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Wander a little ways off the beaten path when you visit
Banks catering to international businesses pepper the main thoroughfares, and their signs and billboards in English and Hungarian point the way to their buildings, with their architecturally updated facades. Do not count on changing money at one of these high profile banks; you may have to spend some time finding a branch of the OTP bank able to handle a currency exchange, especially if you carry travelers checks.
Signs of renovation abound. Many buildings conceal their faces behind scaffolding, while others proudly display the results of their fresh new facelifts. Sitting at a café on a quiet side street, you might notice contractors gutting a third-floor apartment across the street. You might even choose to stay in an apartment that has been similarly renovated, and in so doing find that your choice to eschew traditional tourist accommodations has saved you money and given you a closer glimpse on how Hungarians live.
The streets of
Some may work locally for international firms, like 30-year-old Hungarian businessman, Peter, who represents a major tire manufacturer’s interests in
Others may express their entrepreneurial spirit, like the women who opened Café Eklektika, an artists’ café and piano bar (the customers play the piano) that serves a decent lunch, and hosts a bustling evening drinks crowd, amidst the displayed works of local photographers. The menu invites anyone who would like to put her own art on display, “If you feel you want to show yourself to the world ��" please do so.”
Someone, or several someones, must have taken this as encouragement to use the entire city as their canvas. Nearly all the bridges, subterranean street crossings, and a fair number of building facades have been “decorated” with graffiti. None of it is offensive, some is even artistic, but it does not seem to have been painted with the intention of beautifying the city. Furthermore, there is no evidence that anyone has tried to remove it. Nevertheless, absent any obvious signs of the threat of gang violence one might associate with it, the graffiti art lends a certain charm to the city. It speaks of a society undergoing a stressful but energizing transformation.
The effects of globalization can be seen in
No need to be a guest of one of these hotels, though, to enjoy the beautiful views of the Buda side. Taking an afternoon stroll along the wide pedestrian embankment between the new hotels and the river, you can turn your back on the hustle and bustle of the Pest side and take in the hilly terrain and stately church steeples, domed palaces and grand monuments that make up the Buda side of Budapest, framed between the sky and the lazy, coiling ribbon of water that divides the two sides.
As you walk along the embankment, which is situated several feet above the waterline and set back enough to allow a two-lane road to run alongside the river, you may encounter the odd (really odd) street performer playing the accordion, singing a rousing folk song. You can amble among clusters of stalls where bright and polite Hungarian vendors offer the usual handcrafted folk art, and where you might even find that authentic boar pelt you have always wanted.
Numerous beer gardens and cafés present themselves for your refreshment, and it would not be a bad idea to have a seat at one as sunset approaches; an outdoor café along the west-facing Pest side of the Danube ��" while not cheap ��" is THE place to be at sunset, for the final rays of sunlight streaming up from behind the Buda hills can be magnificent to behold.
The preferred way for a visitor to reach the Buda hills (castle district) requires you to walk across one of
A funicular railway waits on the Buda side of the Chain Bridge to whisk passengers up to the top of the hill where dowdy old Buda looks out over the more cosmopolitan
One of the most interesting and probably least touristy things to do while in
The Kiraly bath provides a fascinating cultural experience, because it is attended almost entirely by native Hungarians and the staff speak no English. At a cost of a few forints and an uncomfortable feeling of bewilderment, you can for a short time immerse yourself in a ritual that is still dear to the hearts of many Hungarians.
For those who prefer a more structured, less intimidating bathing experience, the renowned Gellert Hotel offers a Turkish bath geared more towards Western tastes, and boasting some of the most impressive architectural features.