A McDonalds In Budapest

In Praise of McDonalds

We are in Budapest this week at the beginning of a long planned trip across central Europe. I’m not sure what I was expecting in Budapest but it is much more than I had ever imagined. While things have been going slightly wrong since we left home with a few problems already forcing some changes in the weeks ahead we will just have to adapt.

With over 35,000 restaurants in over 100 countries, there are times when we travel McDonald’s can seem like a touch of home. While we prefer to eat local, sometimes familiarity, price and convenience win out. While the restaurant’s menu and appearance has a tendency to change based on the country there are always some common choices.

In Budapest, Hungary, one particular McDonald’s has actually become a destination itself. Located in the Western Railway Station (Nyugati Pályaudvar) that was designed by August de Serres and built by the Eiffel Company of Paris. The construction took three years and the iron structure was cast in Paris. Nyugati Pályaudvar was opened in 1877, 12 years before the Eiffel Company built the famous tower in Paris. Almost 150 years later the station has managed to retained its original style.

Over the years much of the iron structure has been replaced. On the right side of the terminal is the what has been called the most beautiful McDonalds in the world. This is one of the oldest fast food establishments behind the Iron Curtain, dating back to the Soviet occupation of Hungary. This McDonalds occupies a large multi-story space with ornate an colonial ceiling in the railway station complex and is a favorite with locals and tourists alike.

We visited around six on a Friday and the restaurant was packed. The lines moved quickly with attendants moving thru the lines taking orders on hand-held pads that printed out an order ticket. Our order priced out a little less than we would have paid back home and featured the usual fare. Placed on a balcony on the second floor was a Mac Cafe furnished with overstuffed sofas and chairs and staffed just to make coffee based drinks.

While we are not sure this is the most beautiful McDonalds in the world it is for sure the most beautiful we’ve ever visited.

 

 

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Getting Around Budapest

Budapest is a remarkable, beautiful and large city with the Danube River running thru the middle of it. Along the river in the central city are four major bridges. Starting from the north at the southern tip of Margit Island is Margit Bridge.

Margit hid or Margaret Bridge is a bridge carrying trams, cars and pedestrians connecting Buda and Pest along with access to Margaret Island. It was designed by French engineer Ernest Goüin and built by the construction company Maison Ernest Goüin et Cie. between 1872 and 1876. Margaret Bridge was the second permanent bridge in Budapest.

Next is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Designed by the English engineer William Tierney Clark and built by the Scottish engineer Adam Clark, it was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary. It was opened in 1849.

Next is Elisabeth Bridge (Hungarian: Erzsébet híd) is the third newest bridge of Budapest. The bridge is situated at the narrowest part of the Danube in the Budapest area, spanning only 290 m. It is named after Elisabeth of Bavaria, a popular queen and empress but often referred to by locals as the “White Bridge”.

Going south the forth bridge is Szabadság híd (in English: Liberty Bridge or Freedom Bridge). It was originally named Ferenc József híd (Franz Joseph Bridge). At its two ends are two public squares, Gellért tér (at the foot of Gellért Hill, next to the Gellért Spa and Fővám tér at the Great Market Hall. Built as part of the Millennium World Exhibition at the end of the 19th century, the bridge features art nouveau design and mythological sculptures.

Navigating the city by surface streets can be confusing with neighborhood streets seeming laid out like a maze. Many areas have very few streets that are laid out in a square grid pattern but rather seem to zig zag back and forth. For this reason even trying to use a compass heading can be frustrating if you are walking. If you are walking to destinations we recommend using a detailed map or cell phone navigation. Fortunately major tram routes and subways trace prominent paths thru the city easily found at major intersections.

Budapest has a very efficient and inexpensive metropolitan transit system. The best option if you are going to be spending a couple of days in this city, is to get a Metro “day pass” which averages about $6.00 per person per day or less and is availabe in one, two and three day passes. A day pass operates on a 24-hour cycle so if you buy one at 10:00 am it can be used until 10:00 am the next day. You can purchase them from vending machines but our recommendation is to purchase them from a manned ticket window open during business hours at most major stations. These are usually at major street intersections where you will find there are stairs going underground that are often also the best way to cross large city streets. While an amazing number of Hungarians know a passing amount of English, signage is another story in this city. Finding good signage in English is actually very rare in Budapest. Beside being able to talk to an agent about purchasing the best pass for your needs, they will also give you a complete set of pocket maps with some information brochures in English that are not available at the machines. The metro system is based on individual tickets based on tapping onto trams and busses. If you buy a day pass you do not need to tap on or off the various transports but simply have the passes with you. The truth is that after three or four days of riding rapid transit, nobody ever asked to see our pass.

One exception to that was one day we bought a train ticket for an hour trip out to Slovakia which offered a partial discount off the price if we had an active transit pass. The conductor on the train did want to see our metro pass to confirm that we were entitled to the reduced train fare.

Metropolitan transit in Budapest has three primary systems. They are subways, buses and the street trams. The easiest to navigate are the surface trams which are clearly marked on maps by their routes. They also have the advantage of being operated at street level where you can see where you are.

As a visitor think about Budapest as being divided up into several areas of interest. First the city is divided by the Danube River. The east side of the river is the old city of Buda with most areas of interest located within a mile of the river. Much of this terrain is steeply inclined up to the fortifications, the castle and Matthias Church and the old city. There is also a funicular that goes up to the castle level from near the Fisherman’s Bastion.

The west side of the river is the old city of Pest and includes most of the large commercial areas and additional major attractions. Some major sights include St. Stephen’s Basilica, The Hungarian Parliament Building, Hero’s Square as well as a number of major museums and galleries.

There are two primary tram lines designated 4 and 6 inside the central city that cross the river at the Margit bridge and the Erzebet Bridge. These two lines are major routes for people to use going to work and shopping and can get busy at times. Along these routes are the Central Train Station, the Market Hall, the New York Cafe and the Octagon intersection. From Octagon you can switch to the #1 subway line to get to Hero’s Square, the National Museum and or toward the river to the Opera House and a popular restaurant neighborhood.

There is an intersection of tram routes 4 and 6 with the #4 subway line at Jozsef Krt and Rakoczi Ut where you can switch routes and take the subway toward the Danube..

The easiest way we found to use the trams and subways is to know the map location where you get on and count the number of stops to where you are going, Understanding the Hungarian tram and subway announcements is often difficult and reading stop locations can be a challenge. Also station names at the various stations in the subway are poorly marked. For example boarding a west bound subway at the Octagon station and wanting to get off at Heroes Square to visit the gardens simply count five station stops.

After just a couple of trips you will easily get the hang of the system. Rush hour is also an interesting time on the trams. When the doors open on a packed full tram you will quickly realize that the crowd behind you believes there is plenty of room for a number of additional riders inside. You may be reluctant to push in but the next thing you know you are right there, packed into the car that you thought you wouldn’t fit into. Don’t worry most everyone is friendly and accommodating. Also if you aren’t sure where you are ask for help. We rarely found anyone that couldn’t understand some English and were happy to help.

The Port of Venice Italy

Port of Call Venice

One of the most popular ports of call on Mediterranean cruises, Venice (in Italian Venezia) is also regularly an over-night stay for many cruise itineraries and a port of departure for some cruises. It is an island city criss-crossed with a number of canals and is home to the iconic gondola. If you are planning your first Mediterranean cruise we would strongly recommend you selecting an itinerary that includes this marvelous city.

Where You Dock

The cruise ships dock primarily at the cruise terminal of Venice called Venezia Terminali Passeggeri. Large cruise ships tie up in the Marittima basin (Bacino Stazione Marittima), smaller ships tie up at the nearby San Basilio pier and Santa Marta pier. The piers are located just to the southwest of the northern entrance to The Grand Canal and to the west of Piazzale Roma. The larger piers are equiped with terminals that offer facilities and some shops.

Transportation

The main city island is cut in half by The Grand Canal which acts as a sort of waterway main street. The heart of the city is centered around St. Marks Square (Piasa San Marco) which is the most popular first destination for visitors.

Most cruise ships usually operate shuttle boats from the pier to docks along Riva degli Schiavoni which are just east of St. Marks Square in front of the Doge’s Palace. Cost has ranged from free to $12 round trip. Some cruise ship also provide a shuttle bus to Piazzale Roma or take a land taxi or the People

Mover located near the front of the first pier. From Piazzale Roma, you catch a water bus (vaporetto) on either Line 1 or Line 2 along the length of the Grand Canal to St Mark’s.

Venice is a very walkable city as well and while the streets seem to zigzag throughout the city it is isn’t difficult to keep your bearings. Numerous directional signs will point the way to the Rialto Bridge, which is one of two bridges across the The Grand Canal with additional markers pointing to St. Marks Square. The other bridge across The Grand Canal is a footbridge called the Ponte dell’Accademia located farther south than the Rialto.

Glass shop St. Marks Square

Currency

Italy uses the Euro with an exchange rate usually under $1.50. US Dollars are not readily accepted but most major credit cards are.

Glass factory on Murano

Attractions

Just strolling thru this remarkable city is the main attraction with its interesting neighborhoods, historic architecture, famous upscale shopping streets, open-air marketplaces and an endless assortment of restaurants and cafes. Venice is noted for art and architecture, the canals separating the 118 small islands on which it was built in the 5th century, its mask making, art glass , and of course Carnival.

A few of the more notable mask shops are Atelier Marega, Calle del Scaleter, 2940/B, Tragicomica, Calle dei Nomboli, 2800, Carta Alta Venetian Masks, Sestiere Giudecca, 796, Venice Masks by Alberto Sarria, San Polo 777, and Atelier Flavia, Sestiere Castello, 6010.

The glass factories of Venice of which the most famous is Murano Glass Works are located on Murano which is a series of islands linked by bridges in the Venetian Lagoon which can be reached by ferry.

 

Rome Cruise Port of Civitavecchia

 

Rome’s Cruise Port is Civitavecchia which is one of the Mediterranean’s Two Major Cruise Departure Ports. If you are spending time in Rome ahead of a cruise or are flying in, the trip to Civitavecchia requires some planning as it is not a short distance.

General

The Cruise Port of Civitavecchia is a seaside city and the port serving the city of Rome. The city is served by frequent train service from Rome along with regular service to other Italian destinations. The Cruise port is only a short five or six block walk from the train station along the waterfront on Via Aurelia. Once at the port there are usually free shuttles to the cruise ships. From where and how the shuttles run seems to change often.

The main entry to the port is nearest the train station and across from the McDonalds but recently the cruise shuttles are being organized nearer the Roman Dock entrance about 5 blocks farther up Via Dalmazia .

Where the Ships Dock 

 

Rome Cruise Port Civitavecchia is both a cruise ship embarkation port as well as a popular port of call and for that reason it can have a large number of ships in port from time to time. On one day we counted seven large cruise ships tied up. Because of the size of the port it normally requires a shuttle to get out of the port or to your ship.

Transportation 

The best way to get into Rome is to take a train. From Civitavecchia a typical trip to S. Pietro (40 mins), Trastevere (50 mins), Ostiense (55 mins) and finally Termini (70 mins). Fare starts at €5 one way on the commuter trains but can cost up to €25 round trip if using regional trains depending on ticket class. There is a manned ticket booth at the station along with vending machines. We would strongly recommend getting a metro train map ahead of time and plan your route before getting to Italy. Our experience is that buying tickets ahead of time online doesn’t save anything and can actually cost you more.

Taxis are available but are famous for overcharging with the short ride from the port to the train station quoted as high as €10 or €15.

Taking a taxi into Rome or to the airport can be an expensive trip with fares running from €150 to €300.

There are also shuttle services to the airport with an average price starting at €25 per person. It is recommended that reservations be made as schedules can vary a lot.

Visiting Civitavecchia 

We have stayed in Civitavecchia a number of times. It is a nice city with a number of nice hotels and restaurants within walking distance of the port. The main business district is next to the port and there are a number of nice shops in the area as well as a pedestrian mall. Via Aurelia runs along the waterfront from the train station to the ports main entrance and has a number of restaurants, most with outdoor seating available. The is also a nice park area along the water which is a popular place for locals to stroll in the evening.

Civitavecchia the Port for Rome

General – Civitavecchia is a seaside city and major port serving the city of Rome. The city is served by frequent train service from Rome along with service to other Italian destinations. The Cruise port is only a short five or six block walk along the waterfront on Via Aurelia. Once at the port there are usually free shuttles to the cruise ships. How the shuttles run seems to change often.

The main entry to the port is marked on the map with a red 1 but the more likely location to catch the shuttle is marked with a red 2.

Where the Ships Dock – Civitavecchia is both a cruise ship embarkation port as well as a popular port of call and for that reason it can have a large number of ships in port from time to time. On one day we counted seven cruise ships tied up. Because of the size of the port it usually requires a shuttle to get out of the port.

Transportation – The best way to get into Rome is to take a train. From Civitavecchia a typical trip to S. Pietro (40 mins), Trastevere (50 mins), Ostiense (55 mins) and finally Termini (70 mins). Fare starts at €5 one way but can cost up to €25 round trip depending on ticket class. There is a manned ticket booth at the station along with vending machines.

Taxis are available but are famous for overcharging with the short ride from the port to the train station quoted as high as €10 or €15.

Civitavecchia Pedestrian Mall

Taking a taxi into Rome or to the airport can be an expensive trip with fares running from €150 to €300.

There are also shuttle services to the airport with an average price starting at €25 per person. It is recommended that reservations be made as schedules can vary a lot.

Visiting Civitavecchia – We have stayed in Civitavecchia a number of times. It is a nice city with a number of nice hotels and restaurants within walking distance of the port. The main business district is next to the port and there are a number of nice shops in the area as well as a pedestrian mall.

The Port of Lerwick, Shetlands

Located in the North Sea one hundred fifty miles north of Scotland, Lerwick, the major town in the archipelago is the major Shetland port.

Getting Ashore -Cruise ships will normally anchor out and use tenders to reach shore. The tenders will dock right in the center of this picturesque town with its narrow streets and historic buildings.

Transportation – While there is a good public bus network (www.zettrans.org.uk) with its hub at Lerwick that reaches most points on the main island, and using ferries to other islands. The Lerwick bus depot is conveniently located near the center of town. Unfortunately schedules aren’t good for day tours from Lerwick.

Shetland has really good roads and renting a car is pretty easy. Rates average about £40 a day. Companies include Bolts Car Hire and Star Rent-a-Car located near the bus station.

Money – Scotland has now reverted to the English Pound. US Dollars and Euros are not generally accepted.

Local Attractions:

The Broch of Clickimin is a large, well-preserved but restored broch (a broch is an Iron Age stone hollow-walled structure unique to Scotland) dating to the late Bronze Age and is located just a mile north of town.

 

Fort Charlotte in the centre of Lerwick, Shetland, is a five-sided artillery fort, with bastions on each corner. The grounds and exterior battlements are open to the public and it offers good views of the towns harbor area. Today Fort Charlotte is managed by Historic Scotland, and is the base for Shetland’s Territorial Army. Visitors must call to get the keys to visit.

The Shetland Islands Puffins. These islands are home to a large population of puffins, making them a good place for puffin-watching as well as other bird watching. Within the Shetland Islands there are a number of places to see puffins, with some requiring only a short hike.

 

Piraeus the Port for Athens

General –  Piraeus is the seaport serving the city of Athens. This city is a major metropolis in its own right and the commercial area southeast of the port and near sea has a number of excellent restaurants and attractions. While most passengers visiting this port for the first time will head out toward Athens and the Acropolis, if you have visited before consider spending some time discovering this area.

Where You Dock – Most cruise ships will dock along the northwest side of the port. There is a good walking sidewalk around the port and if you walk north and than continue around the port off to the east you will reach the central district in less than half a mile.

Transportation – There are a number of ways to go from Piraeus to Athens. If you want to head out on your own the best bet is the metro but you can also take a bus or taxi. Rental cars are also available.

The metro can be used to travel from Piraeus to central Athens. A trip to Athens using the metro costs <€1. Also a free bus usually operates in the port taking passengers from the ships to the metro station.

The metro station is about one mile away from the cruise terminal, or a 15-20 minute walk around the harbor. After that, you have a 20-minute ride on the metro to Athens. If the shuttle isn’t running you can take bus (number 843) from the cruise port to the metro station. The ride should take no more than 5 mins. The cost of the ticket is 1€.

To get from Piraeus to the Acropolis by metro, take the metro from Piraeus to Thissio (15 mins). At the metro station follow the pedestrian avenue towards the Acropolis. The walk is another 10 minutes to reach the Acropolis.

Traveling from Piraeus to Athens on a bus will cost roughly €0.80. Due to the usual heavy traffic, you should avoid the bus if you don’t have a lot of time.

Taxis offer more flexibility. To get to Athens one would spend about €15. This will get one to the centre of the city. If you plan to travel to the airport, the price price could be about €40.

Money – Greece uses the Euro and US Dollars are not readily accepted.

Nearby Attractions:

Acropolis -First and foremost there is ancient Athens and the Acropolis and if you haven’t visited before this is not o be missed.

In Piraeus take time to visit the Greek Nautical Museum and the Piraeus Archeology Museum with both walking distance from the port.