We had stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express in Harlow Town, a twenty minute rail journey from London Stansted airport. The complimentary breakfast was quite good and the hotel convenient for taking the Stansted Express to the airport.
The airport’s railway station was just a short walk from the terminal and as we were not needing to check in luggage, we headed straight through to security. This took longer than usual as there seemed to be a large backlog of tubs with prohibited items waiting to be examined, holding up the flow for new passengers belongings to pass through the scanner.
After eventually making it through security we popped into the J.D. Wetherspoon Windmill pub for some mugs of frothy coffee before our flight. The pub is on two levels and we managed to find an alcove table on its balcony which was quieter than downstairs.
Our Ryanair flight departed on time and it was a quick two and a quarter hours over to Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport. We passed through immigration reasonably quickly and after obtaining a small amount of Hungarian Forints from a cash dispenser we looked for the 100E airport shuttle bus to the city centre and found the stop located just outside the arrivals hall. We bought our tickets from a machine which cost 900 HUF (£2.47) each and we were able to pay for them using a credit card. The airport shuttle took 40 minutes into the city centre making only three stops, it terminates at Deák Ferenc tér but we alighted one stop earlier at Astoria as it was nearer to our hotel.
We had reserved a room at the Hotel Nemzeti Budapest – M Gallery by Sofitel for five nights where we were warmly welcomed by one of the receptionists. We were given the option of a room overlooking the busy Blaha Lujza tér or an inward facing one over the hotel’s stained glass covered courtyard restaurant. We selected a room at the front of the hotel as we were assured that these were well insulated from traffic noise.
Hotel Nemzeti – ‘national’ is named after the National Theatre that once stood in the square. The hotel building was first constructed in 1896 and the lobby still retains its elaborate arched ceiling and original grand staircase. Contrasting with the original features, the room designs are contemporary featuring either light or dark furnishings. Our medium size room was dark and decadent with black polished wardrobes, a deep red carpet and a dominant black feature wall bearing a flower motif. Through our arched window on the third floor we had good views over the busy square and were able to watch the trams passing by without any noise whatsoever.
After unpacking and making ourselves a hot drink we walked along to Vörösmarty tér where the Christmas market was taking place. After wandering around the small festive wooden huts selling local crafts, Christmas decorations, etc. we were feeling hungry and were tempted to eat on a raised section of the market with trestle tables covered in brightly coloured polka dot tablecloths. We ordered goulash stew from one of the stalls which was served in a large bread bun and seemed a little overpriced at HUF 3,500 (£9.50 each). The portions were quite large but the goulash was a little disappointing as it was only lukewarm.
From the market it was then a short distance to the River Danube which looked beautiful with its illuminated buildings casting a golden glow over the water. We continued as far as the Széchényi Chain Bridge which connects the western and eastern sides of Budapest, namely Buda and Pest. This bridge, which looked so pretty with its twinkling lights, was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary opening in 1849.
Feeling tired, we then retraced our steps back to the hotel. Some delicious liqueur chocolates had been left on the bed for us so we had these with our bedtime cups of tea before soon falling asleep.
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