After our Slovakian mountain adventures the weather was hotting up and Nick and I were both desperate to hop into any cool body of water we could find. As we were headed for landlocked Hungary we settled on a lake and made our way to Lake Balaton. As well as craving the cool waters the lake could provide us with we were in desperate need of a washing machine and a Jojo friendly shower block. My standards aren't that high but I draw the line at ice cold water, other people's hair and my clothes ending up soaked because the only place to put them is on the floor!
A large amount of Lake Balaton's shoreline is very built up and tourist-tastic but, y'know I sometimes don't mind that if it comes with a few creature comforts like the aforementioned clean showers and maybe some wifi so that I can keep up with writing the blog. Lake Balaton is where the majority of Hungarians head when they're craving some beach-like fun so that in itself made Lake Balaton more interesting to me. We eventually chose a Balaton Tourist campsite with a bit of a holiday camp vibe; there was a small supermarket, a bar and an awful lot of children running around but compared to the sites at the more northerly end of the lake it seemed mellow especially if you had early morning swims in mind like me.
We spent three blissful days floating in the calm waters of the lake (we even splurged 1250HUF (about €4) on a pool float so that we could take our lounging to the next level), hiding from the sun with a book in the shade of the van and whipping up easy lunches with breads, spreads and the last of my beloved Treeline cheese from Austin.
It was a fantastic holiday within our travels, no map reading, no sightseeing, none of the usual challenges of travel just pure unadulterated relaxing!
Our next stop was, of course, Budapest. One of my favourite cities and one that I hadn't had the pleasure of visiting since 2009 when I travelled there by train from Vienna with a group of lady friends. Whilst we were there we discovered a restaurant whose delicious dishes I'd never been able to forget, I dreamt of their fantastically cheesy pizzas and their cherry chocolate cake for years and years and raved about the restaurant's cosy atmosphere and fantastic food any time Budapest came up in conversation. So, with this in mind, I was so, so pleased to discover that not only was Napfenyes Etterem still open but that they'd expanded and now had a second more central location. Fantastic. Their second location has a full pastry case as well as their main dining service and, and this was very welcome on a 38C day, air conditioning, something that's almost unheard of in European vegan spots!
We were ushered though to the dining area which was much smarter than I remembered the dining room at their first location being and it definitely reflected the upscale vibe they're shooting for. The menu had a wide range of options ranging from veganised Hungarian specialities through to pizza as well as a whole raw section - I feel like every single person I know would be happy eating here. Nick and I both decided to order the Stuffed Seitan Kiev Breaded in Walnuts because seitan stuffed with cheese is both of our ideas of an ideal meal.
This was definitely a solid choice, the seitan was super tender and oozed melted cheese and I was pleased to be eating my favourite green vegetable despite it being slightly on the over cooked side for my tastes. The white rice accompaniment didn't distract from the flavours of the seitan and the only thing I would have changed about this dish was the creamy dressing which was a little cloying after a while. I think my recommendation for Napfenyes Etterem would be to scope out the daily specials which include a soup, salad, main and dessert and see if any of those strike your fancy as that was what everyone around us seemed to be ordering and their plates of seitan, potatoes and cabbage looked delicious. Oh and if you aren't planning to head to their sister restaurant I would seriously consider ordering one of their amazing pizzas - more on them later!
Dessert wise I don't think you can really go wrong, their desserts are as delicious as they are beautiful and when faced with their huge dessert case, which features a mix of traditional hungarian desserts and cakes that wouldn't be outa place in a French patisserie, we both had trouble choosing.
In the end I went with a slice of their Raspberry Marzipan Cake whilst Nick chose the Snickers-like Cake. Both were great but the frosting in the Snickers-like cake was outstanding, light and fluffy and not too sweet as to make your teeth hurt. It was the slice I picked on our second visit!
On the way out we were distracted from our foray into the humid outdoors by this tower of Pogačsa. At the time we had no idea what they were but they looked similar to my favourite British cheese scones so that was good enough for us.
It turns out that Pogačsa is a traditional Hungarian bread akin to an American biscuit or British scone. They were fluffy, cheese filled and completely delicious. They made the perfect breakfast the next morning.
The destination we had in mind before getting distracted by the tower of pogačsa was one of Budapest's top tourist destinations, the world famous Szechenyi Baths.
Szechenyi has 18 pools and indoors it was even more maze like than I remember it being six years ago. The geothermal pools were a wonderful place to relax whilst the outdoor pools are a great place to soak up some rays whilst engaging in the fantastic people watching opportunities. There's also a circular whirlpool thing that acts as some kinda wild water based circle pit where people are getting slammed into both each other and the curved walls all in the name of a good time. Highly enjoyable if, like me, you're into that kinda thing either on land or in water!
It was hot, hot, hot in the city when we visited so Szechenyi's ice cold plunge pools were a welcome treat after a sweaty morning exploring the city and I would highly recommend a visit.
Napfenyes Etterem's original location, now named Napfenyes Etterem es Pizzeria, is one of these spots and it's well worth the visit even if you've already eaten at their more central location. This location has a smaller menu and focusses on their spectacular pizzas.
Nick and I split a pizza because our lunch had been pretty epic and we wanted to leave room for dessert. I went with the Hawaiian because I looove pineapple on pizza and Nick chose the Coal Burner which featured faux sausage, seitan and smoked tofu alongside red onions and oregano.
All of Napfenyes Etterem's pizzas come with a few types of vegan cheese, I suspect that they use Wilmsberger, Cheezly and some kind of delicious homemade sour cream to create one of the best pizzas I've eaten anywhere in the world. As we'd saved space for dessert we polished off a slice of this chestnutty chocolate slice which had a shortbread base despite not being remotely hungry. It was delicious and fuelled that evening's ruin bar hopping.
The next day was our last and aside from a Napfenyes Etterem re-visit for more pizza and snickers-like cake we decided to stop off at conveniently located vegan buffet style spot Vega City on our way to the Gellert Spa and Bath, one of my fave' spots in the city.
Vega City is located right across from the Hungarian National Museum District making it a great place to swing by and grab breakfast, lunch or an early dinner after soaking in some culture. On arrival we weren't super sure how to go about ordering and as it wasn't quite lunchtime we sat and chilled out with a couple of drinks whilst we watched what other people were doing! This move had the added bonus of getting to see what the most ordered items were as the place filled up for lunch. The spaghetti plate was by far the most often ordered item that day and as it was a huge plate of food Nick and I decided to share.
I loved how generous they were not only with their portions but also with the generous sprinkling of vegan cheese. This was super filling and we both left satisfied with our choice. Vega City is also the place to get your hands on some free wifi whilst enjoying vegan eats in the city making it perfect for digital nomads, bloggers and anyone needing their social media fix. They make an excellent apple & mint lemonade too so make sure to look out for that when you visit.
Budapest is without a shadow of a doubt one of my favourite cities in the world, whether you want to stroll along the banks of the Danube, drink the night away at a quirky bar, stuff yourself with amazing vegan food or just soak up the history and culture of a city peppered with numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sights you'll have an amazing time and I'd be willing to bet that you'll fall in love with it too.