Category: Europe

Trump administration downgrades EU ambassador
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Trump administration downgrades EU ambassador

Until they didn't.The European Union's ambassador to the US, David O'Sullivan, normally among the first 30 foreign envoys to be seated, watched as almost every other ambassador to the US took a seat, leaving him among the last to be called. That, according to an EU official, was how the 28-member bloc learned that the Trump administration had downgraded its diplomatic status from a state to an international organization. The shift — a reversal of an Obama administration decision in 2016 — has riled Brussels, deepening a growing rift and appalling diplomats in Washington who decried the move as "amateur" and "unprofessional."

The latest irritant
"We learned of this when Ambassador O'Sullivan went to the funeral of President George Bush," an EU official told CNN, speaking anonymously to discuss the issue. "Every administration has the right to review this order but why now, two years in?" the official said, echoing comments from diplomats in Washington that the move seemed politically motivated. "What for us is remarkable is that we were not notified," the official continued. "For a diplomatic move like that, you should at least tell the organization involved."The State Department did not answer multiple questions — when or why the decision was made, by whom and why the Trump administration didn't bother notifying the EU orally or in writing. Instead, the agency sent CNN an automatic message citing the government shutdown for its failure to respond. The snub is just the latest irritant in US-EU relations since the Trump administration took office. Under President Donald Trump, the US has sparred with the EU on a number of issues, including trade, the Iran nuclear deal and support for the Paris climate agreement, and has failed to consult it on decisions that affect European security. More to the point, Trump and senior officials in his fiercely nationalistic administration have criticized the EU, pushed for Britain's departure from the group and publicly questioned its value, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo encouraging members to assert their national sovereignty in a December speech. Speaking in Brussels, Belgium, in a strikingly undiplomatic speech, Pompeo asked whether the EU is "ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats and Brussels." News reports of the speech noted that one audience member shouted, "Yes!" "This decision is just another in a series of failures to consult our closest allies," said Julianne Smith an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security. "Europe wasn't consulted or notified about the administration's decision to leave the INF Treaty," with Russia, which immediately impacts European security. "Nor was it consulted or notified when the administration decided to leave both Syria and Afghanistan," Smith said. "Europeans have become accustomed to learning about US policy decisions in the newspaper. That's not how alliances work, and that's not how past administrations have treated allies. Europeans are growing tired of the constant surprises."

'Just rude'
The State Department's "Diplomatic Corps Order of Precedence and Dates of Presentation of Credentials" is used for protocol purposes, but it's also used by other organizations and embassies across Washington. The longer an ambassador is posted in Washington, the more senior they become. Being taken off the list effectively means they no longer receive many invitations — an essential part of doing business. The EU, which established its diplomatic corps in 2011, lobbied the Obama administration to have O'Sullivan be treated as the diplomatic representative of a nation-state and after a lengthy process, got the green light in 2016.Given the tension between the White House and the EU, and the timing — almost two years after the Trump administration took the White House — several diplomats told CNN the move seemed punitive. "It's clearly political and, frankly, amateur and unprofessional," said one diplomat from a non-EU country. "I'm putting it politely."Another diplomat noted that "there have been tensions for some time between the EU and the Trump administration. They've appeared slightly hostile at times to the EU. This is just rude."

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50,000 people hit the streets across France in new ‘yellow vest’ protests
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50,000 people hit the streets across France in new ‘yellow vest’ protests

About 50,000 people demonstrated, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. Large gatherings were held in Paris, Bordeaux and Marseilles.In Paris, 3,500 people participated in protests on Saturday, much higher than the 800 who took to the streets last week, police said. At least 34 people were taken in for questioning in the capital city.Benjamin Griveaux, government spokesman, confirmed that he and his team had to evacuate his office in Paris after demonstrators broke into his courtyard by knocking down the door with construction machinery.Violence was reported in Montpellier and Troyes, where demonstrators tried to enter prefectures, and in Avignon, where some attempted to break into the Court of Justice. Violence was also reported in Beauvais, authorities said.The protests are named after the yellow high-visibility jackets French motorists must carry in their vehicles.They have morphed from dissent over rising gas prices and eco-taxes into a broader demonstration against President Emmanuel Macron and his government, and tensions between the metropolitan elite and rural poor."I call on everybody to be responsible and respect the rule of law," Castaner said on Twitter.Castaner said he gathered local police officials for a video conference "as tensions and violence have been witnessed in Paris and in a few other cities."Last weekend, an estimated 32,000 protesters took to the streets. There have been some protests since the year began but mostly they have been modest demonstrations on roads and roundabouts.Saturday's protests are the first big gatherings of the year.

A government under pressure
In his New Year's address, Macron made reference to the "yellow vest" movement without naming it.He acknowledged anger against injustice but said hateful speech would not be tolerated. Macron said France "wants to build a better future" while imploring people to respect each other.In December, Macron pledged to increase the minimum wage and get rid of new pension taxes, a move that didn't appease the anger of some of the protesters.Ten people have died in connection with the protests, with most deaths taking place in traffic accidents related to blockades in November and December.

CNN's Katie Polglase wrote from London while Joe Sterling wrote from Atlanta.

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The secret drink recipe used to cure royals
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The secret drink recipe used to cure royals

(CNN) — Whether you find yourself in a no-frills kocsma filled with beer-swilling old timers, an elegant cocktail lair or one of Budapest's quirky ruin pubs jammed with tourists, the Hungarian capital's drinking scene has one constant.

Countless times throughout the night, the bartender will reach for the same distinctive, round-bellied bottle.

The inky, amber-tinted liquid inside is called Unicum, and with roots that delve back to the late 18th century, it's one of the most revered national drinks in Hungary.

Like that other boozy Hungarian favorite, the fruit brandy pálinka, Unicum is largely savored as an aperitif or a digestif in shot form.

Produced by Budapest based beverage company Zwack, it's a herbal liqueur comprising a secret blend of more than 40 herbs and spices aged in oak.

Less aggressive than Fernet yet beefier than Jägermeister, thick, bitter Unicum, laced with subtle piney eucalyptus notes, is indeed bracing, a taste that grows delightfully more palatable with each sip according to Unicum brand ambassador Csaba Gulyás.

"It's a bittersweet potion, which isn't easy to enjoy the first time, but then you cross that barrier and it becomes your favorite," says Gulyás.

Royal origins

Unicum was originally created to cure Habsburg ruler Joseph II of a bout of indigestion.

Courtesy of Zwack Unicum

The story behind how Unicum came to be is equal parts fabled and turbulent.

Its distinctive bottle flaunts a gold cross that pops against a red background — the first hint that its roots are medicinal.

It all began in 1790, when Habsburg ruler Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, had a bout of indigestion, and Dr. Zwack, royal physician to the Imperial Court, whipped up a herbal remedy for him.

Upon drinking it, Joseph II purportedly exclaimed, "Dr. Zwack, das ist ein Unikum!"

The "unique" elixir subsequently spread in popularity, and the Zwack company was founded in 1840 by József Zwack, an entrepreneurial descendant of the visionary doctor. [THIS LINE IS BEING DOUBLE CHECKED BY WRITER]

By 1895, Zwack was producing over 200 liqueurs and spirits, exporting them from a distillery that's still in use today.

Different generations of the Zwack family have always presided over the business and two of its most prominent characters are brothers Béla and János, who were at the helm during Zwack's most troubling years.

The 1930s ushered in an era of turmoil, what with the Great Depression and prohibition in the United States, leading to a decrease in demand for Zwack products.

During World War II the factory was destroyed and shortly after, communism forced the company to nationalize. However, the Zwacks hatched a plan, creating a fake recipe for the communists to use.

János found safety in the United States, while Béla stayed put at the distillery until the mid-1950s, when he decamped to Italy and started tinkering with the original Unicum again.

After Communism fell in 1989, the Zwacks bought their company back and the true, heady Unicum recipe was embraced, János's son Péter reviving the name both domestically and abroad.

"Everybody has a personal story with Unicum. It has spiritual content and it's timeless, surviving our history," explains Gulyas.

"I think I would love Unicum even if I didn't know anything of its heritage, but once you get the whole picture, wow," says Dez O'Connell, a bar consultant who oversees all the beverage programs for Budapest's BrodyLand portfolio, including the events hub Brody Studios.

"Unicum is the story of Hungary politically and socially since the Hapsburg Empire to the present day. That of course gives it a special place in most Hungarian hearts and stomachs."

A symbol of unity

The liqueur is now one of Hungary's most revered national drinks.

Courtesy of Zwack Unicum

A fixture on Budapest bar shelves, Unicum is best enjoyed while in the company of friends and family, attesting to the importance Hungarians place on convivial, food-fueled social gatherings.

Ferenc Varsányi, partner at the cozy barber shop turned cocktail den Hotsy Totsy, adds that "it brings families together. Hungarians don't drink Unicum just on special occasions. It's a symbol of unity."

It's most likely to consumed as a room temperature shot, but Varsányi prefers drinking it from a tasting glass, "letting it rest a bit to express the depth of flavors and the enormous spice."

He also relishes it chilled, straight out of the freezer, but says it particularly hits the spot in hot weather when served on the rocks.

However, O'Connell recommends drinking Unicum alongside a pilsner.

Because of its intensity, Unicum "is not the most obvious of cocktail ingredients," notes O'Connell who uses it sparingly, integrating a spoon or two into drinks that lend themselves to a bit more texture.

Likewise, Varsányi sometimes swaps it in as a bolder alternative to Campari or weaves it into hot toddies.

Home bartenders, however, should seek out two cocktail friendly Unicum variants: Szilva and Riserva.

The former is made by macerating plums in casks that once held Unicum, the latter is aged twice, the second time in barrels that formerly housed Hungary's prized sweet Tokaji Aszu wine.

"The bitter notes are dialed down, replaced with fruitier, oakier flavors," O'Connell points out.

For instance, the Kollázs bar at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel Budapest offers the Puszta Reloaded, a riff on a traditional Hungarian cocktail made with Tokaji wine, apricot brandy, and herbal liqueur.

A refreshing sweet and sour libation, it marries Unicum Riserva with unripe grape juice.

"We recommend this drink to our guests who would like to experience Hungary through its classic flavors," says bartender Attila Farmasi.

While Unicum can be appreciated in almost any Budapest bar, perhaps the most fitting backdrop is at its historic distillery, located close to the Danube in the gritty District IX.

With advance notice, curious imbibers can book a tour, navigating a maze of oak barrels and soaking up the charming museum, filled with vintage photographs, posters, and curios, including a particularly impressive collection of some 17,000 mini bottles.

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11 of Budapest’s best festivals
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11 of Budapest’s best festivals

(CNN) — Straddling the picturesque Danube, Budapest provides the perfect backdrop for a festival and this city definitely knows how to put on a show.

Barely a month goes by when the Hungarian capital isn't playing host to some sort of event celebrating food, drink, music, dance or the arts.

For those keen to go and join the party, we've rounded up some of the most entertaining festivities happening in Budapest throughout the year.

Rosalia Festival

Rosalia Festival is dedicated to rosé wines, sparkling wines and champagnes.

Courtesy Rosalia Festival

Each year, Budapest jumps the gun on summer over a weekend in May for the Rosalia Festival.

Created by the organizers of September's wine festival, it's Hungary's only event dedicated to celebrating rosé wine, as well as champagne and sparkling wines.

Taking place over three days, it features a Rosé Garden, tastings, jazz concerts, Hungarian food stalls and special events for children.

Dates: May 31 to June 2, 2019

Sziget Festival

One of the biggest music festivals in Europe — Sziget Festival takes place every August.

Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

For more than 25 years, the week-long Sziget Festival has been taking over the Danube river island of Óbudai-sziget every August, showcasing more than 1,000 performers and drawing tens of thousands of people from all over the world.

It's one of Europe's biggest music festivals, attracting performers including 2019 headliners Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran.

Revelers soak up the lively ambience as dance artists put on theatrical performances on the site and everyone goes for a dip in the Danube along the sandy beach.

Dates: Aug 1 to 13, 2019

Budapest Summer Festival

Held throughout June, July and August, the Budapest Summer Festival brings some of the world's top classical musicians and ballet dancers to Margaret Island, located in the heart of Budapest.

There's a varied program of opera, ballet and classical music — with a bit of jazz and pop thrown in for good measure — most of which takes place in the enchanting setting of the Margaret Island Open-Air Stage.

Look out for the performances held in the open-air stage set up in the shadow of Margaret Island's historic water tower.

Dates: June to September

Budapest Summer Festivals, Open-Air Theatre, 1122 Budapest, Városmajor; +36 1 375-5922

Budapest Christmas markets

The Christmas market on St. Stephen's Square is one of Budapest's top draws in winter.

Courtesy Hungarian National Tourist Office

Prepare to be utterly charmed by Budapest's Advent Christmas fair, which is held annually in the square in front of St. Stephen's Basilica.

From late November to early January, the area is filled with market stalls selling trinkets, toys, crafts and plenty of irresistible Hungarian food and drink.

Those who visit on Sunday can watch the Advent candles being lit.

To top it all off, there's a small but perfectly formed ice rink in the center, adding a further dollop of festive magic.

Even more treats are on offer at Vorosmarty Square, where the city's main Christmas market is held.

There are more than 100 stalls selling gifts and food — all of which have been personally vetted by a jury — ensuring the quality is high.

Budapest Wine Festival

Every September, Buda Castle becomes one giant civilized party in the late summer sun when scores of wine producers show off their latest vintages in a relaxed, yet convivial atmosphere.

Buy a glass and take it round for tastings at the various stalls, picking up Hungarian snacks along the way.

Four festival stages take turns with music and entertainment throughout the four-day event and there's also a Harvest Parade around Buda Castle celebrating folk music and dancing.

Dates: September 5 to 8, 2019

Budapest Fish Festival

Traditional Hungarian cuisine meets international creations at the Budapest Fish Festival.

Courtesy Budapest Fish Festival

Hungarians spend the winter months keeping warm with a dish called halászlé — a red hot fisherman's soup brimming with paprika and river fish.

When early March comes round, many head to the three-day Budapest Fish Festival to feast on this spicy dish and plenty of other types of fish.

Heroes' Square is the setting for cooking contests, wine tastings, folklore music and fun for the kids — not to mention stall after stall of mouthwatering dishes.

Dates: March 2, to 4, 2019

Budapest Fish Festival, Heroes' Square, Budapest, Hősök tere, 1146

Danube Carnival

The Margaret Island Open-Air Stage and a host of other open-air venues around the Danube become filled with color during this week-long festival of folk dance in June.

Several hundred international dancers and musicians bring their own cultural sounds and dances to mingle with traditional Hungarian styles at the annual event.

The Carnival Parade that goes along the Danube Promenade to Vorosmarty Square is one of the festival's main highlights.

Dates: TBC

Festival of Folk Arts

Festival of Folk Arts brings top Hungarian craftsmen to Buda Castle.

Janos Peter photography

Craftspeople from all around Hungary descend on Buda Castle every August for a three-day celebration of crafts made in the country for hundreds of years.

Visitors can take part in workshops and watch the experts in action as they spin, weave, carve, paint, demonstrating skills that have been handed down over the generations.

The festival includes folk dances and performances and — this being Hungary — plenty of food stalls offering delectable traditional food and drink.

As the event falls during the festivities to mark St. Stephen's Day on August 20, which include food stalls along the Danube Promenade, concerts and spectacular fireworks, those in town during this period will have the opportunity to experience both.

Dates: August 18 to 21, 2019

Palinka and Sausage Festival

When the weather starts to cool down in the city in October, it's time to keep warm with glasses of Hungarian brandy — known as palinka.

The Palinka and Sausage Festival, held in Castle Hill over three days in early October boasts several distillers of the spirit, while the region's sausage makers are on hand with the perfect snacks to soak up all that brandy.

You can sample the many different flavors of palinka while wandering from stall to stall at this quirky Hungarian gastronomic event.

Dates: October 2 to 4, 2019

Palinka and Sausage Festival, Castle Hill, Budapest

Budapest Spring Festival

Budapest Spring Festival features live music, dance and theatre shows held in venues across the city.

Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

As if Budapest's cultural calendar wasn't busy enough, there's also the Budapest Spring Festival in April — a city wide celebration of music and the arts.

Here a series of classical concerts are held in venues all around the city over a 17-day period.

Visitors can combine their music appreciation with visual arts during the Budapest Art Week, which occurs simultaneously, as well as workshops, film screenings and exhibitions in nearly 70 locations.

Dates: April 5 to 22, 2019

Budapest Spring Festival, Budapest

Downtown Beer Festival

Visitors can try the latest Hungarian beer specialities at this summer event.

Courtesy Belvárosi Sörfesztivál

While Hungarian wine and palinka have been getting all the attention, a quiet beer revolution has been brewing in the country as well.

More than 60 microbreweries from around Hungary set up shop in City Park over three days in June and show off their latest concoctions and flavors.

Attendees can taste beers from guest breweries from Bavaria and the Czech Republic and sample the food on offer from its street food fair.

Dates: TBC

Downtown Beer Festival, City Park, Budapest, Kós Károly stny., 1146 Hungary

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The chef driving Hungary’s food revolution
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The chef driving Hungary’s food revolution

(CNN) — Hungary is not a country known for its cutting-edge cuisine, but rather its traditional meaty stews, creamy soups, plum dumplings and fried dough.

So when Costes became the first Hungarian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star in 2010, it marked a sea change in national dining habits, triggering a nationwide movement towards lighter and more imaginative takes on traditional dishes.

Eszter Palagyi likes to conjure up a taste of home with her cooking

Courtesy Costes

"Ten years ago it wasn't possible to get good quality meat or good quality vegetables," she tells CNN. "We had to buy so much stuff from France."

Now, thanks to Hungary's foodie revolution, high-quality cheese, meat and vegetables are readily available from local sources.

Stay local and seasonal

Venison fillet from southwest Hungary, served with classic potato dumplings called "Dödölle" from the Zala region, and marinated pine cones

Courtesy Costes

This is one of Costes' selling points. Diners can order duck from Hungary's Kunság region, marinated in Tokaji wine from vineyards in the northeast of the country, or catfish from Lake Fertő, which straddles the Austria-Hungary border.

Local ingredients give the food its traditional flavor. If you were to serve truffles imported from Europe's main suppliers — such as France, Italy or Spain — rather than Hungary's own, the taste would be different, says Palagyi.

One of Costes' signature desserts: honeycomb from a village in northern Hungary and sunflower seed ice cream

Courtesy Costes

This means that the menu is dictated by the seasons. But for Palagyi, who takes inspiration from her grandmother's kitchen, that's the way it should be.

"They didn't have a supermarket where you go and get, for example, apples the whole year round," she says.

Childhood memories drive Palagyi's cooking, as she hopes to give her customers a taste of home. She recalls peeling potatoes for her father, or picking apples, fermenting them and leaving them in storage to eat during the winter.

"I believe (that) when somebody comes to Costes they feel special… and they don't just have food and a dinner," she says. "They have (an) experience as well, and they have a small part of our history. I hope they fall in love with our country and our food as well."

"Somlói Galuska," a traditional Hungarian dessert with Nógrád walnut, golden raisin jam, and sponge cake soaked in coffee under a chocolate coating

Courtesy Costes

Traditional cuisine with a twist

This month, Costes' seven-course tasting menu — which costs around $150 per head — includes Hungarian caviar, a traditional fisherman's soup and potato dumplings.

Costes' take on the traditional Hungarian dish "vadas": boar meat with carrots and steamed dumplings

Courtesy Costes

"I like her playful, creative approach," Zsofia Mautner, Hungarian food blogger and author, says of Palagyi. "Her cooking these days really features classic Hungarian dishes in a very creative manner."

Mautner explains that old recipes are at the heart of "new Hungarian cuisine." She says the movement, which began around 2007, means traditional food but "lightened up dishes, new culinary techniques, researching and the use high-quality, local products and creative plating."

A tasting menu at Costes costs around $150 per person, or $227 with a wine pairing

Courtesy Costes

When Palagyi joined Costes, she brought the menu back home from the international cuisine rustled up by Portuguese chef Miguel Rocha Vieira, who now runs sister restaurant Costes Downtown — another one of the four Hungarian restaurants, all based in Budapest, that can boast of Michelin star.There's also two-star Onyx, which offers a "Within our Borders" tasting menu that includes túró rudi, a popular Hungarian sweet similar to a chocolate bar but filled with a dairy cream like cottage cheese, and the restaurant and wine bar Borkonyha that serves a lamb goulash.

Cooking up a career

One of Palagyi's first memories is peeling potatoes

Courtesy Costes

Palagyi studied at culinary school in Budapest, before moving to Ireland to train at the Mount Falcon Country House Hotel.

"I remember my first day in the kitchen," she says. "The first hour I cut my finger, I didn't know how to use the knife. Now I think I start to know the ingredients and understand how I can work with them perfectly and how I can bring out the most of it."

But her career has moved quickly. Aged just 32, Palagyi has already won Hungary's Chef of the Year award three times, and under her direction Costes won Restaurant of the Year three times in a row, and has maintained Michelin star standards.

She insists it was never her goal to win awards, but that, "one opportunity was bringing another one and so on so I never actually realized how far I got."

"I never had time to stop and say, wow, well done," she says.

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The ultimate wellness guide to Budapest
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The ultimate wellness guide to Budapest

(CNN) — Renowned the world over for its beautiful architecture and breathtaking views, visitors flock to Budapest each year to experience the city's spas and wellness centers.

Drawing therapeutic waters from 118 natural thermal springs each day, a selection of Turkish baths provides visitors with a wide range of activities and treatments, while yoga retreats and wellness centers offer up a feast of fitness trends.

Here, we've compiled the ultimate wellness guide to Budapest to help you navigate your way around the best spa and wellness activities available when you travel to Hungary's capital city.

Thermal Beer Spa at Széchenyi Baths

Situated in the heart of the City Park, Széchenyi Baths houses a Beer Spa that offers a unique experience.

Visitors are treated to 36-degree hot water baths mixed with minerals and natural extracts used for beer brewing — hops, yeast, malt and barley.

This quirky therapeutic offering is delivered in six bath tubs, which can be used individually or with a friend.

Local beer is also served as an accompaniment to make the experience even more memorable.

To enter the Beer Spa, guests first have to pay for entry to Széchenyi Baths, then book an extra ticket to the alcohol-fueled bath tub area.

The baths also boast 10 indoor pools, an exquisite outside bathing area, saunas, steam chamber and massage rooms, with a number of other treatments available upon request.

Admission fee to Széchenyi Baths is around $21 on weekdays and $22 at weekends. The additional Beer Spa admission fee is $25 for one person, $30 for two.

Széchenyi Baths, Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 9-11, 1146 Hungary; +36 1 363 3210. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Medicinal massages at Rudas Baths

Rudas Baths offers various medicinal massages.

Courtesy Rudas Baths

While most spas and wellness centers in Budapest have a wide range of massage treatments at reasonable prices, Rudas Baths holds one of the more extensive massage programs.

This traditional Turkish bathhouse is one of the more popular thermal spas in Budapest, with a wide range of treatments and thermal pools with medicinal benefits.

Rudas Baths boasts a large octagonal plunge pool, five smaller thermal pools, a larger swimming pool, a rooftop hot tub, sauna, steam room and massage rooms.

But the jewel in this venue's crown is its vast array of medicinal massages provided by experienced masseurs and staff.

The aroma massage mixes natural healing powers with various fragrances and aroma oils to relax the mind and body and is recommended for those suffering from stress as well as sleeping difficulties. Meanwhile, the thermal massage soothes pains of the movement system, easing joint problems and muscle tension.

There are also a whole host of VIP massages on offer, including the Rosemary Wonder, Orange Happiness, Hungarian Wines and Elderflower Harmony massages, but the pièce de résistance is the Kolop medicinal mud treatment.

This healing mud is taken from the River Tisza, the second largest river in Hungary. Kolop was qualified as a medicinal mud in 1968 and has a natural healing factor that aids the joints and spine — perfect for sport injuries.

Admission is $18.60 during the week and $23 at weekends. Massages start from $22 for 20 minutes upwards. Steam bath open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Rudas Baths, Budapest, Döbrentei tér 9, 1013 Hungary; +36 1 356 1010

Private Bath at Gellért Baths

Gellért Baths, or the Szent Gellért Gyógyfürdő, is based inside the world famous Gellért Hotel.

Although the bath house has a steam room, sauna, sun terrace, thermal baths and massage rooms, the best way to experience this traditional spa is by taking advantage of the private bath and massage rooms.

Built just over 100 years ago, it comes with its own sauna and relaxation room and serves as an ideal place to relax and unwind without bumping into other bathers.

Visitors can also take advantage of the many massages available thatpromote health and wellness, including mud therapy and herbal treatments.

Fees start from $20. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Wellness center at Csillaghegyi Árpád Baths

Csillaghegyi Árpád Baths has an on site wellness center.

Courtesy Csillaghegyi Árpád Baths

The Csillaghegyi Árpád Baths is one of the largest open-air bathing complexes in Europe.

It has a 33-meter long swimming pool filled with mineral water and a comprehensive wellness and fitness center in an adjoining building.

Infrared and Finnish saunas are available with three activity pools, a whole host of thermal pools and relaxing medicinal waters.

The sauna world offers an aroma sauna, hellish sauna, a steam chamber, a large panorama sauna, a salt bath, a bio sauna, hot and cold-water immersion pools and a 36-degree temperature relaxation pool.

There's also a panorama terrace with spectacular views of the surrounding areas, along with an activity pool.

Admission fees starts at $12. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Musically inspired treatments at Harmony Spa, the Aria Hotel

The Aria Hotel is one of the finest five-star hotels in Budapest and has the best boutique spa in the city.

The Harmony Spa was voted the Best Wellness Spa in Europe at the Boutique Hotel Awards in 2018, and offers a whole host of memorable wellness options.

Its unique, musically inspired spa treatments and private Harmony Rooftop Yoga set this venue apart from other luxury spas.

Complete with a pool, Finnish and infrared sauna, aromatic steam bath and private cabanas, a visit to this wellness center is a heavenly experience.

Admission fees start at $30. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Aria Hotel, Budapest, Hercegprímás u. 5, 1051 Hungary; +36 1 445 41 80

The Oriental Spa at Aquaworld

Aquaworld is one of the largest aqua parks in Central Europe, with plenty of activities for the entire family.

While there are water slides, wave pools and other water attractions on site, its well-equipped spa is one of its best features.

The Oriental Spa wellness and fitness center delivers a relaxed ambiance away from the hustle and bustle of the water park, with a wide selection of treatments to choose from.

Exotic baths, relaxation pools and steam baths are available along with a unique sauna world and massage and resting beds.

Admission fees start at $10.50. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 9:40 p.m.

Aquaworld, H-1044 Budapest, Íves Street 16; +36 1 2313 760

Yoga retreats

There are plenty of yoga centers dotted around Budapest, offering varying levels of intensity and relaxation.

But while yoga retreats are becoming an everyday sight across the city, only a few offer classes catered to English speaking expats and visitors.

The Bikram Yoga Center is locatednear Astoria in the heart of Budapest and offers a strict series of 26 poses in a controlled 38 to 40-degree environment.

Developed by Indian yoga master Bikram Choudhury, the 90-minute sessions follow a maintained order to provide positive effects on the mind, body and soul.

There's also the ASRAM Yoga and Meditation Center, whichoffers seven teaching styles, including power, yin and spine focused yoga.

Complete with two studios, one in Buda and the other in Pest, this meditation center offers a wide range of options as well as outdoor retreats during the summer months.

Bikram Yoga, Budapest, Károly krt. 1, 1075 Hungary; 36 1 328 0774ASRAM Yoga, Budapest, Tátra u. 5/b, 1136 Hungary; +36 1 780 6245

Outdoor fitness

The Margaret Island running track is popular with locals and travelers.

Courtesy Hungarian National Tourist Office

Budapest has many activities for those who like to keep fit while traveling the world, with a wide range of free outdoor fitness and street workout areas in and around the city.

Városmajor park has seven outdoor gym machines and static equipment, while Margaret Island holds a specially constructed street workout park and a running track that circles the island.

If you're a fan of hiking, János Hill is a natural treasure, perfect for those who like to combine exercise with taking in scenic views.

Standing 528 meters high, János-hegy is the highest point in Budapest with the Erzsébet-kilátó, or the Elizabeth Lookout Tower, (built in 1910 and named after Empress Elisabeth of Austria) at the very top.

János-hegy and the lookout tower can be accessed by a hike through the lush forest, or by taking the Zugliget Chairlift (Libegő) high above the treetops.

While the lookout tower is free to enter, prices for the chair lift start at $3.

Thermal baths and spas

The thermal springs at Lukács Baths have been in use since the 12th century.

Courtesy Lukács Baths

Budapest is famed for delivering some of the finest examples of traditional spas and bathhouses on the planet.

Dating back to 1565, Király Baths is one of the oldest spas in the city, and offers a wide range of wellness options. Its magnificent cupola-topped pool is accompanied by a thermal pool, massage rooms, a sauna and steam room.

There's also Lukács Baths, situated on the Buda side of the city, which has indoor and outdoor thermal springs that have been in use since the 12th century.

Once an important healing spa and treatment center, the building is now made up of four warm thermal baths, a cold plunge pool and a number of massage and treatment rooms.

Meanwhile Veli Bej, or Császár Baths, was renovated in 2017 to highlight a large octagonal hot water pool surrounded by four smaller pools.

The historical building also has a modern swimming pool, steam baths, Jacuzzi, sauna and a special bathtub for hydrotherapy.

Lukács Baths, Budapest, Frankel Leó út 25-29, 1023 Hungary; +36 1 326 1695Veli Bej, Budapest, Árpád fejedelem útja 7, 1023 Hungary; +36 1 438 8587

Luxury packages

Kempinski The Spa in downtown Budapest is one of the finest spas in the city.

The Aria Hotel mentioned above is not the only five-star spa experience available in Budapest. The Four Seasons, the Ritz-Carlton, the Kempinski and the Corinthia Hotel all offer some great spa and wellness packages.

One of the more luxurious spa destinations in Budapest, the Royal Spa at the Corinthia Hotel has a galleried 15-meter swimming pool as well as relaxation rooms, saunas, a steam bath and Jacuzzis. ESPA treatments are also available for a relaxing facial or body massage.

The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace includes a relaxation pool, sauna, separate steam rooms for men and women and a whirlpool.

Private rooms are available for sensual massages along with Vichy shower treatment rooms and a lounging area.

Located in the center of Budapest, the Ritz-Carlton Spa offers a full menu of treatments as well as a sauna, steam room, thermal suites, Jacuzzi and an eye catching indoor pool.

Finally, Kempinski The Spa, in downtown Budapest is one of the nicest luxury spas in the city, offering a variety of Elemental Herbology treatments and massages. It also houses a fitness center, Finnish and bio saunas, a steam room, a Kneipp-bench and a tepidarium as well as an indoor pool.

The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 9-10, 1051 Hungary; +36 1 429 5500Nathan Kay is a well-traveled freelance journalist with more than 15 years of experience in print and online journalism. His interests lie in tech, news and travel writing.

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Budapest’s best cakes and where to find them
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Budapest’s best cakes and where to find them

(CNN) — It's possible there's no better place than Budapest to while away an afternoon in a coffee house with a cake — or three.

Blending different cultural influences, histories and traditions, Budapest's cake scene offers a delectable range of pastries, tarts and sweet treats.

Gyorgy Ujlaki, a tour guide for Taste Hungary, says Hungarian cake is "influenced, infused by the local traditions" but also steeped in other European customs.Turkish Ottomans ruling Hungary in the 16th and 17th century brought Eastern flavors to the city. Later, settlers from Germany, France, Belgium, Austria and Romania brought their own cooking cultures along.

"The first cake shop in Hungary was opened in the 1720s, 35 years after the liberation from the Turks," says Ujlaki.

By the 19th century, cake culture was a central part of Budapest life — and Hungarian cuisine was peppered with pastries, from the everyday to the extra-special.

Intrigued? Here are the best Budapest cakes — and where to eat them when you travel here.

Hungarian Strudel

Strudel is often associated with Austria, but of course Austria and Hungary were once united under the sprawling Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Retes, Hungarian for strudel, comes from the Hungarian word "réteges" — meaning layered.

Three kinds of strudel — apricot, poppy seed and Quark, a type of cottage cheese — are served up.

"This is traditional, original — as a grandmother would make her grandchildren — the last 200 years, same recipe, same taste, same quality," assures Ujlaki.

In Hungary, most desserts and sweet treats are eaten cold. And you can forget about Americanized warm strudel with whipped cream or custard, this strudel speaks for itself, unaccompanied.

The apricot version has a sweet light taste, complemented by delicate dough.

The poppy seed strudel has a satisfying texture and speaks to the strudel's heritage — poppy seed is a popular ingredient in Hungary.

Perhaps most appealing is the Quark — it packs a creamy punch and has a satisfyingly savory flavor.

"Strudel was never a high cuisine, it's more like a popular cuisine for the general people," explains Ujlaki. "This was affordable but still original and traditional."

Where to eat it:

Retesbolt Anno 1926, Lehel u. 38, Budapest 1135; +36 1 320 8593

Rigó Jancsi

Rigó Jancsi is named after a love-struck violinist.

Courtesy Hauer

What happens when you combine soft chocolate sponge, sweet apricot jam, velvety chocolate mousse and a hint of romance?

You get the recipe for Rigó Jancsi, a delectable cake named for Romani violinist Rigó Jancsi — who infamously ran away with the then-married Belgian Princesse de Caraman-Chimay.

It's best eaten in a suitably glamorous setting, while daydreaming about your own adventures.

Try the cake at Hauer Cukrászda, a grand Budapest cafe where Hungarians have flocked for pastries for over a century. As well as traditional treats, Hauer's skilled chefs experiment with creative confections and other delights.

The interior is grand and sprawling.

"Originally it was just one room, on the main street, and as they became popular they expanded, they bought another place, another place, another place, and that's why it's irregular, kind of," says Ujlaki.

Just don't think about the end of Rigó Jancsi's story — it's less optimistic.

"The princess subsequently left Jancsi for an Italian waiter in Naples and he eventually died poor and forgotten," Marcell Beretzky, marketing officer for Hauer tells CNN Travel.

Where to eat it:

Hauer Cukrászda, rákóczi út 47-49, Budapest 1088; +36 1 612 1313

Krémes

Krémes (right) is a cake made up of layers of pastry and vanilla custard.

Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN

This heavenly dessert is deceptively simple: think perfectly flaked pastry crust oozing vanilla custard.

"A little bit like Napoleon cake, layered cake," is how Ujlaki describes it — "but instead of having many layers and many fillings, it's just the one layer and one filling, another layer and the pastry."

Different cafes in Budapest have slightly different takes on Krémes.

You can also find similar desserts across Europe.

Best accompanied with coffee and a spot of people watching in one of Budapest's traditional cafes — Hauer perhaps, or Auguszt, one of the city's oldest patisseries.

Where to eat it:

Hauer Cukrászda, rákóczi út 47-49, Budapest 1088; +36 1 612 1313

Flódni

Flódni is often eaten during the Jewish festival of Purim.

Courtesy Taste Hungary

Budapest has a strong Jewish community and many classic Jewish delicacies have become commonplace in the wider Budapest culinary scene.

Flódni is a traditional Hungarian Jewish cake that's a must-eat for sweet-toothed visitors to Budapest.

At Café Noe, Rachel Raj — one of Budapest's most famous cake chefs for a reason — whips up a perfectly constructed version of Flódni, a five layered pastry consisting of rich fillings: poppy seed, apple, walnut and plum jam.

Raj even holds a Guinness World Record for the largest Flodni cake ever made, serving 1,600 pieces at Budapest's Sziget festival in 2012.

Uljaki explains that each Flódni layer has a symbolic meaning.

"Poppy seed means prosperity, apple means […] wholeness, and the walnuts is more like health. And the extra is plum jam — don't ask me what it represents, it just tastes good!"

Flódni is often eaten during the Jewish festival of Purim.

Cafe Noe is snug and intimate, the perfect place to escape from Budapest's wintery weather for a scrumptious treat.

Where to eat it:

Cafe Noe, Wesselenyi u. 13, Budapest 1077; +36 1 787 3842

Kürtös kalács

Kürtös kalács is a warming treat on a cold day.

Courtesy Taste Hungary

The streets of Budapest are filled with food stands warming rolls of pastry on wood fires. The whirls of dough gradually golden before being sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

Its an enticing sight for cake fanatics — who won't be disappointed when taking a bite — Kürtős Kalács is wonderfully crusty on the outside and delicately fluffy on the interior.

Originally a festival cake made at weddings and other special events, this treat, anglicized as Chimney Cake, is found on street corners across Central Europe (in the Czech Republic it's known as Trdelník).

Eating warm Kürtös kalács on a chilly day is a particular treat.

Try it at Karavan Street Market in the Jewish district. The market neighbors the must-visit Szimpla Kirt ruin bar and the Kürtös kalács makes for the perfect pre or post-bar snack.

Where to eat it:

Karavan, Kazinczy u. 18, Budapest 1075

Esterházy

The opulent Esterházy torte is on the menu at Cafe Gerbeaud.

Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN

Named for a famous noble family, Esterházy torte is predictably fancy — but also very tasty.

Created in Budapest in the late 19th century, this layered delight consists of walnut infused buttercream and chocolate, adorned with a fondant glaze.

"Filled with whipped cream and fondant, it can be different tastes and colors, you can have it lemony, chocolatey…" says Uljaki.

This is another cake to be sampled in one of Budapest's famous cafes. Worth a look in is Central Cafe, where cake fans can imagine hobnobbing with the city's literary greats in the early 20th century. Or there's the exquisitely opulent New York Cafe, which captures mid-century glamor.Esterházy is also available at the grand Cafe Gerbaud, with its stunning chandeliers and marble-and-wood interior, on Budapest's Vörösmarty square.

During the Soviet period, Gerbaud and the other Budapest coffeehouses were nationalized, renamed and the quality suffered. Since then, many been revitalized and transformed back to their fin de siècle grandeur.

Where to eat it:

Cafe Gerbeaud, Vörösmarty tér 7-8, Budapest 1051; +36 1 429 9000

Dobos

Dobos torte is topped by a caramel glaze.

Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN

Dobos torte is another classic Hungarian layered cake — sheets of chocolate buttercream and fluffy sponge are topped with a caramel glaze.

This cake was the brainchild of Hungarian chef József C. Dobos — and took his name accordingly. Dobos wanted to create a pastry with a longer shelf life — hence the caramel topping, which helps stop the cake drying up prematurely.

After premiering at the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885, the cake took off and remains a chic treat across Europe.

It's the ideal balance between delicate and decadent. Just try to resist another slice.

Where to eat it:

Gerbeaud, Vorosmarty ter 7-8, Budapest 1051; +36 1 429 9000

And to finish…Tokaji aszú wine

Tokaji aszú wine is the perfect accompaniment to cake.

Courtesy Taste Hungary

Cake and coffee are natural bedfellows, but for the true Budapest cake experience, a bite of crumbling pastry or delicate tart should be accompanied by Tokaji aszú — a sweet wine made from rotting grapes (much nicer than it sounds).

The alcohol gets its name from the Tokaj wine region, which spans part of Hungary and Slovakia.

Sweet as honey and light as a feather, a glass of Tokaj wine is the perfect accompaniment to any Budapest cake odyssey.

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6 of the best concert halls in Budapest
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6 of the best concert halls in Budapest

(CNN) — Budapest has proved a first-class sanctuary for music aficionados throughout the years, drawing some of the finest musicians from around the world.

Today, the Hungarian capital embodies the remnants of its rich musical history, with grand concert and music halls honoring the likes of composers Franz Liszt and Ferenc Erkel.

The breathtaking Hungarian State Opera House is one of the finest examples of neo-Renaissance architecture in the world, while the juxtaposing Béla Bartók National Concert Hall stamps a modern and contemporary feel onto the city's imposing skyline.

From the wondrous interior of the Liszt Music Academy to the flamboyant Vigadó, here are six of the best concert halls in Budapest when you travel here:

1. Vigadó Concert Hall

The oldest of the major music venues in Budapest, Vigadó Concert Hall is a typically Hungarian mix of Moorish, Gothic and romantic styles.

It was built by architect Frigyes Feszl, who started work on the building in 1859 and completed it in 1865.

Since the very first premiere took place here, names such as Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss Jr., Sergei Prokofiev and Gerhard Richter have graced its stage, and the grandeur of its interior decoration makes up for any weaknesses in its acoustics.

Located in the center of the city, overlooking the River Danube, the Vigadó opened its doors after a ten-year refurbishment in March 2014, and has remained one of the city's most popular music venues ever since.

2. Hungarian State Opera House

The Hungarian State Opera was designed by Miklós Ybl, one of Europe's leading 19th century architects.

Courtesy Hungarian National Tourist Office

Constructed to rival Vienna's similar-looking opera house, the Hungarian State Opera House is a tumultuous neo-Renaissance affair with added Baroque features.

Completed in 1884, it boasts a grand chandelier that weighs three tons and almost three kilograms of gold was used to gild the cherubs and nymphs of its sumptuously ornate interior.

The venue's former directors have included Gustav Mahler and Otto Klemperer and while some of its more recent productions have caused controversy, there's no denying the quality of its acoustics or the ability of the performers and musicians that grace the stage here. The ballet productions get top marks, too.

What's more, the price of tickets won't break the bank, so you can treat yourself to a seat in the stalls or a glass of fizz on the balcony overlooking Andrássy Avenue, Budapest's Champs-Élysées style boulevard.

Please note, the Opera House is closed for refurbishments until 2020, but tours of the building are still available. In the meanwhile, shows are being performed at the Erkel Theatre.

3. Liszt Music Academy

Founded by Franz Liszt himself — a statue of the composer presides over its entrance — this prestigious concert hall and music conservatory is housed in a magnificent Art Nouveau building .

Liszt Music Academy reopened in 2013 after a two-year renovation that revived the gold, pink and black hues of its original 1907 interior.

The building's frame was also strengthened, and a sophisticated air-conditioning system was installed — cunningly concealed behind the laurel leaf decoration on the ceiling.

Its backstage facilities are second to none, while the seats in the concert hall allow for ample legroom.

Liszt Music Academy, Liszt Ferenc tér 8, 1061 Budapest, +36 1 462-4600.

4. Erkel Theatre

Erkel Theatre became part of the Hungarian State Opera in 1951.

Attila Nagy

The Erkel Theatre houses the largest auditorium in Hungary and has been the Hungarian State Opera's second performance venue since 1951.

Although it was opened as the People's Opera in 1911, very little of the original design remains following several rounds of renovations over the years.

But despite its drab 1950s exterior, a visit to the Erkel Theatre is still quite an experience. Some great shows are performed here throughout the year and the acoustics are exceptional.

As for the interior, it's beautifully decked out in Art Deco simplicity, with light walls set against dark wood.

Erkel Theatre, II Janos Pál papa tér 30, Budapest; +36 1 814-7100

5. Béla Bartók Concert Hall

Perhaps the finest acoustics in the city — some say the whole of Europe — are found in the Béla Bartók Concert Hall, positioned south of the city center in the Palace of Arts (or Müpa, to give it its popular Hungarian abbreviation).

Opened in 2005, the 1,500-seat venue takes its name from the great Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, and boasts a sleek modern interior devised by the world's top concert hall designers.

The result is superb — the local joke is that you can hear the mistakes better too, which is enough to make any musician nervous.

While Béla Bartók Concert Hall hosts major international orchestras, it also has folk, pop and jazz on its program.

6. Budapest Music Center

Budapest Music Center features a 350-capacity concert hall, and a jazz club and restaurant.

Courtesy Budapest Music Center

The newest concert hall in the city since moving to new premises, Budapest Music Center is an intimate chamber music venue with just 350 seats.

Opened in 2013, its headquarters are housed in a former residential building, preserving the old neo-classical shell of the exterior.

However, inside is a very different story, with carefully engineered acoustics and a decor that's modern without being ostentatious.

A very satisfactory blend of old and new, the venue also houses the Opus Jazz Club, part of the same complex.

Nathan Kay is a well-traveled freelance journalist with more than 15 years of experience in print and online journalism. His interests lie in tech, news and travel writing.

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The secrets of Hungary’s Parliament building
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The secrets of Hungary’s Parliament building

(CNN) — Striking an imposing and impressive figure on the edge of the River Danube in the heart of Budapest, Hungary's Parliament building is one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival and Renaissance Revival architecture in the world today.

Ranked among TripAdvisor's top 15 landmarks, this architectural marvel proved more popular than London's Big Ben, Athens' ancient Acropolis and Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedral in its 2017 Traveler's Choice Awards.

Attracting nearly 700,000 visitors each year, Hungary's Parliament building is one of the busiest and most intriguing tourist destinations in Europe, with more than a hundred years of history behind it."I believe this is the nicest building in the whole country," Parliament building tour guide Ildiko Jambor tells CNN Travel. "It's not only a museum, it's a work place for over 800 people.

"Inside, we have offices, chambers, a post office and a library. We also have a hairdresser and a doctor working here."

Here we take a look at the secrets this monumental wonder holds deep within its walls.

Visionary design

Inaugurated in 1904, the Parliament of Budapest — or the Országház — is the creation of architect Imre Steindl who ironically went blind before its completion, leaving him unable to appreciate his finished masterpiece.

Construction started in 1885 when Steindl was a healthy 46-year-old, but nearly 20 years later his eyesight had significantly deteriorated and he passed away on October 8, 1902, just weeks before the building was fully completed. However, a further two years was spent finalizing its inner works and decoration.

House of the Nation

Hungary's Parliament building is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary.

Országgyűlés Hivatala

Positioned on the UNESCO-listed Banks of the Danube, the House of Parliament is a functioning lawmaking body.

The Országház, which translates to the House of the Nation, is the seat of the National Assembly and holds regular debates, including those attended by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

"Each member of the Parliament has his own desk and the tables all have a voting system," explains Jambor.

"A chip card is placed to activate a voting system, which has four buttons. 'Yes,' 'No,' 'Abstain' and the fourth is used to request time to speak. We have screens on both sides to show the results of the voting, too."

Over 199 members of Parliament are based here as well as the nearly 600 staff who assist them.

During the week, when parliament is in session, tours are restricted but limited access can be granted to the first plenary session of each week, between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Symbolic features

There are 96 stairs on the main staircase, a nod to the year of the settlement of Hungary.

Országgyűlés Hivatala

The building was designed with symbology in mind. Steindl cleverly incorporated key numerical facts within its structure to illustrate the importance of its construction.

The dome of the main Parliament building is 96 meters high, which symbolizes the year of the settlement of Hungary — 896. There are also 96 steps on the main staircase, which take visitors up to a magnificent hallway.

Finally, 365 towers are incorporated throughout the building, one for each day of the year.

The famous crown

The Holy Crown of Hungary, or the Crown of St. Stephen, has been displayed in the central Dome Hall from the year 2000.

Since the 12th century, more than 50 kings have been crowned with this priceless art piece, which is protected by two rotating guards at all times.

"They change every single hour and carry a sword, which is actually not sharp," adds Jambor. "But we always have a third solider who has a gun."

Dating back to the year 1000, the crown is beautifully molded from gold and decorated with 19 enamel "pantokrator" pictures along with pearls, semi-precious stones and almandine.

It's still one of only two Byzantine crowns in existence, the other being the Monomachus Crown, which is also housed in Budapest, at the Hungarian National Museum.

Record breaking structure

The impressive structure is located on the UNESCO-listed Banks of the Danube.

Courtesy Hungarian National Tourist Office

It's one of the tallest buildings in Budapest as well as the third largest national assembly building in the world.

Covering an area of 18,000 square meters, Parliament building has 691 rooms, 28 entrances, 10 courtyards and 29 staircases.

"The Grand Stairway is the nicest, widest and most decorated one," says Jambor. "It used to be the royal staircase."

Within the Grand Stairway there are eight, four-ton granite columns, of which only 12 can be found in the world today.

While the front facing façade overlooks the River Danube, nowadays the official main entrance is positioned on Kossuth Lajos Square, which is effectively the back of the building.

However, the main gate, found downstairs behind red curtains, is used when an important delegate is received for the first time.

Unique ventilation system

Parliament building houses a unique cooling and heating system, one of the more modern in Europe.

During the winter months, heating is provided by a sophisticated boiler positioned in a nearby building which pumps steam through pipes into Parliament.

A hugely sophisticated system at the time of its creation, Steindl apparently designed it as such because he "didn't want to place chimneys on the top of the building."

The sweltering summers here are now eased by a conventional air conditioning system, but from the 1930s to 1994 ice blocks were positioned in underground mines to cool the building down.

Gold trimmings

The lavish decor incorporates Gothic Revival and Renaissance Revival architecture.

Országgyűlés Hivatala

The lavish building was decorated using more than 40 kilograms of 22 to 23 carat gold, including rare gold leaves.

This is on display in many areas, particularly in the staircases and intricate ceiling designs.

While these gold accents may equal a hefty amount when accumulated, they have almost no weight on their own.

However, it would be near impossible to shave that amount of gold from the walls without being noticed, so would be thieves shouldn't get too excited.

Memories of war

Up until 2013, Hungary's Parliament building was littered with bullet holes from two world wars and the revolution of 1956.

Much of the remnants of those tragic events have been lost over time, but contractors chose not to repair a few square meters around a window on the Kossuth Lajos Square side, so some bullet holes can still be seen.

Also, one of the bronze lion statues destroyed during World War II has been replaced, and stands on the right hand side as you face the entrance. The lion on the left is the original work of sculptor Béla Markup.

The House of Lords

The National Assembly meets in the Lower House for debates.

Országgyűlés Hivatala

The House of Magnates — or the Főrendiház – was operational from 1867 to 1918 and then between 1927 and 1945, in the Upper House of the Parliament building, reserved for aristocrats.

Today there are no "Lords" in Hungary and the old Upper House is used as a conference and meeting room and can be visited by tourists. The National Assembly is always conducted in the Lower House of Parliament.

Significant surroundings

A tribute commemorating the 1956 Hungarian Revolution sits in front of the building.

Pixabay, Creative Commons

In front of the Parliament building in Kossuth Lajos Square sits a spectacular memorial to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a nationwide uprising against the communist regime of the Hungarian People's Republic.

The imposing Kossuth Memorial, as well as the equestrian statue of Hungarian leader Francis II Rákóczi are also within the surrounding area, while a statue of poet Attila József is positioned on the south lawn, and Martyrs' Square, which houses a statue of former Prime Minister Imre Nagy, is located opposite.

The famous changing of the guard takes place at 12:30 p.m. each day in Kossuth Lajos Square, without any barriers to bystanders — provided they keep out of the way of the soldiers performing their duty.

How to get there:

Parliament is accessible using Line 2 of the Budapest Metro and via tram line 2, from the Kossuth Lajos Square station.

Entrance fees: Non EU adults $21, EU adults $8.40, Non EU students, $11, EU students $4.50. Free admission for children under the age of six.

Nathan Kay is a well-traveled freelance journalist with more than 15 years of experience in print and online journalism. His interests lie in tech, news and travel writing.

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EU emissions targets ‘totally unrealistic’
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EU emissions targets ‘totally unrealistic’

EU officials struck a deal late Monday that aims to reduce automakers' carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 37.5% ahead of 2030. The targeted reduction for new vans is 31%.The European Automobile Manufacturers Association, which represents carmakers including Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW, Renault (RNSDF), Toyota (TM) and Honda (HMC), criticized the measure as "totally unrealistic." "Industry deplores that these 2030 targets are driven purely by political motives, without taking technological and socio-economic realities into account," the lobby group said in a statement. It warned that the targets would have a "seismic impact on jobs across the entire automotive value chain."Volkswagen (VLKAF) said in a statement that the targets would force it to restructure its product range, overhaul additional plants and build new battery factories. Its investment plans will need to be revised."Still unexplained in this context are how eco-friendly electricity will be generated and how the necessary charging infrastructure will be put into place," Volkswagen said.Bernhard Mattes, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, said that emissions standards must be "affordable and feasible.""This regulation demands too much and does not give enough support," he said in a statement. "Nobody knows today how the agreed limits could be achieved in the given time."BMW (BMWYY) and Daimler (DDAIF) did not respond to requests for comment. Meanwhile, environmental groups say the targets, which apply to an automaker's entire fleet, aren't aggressive enough.The European Federation for Transport and Environment said the deal is "well below what's needed to achieve the EU's 2030 climate targets or indeed meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement."The compromise measure was forged by the European Parliament and the European Council, which represents the bloc's member states. Some countries including Germany were pushing for lower car targets of 30%.After months of negotiations, Germany said it would agree to the higher standards in order to prevent the agreement from collapsing altogether. "We achieved this deal despite the fierce opposition of the car industry and certain member states who refused to acknowledge the opportunities that stem from a more ambitious target," Miriam Dalli, a parliamentarian from Malta who pushed for more aggressive emissions reductions, said in a statement.The European Council and European Parliament still need to formally sign off on the proposal.

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