Budapest is one of the most elegant and charming of European capitals, and certainly one of the cheapest.
In 1953, civilisation as I knew it came to an end. Hungary beat England at Wembley Stadium 6-3. Architect of the defeat was Ferenc Puskas. He broke my heart. I caught up with him, 61 years later.
Budapest is one of the most elegant and charming of European capitals, and certainly one of the cheapest. For us, and hundreds of others, it was to be the starting point for a river cruise to Amsterdam, so a good chance to visit for a few days.
Our accommodation, the Boutique Hotel Zara, was in a great location (central and close to the Danube River), and within walking distance of where most river cruises leave from.
To celebrate Hungary's 1000th birthday in 1896, a huge number of buildings were commissioned. The most splendid of these are the Parliament Buildings which are well worth a tour. It pays to book online as turning up and waiting for an English-speaking tour was time-consuming and stressful. And you must have your passport. Each transaction took ages, and people queuing got more and more irritated at the delay. When two tour guides were allowed to queue jump a big row broke out and they were jeered and booed.
The tour is good and includes a changing of the guard. Whether you do it or not, make sure to see the Parliament Buildings when they are lit up at night. They are best seen from a night cruise on the river (which all river cruises would do on the first night), but you can get a splendid free view from the other bank in Buda. Yes, there are two cities, Buda and Pest. Buda is on the hilly side, with a castle, art gallery and old buildings. "Historic but dull" says the guide book, but the streets and buildings are currently being restored to their former beauty. And we certainly enjoyed a morning's walk there.
Walk along Andrassy Ut, Budapest's Champs Elysees, which includes the magnificent Opera House (which offers guided tours), and if you want a coffee then the Alexandra Bookshop has a wonderful cafe upstairs with high ceilings, elegant decor and great pastries.
Everyone raves, too, about the New York Cafe, in a different part of town, considered by some to be the most extravagant coffee house in Europe - prices to match - but, alas, we didn't get there.
The Great (or Central) Market Hall, a much vaunted attraction, is exactly that. It's huge, spread over three floors.
We had to try the famous potato cakes from one of the food stalls up on the first floor, but it was so crowded we had to jostle our way to get them and then got jammed up against a table while we ate them.
I didn't think they were worth the effort, but clearly hundreds of other people did.
Budapest, being on a thin earth crust, has many thermal baths. The most spectacular open-air one is Szechenyi Baths. It has 18 pools, and is flamboyant and decorative, like a rococo Splash Planet. And if you've ever wanted to play chess sitting in a thermal bath, this is your chance.
I got there by underground, always a tiny adventure, but easier than bus or walking. It's the second oldest metro in the world. Budapest also has a good tram service.
Space doesn't allow me to mention many of the other attractions, and three days is a minimum time to stay to be able to see most of them.
What we enjoyed most was the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble (not to be confused with the National Dance Theatre). It's in Buda and quite hard to find - we had dinner nearby before the show and allowed plenty of time to get there.
We had hoped for a selection of traditional dances. When we got there we learned it was a contemporary show. Our hearts sank. Well ... it was brilliant. Magic. It was a story about men who leave their rural homes for the city and the impact on them and those left behind. There were about 35 dancers and a six-piece orchestra.
The men who went to the city wore suits, those left behind wore traditional costume. The men do all the show-off dancing, the boot slapping and leg kicking but the women's colourful skirts swirled and flared, their pigtails flew. We were enthralled from the start. Too expensive, probably, to bring the Ensemble to an Auckland festival but I wish we could.
And Puskas? His name, photos, and legend lives on in the windows of many bars, and shops, even though he died in 2006. Clearly, he still means a lot to Hungary. I forgave him.
Getting there: Emirates flies daily to Budapest from Auckland, connecting via Dubai.
Further information: See gotohungary.com.
from House of Travel - Palmerston North, shares his top tops on how to make the most of your APT River Cruise.
1. If your budget allows, consider an upgrade to Cello or Violin deck, the cabin design allows wonderful indoor/outdoor experiences with amazing views.
2. When on-board head for the gift shop and purchase the map for your particular river journey. If you are on the most popular "15 Day Magnificent Europe" Amsterdam to Budapest purchase a map of "The Rhine, Main and Danube". Follow your journey through over 80 locks.
3. Visit the purser as soon as you can and book a dinner in the exclusive and intimate Erlenbis Chef's Table restaurant - it's included!
4. Do take on-board a multi plug for all your electronic charging. APT's vessels have wall sockets for NZ plugs.
5. When taking morning sightseeing options instead of rushing back by bus, wander back to the vessel taking in the sights, shopping and food or the town or village you are in.