Budapest & the famous Danube!
There are 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners from Hungary. That’s a significant number considering the Country has a population of just around 10 million. Apparently Hungarian folks are intelligent because they spent so much time exercising their brains learning to speak Hungarian.
We learned this on our free walking tour, which by the way, is proving to be invaluable in every new city we visit. They show you all the main attractions and sites and get a brief history about the city and there is no set fee. You pay (in tips) what you think the tour was worth.
City of Baths
Budapest sits on a base of thermal waters with healing qualities, hence being referred to as the ‘City of Baths’. With that said, a trip to Budapest wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of these baths. So we visited… the most popular baths for both locals and tourists, the Széchenyi baths.
We particularly enjoyed it as it gave us a break from the 10 KM (average) walk we’ve been doing just about everyday.
Communism walking tour
Like when I visited the Dachau concentration camp in Munich in 2005, this walking tour was quite an eye-opener. We realized how little we knew about both the profound effects communism (Hungary was a communist country from 1947-89) had on Eastern Europe and Hungary in particular, and how elements of communism still remain. Our guides were extremely knowledgable and had real life stories of how communism impacted their lives.
St. Stephen’s Day
Our lack of planning caused us to overlook the fact that August 20 in Hungary is St. Stephen’s Day, a national holiday and the country’s most celebrated holiday. Despite the majority of restaurants and shop being closed, it actually worked out better because we got to take part in all of the festivities. At 9 PM, the city’s bridges light up with a fireworks display, which lasted for about 30 minutes. The show was a very close second to the NYE fireworks we saw in Sydney last year. We’ve chalked this up as another top memory for the trip.
The mighty Danube river, which flows through three eastern European capital cities, Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Slovakia) and Budapest (Hungary), splits the city of Budapest as it runs north to south (also a good way to find your direction in the city). The eastern side is known as Pest with Buda to the west. The ‘Centrum’ or City Center lies on the Pest side which houses the majority of commercial and tourist activity while Buda is more residential. The idea is to work hard on the Pest side to eventually buy an apartment in Buda.
Gellert Hill sits 140m high on the Buda side and is home to the Citadella and the Freedom Statue and offers amazing views of the city’s iconic bridges. It provides a great opportunity for a panorama of the entire city, so on our last day, we hiked to the top to take in this view. It didn’t disappoint.
In our Brussels post, I think I said that Delirium Cafe was the best bar I’d have ever been to. That changed yesterday, at least for the time being (we are presently in Prague), when we walked into Budapest’s oldest ‘ruin’ bar, Szimpla Kert. Szimpla Kert is just one of the 10-15 ruin bars throughout the city. These are old factories and houses that didn’t fare to well during Budapest’s many rough spells and were originally set for destruction. Instead several of the sites were turned into bars, without any reconstruction at all. Only eccentric decorations were added and the bars became a hit with both locals and tourists alike. Another ruin bar we tried was Instant which is slightly outside the Jewish Quarter, which by the way, houses the majority of the other ruin bars and Budapest’s world-class nightlife.
Great Market Hall / Central Market
Honestly, we found this market a little underwhelming as we had heard so many good things about it. The building itself was absolutely beautiful, however the merchandise and food vendors inside were mediocre at best. Granted we couldn’t try all the food, but the Hungarian sausage I did try wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.
Hungarian cuisine. Can you say GOULASH?
Apparently real goulash has no noodles? Is that a Newfoundland thing? Goulash was born in Hungary and there’s no pasta in the recipe. At least not that we could find. And we looked. I think we had goulash at least once a day, either as a soup or a stew. This also means that we consumed more paprika during our five days in Budapest than we had in our lives. Yes, the goulash was delicious, but I can’t say it was better than beef soup or stew that my mother made growing up. Perhaps we missed out on the nutritional benefits that the paprika added, but not the flavour, that I can remember anyway.
TIP: Do not visit Budapest expecting to receive world-class customer service. You won’t get it. And the ‘lost in translation’ bit doesn’t provide an excuse, it’s just the way it is.
Before the start of our RTW trip, my (Steven) routine prior to any trip was to map out our itinerary and even visit sites on Google earth in advance. This always led to increased anticipation and expectation setting, it’s just my personality. Given the ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ nature of this tour through Europe, there’s been no time for ‘expectation setting’ or for any planning really. Sounds scary right? It’s brilliant actually and as Jess has said all along, “I want to set no expectations, I want to discover things for the first time when I get there.” This is true, not just when it comes to travel, but life in general. How can you be disappointed or frustrated when things don’t go as planned if we avoid any preconceptions in the first place? Needless to say, we’ve been using this approach as we move from city to city and its been working out just perfectly.
jess + trickett