Hey Guys, I went to Budapest the weekend of February 24 - 27th. Here is my adventure.
We had a later flight on Friday night this time. We weren’t leaving Madrid until 9pm so our group (8 of us this time) decided to leave Toledo and head into the city earlier in the evening. Ali and I had done some research and discovered they had a Taco Bell in a Madrid mall — so we made our way there. Now, you know me and my addiction to Mexican food, so this was another godsend. Although it was different than the U.S. (probably fresher ingredients) it was delicious nonetheless and I hope to stumble across another Taco Bell in Europe. As many of you know, Ali is addicted to Taco Bell; therefore, she was in heaven.
We arrived at the airport around 7:30pm to go through security and to wait for the flight. The security for our terminal seemed more lax than all of the other airports in the various countries that I had visited — it was nice, but different than what we are accustomed to. Our flight was a little late departing, but that didn’t matter, we were all having a great time! My experience with RyanAir was an excellent one. Although we had to wait in a long line, sit through a night flight with a plane full of rowdy, young, boozing, and loud folks, it was fun! Needless to say many of us didn’t get much sleep. Flying these discount airlines is sort of like a circus. They will sell you toys, gifts, and knickknacks one second, and then the next they’re selling cigarettes with your cheeseburger — It’s pretty hilarious. there always seemed to be something happening.
The flight was around 3 hours so we landed a little before 1am in Budapest. We had to take Taxis to the hostel because the metro was closed for the evening, and let me say that there are no street laws in Budapest. Our taxi driver who spoke little English drove down the middle of the road going at least 85-90mph on back roads — it was quite the ride! On our way to the hostel we saw some newer and older sides of Budapest. The older sides were quite industrial/cold war looking such as old factories off the roads or condemned buildings. But as we would snake along their freeway, it was quite modern with random Shell gas stations popping up everywhere.
The hostel we stayed at was very nice! It is an old apartment complex with two floor transformed into a hostel. Brand new beds, bathrooms, showers, and kitchens; it was perfect. There were 8 of us in our room and of course we were on a floor with all Spaniards traveling for the weekend. It was super cheap (15 Euros for the whole weekend) and it was centrally located to all the things in the city.
Before coming to Budapest I didn’t know much about the history, and I didn’t have any expectations except that I heard it was beautiful. Some had compared it to the Paris of the East. The city itself is split in two by the Danube river, the Buda side and the Pest side. The Pest side is more modern and clean with trams and subway lines while the Buda side is more historic. Hungary, although in the European Union, do not use the Euro because they aren’t in the European Monetary Union. Therefore, the conversion was in our favor! One Euro was equivalent to 289 Hungarian Forint — I kid you not. At one point, I had over 25,000 Forint in my pocket, it was hilarious. Overall, the prices were cheap for things and we all considered Budapest a steal.
Since everything was in Magyar (Hungarian), it was fun not being able to understand, let alone pronounce, any of the words. However, everyone we talked to spoke very clear English. In fact, everyone we ran into spoke at least 3 languages or more on average such as English, Magyar, German, French, Spanish, etc. It made us look like a joke. All the Hungarians were extremely friendly and happy at all times; they just wanted us to enjoy their country since many people overlook them. Like Minnesota, all of them kept encouraging us to return in the summer when the city really comes alive. The weather surprised us too for the end of February…it was usually around the 50-60s during the day, but just windy — it was pretty nice. We all expected a lot colder.
Hungarian cuisine is known for their use of paprika, Goulash, spaettlze, potatoes, sausages, wine, and their cakes. I was literally in food heaven on this trip. It was nice to have some spice once again with the paprika chicken served with sour cream and spaettlze (in a way, it tasted like buffalo sauce. The Goulash had to have been my favorite, especially the one I got in a giant bread bowl. Goulash for Hungarians is a stew filled with potatoes, beef, and a large varieties of vegetables and spices — it tasted like a home cooked meal. Unlike the Czech Republic and beer, Hungary is known for their wines and brandies. However, many of their wines/ciders were served hot and none of us cared for that too much. Lastly, Budapest is known for their rich cakes…especially their sponge cakes. The one I got had decadent chocolate and cream covering it and it changed my mind on sponge cakes forever. Sadly, I also caved and found a subway one night to buy a cheap sub sandwich. Luckily I found turkey breast there because I haven’t had it in over 2 months. It tasted different…but ideally their subways are the same.
The first day we explored the Pest side of the city. We walked along the Danube, main streets, and to Szent István Bazilika (St. Stephen’s Basilica). The Basilica is named after St. Stephen, the first king of the Kingdom of Hungary and he is famous for bringing the kingdom together in the 11th and 12th centuries. It was a beautiful cathedral with influences of both Baroque and Eastern Orthodox; and to top it all off, they still have the relic of St. Stephen’s hand on display!
After the basilica we wandered towards Hungary’s parliament. It’s similar to London’s in the way that it sits right next to the river. It’s one of the largest parliament buildings in Europe and is extremely mesmerizing at night when it’s lit up! From there we walked to Széchenyi Lánchid (Chain Bridge) which is their famous bridge that connects to two sides of the city…it looks a little like the Brooklyn Bridge to me. On our walk back towards our hostel for lunch we stumbled upon an amazing festival happening in a downtown square with tons of traditional Hungarian food and drink venders. Here is where we all got a great taste of the rational food for extremely cheap. It felt great on such a windy day.
That evening we walked to Heroes’ Square in their central park called City Woodland Park. Heroes’ Square is a large plaza with many statutes of all of the old Hungarian kings encased in Roman columns. In the middle stands a tall obelisk of the Archangel. The plaza is flanked by Hungarian national museums before you enter the park. City Woodland Park had large open spaces, playgrounds, ice rink, an amusement park with rollercoasters, castles, and many spring baths. One of the popular things to do for tourists and locals in Budapest is to go to a natural thermal bath fed by the abundant springs under the city. We went to the largest one in Budapest called Széchenyi. It was a relaxing, different, intriguing, fun, and hot experience. I would recommend everyone goes to one sometime in their life. Don’t worry, swimsuits were required. The complex had over 15 natural baths both indoors and outdoors. The temperatures ranged from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees Fahrenheit with intervals in between. Some of the water was green and color and smelt like sulfur, and some was perfectly clear. All the water felt a little thicker though (more mineral enriched) than your average tap water. They even had fountains and statues that spread the natural thermal water, and it was an awesome time to observe the Hungarian culture of old bald men playing chess at the baths.
After the relieving bath, we hiked back towards our hostel where conveniently located was the 3rd top rated bar in Europe according to Lonely Planet subscribers. The bar was called Szimpla, meaning simple. It was a ruin bar (meaning old condemned apartments from the wars turned into bars) which are very popular in Budapest due to the abundance of destroyed, forgotten, or condemned building from WWII and the Cold War. It was literally the most eclectic, fun, and unique bar I have ever been to. They had great music (wasn’t a discoteca finally) and great cheap pizza! There I tried some traditional Hungarian beer and passed the night in good company.
The next day, Sunday, we explored the Buda side known as Castle Hill; although we never saw an actual castle, it was a great time. On the walk to Castle Hill we walked by the 2nd largest Synagogue in Europe where Theodore Herzl (founder of the Zionist movement) worshiped. It was also used as a boundary during WWII for the Jewish Ghetto in Budapest and a central place to round up Jews to transport away. You could feel there was something different about that street corner. Once we arrived to the top of the hill we had spectacular views of the Pest side of the river. We were able to walk passed the president’s mansion and lucky enough to witness their changing of the guard. Their military processions differed greatly from the U.S., I felt as if I was in a documentary on Russia during WWII, it was definitely interesting. The rest of Castle Hill resembled stereotypical central Europe (not a bad thing at all!) with squares, cafes, beautiful church facades, statues, and cobblestone. It was a relaxing and peaceful afternoon walking around up there.
Monday, our last day in Budapest was everything that we needed to cap off the weekend. We went back to City Woodland park and Heroes’ Square to take more pictures in the daylight, and we went to go watch the ice skaters who were singing to Katy Perry and Nickleback (ironic?). We strolled through the castle like museums and before we knew it, it was time to head to the airport. We took a cab there and as we were leaving the city center I vowed that someday I must return to Budapest. We arrived early for our flight according to European standards and got first pick on our flight back for our seats.
Overall, Budapest has been one of my top cities that I have visited on this trip. The people, food, authenticity of the city, and more created an amazing weekend. I recommend that all European travelers make a pit-stop in this city — I guarantee you won’t regret it!