Tag Archives: coffee

Do Widzenia, Kraków

We came back from Oświęcim in surprisingly high spirits.  Jim supposed that to some degree we were incapable of fully experiencing the horrors we had just seen; or perhaps we were subconsciously steeling ourselves against the tremendous sadness.  Whatever the reason, it was a pleasant surprise.  We decided to dine that night at a vegetarian restaurant in Kazimierz called Momo Bar, but they were closed when we arrived, so we walked around the corner to Manzana.

After our delightful experience with “Czech-Mex”, I was excited to try its Polish iteration.  Upon entering Manzana, I was immediately aware of how “Western” the attitude was here.  For one thing, the waitstaff was impeccably attentive, which was actually rather jarring after almost six weeks of the kind-but-distant European table service we’d gotten used to.  For another thing, the silverware was given to us rolled up in our napkins, instead of in a basket.  It’s the little things, I guess.

We started with an order of Mexican pierogis, which were deep-fried and served in a very pretty bucket.

Yum-o!

Since everyone seems to love the food pics, here’s the rest of what we had:

This was my vegetarian quesadilla. Ordinarily I try not to order things at restaurants that I can make pretty well at home, but I couldn’t say no to this one.

This is Jim’s goat cheese enchilada with salsa verde.  Note the fork shadow; I literally stopped him mid-bite to get the picture.

The next day in Kraków would be our last; we had tickets back to Budapest on a train that left at 10pm that night.  Originally I had wanted to take a day train because the route from Kraków to Budapest goes through the Carpathian mountains, which I really wanted to see.  However, upon closer review, the trains don’t go through the mountains at all– only the buses do.  A bus trip didn’t sound nearly as nice as a train trip, mountains or no.  Plus, as Jim rightly pointed out, a night train would save us the cost and hassle of trying to find an extra night’s accommodations.  So, night train it was.

We woke up the next morning, finished packing, and headed out of our flat one final time.  Our plan was to catch a tram back to the north side of the river, find a breakfast spot, and get to the train station wherein we would leave our bags while we wandered around for the rest of the day.

Spring had suddenly arrived in Poland, and the heavy down coat I’d been sporting for the last six weeks became completely unnecessary.  The city was alive with people enjoying the turn in the weather, and we decided an outdoor breakfast spot would be ideal.  As soon as we crossed into Kazimierz, we spotted Café Młynek.  It’s a bed-and-breakfast spot, but luckily the breakfast part is open to the public.  We sat our bags down and perused the menu: simple fare, perfect for breakfast al fresco.

Various cheeses, vegetables, bread, scrambled eggs, fresh-squeezed OJ, hot coffee…. the breakfast of champions.

After breakfast, we made it to the train station to deposit our bags in one of their storage lockers.  The plan was to visit an architecture exhibit at the Kraków Bunker of Art (hands-down the best name for a contemporary art museum ever).  Then Jim had to do some work and I decided to busk on the Old Town Square once again.

There’s my busking face again. St. Mary’s is behind me.

I did all right again.  This time, I took into account what the tour guide had said about the Polish being a sad people, and I tried to play as many sad songs as the ukulele could handle.  People leaned out their windows to hear me, and the folks going by in hansom cabs seemed to enjoy it, so that made me feel good.  After an hour or so, I decided to go meet up with Jim at Castor Coffee Club on the Square.  My throat was pretty sore and I had my heart set on ice cream.  Castor Coffee Club did not have ice cream, but they did have a killer mango smoothie, and after counting up the tiny Polish money I had earned, I had just enough to get one.

Tiny Polish money. The waitress was not amused.

From there, we decided we had to eat dinner at a traditional Polish restaurant; we’d avoided it thus far because of our experiences with traditional Czech food, but this would be our last chance.  Jim suggested Chimera, just on the other side of the Square from where we were.  Personally, I found the name horrifying, but the menu seemed all right, so we went.

Chimeras!

The restaurant was down a long set of stairs, in a cool and rustic cavern.  The aesthetic fit the meat-and-potatoes fare we were to be provided.  We started the meal off with a gorgonzola-stuffed pear.

Heaven on a plate.

As for main courses, I opted for grilled meat with grilled vegetables.  Jim went with a platter of various vegetarian dishes, though he did help me finish the meat that I couldn’t finish on my own.

Mine.

Jim’s.

After the meal, which looked pretty but (aside from the pear) was rather mediocre, we checked the time and decided it was time to head to the train station.  As you may recall, the train station is connected to the shopping mall, and the shopping mall houses what quickly became our favorite coffee shop in Kraków, called TriBeCa Coffee.  We still had some time to kill, so we stopped in for one last cup: flat white for me and Americano for Jim.

Very true.

After our coffees, it was officially time to board our train.  This was to be my first experience in a proper sleeping car, and I was beyond excited.  The room was tiny, and the top bunk (which I claimed) was only accessible by ladder, a point that was lost on me until I realized how tricky it would be once the train started moving.  Live and learn, I guess.

Someone is ready for bed.  Or screaming to be let out of confinement.  One of the two.

Although we’d be sleeping while it happened, I was overjoyed to know that the train would be stopping in Prague and Vienna on its way to Budapest.  We rocked off to sleep shortly after the train left Kraków.  The alarm was set for 7:30am, and we’d be pulling into Budapest a little after 8am.  The trip was about to come full circle, a bittersweet realization.  On the one hand, I love Budapest so much and was so happy to go back; on the other, I was so not ready to go home and leave Europe and my love behind.  We still had three full days to spend reveling, though, so for now it was time to drift off to sleep while the train carried us around the mountains and back to Budapest.

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half-hearted wanderings

Part of me is glad that, if we were going to have to be sick for any segment of this trip, it’s while we’re in the city we’ve previously visited.  On the other hand, our half-hearted wanderings don’t make for very interesting travel-blogging.  But we still try.

I hadn’t gotten to sleep until nearly 5am Monday, and so I slept in until about 11:30am.  My one order of business was to make it to a music store and get a microphone cable, since I’d meant to bring mine from the U.S. but cleverly grabbed a 1/4″ cable by mistake.  After some Google Map research, I decided the most likely place to have what I needed was Tajti-Music, near our old stomping grounds on Károly Körút.  Another preliminary search showed that the Hungarian phrase for “microphone cable” is “mikrofon kábel”.  Score!

So we walked there, went in, and found what I needed.  My tiny victory of the day was saying “mikrofon kábel” with such stunning accuracy that the man behind the counter answered back with a lengthy stream of Hungarian.  The blank stare I offered in response tipped him off to the fact that I had no idea what he had just said, which somewhat diminished my tiny victory, but without missing a beat he simply repeated what he’d said in English, which was to ask me what length I needed.  The rest of the transaction proceeded without incident, and in minutes we were ready for the next destination, which was– what else?– coffee.

Jim knew where he wanted to go, and led me down some adorable side streets to get there.  Before long, we came to a café that had some top-notch signs.

Donuts + rum. every. damn. day.

Speaks for itself, really.

As it turns out, this place with the awesome advertisements, Cafe Gerlóczy, was the exact place Jim was taking me to.  The signage belies the swank factor of the interior, which was decorated with marble and plants and lots of dark wood.  We sat down and took a look at the menu.  Jim went with the “tea menu”, which inexplicably involved no tea– rather, it was a choice of hot or cold chocolate, accompanied by pistachio cake and some kind of cream sauce.  I snapped a pic of his hot chocolate but the cake was gone before I could document it (I did get a bite, though– finom!).

Commence diabetic coma.

I went with a less indulgent pairing: café latte and a macaron.  I’ve been hearing the virtues of proper French macarons extolled with increasing frequency over the last few months, and once I saw that I had the opportunity to try one, I couldn’t say no.  Merci à Dieu that I didn’t, because it arrived on my latté saucer like a shy little ruby-encrusted secret.  How enchanting.

Enchantée, mon chèr.

After we were sufficiently indulged, it was time to walk a bit more.  We decided to hoof it over to Andrássy Út, Budapest’s biggest avenue and a World Heritage site.  My original intention was to walk to the end and see Heroes’ Square and City Park, but the avenue is quite long and so we never made it that far.  We did, however, take a gander at the lobby of the Opera House.

If the price list is to be believed, the lowest-tier opera ticket costs about US $2.50. We may have to see an opera while we're here.

After that, we continued on.  A few more blocks down the way, we came across a familiar site.

Terror House. Enough said.

Behold the Terror House, located at the former headquarters of the Hungarian Nazi (Arrow Cross) party, as well as the Soviet secret police. We won’t be going there this time; we’ve already been once before, and once was enough for me.  The museum is a palpable retelling of the horrors of the back-to-back Nazi and Communist occupations (they don’t call it Terror House for nothing), including a refurbished Soviet state car, the likes of which would be used to “disappear” dissenters in midnight raids, as well as a Soviet tank in the lobby.  Next to the tank stands a multi-story mural of all the faces that disappeared during the occupations.  The museum tour ends with the triumphant exit of the last Communist from Hungary in 1991, but that only comes after rooms and rooms of desperation and despair.  If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it– but plan to do something light-hearted and fun afterwards, because it is a bit of a mind-f*ck.

Once we passed the Terror House, we both decided it was time to head to the grocery store for more forralt bor makings, and then back to the apartment for dinner.  Soup and hot wine does wonders for the sick traveler, after all.  On the way home, I saw this sign, which summed up my feelings at that moment:

happy

yeah. 🙂

That’s all for now!  Hopefully my next post will involve the words, “I’ve stopped coughing!”.  Cross your fingers.

Szia!

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castle hill

It’s just after 9am.  As I write this, Django Reinhardt is playing on our alarm clock, and I am waiting for our adorable little percolator to make me an individually-sized cup of coffee.

oh god give it to me...

Such has become our morning routine: I get up, turn on some lights, make some coffee, and start in on my various writings, while Jim intermittently rises to snooze our Django alarm.  This will continue for the next hour or so.

Since Friday, I’ve started feeling a little under-the-weather as well, though not nearly to the extent that Jim has.  So far, all I’ve had to complain about is what I’ve diagnosed via Internet as mild bronchitis (slight burning in the bronchial tubes, light but occasionally painful cough).  This hasn’t helped us improve upon our departure time, as you might imagine, but we still manage to get out. Yesterday, we decided on an afternoon walk to Castle Hill.

We’ve been to Budapest once before, in December 2005, for about four days, and we visited Castle Hill then as well.  It’s absolutely gorgeous, and full of things to see.  From the Pest side of the Danube (or Duna as it’s called here), you can see the Palace, the Gothic spire of St. Matthias Cathedral, and many other steeples and eminences, all majestically set into the hillside.  Since we weren’t really going to have time to do any in-depth exploring this time around, we decided to turn it into a reconnaissance mission for when Sarah arrives, since it’s one of those places any first-time visitor has to see.

The Royal Palace as seen from the Chain Bridge

Once we crossed the bridge, we had to decide if we were going to buy tickets for the Funicular (or, as we’ve affectionately dubbed it, the “Fun Car”) or ascend the hill on foot.  We decided we needed the exercise, so we proceeded on foot.  Ahead of us, a group of people making the same trek turned off the main trail and disappeared into a wall.  Naturally, we followed, and it turned out to be a shorter way to the top, lined with very interesting graffiti.

Found this on the shortcut to the top of the Hill

Once we got to the top, we were greeted by another bird: the Turul.  The Turul holds an important place in the origin myth of Hungary.  As legend has it, the bird appeared first to the wife of the leader of the nomadic Magyar people in a dream, wherein she was symbolically impregnated by it and a great river began to flow from her womb, signifying that she would bear a son who would father a long line of  great rulers.  The Turul also appeared in another dream, to another Magyar leader, in which it rescued his people from attack and instructed them to migrate to what would eventually become Hungary.  The Turul represents the will of God, and it sits on the Tree of Life and carries the Sword of Attila (thanks, Wikipedia!).

The Turul Statue at Castle Hill

Once atop the Hill, we began to search for a place to get coffee (this seems to be a recurring theme with us).  The first place we found was Korona Cukrászda, a pastry shop near the National Gallery.  We sat down near a picture window looking out at the Palace and began to peruse the menu.  One of the specials listed was Forralt Bor– hot wine.

Context: On our last trip to Budapest, we’d spent one of our days at Statue Park just outside of town, and returned at the end of the day famished and exhausted and in search of a Mongolian Barbeque restaurant that was highly touted in our Lonely Planet guide book.  We ended up getting mega-lost, finding the restaurant only after they’d stopped seating for the night, and so we made the long trek from Buda back to Pest in the lowest of spirits.  Upon crossing the river, hungry and dejected, we turned a corner and stumbled onto a Christmas festival full of music, delicious street food, and– best of all– forralt bor in mass quantities.  It was then that we first fell in love with it.  So of course we ordered it now, with a slice of sour cherry strudel alongside.

yum yum yum yum yum

The service here was a little lacking– our clean plate and empty glasses sat for a good while before getting cleared away, and then it was another considerable chunk of time before it occurred to anyone to bring us the bill– but the wine was near perfection, and the strudel wasn’t bad either.

At this point, it had grown dark, and we decided to make our way through the district, down the hill, and back to the Pest side of the river by way of a different bridge.  The Castle district is lined with cobblestones and every road is flanked by unbelievably quaint and picturesque rows of houses and storefronts.  Once we left the busier sections, and descended into the residential hillside, the only sound was that of our footsteps on the cobblestones.  We weren’t exactly sure how to navigate our way out, but we were on an adventure, after all.  Once at the bottom of the hill, we found the river, and the bridge we needed to cross.  And then we saw this.

Parliament building at night

Suffice to say that Budapest at night is unrivaled in its luminescent beauty.  There are so many historic structures, all of which are lit up like a Christmas tree as soon as darkness settles.  It makes for a lovely backdrop on an evening constitutional.  The view from the bridge we crossed to get back to our side of the river wasn’t bad either…

Parliament to the left, Castle Hill to the right, and the Chain Bridge over the Danube in between

Such was our Saturday.  Today is Sunday and I have no idea what we’re going to do.  Jim is finally awake and showering, which is a sure sign we’re going to be out by noon, but our only destination so far is coffee-related (what did I tell you?).  After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

Til next time! 🙂

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