Because we knew tomorrow was a holiday and most attractions, stores and shops would be closed, we had a handful of things to do before leaving Hungary. We still wanted to visit Hero’s Square and Statue Park (also known as Communist Park) and I had to but souvenirs for my family, we also had to have another family dinner and we wanted spend New Years Eve partying in the city. So today would be more than just a full day.
We started off at the Unicum museum. Unicum a herbal liquor that is to be drunk as an apertif of digestif and is made only in Hungary. So it makes the perfect gift for those at home. The locals tend to believe that it's also very good for you and has medicinal and prophylactic qualities. I equate it to something between jagermeister and nyquil, not very tasty but giving you a really good buzz.
Anyhow, the museum was closed on the day of our visit but fortunately the gift store was open. The store had a vast assortment of Unicum products such as hats, coffee mugs, tshirts, etc., and they had Unicum in different sized bottles. A word from the experienced, buy the liquor here as it is much cheaper than buying it anywhere else, including the grocery store! (I believe the limit for bringing alcohol back to the US is 2 liters per person and you have to put it in your checked in baggage). For a little more than $50, we bought quite a few things and got a majority of our Christmas gift shopping done.
Next we decided to go to Statue Park, which is a little outside of the city. We thought it might be interesting to see the artwork of the communist era and thought it might be cool to get some alternative gifts for some of our indie friends.
Stalin and Marx
When we got to the park it was pretty eerie. Cold and gray, it seemed very appropriate for our outing. The first thing you see entering the park are 2 huge statues within a red brick wall. One statue is of Lenin, the other of Marx and Stalin. When the fall of communism occurred in Hungary, the people decided that they didn’t want to destroy the statues that epitomized the times. Instead of melting them down or using them as scrap metal, they put them outside of the city to preserve them. I think that was a great idea as to save some of the history and not forget the past. We didn’t buy anything here as most of the gifts were a bit cheesy and way overpriced.
As there were a few more things that we had to do today before everything closed, we were off again.
Steps, Castle District
This time in search of an embroidered table cloth that my mother specifically requested from our trip. We thought that the Castle District would be a perfect place to find said table cloth. Despite the crowds, I really love this part of Budapest. It houses the most picturesque views of the city and the Danube, especially from the Fisherman’s Bastion. I love walking up the countless steps and the cobble stone streets to the Castle. We walked around for a while but couldn’t find a tablecloth that I was excited about so we decided to go to the Great Market at the end of the Vaci Utca.
The Great Market is another one of my favorite places. It’s 3 floors of shops selling food, textiles, clothes and souvenirs. It being New Year’s Eve, the place was closing early and many of the retailers were shutting down their shops.
St. Mattias Church
We were like madmen walking, trying to find more gifts and bargaining. We finally found a beautiful embroidered tablecloth that I know would satisfy my mom’s expectations and bought a few other gifts as well. We even remembered to buy a few bottles of champagne to ring in the New Year. With all that running around and craziness behind us, we were on our way back home.
Our aunt, who has an apartment on the Vaci Utca, offered us her place to crash on New Years Eve as she was going to be out of town. It was a perfect place to stay without having to worry about parking, driving and drinking. So after dinner with the family, we got dropped off at Aunt Katy’s apartment at the end of the St. Margaret’s bridge. To our surprise and excitement we found a huge street party going on, complete with a full stage, big screen tvs and live bands playing.
Having a beer on the Vaci Utca
How fortunate were we to be only a block away from all the action and commotion. Although we were still a couple of hours away from midnight, there were people everywhere and having a great time waiting for the new year to arrive.
We decided to come and go as we pleased, bearing the cold for a while then going back to the apartment for shelter. When the time got close to celebrating the start of 2010, we carried our bottle of champagne and joined the madness that was outside. What a blast. Never have I ever experienced such a fun and excited gathering before. Even though it started to rain and everyone was getting soaked, people were still out, anxiously waiting for the clock to strike twelve, and when it did, everything and everyone erupted.
Standing in the rain waiting for the countdown for the New Year.
The city did an awesome job with the public firework display that lasted well over 20 minutes and, as this was going on, people around us lit their own fireworks. There were car alarms going off, people screaming and blowing horns, there were the flashes and lights from the fireworks and the rain overloaded all of my senses. It was awesome!
We went back to Aunt Katy’s to settle down from the excitement and then decided to go to Franz Listz square and enjoy some music at Café Karma. Because it was after midnight, we didn’t have to pay a cover to get into the bar. The DJ was playing great progressive music and Tomee was playing live guitar. Because Karma is so big (there are 3 floors) there was plenty of space to dance or just sit around.
DJ with live guitar at Cafe Karma
We sat for the first hour or so just enjoying the music then headed down to the dance floor. Luckily it wasn’t too crowded that you couldn’t move nor were you bumping into each other. There was just the right amount of people. I haven’t danced like that in a long, long time. And, the waiters kept on giving out free Jager shots. Before I knew it, it was 5 am and time to go home. A little wasted and a lot tired, we staggered home by taking a 2000 forint (about $10) cab ride to drive about 5 blocks to get home. I tried to rehydrate, washed up, crawled into bed and fell right to sleep. I forget that I’m too old to party like a rock star, but I sure did try to this night.