Home Away from Home
As I told you in the previous article I’ve returned to my old love, Budapest. While I hope for it to be on a more permanent basis in the future, for now, it’s just for a month. And, as I also explained, my planned abode fell through which left me looking (and finding) a variety of places to stay, as well as one at which I couldn’t afford to stay. . . but a girl can dream.
My first stop is Claud’s place which I found through Airbnb (though it’s listed on multiple sites, the listing on HomeAway is linked below). Claud’s sister, Elian, manages the large, elegant-looking apartment which sleeps six people very comfortably. The apartment – though my travel has caused me to use the term “flat” more often than the traditional American, “apartment”, here in Budapest they are indeed called apartments and people look at me strangely when I say “flat.” So, the apartment has a fantastic kitchen where one can cook gourmet meals (if one has that talent and, if one does, please invite me to dinner), a living room with a TV which would be a great way to learn Hungarian as there are no English language channels, though there is wi-fi, and, perhaps my favorite part, a wonderful bathtub to relax in. Located just a few blocks from both the Nyugati Train Station and the famous Andrassy Street, you can get pretty much anyplace, either by foot or by mass transit, within twenty minutes.
Karma plays a huge part in securing accommodations during this trip to Budapest. While working out arrangements for Claud’s place (Elian is kind enough to provide a discount so I can afford it), Elian reads Drop Me Anywhere as well as Rebel-With-A-Cause and realizes that, though I might be a bit quirky, I’m not crazy and I try to be a decent person. She tells me that she often does house swapping when traveling and, though she’s going to Italy later in the month, she’s not arranged a house swap and therefore, her apartment will be empty while she’s gone. She invites me to stay for free later in the month if I want. While I don’t volunteer or do other good deeds with the expectation of anything other than helping others, feeling good, and maybe inspiring others to do so, it sure is nice when others offer to help me.
As Claud’s place has only six nights free, I need to find another place to crash and karma again rears its beautiful head in the form of my friends Hajnalka and Ernö, both of whom I met while volunteering last year with Heti Betevö. (It’s a joy to return to my regular Sunday volunteer duties again with them this year.) Knowing my situation, as well as understanding that I’m a fellow volunteer trying to change the world for the better, Hajnalka and Ernö arrange for me to rent Ernö’s Airbnb place at a fantastic rate. Unfortunately, Ernö’s place is unavailable for the first night I need it so I decide to splurge for the night and, padded with my Orbucks (Orbitz customer loyalty program), I snag a night at the Danubius Health Spa and Resort on Margaret Island for $85.
When it’s time to vacate Claud’s place, I pack up my things, walk to the train station and take the short bus ride to Margaret Island for a day and night of luxury. I exit the bus, passing both an ice cream cart and a cotton candy cart (aka candy floss) and check into my lovely ninth-floor hotel room with a balcony overlooking the Danube. After enjoying a glass of wine in my room, I change into my bathing suit, throw on the bathrobe provided, and head down to the spa to relax in the mineral baths. The following day, wishing I could afford more than one night here (hell, I couldn’t really afford one night), I hop on the bus and head back to Pest. (To read more about the Danubius Health Spa and Resort, check out the previous article “Revisting and Old Love”)
Arriving only about five blocks from my previous abode at Claud’s, I meet my friend Hajnalka and settle into Ernö’s place. Sleeping four people (really, I could sublet some of these extra beds out on Airbnb and it would not only pay my rent, but would make me some extra money), the place is bright and open. It’s got two bathrooms, a smaller, but fully stocked kitchen, a large living room with an adjoining area with two beds, a dining room which seats six, and a huge bedroom. Okay, so the ambulance station is a block away and Budapest might just have some ridiculously loud ambulances, but I travel with earplugs which sure helps. And, as this apartment is literally a block from the Nyugati Train Station, and a ten-minute walk from the famous Parliament building well, ambulances and all, this is a fantastic place to stay.
While I planned to move on to Elian’s place (hell, it was free) for the final ten days of my stay, I have a friend coming into town and this is a great location for all we want to do. Also, I’m tired of moving around all the time and really need to wake up in the morning and have some idea where I am. (Sounds a bit slutty.) I decide to stay at Ernö’s place for the remainder of my trip. Still, I get spend an evening with Elian and her friend, drinking champagne and talking politics. Her place is very nice yet a little further out of the city center, and by further out, I mean both horizontally and vertically as it’s a walk and a few stops of the train, as well as a fourth-floor walk-up (a total of 92 steps). If you’ve seen the amount of luggage I’m carrying these days, what with my personal and work clothes, you’d understand my trepidation. All things considered, I decide to stay put, but will forever be grateful to Elian for her kindness.
Oh, one last place to tell you about; one rainy day, after walking through St. Stephen’s Basillica (the place I visited the hand at on my first trip here which you can read about in “The Strong Arm of the Law and the Church”) I duck into an interesting-looking building with a very modern bar showing cuts from very non-modern Gene Kelly and Marilyn Monroe films. While observing the connecting lounge area, I ask the bartender about the place and he tells me it’s the Aria Hotel and offers to take me on a tour. The forty-four rooms and five suites are distributed amongst four wings, all themed according to a different style of music – classical, jazz, contemporary and opera. If you’re an Elvis fan, you can spend the night with the King of Rock-n-Roll, or enjoy some Benny Goodman in the Jazz wing, or maybe have a romantic evening in the Romeo & Juliet Opera Balcony Suite. (Though remember, things didn’t end well for them.)
Next, I’m escorted to the High Note SkyBar, a beautiful, outdoor rooftop bar where, on a nicer day, I’ll return to enjoy a fancy cocktail while overlooking St. Stephen’s Basilica. In the meantime, we head downstairs where, on the way, my bartender/tour guide mentions the hotel’s Musical Director. What? Ah yes, I read an article a few months ago about a Budapest hotel with a musical director. I just had to meet this guy. I’m invited to take a seat in the Music Garden, the classy, yet modernly decorated lobby/lounge of the hotel where, Kornél Magyar, the Music Director will be available to meet with me in fifteen-minutes. As it’s afternoon wine and cheese time, a free daily event held for hotel guests, and I’m invited to partake, I see no reason not to wait. I serve myself a glass of red and dish out an assortment of cheeses and crackers, look around and spot my seat. I choose this particular seat as I see a familiar face in the chair next to it. Sitting quietly and reading his New York Times is Mr. Big. Yup, that Mr. Big. Any Sex and the City fan will know him as Carrie’s true love, but hell, we’re in Budapest; she’ll never find out if he has a fling with me. I play it cool, sipping my wine without spilling it, and nibbling at my cheese. I pick up my own New York Times and read it while giving the appearance of ignoring him. (I might have also picked up my phone and updated my Facebook status, perhaps mentioning my quiet neighbor.) Yes, I play it cool. . . perhaps too cool as, after fifteen-minutes or so, Mr. Big saunters out the front door, pant-leg stuck in his sock, only slightly tarnishing the suave image which we all hold of him.
Before long, Kornél arrives and we sit down to talk. With a background in music, and a talent for drums, Kornél has worked at the hotel since it opened last year. He’s a concierge with an insider’s knowledge on the expansive music scene here in Budapest. His dual role takes special skills. As he says, ” You need to be hospitable enough that, if there is a guest who just wants a table reservation, you can do that. My advantage is that I’m from the music business so I have the contacts in the network.” He also arranges some small concerts within the hotel, and can also tell you the best jazz club and bands in the city. (I take his advice later in the week and book a night with friends at the Opus Jazz Club.)
I finish my glass of wine (which may not be the first glass I poured that day) and dream of the day I can afford to stay at the five-star Aria Hotel.
If you want to book any of the accommodations mentioned here, please mention my name. No, they won’t give either you or me a better deal but, you know, it’s always nice for them to know where you heard about them and, who knows, maybe I can score another free glass of wine.
Interested in staying at any of these great places? Here are the links to the listings:
Claud’s Place – https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1623866#summary
Ernö’s place – https://www.airbnb.hu/rooms/1350950
Aria Hotel – http://www.ariahotelbudapest.com/