If you told me last year while I was sitting at my desk doing miles of paperwork for clinical trials that I would be spending the weekend in Hungary, I would have told you that you should probably go see a doctor because you’re insane (a common theme on this year-long adventure). Budapest has been on my bucket list since I first wrote out my list of MUST-VISIT cities before I came to Europe. When I told my sister that I was going to Budapest, her response was “What’s a Budapest?”, which actually was a common response from many of my friends too. Thankfully, my American amigas, Amanda and Taylor, were just as eager to travel here too in their last few weeks, so we jumped at the chance.
So, for those of you unfamiliar with the awesome-ness of Budapest, Hungary, let me give you some interesting tidbits about the city before I begin my tale of the last hurrah of the American Tripod in this super cool city.
- Budapest is the capital and largest city in Hungary with a population of 1.7 million. Approximately 20% of Hungary’s population lives in Budapest aka the population of the entire country is a little more than the population of New York City alone. Look up where Hungary is on a map. Fact: Americans suck at geography.
- Budapest is actually the combination of 2 separate cities: Buda and Pest which are separated by the Danube River
- Budapest is built on a ton of hot springs, which is why one of the most popular destinations in the city are the medicinal hot baths, where tourists and locals alike flock to (more on this later).
- The subway/metro system is the oldest in Europe… and it looks like it. The cars have a super retro vibe, and are very unlike any other public transportation I have taken so far.
- Hungary uses the HUF as it’s form of currency, which was absolute torture to try and convert. Also, more on this later.
- If you thought that Eastern Europe looks like Bratislava (from Eurotrip), it doesn’t.
We arrived in Budapest and went right to out hostel (The Hive Party Hostel) to drop off our stuff. Unlike many of the absolute holes that I’ve stayed in on my travels, this hostel was really clean, nice, with lockers that I didn’t need a lock for (since I obviously forgot mine in BCN), and super comfortable beds.
The first thing that we did after leaving the hostel was make a stop at the local Hungarian ATM. Like I said before, the currency in Hungary is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). Before we left, we knew that the currency was different, and that one euro equals a lot of of forints, but that was about it. So, I decided just to use my card if I needed to buy anything, and Amanda decided to be the brave one and take out some cash. The smallest option on the ATM was a withdrawal of 60,000 forints. We had no WIFI so we couldn’t check what the conversion was, but we assumed it was around 20-50 euros (the same way the minimum withdrawal amount is on basically every other ATM in the world that we’ve encountered thus far). But, no, of course it turns out that 60,000 HUF is actually around 192 EUR or 217 USD. Needless to say, my dear Amanda was pissed to say the least. Thankfully, we were able to split the 60,000 HUF 3 ways, and we basically felt like we were makin’ it rain and straight ballin’ the entire weekend whenever we got a bill. 5,000 HUF? NO PROBLEMO, SIR? Here’s a 10,000 note! (FYI 1,000 HUF ≈ €3)
Our first actual tourist stop after the ATM fiasco was St. Stephen’s Basilica, a Neo-Classical, Roman Catholic church in the center of Budapest. It is also the 3rd largest church in Hungary and the 2nd tallest building in Budapest. It’s very pretty, and I’m sure if I hadn’t seen 30293859327389247 churches/basilicas/cathedrals so far on my own Eurotrip, I would have been impressed, but it just didn’t do it for me. We took the hike to the top to get the panoramic view, and I allowed the gals to take a pic even though I looked like a zombie from The Walking Dead.
We ate our first Hungarian meal at the Anker Klub, which was a really great restaurant right near our hostel. We were so exhausted after eating that that we knew we had to go back to the hostel to take a nip nap prior to the thermal bath shenanigans that would ensue later that night. Little did we know, those naps were essential components to our survival.
Amanda and Taylor’s friends from Milwaukie were also in Budapest for the night and were staying at our hostel too. Tickets for the Széchenyi Thermal Bath were bought in a big group, so we all decided to head over together. We stopped at this bar on the way for a few drinks, which turned out to be a pretty accurate preview that got us prepped for the absolute mayhem that we were about to encounter at the baths, with men dancing on stripper poles and strong drinks that cost around 2 USD. While we were at this pregame bar, I had the displeasure of trying Pálinka, a fruit-based brandy drink which is essentially Hungarian moonshine and tastes like a straight punch to the face. The boys we were with bought a bottle of this poison and all I was told was that it was a plum flavored liquor, so obviously being the fearless booze drinker that I am(and a little tipsy at the time), took a big swig and almost lost my lunch in the middle of the bar. Taylor also took a sip of this (albeit, a smaller one after seeing my reaction) and had about the same response that I did. Luckily, Amanda got both of us on FILM gagging. THANKS, BAE.
We hopped in Ubers (Uber was a godsend in Budapest. It was SO CHEAP.) and headed to the baths. The #SPARTY was undoubtedly one of the craziest/most ratchet parties I have ever been to, and JMU frat parties were nothing to scoff at. I saw some things that I just cannot un-see, no matter how much I wish I could. When you have a few thousand people in bathing suits in a thermal hot spring pool with cheap dranks a-flowin’, things get a little wild to say the least. We had SO much fun. There is a reason why Széchenyi is the most popular and well-known bath.
At around 2, we left the bath and decided to go to one of the most famous ruins bars in Budapest, Szimpla Kert Ruin Pub. If you’re curious what a Budapest “Ruin Bar” is, I’ll give you the 4-1-1. Ruins bars are drinking establishments built in the old Jewish Quarter in Budapest in the ruins of abandoned buildings, stores or lots that were basically left to rot after the end of World War II. Ruin pubs used to be more of an underground bar scene, but they have become much more well-known and popular with tourists in recent years. From the outside, these places are not much to look at. However, the inside (of Szimpla Kert) was really eclectic and interesting, with all the furniture being mismatched, items from junk yards everywhere around the bar, and the walls were crumbling and absolutely covered in graffiti. It’s not the cleanest, there are no toilet seats, and there is literally old crap everywhere. It is sensory overload to the max. Despite the way I just described it, I loved it here. It’s hard to explain, but it was a place where the combination of everything mis-matched and broken created a cohesive, interesting, unique vibe that was truly one of the coolest scenes I have experienced in Europe so far.
After stumbling home at 4 am, we woke up the next morning and headed off to breakfast at a restaurant close to the hostel called Village Garden, which was really good. Surprisingly, none of us were as hung over as we expected to be which we found out later was due to the many hours that we spent in the therapeutic thermal bath the night before.
Our first stop of our last day was the Budapest sign and Vajdahunyad Castle. The Budapest sign is made of wood planks, so it did not look as sturdy as the Amsterdam sign and we decided not to try to climb up the letters for our name. It’s a shame, because Budapest had all 3 of our letters, A, E, and T too. However, we were wearing dresses so hoisting ourselves to the top of them probably wouldn’t have been the smartest idea anyway because we would have given the poor citizens of Hungary a show.
Right next to the sign was Vajdahunyad Castle, a romantic looking castle built right next to a boating lake. The castle was beautiful and was made even more interesting by the festival that was taking place all around it on that day. There were a ton of carts selling traditional Hungarian food, coffee, alcoholic beverages, leather goods, purses, and other souvenirs. There was even a petting zoo and live music. The gals got coffee, while I tried a traditional Hungarian beer (which was not good). Amanda tried the pork knuckle and potatoes, and I tried the goulash. The goulash was good at the time, but it ended up being the worst food-related mistake I have made since I have arrived in Europe.
Our next stop was Hungarian Parliament, which is on the Pest-side of the Danube River and is seated across the river from Buda. It really is a spectacular building. I think it is in my top 5 favorites so far. It’s huge (the 3rd largest parliament building in the world), has 691 rooms and 20 km of stairs inside. We didn’t actually have time to go inside, but we did walk around it to snap some photos during the day, and then ventured across the river so we could watch the sunset and see it all lit up.
On our walk to the other side of the Danube, we encountered the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial, which is 60 pairs of rusted iron shoes of all styles, sizes, and positions right on the edge of the river bank. It was made to honor the Hungarian-Jews who were killed during World War II.
We continued walking along the Pest-Bank of the Danube until we reached the Chain Bridge, the most famous bridge in Budapest. It is a suspension bridge and has been open since 1849. It was bombed during World War II, and was one of the first structures to be rebuilt when the war ended, and looks identical to the original. It has all these awesome sculptures (the huge lions were my favorite) on it, and there are many large Hungarian flags and locks that adorn the bridge. From the bridge, we got an awesome view of both parts of the city. It was impressive during the day, but the night view of Budapest is even moreso.
Our final destination of the day was Castle Hill, which actually consisted of a combination of things that we wanted to see: Mattias church, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and an amazing panoramic view of the city. This place was out of a fairy tale. Mattias church is very beautiful, with a colorful, tiled roof that I loved because I hadn’t seen that kind of architectural detail on any 14th century churches and it reminded me of tiles used in Spain. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a terrace that provides the best view of the city. Seriously, it was gorgeous and we just happened to sit down at the bar in the largest tower at sunset. Drinking beers on the Danube overlooking one of the most unexpectedly beautiful and unique cities that I have been fortunate enough to experience was the perfect ending to a whirlwind weekend with my 2 American baes, who happen to be leaving me in the next two weeks 😦
So, after that lovely evening we headed back to our hostel, immediately hit the hay, and got ready to head out for our early 6am flight back to Barcelona. But, of course, WHADDAYA KNOW, I woke up at 3 am with the absolutely worst stomach pain and nausea I have ever felt in my life. Turns out, I had a wicked case of food poisoning that I must have gotten from being adventurous and trying the Hungarian goulash at the festival. We determined that it must have been that because neither of the other two girls were sick, and that was the only thing that I ate that they didn’t. Legitimately, it was the worst flight/day that I’ve had in Europe. I had to cancel all of my Monday classes, and laid in the fetal position convulsing in pain and sickness for the entire day. Moral of the story: goulash is not my friend. But, on the bright side, the sunrise was pretty 🙂
Budapest was amazing, and I’m so happy that I was finally able to go! I head off to Morocco next weekend, Grand Canary for 4 days the following week, and I have some cities in the south of Spain planned for June. I am thinking about going on my first solo trip, but we’ll see if I work up the courage to do this. One of my favorite people in the states told me that I have brass ovaries for moving over here which made me LOL. I think that traveling to a foreign city alone armed with only my truly horrendous sense of direction and without cell phone data aka Google Maps (my lifeline) will be the true test of the accuracy of this statement.
Until next time… Adios amigos!