011 to early Jan, 2012.  We searched for several days on teleholidays.co.uk and found an excellent deal to Budapest (from Manchester, UK) for a few nights.  Originally we were going to do the vacation during Sophie’s 21st bday weekend in early Nov, but changed it to early December because it worked out better – we would have more time to go since Sophie’s semester would be over and it wouldn’t overlap with the UK Open Rubik’s competition in Bristol.  In the end, we ended up booking a night vacation for 4 nights at a 4 star hotel in central Pest (east side of Budapest).

On December 9th, we woke around 7:30am, got ready and called for a taxi around 8:15am so we could catch a 9am train out of Leeds to Manchester airport to catch our 1pm flight Manchester-Budapest.  The taxi ended up arriving 20 minutes late, but we were still able to catch our train without a problem.  Upon arriving at the Manchester Airport, we discovered that because we didn’t checkin to the airlines the day before, we had to pay insane fees.  Jet2 ended up charging us £17.50 each for simple checkin/printing boarding pass, and then another £30 charge to check 1 bag.  If we would have known about these, we certainly would have checked in ahead of time – more on this later.  After that ordeal, we ate some lunch at Giraffes at the airport, which was quite tasty.

So after paying £65 in fees (which was nearly more than our original cost of our flight), we boarded our flight to Budapest.  Upon arrival in Budapest, we paid 17 EUR for a 1 way journey for the two of us to our hotel in Pest, Ambra Hotel.  After a 40 minute ride there, we brought our reservations to the front desk and began to checkin.  We were super excited because the hotel seemed very nice and was in the middle of the city.  However, the front desk told us they had no reservations for us and that the hotel was booked (it was a Friday night at 8pm or so).  We wondered how that was at all possible.  After looking into it more, we found that the agent we booked through, www.airborn.co.uk (Airborn Direct), had ceased operation back in late October, just 2 weeks after booking our vacation (but we weren’t in anyway notified).  So, the friendly Ambra Hotel staff helped us book a hotel outside of the town in Buda, and we had to re-pay for our hotel reservation at the Mercure Buda.  Luckily we were able to get a pretty nice room at a great price of 50 EUR a night.  So we took the metro across town into Buda and checked into our new hotel.  Oddly, Airborn Direct/Holiday Hero still had booked the flights, but did not make the reservation.  What an adventure that day was.  After relaxing a bit, we decided to eat at the hotel for 18 EUR/person, but the food was superb and was very satisfying.  After dinner we called it a day.

On Saturday we woke around 9am to catch the complimentary breakfast before it closed.  The food was good, but it seemed that a lot of the food was gone (as if we came too late).  After eating, we headed back to the room to grab our bags for the day and then walked around Buda, and along the Danube for a couple miles.  Unable to find anything too apetizing for lunch, we went into a unique market (that looked like a bank from the outside) to buy some food.  We ended up buying some drinks, some candy, and some snacks.  After that we walked around Buda more until it was dark, and then went back to the hotel to put some things into the room.  After, we set off to dinner and came across a Chinese place that was in Hungarian – we didn’t recognize a word on the menu, and used only pictures to decide what to order.  The funny thing was that after ordering, the woman there grabbed it from the tray, tossed it into the microwave, and gave it to us.  We got like 3 dishes to share for 1 EUR for each dish.  The food wasn’t bad for 1 EUR, but we found the microwaving hilarious.

On Sunday we decided to explore Pest (pronounced Pesh-t in Hungarian).  We walked all through the city side of Pest, in and out of Christmas markets, and along the many shops and malls there.  We stopped and ate lunch at a place just near St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  Sophie and I ate Goulach (which was very oily), and I also had a chicken sandwich.  After lunch we continued north in Pest, along the river and near the famous parliament building.  I found it strikenly similar to the parliament in London, and later found out it was a replica (aside from the dome on top of it).  Before we knew it, it was dark and we headed back to the hotel to rest our legs a bit.  After a short break, we headed out to northern Buda to explore the area.  We found a large shopping mall (Mammut Mall) that seemed massive, and was actually very busy for a Sunday late night – we were surprised.  We explored the food court, and ended up eating at a Greek (I think) place.  I looked at the prices and found some stuffed pancakes I liked.  Because they were only 2-3 EUR each, I thought they would be small, so I ordered 2.  To my surprise, they were massive, but tasty.  Sadly I was unable to finish them, but it was a good learning experience at least.  After dinner we walked more of Buda on the way back to our hotel, and then called it a night.

On Monday, we woke early and went down to grab some breakfast at the hotel.  We wanted to wake early to get breakfast before everyone else, and also get started for the day.  After breakfast, we went back to the room and showered and got ready.  We then walked around Buda more, and checked out the Mammut mall again during the morning.  Around lunch, we took a back route and walked toward the Danube to a restaurant we saw a few days earlier, Trofea.  On Mondays, they have a lunch deal – all you can eat and drink (including wine and beer) for 3,750 HUF each (10 EUR).  We wanted to try it out, so we ate lunch there.  Our plan was to eat lunch, and then catch a walking tour near St. Stephen’s Cathedral at 2:30pm.  The lunch at Trofea was excellent.  I had a couple pints a beer, and when Sophie ordered some wine, they brought her out a carafe of wine.  We ended up eating 3 courses, and had some mulled wine: salad, venison, lots of chicken, shark, grilled vegtables, and an excellent dessert.  We couldn’t have asked for more, especially considering the price.  After lunch, we hurried to the cathedral and made it just in time for the tour the start.  We ended up walking with the tour for a few hours, and before we knew it, we were on top of the hills in Buda overlooking the Danube and Pest, and it was 6pm.  After the tour, we walked back to the hotel to relax, and then headed to the Mammuk mall area again to grab dinner at La Taqueria, a Chipotle-like burrito place.  The food tasted quite good and was cheap.  After dinner it was drizzling rain so we went to the hotel and watched some movies.

On Tuesday, we woke early and ate breakfast again, and then went out and about.  We had to checkout by 11am, and had to catch a taxi to the airport around 2pm, so we walked to the top of a hill in Buda again for a daytime overlook of the city.  After snapping some pics, we went into various souveniere shops, and then grabbed lunch at some grill.  We both got a hamburger, which was very unique to say the least.  It was on a massive bun, and it was incredibly salty (apparently Hungarians on average consume like 9x the recommended daily intake of salt).  After eating, we walked around the area a bit more, and then headed back to the hotel to catch a taxi, which cost 6,500 HUF.

The flight was fine.  Once landing, I got stopped a UK Customs for about an hour.  When I entered into the UK in early Nov. of 2011, the same thing happened.  They were questioning how I could afford to take a vacation to the UK, and why I was in the UK in the first place.  Because I didn’t know Sophie’s exact street address, they thought I was lying.  Anyways, because of the long delay Sophie and I missed our train from Manchester to Leeds, and had to wait for an hour to catch the next one.  Once on the train, everything went smooth, until we had our tickets checked.  Apparently Sophie was carrying her old railcard, so she was fined for a new ticket of £22 (we paid £6 for our tickets orginally).  It sucked, and somewhat summed up all the bad luck of the trip.  Once we got to Leeds to took a taxi to Hyde Park, grabbed some food, and then headed home.

Overall, neglecting the fact of what we were fined, the trip turned out well and we both had a great time.  Budapest is an awesome city, and I’ve long wanted to visit there.  In regards to the www.airborn.co.uk deal, we have filed a claim with the CAA (Civil Aviation Association) to get our money back on the hotel reservation that was never made.  Our flights were also not checked in (which ended up costing us £65), and we would have been notified that we had to checkin if the company didn’t cease operation.  However, we didn’t file a claim for that because we should have known to checkin anyways.  Word of advice: always pay on a credit card for extra protection of your money.  If we had paid with a credit card, we would have got our money back without having to file a claim and hope for the best.

I’m now back in the US, after returning from 2 months in England last Thursday.  I’ve made some nice goals for 2012, and have been working on some fun projects.  I look forward to blogging about them in the months to come.  Happy 2012!

118 Photos – Hungry in Hungary Facebook Album
Daytime view of City – Video 
Weird Curtains for Entry/Exit of Store in Budapest – Video