Bill Bryson once described travelling as such: “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
I read these words in Vienna, Austria but I never found them more true than when I was in Budapest, Hungary.
And oh, did I feel five again.
I arrived to Budapest from Vienna by none other than a Bla Bla Car. I was the only non-Hungarian getting a ride that day. I was dropped off at a tram station that truly eminated the real life of Budapest. I trekked from under an overpass, past some homeless camps, and through some of the dirtiest sidewalks. There was litter and all kinds of smells coming from everywhere.
I was definitely not in Vienna anymore.
Budapest looked like no other place I had ever been to and Hungarian sounded like no other language I had ever heard before.
The musician who rode with me was only too kind to give me a tram ticket and do his best to explain where I needed to go to get to the metro station where my hostel was located.
Well, I still managed to take the wrong tram and ended up walking 15 minutes across the city to my hostel with all my luggage in tow.
Finding my hostel was like playing a fusion of Hide and Seek and Clue, but I still managed to find this very strange hostel in the back of an apartment building.
I found out I had the room to myself, which ended up being the best thing that could happen to me because I came down with a cold that day and ended up sleeping 17 hours on and off until the next day.
Sleep and oranges proved to be my most faithful allies through the greatest battle I’ve encountered on my trip so far. But like all sick children, all I really wanted was chicken noodle soup and my mom.
Needlesstosay, the first two days in Budapest were close to a waste. I had such low energy and my throat was so sore I had no desire to do any real exploring.
I managed to get myself out of bed around noon my second day there, but maintained intervals of naps between excersions and eating. I forced myself to climb Gellért Hill so I could see the city at sunset.
It was nothing short of spectatular.
I grabbed some dinner at a café not too far from my hostel where the waiter so graciously gave me some chicken noodle soup with a shot of palinka, which he assured me was what all Hungarians use in order to feel better.
Perhaps it was the shot to cured me in the end, but after I took it I wasn’t sure I felt any better but I was very sure I felt tipsy.
The next day was a beautiful and sunny Saturday. I decided to stay in Budapest until Monday so I wouldn’t rush through the city.
I missed the 10:00 am walking tour, but knowing there was another at 2:00 pm, I wasn’t worried. Instead, I walked around the city center and made my way to the History Museum in Buda Castle.
Some fun facts about Budapest:
-Budapest is actually comprised of two cities: Buda (to the west of the river) and Pest (to the east), they weren’t officially merged until 1849 with the creation of the Chain Bridge
-Budapest was the second capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire
-Budapest has the oldest metro line on the European continent, third oldest in the world
Buda Castle isn’t really a castle, not in the old romantic sense anyway. It was built in 1265, destroyed, and the oldest part of the castle that exists (in pieces) today was built in the 14th century. The main structure was destroyed in 1686. The story goes: build, battle, destroy, repeat. The new palace was created in 1769 and was used as a nunnery. Then used as a palace again. Then destroyed. Rebuilt in 1850 (See the pattern here?). It was officially reconstructed to royal standards in 1912, where it stood for a good while and was loved by all until 1944, with the invasion of German Nazis.
The war destroyed the palace through a series of air raids from all sides. After the war is when things got really interesting for the Buda Castle, though, as a series of archeological research began and the ruins of the earlier versions of the castle were excavatted while the castle was restored to its former glory.
It now serves as the host site to three superb museums where you can learn all this history I just taught to you for free!
I made it to the walking tour and indeed learned quite a lot, such as: where to find amazing, cheap, Hungarian food (Drum Cafe is fantastic for those of you that are interested).
I finished up my day with shopping, doing laundry, and visiting the ruin pubs.
A ruin pub is just as cool as it sounds. Basically, their a Hungarian original. To create a ruin pub, the recipe is simple: take an abandoned building (abandoned probably due to the neglect and poverty that struck during World War II), mix in a bar to serve drinks, throw in some thrift-shop decor, and sprinkle a bit of hipster vibe with live bands and djs and voilá! Your very own Hungarian ruin pub.
These kinds of bars popped up first in the Jewish district of Budapest about 10 years ago and you can find them situated all around Budapest if you know the right places to look. And yes, they are just as cool as they sound.
Day three I was ready to indulge. It was Sunday, so most restaurants, shops and attractions were closed or had shortened hours so I spent my morning at one of the largest thermal spas in Budapest.
The thermal spas are famous in Budapest. First brought in the 15th century by the Turks, tourists and locals still flock to these giant bath houses even today.
After going to Korean spas in the states, I have to say I was not impressed by the spa I went to. The place was packed with people, and even though it has 17 pools and three spas, the place felt packed.
It’s hard to relax in a place like that.
I only spent about 2 hours there before getting the heck out of dodge. It made me feel uncomfortable. Although my skin felt great and the steam really helped clear my lungs, I got hungry and food is difficult to come by there, and not to mention expensive.
So I took the oldest metro line in the European continent in order to get a bite to eat in the center of the city.
I then walked through St. Stephen’s Basilica, that actually contains the right wrist bone of who is believed to be St. Stephen, himself!
I spent the rest of the evening at the hostel, chowing down on dessert, packing my bag, and chatting with a girl who just arrived at my hostel. I was leaving for Romania at 6:00 am and had no desire to stay out.
And as much as I’d like to say I had a wild and crazy time in Budapest, I didn’t. It was as simple and straightforward as a trip can get. But I enjoyed it nonetheless, and I look forward to the possibility of going again some day.
Oh! Before I sign off!
The morning I was leaving Budapest, I needed to purchase a metro ticket. I had a lot of cash the previous day and used most of it so I wouldn’t have to exchange it later. I kept what I thought was the proper amount for a one-way metro ticket.
But, I was wrong.
I was 150 forint short (that’s about .52 USD). I didn’t want to take to begging the beggars for money, so I had the brilliant idea of getting a ticket from the convenience store. But they didn’t accept card. I couldn’t take money from an ATM because I don’t have a debit card (or really, I had yet to activate my new debit card).
I was in a pickle.
After trying to explain my debacle to on of the metro ticket checkers, he told me to talk to another guy because he couldn’t understand me. The other ticket checker (the real man in charge) heard my woes, and with a slide of his hand, waved me through.
Don’t ever tell me there aren’t good people in this world.