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Here & There


Judy Crowell: Christmas in Budapest

Experience the magic of the Hungarian city with the outdoor Christmas Market in Vorosmarty Square, legendary fare and historic sites

By Judy Crowell, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery of Budapest.]

Budapest is really two cities in one, with the Danube River as its main street. Pest, on the eastern flatlands, is the commercial, financial and governmental center. Buda, to the hilly west, with cobble-stoned streets, medieval castles and churches, and healing baths, is the historical center.

Situated on the flat, Pest side of the Danube, with a commanding view of the Chain Bridge and sprawling Royal Palace. On the hilly, Buda side sits the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, an Art Nouveau gem built in 1904 and restored in 2004 thanks to a unique team of highly trained masters. Today it is a crown jewel of Budapest, offering unparalleled luxury, service and convenience of location to international visitors, many arriving via river boats such as Uniworld’s beautiful River Beatrice docked nearby on the banks of the Danube.

Every year from the end of November until Christmas Eve, more than 600,000 people attend the outdoor Christmas Market, which takes place in the center of Budapest at Vorosmarty Square. Hungarian gift items combine with gastronomic delights such as roasted chestnuts, Hungarian pizza (toki pompos), strudels and sausages of every size and shape. All washed down with the favorite winter drink — hot mulled wine (forralt bor).

Musical events, puppet shows, dance programs and Santa Claus add to the festivities. The days of Advent are celebrated every evening at 5 when colorful pieces of contemporary art are revealed behind the windows of Gerbeaud Confectionery. All to the chimes of the glockenspiel music of concert pianist Szilvia Karaszy and the brilliance of a light show.

Elegant and casual dining abound on both sides of the Danube. Gresham Kavehaz, modeled on the legendary café frequented by Budapest’s intelligentsia, offers Hungarian and Mediterranean fare. Be sure to save room wherever you go for the traditional coffee, tea, hot chocolate and legendary pastries. Rezkakas for sophisticated dining and virtuoso gypsy music.

The outdoor Christmas Market. (Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace photo)
The outdoor Christmas Market. Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery of Budapest. (Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace photo)

For more than 108 years, Gundel has pleased the tastes of such dignitaries as Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul II. Master works from Hungarian painters and a lovely garden setting add to the ambience.

For casual Hungarian flavors and to run into locals, try 21 Hungarian Kitchen. I loved the eclectic bistro feel of Deryne, and breakfast at Gerloczy is a must.

Important sites include the magnificent Neo-Gothic Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Hungarian State Opera House, Heroes Square, the massive Royal Palace home to the National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion, the Gellert Baths and the grand structure of the Central Market Hall (Vasarcsarnok), a bustling place full of history and local flavor where food counters and souvenir shops are scattered among produce, fish and meat stalls.

You could easily spend a day in any of these places — and you’ve barely made a dent in the magic of Budapest. Grab a mug of mulled cider, a forralt bor. Forge onward and upward and have a Merry Christmas, a Kellemes Karacsonyi Unnepeket!

Noozhawk contributing writer Judy Crowell is an author, freelance travel writer and part-time Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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