23 Oct 2010
Christina Lund Sørensen
I'm a keen collector of refrigerator magnets and I have a newfound passion for 'usu nigori' - sparkling sake

My fellow hunter Ella poses the question in this excellent blog post. And I’ve asked my self the same question during the past weeks: does luxury and quality go hand in hand or do we assume that something is quality because the price reflects luxury and what you think is high standard?

In my blog post about The Bristol Hotel in Warsaw I was completely astounded over the quality and the level of service at the hotel. I decided that I would find something similar in Budapest. A hotel with a history that could deliver this kind of World Class service for a price that was affordable. I decided to go with The New York Palace.

The New York Palace

The building dates back to the 1894 and in 2001 it was bought by the Italian luxury hotel chain Boscolo Hotels and after five years of restoration it opened to guests in 2006. On their webpage, Boscolo Hotels claim to have kept the art nouveau style and the Belle époque atmosphere of the hotel. That might be true for the adjacent New York Café, but for the hotel some tacky Italian design has found its way into the interior.

Golden Sockets

Silver Mirrors

I think the advice here is 'less is more'

But the interior is actually not the important thing here. What is most important is the service, friendliness and that little extra that makes you feel like you’ve spend your money well by choosing to stay in that particular place.

  1. Service. You can certainly get a high level of service at The New York Palace. If you pay for it that is. Everything costs extra. There wasn’t even a water boiler in the room to make tea or coffee as in most 3-4 star hotels, but room service was happy to swing some tea by your room for about 4 Euros.
  2. Friendliness. When I check in at a hotel I expect a smile and a warm welcome. Maybe I wasn’t wearing an Armani suit, but I’m still a customer. I felt a rather arrogant attitude from almost everyone at the reception. Sure they we’re helpful and answered questions, but apart from a few of them, they all seemed like I was bothering them, when I turned up at the desk with new requests or questions.
  3. There were virtually no extras included and there was even an extra charge for Internet, which I just don’t get. It seems as if the budget-midrange hotels offer Internet complimentary, but the top end hotels charge for it. It just doesn’t make sense to me. The more you pay for a hotel the more complimentary things should be included, in my opinion.

I will never stay at this hotel again for the simple reason, that I paid for much more than I got. Sure I had a big bed and a huge bath tub, but at the end of the day that’s not quality, that’s just things.

22 Oct 2010
Christina Lund Sørensen
I'm a keen collector of refrigerator magnets and I have a newfound passion for 'usu nigori' - sparkling sake

Yesterday I posted a blog entry from a wander, I had in the Pest part of Budapest. Today I’d like you to take you on the little tour I had in Buda. The Buda side was much less about the people there and much more about the architecture.

It’s from this side you can see the Hungarian parliament building.

Gotic style like The Palace of Westminster in London

Buda of Budapest

An alright view

But I also stumbled across buildings like this, when I was heading for lunch at the communist pizza place.

Warehouse in Buda

And old warehouse with a lot of character.

Warehouse from inside

Warehouse behind the wall and barbed wire

22 Oct 2010
Christina Lund Sørensen
I'm a keen collector of refrigerator magnets and I have a newfound passion for 'usu nigori' - sparkling sake

The residents of Budapest love the opera. Most of all they love their opera. One of the questions frequently asked to visitors in Hungary’s capital is, if they are going to the opera. So I decided that now the time had come for me to attend my first opera.

And when I saw that it was Mozart’s The Marriage Of Figaro that was playing it almost felt like a sign. I had attended a classical concert in Prague a few days earlier, where the musicians played the overture from The Marriage Of Figaro and I was so sure that this was faith pointing me in the direction of the opera house in Budapest. I just had to go, even though I know virtually nothing about opera or fine arts in general.

I went to the opera house and bought my ticket. I was very excited, when I entered the majestic building of the Hungarian State Opera House. Everything was so beautiful and golden. I went to one of the ticket counters and purchased the ticket from a lady, who had cheetah prints on her polyester shirt and an overdose of colourful make up, and I asked her:

“Is there a dress code, when you go to an opera?”

“No”, she answered and then looked at me, who was wearing a woollen hat, a green second hand army jacket and a big over-excited smile – “but you have to put on some nice clothes”.

I copied that almost without getting offended, still maintaining the excitement of the fact THAT I WAS GOING TO THE OPERA.

Opera night came and I had put on the best and cleanest clothes, I could find in my suitcase. It as a bit wrinkly, but it was either that or a red and black lumberjack shirt. The only thing I need before leaving the hotel room was the ticket. Now, where did I put that ticket? I searched everywhere in the room, I had the reception call housekeeping and they came and searched the room completely. End result: the ticket was gone!

So I went to the opera house and found the opera-employee with the kindest face (not cheetah-shirt) and explained her my predicament and showed her my receipt for the ticket purchase. Two minutes later she had issued me a new ticket without even suggesting that maybe the receipt wasn’t mine, or that I should have taken better care of the first ticket. Great service.

People finding their seats and getting ready

I entered the opera and the room was absolutely breathtaking.

The Hungarian State Opera House. WOW!

The play started at exactly 6pm, when the overture I’d heard just a few days ago kick started the show. Butterflies in my stomach. “This was going to be great”, I thought.

Waiting for the kick off

A couple of minutes after the overture ended, I was more or less lost. Halfway through Act 1, I felt my head starting to get heavy and then suddenly I was woken op by the audience applauding. I thought: “Is it over? Thank God”. But it wasn’t, just Act 1.

During second Act I managed to stay physically awake. Mentally I was not at all in the Hungarian State Opera House watching Figaro, Susanna and the Count and Countess. I was in the same place, I had been in so many times earlier during lectures in university.

I’ve been told that The Wedding Of Figaro was a very controversial play, when Mozart wrote it, because of its critique of the aristocracy and that it was even banned in Vienna. 300 years later and it’s just a sleeping pill. At least it was to me.

When Act 2 ended and there was a break, I decided to leave. I thought it would be better not to be there than to sleep through the two last acts. Better for me and for everyone else. So when everyone else stepped outside to stretch their legs during break, I sneaked away.

Break time or sneaking away time, as I like to call it

And I walked out of the opera house into the cold, crisp Budapest night. And suddenly I felt very awake.

21 Oct 2010
Christina Lund Sørensen
I'm a keen collector of refrigerator magnets and I have a newfound passion for 'usu nigori' - sparkling sake

Whenever I travel, I always tend to walk a lot. It’s amazing how many hours I’ve spend just walking around, observing and of course taking photos. Some places are more fun to wander around than other. It’s not a matter of whether it’s an ugly or a beautiful place, because sometimes you can find the beautiful in the ugly and vice versa. What matters to me are the stories you find in these places told by the people, who live there.

I don’t for a second pretend that I can parachute into a city, leave after three days and then have figured out what the story is here and what the quality is about this place. But I get glimpses, moments and snapshots. And I give them to you.

These images are from the Pest side of Budapest.

Gentleman in a leather jacket and a hat

Couple walking

Man roasting chestnuts

Sweeping Leaves

This woman blessed me, when I gave her a few coins

PS: If you enjoy photography as much as I do. Not only taking the pictures, but also to be inspired by the work of others then I highly recommend this years ‘World Press Photo’, which I saw today in Budapest. Seeing the work of these fantastic photographers is immensely inspiring to me. It is quality. Use this link to see if there is an exhibition near you:

www.worldpressphoto.org

21 Oct 2010
Christina Lund Sørensen
I'm a keen collector of refrigerator magnets and I have a newfound passion for 'usu nigori' - sparkling sake

No? Well, me neither. Until today, when I went to a truly unique restaurant recommended by Budapest-residents, who insists they know what is quality in the city and what is not quality.

Glancing down the menu there were several interesting pizzas to chose from at ‘Marxim Pub and Pizza’, which is probably the only pizza place in the world, where you can have a ‘Stalingrad Pizza’, a ‘Snow White and the Seven Small Proletarians’ or a ‘Red Commissar’.

The Menu

I opted for the first one (which is basically a capricciosa), though I was extremely tempted to order the ‘Pussy-pussy Monica and Bill’ (I’m not really sure what that one was doing in a communist pizza place, but anyway), but then I remembered that it was only lunchtime and maybe it was better to wait until later to order food that refers to the ‘I did not have a sexual relationship with that woman, Miss Lewinsky’-incident.

The communists ruled Hungary until the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Then communist rule turned into socialist rule (which was a bit ‘same same, but different’ as they would put it in Thailand). And a pizza place/pub with a Marxist menu indicates that the younger generation in this country doesn’t take politics or the past too serious. Or maybe it indicates that they actually are into politics and the past? Either way the place has existed for almost 20 years and has served the Budapest youth with pizza propaganda and appropriate amounts of alcohol. It is both a pizza restaurant and a pub and the interior consists mainly of communist flags, barb wired booths and propaganda on the walls.

Barb wire between all the booths

The Red Star

The pizzas are so-so. A tad too salty and then the tomato sauce is served on the side, which I find a bit strange. But as I mentioned earlier, I was there at lunchtime and I think it’s a better place to go to as a warm-up joint before a big night out. Lots of beer and lots of communist pizzas must be an excellent way to start up an epic night out in Budapest.

The communist pizza - it was better than it looked

Marxim Pub & Pizza

Kisrokus U.23

1024 Budapest

Open:

Mon-Fri 12 – 01

Sat 12-02

Sun 18-01

20 Oct 2010
Christina Lund Sørensen
I'm a keen collector of refrigerator magnets and I have a newfound passion for 'usu nigori' - sparkling sake

I am writing this blog entry in what is know as the ’most beautiful cafe in the world’. It’s a quite bold statement to have connected to your establishment, but in this case it’s probably true.

The New York Café

I could put a lot of adjectives like ‘majestic’ or ‘splendid’ in my description of The New York Café, but I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Indeed Beautiful

The New York Café in Budapest is a legendary place. The café opened in 1894 as part of the majestic New York Palace. After a few years it became the place for writers and journalists in Budapest. And for that reason it has been on the top of my list of things to see during my visit in the Hungarian capital. Luckily it’s in the very same building as my hotel.

It wasn’t just journalists and writers, who loved the The New York Café. It also became a favourite of artists and other personas from Budapest’s intellectual elite. And rumour has it that an abundance of dedicated and legendary waiters took exceptionally good care of their guests and knew the regular’s wishes and habits. Today this type of regular guests is gone. Instead there are businessmen, tourists and upper class Budapest ladies lunching or having coffee (or maybe having hot chocolate – the menu features ten different kinds). But the service remains impeccable today.

When The First World War began in 1914 it put an end to the first era of the Café. The Austria-Hungarian Empire was in the middle of all the mess and that meant a closure of the café that later opened as a restaurant. In 2001 the restoration of the whole building started. And in 2006 it opened as The New York Palace Hotel and The New York Café.

The New York Palace, where the cafe is

Oh, and by the way. The food is delicious. I will have a hard time eating anywhere else, while I’m in Budapest.

New York Café

1073 Budapest, Erzébertkrt. 9-11

Open: Every day from 9am – midnight

20 Oct 2010
Christina Lund Sørensen
I'm a keen collector of refrigerator magnets and I have a newfound passion for 'usu nigori' - sparkling sake

I’ve once heard someone say that he preferred taking the bus, when he was travelling. On the bus he would strike up conversations rather than sit with headphones in his ears and look at a screen. And if he wasn’t able to chat to anyone, he would just sit there and look out the window left to his own thoughts.

The Road

I find this guy’s perception of travelling with a bus intriguing. The whole concept, of taking a road trip either by bus or car and have time and space enough to think about life and the journeys we take throughout it, is interesting to me.

For some people it might seem crazy to sit in a bus for seven hours to get from Prague to Budapest, when you can get there by plane in half the time, but maybe seven hours is exactly, what that journey is supposed to take? At least that’s what I thought, when the bus left Florenc bus station in Prague.

From the window of the bus I saw hilly landscape with old castles, and we passed rivers and signs shoving the distance to Vienna. All of a sudden the bus was in Bratislava and we weren’t in The Czech Republic anymore, we were in Slovakia. And a 30 minute ride from Bratislava we crossed the border to Hungary. I actually think that somewhere along that ride we even crossed over to Austria. Borders and Nation States seems like a bit of a blurry concept in the old empire, where everything was once one and now it’s all EU. When I looked out the window, completely left to my own thoughts, I had a feeling of real travelling and of getting somewhere in an adequate pace. No rush.

Bus station in Bratislava

Two cheeky ladies at a toilet in Slovakia

Most of the bus companies servicing passengers, who travel between the Eastern European countries advertise that they show movies on board and some of them even have wireless internet. Anything to prevent the passengers from being bored, it seems. On my bus they showed movies as well. I think John Travolta was starring in one of the, but I’m not sure, because I didn’t watch any of them. I didn’t even consider unpacking the headphones I’d been given. I was too busy being on the road.

And as Jack Kerouac writes in his novel, On The Road: ”What’s your road, man?Holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.”

Arriving to Budapest

INFO:

Bus companies who runs routes in Eastern Europe:

www.orangeways.com

www.studentagency.cz (just a name, it’s not just for students)

Both have a good reputation, but if you want all the the extra stuff like wi-fi etc. then go for the Student Agency.

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