It’s funny how a nice bed and a bit of opulence can transform grizzled train travelers into sophisticated gentlemen. We actually put on a collared shirt for dinner at the world’s most beautiful café. With the Grand Budapest unavailable, we reserved at The Boscolo Hotel, an absolutely charming hotel that houses the famous New York Café.
Arriving early, The Boscolo scored its first points by sending us to their business center, replete with coffee and cookies. That gave us a chance to unwind and do a little work. Perfect! Then they scored again when, “we pulled a Moe” (this means we did what our good friend Carl Ramsey would do), and asked the bell boy where he likes to eat. He directed past three or four nearby places to his favorite, Lado Café. It was as he said. Affordable, fresh, and very tasty.
They continued to pile on the points when we returned from lunch to book a private city tour for the next morning. Not only did the concierge arrange the tour, he arranged for a one hour extension for our checkout to accommodate the tour, informed us that our room was ready, and checked us in. All the while, we were entertained by a pianist for the adjoining New York Café, where we made a quick reservation for dinner.
So the story of the New York Café is that it went from opulent café to opulent warehouse and back again, with the latest reincarnation occurring around the turn of the millennium. It manages to feel over the top without being over the top. It helps that the food was excellent and the service and amenities bountiful.
The 3-hour tour we booked was with Giorgi and we asked to hear about Hungary’s history, economics, and political policy while seeing some of the sights of the city. Budapest has two sides – Buda and Pest. On the Pest side, lives the majority of the population where the beautiful architecture reflects Roman, Italian, Baroque, and other styles – often in the same building. The grand boulevards and the old homes line the avenues, some of them renovated and many left waiting. The focal point on the grand boulevard is a circular monument lined with famous historical figures called Hero’s Square. The area features city’s famous Zoo, Gundel Restaurant where dignitaries like the Pope, and Presidents have dined, the Budapest public baths, where hot springs have to be cooled to lower the temperature of the water, gardens, and park space.
Our conversation with Georgi was frank as he spoke openly about Hungary’s position, in his opinion, of the refugee situation and the country’s hesitancy to welcome them. We talked about his country not being in the best position to help others while still trying to help many of their own.
A drive over a bridge to the Buda side revealed green hillsides, and quieter neighborhoods in contrast to the hip, hectic, hurried Pest side. Open and green spaces lure a more affluent neighborhood. Large homes line the hillsides with parks and trees. We went to the Palace to see the view of the Pest side from that vantage point.
Ba Da (All about Peter)
Upon return to the Boscolo, we freshened, gathered, and proceeded to the check out. There we shared our concern about our train reservations. That’s when our front desk manager, Peter, took over our lives for the next 30 minutes. He called. No the train was definitely not running. The only option would be to go on a different train to another border with no idea of whether that would allow crossing the border or finding an Austrian train that would be running from there to Vienna. Wait, there was one other option. If we went up to the business center and tried to book a bus from Budapest to Vienna, we could perhaps make it this way. Wait, he’ll try to do it for us. Passports please! Credit card please! That card didn’t work. Try this one. Okay, success- last two seats on an Orange Way bus leaving from the soccer stadium in 2 hours. We’ll put you in a cab that will take you there. Saint Peter
We’ve had several cab stories over the years and more than one of them has involved our lack of the native language. So we are expecting to arrive at a bus terminal and the cab driver is missing an important detail not included on our ticket print out- the name of the bus company. Not knowing that we need to say, “Orange Way” resulted in a few minutes of internal panic and driving around the soccer stadium. Finally, another look at the ticket and the good fortune to say. “Orange Way” resulted in us screeching to a halt in front of a small kiosk that looked as if it was part of the stadium. We had arrived where the bus would depart from.
After a bit, an unmarked white bus appeared, luggage was stored, tickets checked, and people loaded. Away to Vienna, with some surprises. The overhead lamps did not work, the one power outlet near the toilet also did not work, and….the onboard toilet itself was out of order. We did have someone traveling with us that had the manifest of who was on the bus and he seemed calm enough.
Our route, as it turns out, was a circuitous journey along the Austrian border and into the countryside of Slovakia, about 30 minutes south of Bratislava, where we eventually did cross into Austria. It took about 1 ½ hours longer than if we had continued straight on to Vienna or if we had traveled by our intended train. We eventually arrived in Vienna, and using the last gasp of cell phone power, we were able to arrange for our innkeeper Karl to find us and deliver us to the safety of our new accommodations at Pension Vitis.