The morning was overcast and just about perfect for a short drive to the nearby town of Szentendre (St. Andrew). Again, we were one of the first groups to arrive, so we pretty much had the streets to ourselves on the walk up to the square. From there a few of us walked up to the small church on the hill, the Saint János Roman Catholic Parish Church. There was a beautiful and simple little courtyard surrounding it, and it was filled with old gnarly trees, which I’m a complete sucker for. I probably took more pictures of the trees than the old architecture on the surrounding streets. There’s another cool church not even a minute walk down the street called Belgrade Cathedral, and it was much more appealing from the exterior than the one we stood at. We peeked inside Saint János, then took some pictures from the courtyard’s edge, overlooking the river, then headed back down to visit the shops that lined the street.
I’m usually not a fan of the touristy shopping areas, and I feel a creeping annoyance at the people who will display all their trinkets and wares on a rug or sheet right in the middle of a pedestrian path. But Szentendre was different like Krakow’s market was different, and each was unique from the other. Not as unique as the Khan Al-Khalili in Cairo, but the three cannot be compared really. I managed to find a few little odds and ends for family and friends and picked up a little sweet Hungarian paprika to add to my spice cabinet. I then headed down to the river (Szentendrei-Dunaág) and strolled back up to a little restaurant area down from the hill with the awesome trees. It wasn’t quite lunch time, but there was a cool little café with outdoor seating, and I’d run into the other two OG’s, who were coming back from the opposite direction. We decided to get something to drink and munch on, and I noticed they had a delicious Belgian kriek beer on the menu, so I ordered than in lieu of coffee. A good friend of mine told me it’s acceptable to drink at any time during the day as long as you’re outside. Well, we took advantage of the outdoor seating, and I drank a beer before 11.00 that day. Some cheesecake would have been nice…
Everyone met back at the bus shortly after that. Everyone except one couple who were routinely 5 minutes late to arrive. I can’t remember where it was, but at one point I seem to remember Pawel starting to move the bus as they came around the corner. I don’t know if he was playing or what, but they got their asses in gear after that. As we re-entered Pest, we passed by the thermal baths and next the Vajdahunyad Castle, a super unique castle if I’ve ever seen one. It’s another structure built to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary, and it was originally built of wood and cardboard. Apparently, it became such an attraction that not long after it was originally built, it was rebuilt with stone and brick. Unfortunately, this was another site we did not get to visit, so it’ll have to remain on the list for next time. It’s a really neat place from the exterior though, because it combines all of the architectural styles that have existed in the 1,000 years that Hungary has existed.
We were taken back to the hotel, and several of us were quick to discuss food options. There was another couple that we chummed around with named George and Rose, and Rose had found a restaurant called Pesti Disznó (Pest Pig)about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Pig and beer sounded fantastic, so we headed there and found it fairly unpopulated. It was around 13.00, so I guess most people were just finishing up their lunch. I proceeded to have one of the best pork chops of my life and washed it down with a Pilsner Urquell. George had a huge pork knuckle that glistened with deliciosity. After I finished my dish, I did contemplate ordering a knuckle for myself. But I felt it was more important to refrain so I could enjoy my last afternoon in Budapest. We did sit for a while longer, had another drink a piece, and people watched. There was some red carpet event going on at the place next door, so a bunch of dapper gents and ravishing dames were lined up to enter. Out of nowhere stumbled in a man who appeared to be in his mid-20s, and who also appeared to have started drinking the prior evening. It was now nearing 15.00, and he was still carrying around a tall boy. He cut in the red carpet line and began to walk in. My view was obstructed, and I lost him for a bit, but about 10 minutes later I happened to look across the street and see him lying face up on a large stone slab bench, clearly passed out, but still holding his beer. I watched passers by as they walked by and stared at him, then I noticed a guy sitting about 20 feet away from him on another stone bench, eating lunch and hollering at him. He was apparently quite entertained by this guy’s inebriation because he kept laughing and couldn’t eat his food. We left about 10 minutes after that, and he was still there, but by that time he had rolled over and was using his folded arms as pillows. I wonder if he woke up after dark and thought it was the same night. I bet it was a very confusing few days for him.
We all stopped in this huge book store back up Andrassy from the restaurant to browse, but I don’t recall anyone having any luck. They had several different language sections, and I saw a few books that looked interesting, but nothing I couldn’t get at home. Plus that’s extra weight I’d have to carry back. So we parted ways, and I convinced my grandpa to walk down to a bottle shop / beer bar with me. It was supposed to be a rainy evening, and we each felt we’d walked enough, so a few short blocks later we arrived at beer heaven – Csak a Jó Sörök (Only Good Beer). I’d seen it in a Guardian article, I think, about the 10 best craft beer bars in Europe. Well, after having spent about 4 or 5 hours there trying many different beers, I have to say it lived up to the praise. There were only a hand full of other patrons when we arrived around 16.00, but as the skies darkened it filled up fairly quickly. My grandpa claimed to have the best seat in the house, because he could see every person that walked in. He said everyone would walk by and peek inside, then look for the sign, then peek in again, walk in and immediately their faces would light up at the sight of the pure glory that adorned the walls of this euphoric establishment. I might have embellished the last part, but not by much. That may be more the feeling I had in my heart as I imbibed of the sweet nectar that they offerred. We started with a few beers on tap – a Cocoa Wonderland (porter) and a Straffe Dreiling (tripel). These beers were downright wonderful. The Cocoa Wonderland was the perfect dessert to follow our delicious lunch. Three main rooms made up the interior, and the wall shelving was lined nearly floor to ceiling with bottles from around the world. In the western-most room, there were some couches, the lighting was a little dimmer, and there were two large coolers full of assorted single bottles from the US and Europe. At first I thought this might be the stoner’s den from the ambiance, but my nostrils indicated otherwise. The central room was the room into which we entered from the street, and in it were the bar and a few high tops. We had one of those, and a single beer lover claimed the other. In the eastern-most room, there was nothing but beer; floor to ceiling beer. It was an incredible place, and everyone was having a fantastic time in the presence of so many tempting options.
I spent at least a half hour looking for different beers to try while we took shelter from the rain. I had a few saisons, one Belgian and one Norwegian. I’ve never even seen a saison from Norway before, but I have to say it was damn good. The walls of the men’s restroom were lined with bottle labels from dozens of different beers from a Scottish brewery called BrewDog, so I got the subliminal message and chose one of their porters for my next beer. I chose a Gulden Draak for my grandpa’s next beer, which is the one beer that first opened my eyes to the wonderful, glorious, beautiful, amazing, enchanting world that is craft beer. His was twice the ABV as mine, so I went back for another BrewDog, only this time I tried their altbier, which is a style I don’t recall ever having before. Around this time an American couple walked in and took a seat at the bar, which was immediately adjacent to our table. Actually, I believe it occurred as I made my beer selection, because my grandpa may have loosened up a little from the unusually high ABV Belgian happy makers and started a discussion with them while I was up. For the life of me, I can’t remember their names, but they were very nice. They were from Minnesota, she was younger than he and quiet, and he worked for the Wild / Timberwolves. I remember Prince died that day, and since they were from his home state, we spent a while talking about his music. This guy told a story about when the Wild won a crucial playoff game a few years back, and Prince announced a free concert in a city park and ended up playing until 2 in the morning, then invited the team and employees of the organization back to his house. So it’s definitely true, Prince was just an amazing dude.
By this time I believe my grandpa may have been officially inebriated, and even I, who at the time was quite used to high ABV beers, was beginning to tingle. The couple had just come to Budapest from Vienna, which was the city we’d be heading to the next morning, and they gave us some restaurant and bar recommendations. They had an event of some sort to get to, so they had to cut the visit short, but we had nowhere to be. As we finished our beers, I decided I was going to buck up for the lovely brown I had been eyeing all night. It had come further than I had, as the bird flies, to arrive in Budapest, as its journey started in California. One would think in the states, with our commerce system as advanced as it is, it’d be easy to obtain a beer from any of our 4,000+ craft breweries any time we wish. Very sadly, this is not the case. Nonetheless, fate brought us together in that charming city on a romantically damp evening. I don’t mean that kind of romantically damp. The beer was called Board Meeting, and it was phenomenal; a great way to put a wrap on a great day with family and some new friends. It was a 750ml bottle, so it took a little while to finish. We sat and laughed about US and global bullshit – politics, absurdity, politics, absurdity. They’re synonyms, you know.
Tapping the last drop of beer from my upturned glass, I gathered up all of our remaining forint coins and as we left, I thanked the staff for an amazing creation and dropped several thousand forints in the tip jar. It was totally worth it. Heading back to the hotel, I seem to somewhat hazily (interpret: “drunkenly”) recall walking through this really neat little “park” dedicated to Franz Liszt, which was situated between storefronts and restaurants. It was a neat little area, and it was definitely tempting to stop in, but I really didn’t want to kickoff Austria with a hangover, and we both had the drunk munchies. So we got back out on the main boulevard and found a grocery store, where we quickly located chocolate ice cream bars. I’m pretty sure we had each devoured ours before we even got to the block where our hotel was located, and that might’ve only been a total of two blocks from the grocery store. We both claimed inebriation when we got back to the room and packed our things. Because we had started our drinking so early, we got back to the room at a decent hour and didn’t have to rush to get things in order for the next morning’s departure. I don’t typically sleep well when I’ve had that much to drink, but it aided my sleep that night.