After one of Bryan’s recent trips through Europe, Budapest, Hungary became his new favorite city. (Just recently trumped by Tallinn, Estonia) I made it to the Ireland portion of his Europe 2010 trip but I didn’t have as much vacation time so Bryan and Erik continued into Eastern Europe and I flew back to work. I was a little jealous when I saw the pictures of Budapest and heard his stories. Little did I know that two years later I’d be able to experience it for myself. And Bryan was happy to return to Budapest. This time he didn’t even have to carry his big camera around since he already had so many great pictures.
Things in Budapest were much different this time for Bryan. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who discovered how awesome Budapest is. The word has clearly gotten out among travelers. In April 2010, Bryan and Erik stayed at a hostel for about $6 USD and every night the owner cooked them delicious, homemade Hungarian food for a very small price. Bryan tried to book the hostel again for us to stay at this time but it now costs $30 USD! (We decided to stay somewhere much cheaper) Part of the increase is probably due to the high summer season but I’m sure the other part is due to the increased popularity of Budapest. It’s unbelievable how much the prices increased in a little over two years. Bryan was also amazed by the amount of people in the city this time. In April, two years ago, many of the places he went had hardly anyone there. And some of the awesome viewpoints of the city are now closed off and charge tourists to see them. I hope that too much tourism doesn’t make Budapest cheesy and fake in the future. I hope the city keeps its gorgeous, authentic charm.
So far on this Europe trip we really haven’t met any new friends. We’ve met plenty of people but not many we clicked with. This changed as soon as we arrived at our hostel in Budapest. A big group of us from all over ended up spending the whole day together exploring the city. There were two guys from Belgium on vacation for four days (a psychologist and a web developer), a Brazilian girl who is currently studying at Brown University, and guy from Colorado who is biking his way through Europe along the Danube River. There were also some Germans that we briefly met. The German girl actually spent a year as an au pair in Stafford, Virginia!
We started the day early with a common practice among locals – visiting the Turkish baths. This was something introduced to Hungary during its Turkish occupation. The baths are affordable – they are a part of everyday Hungarian culture, and aren’t just a treat for the wealthy. It’s not uncommon for locals to spend time at the baths early in the morning before work. There a supposed to be health benefits to visiting the Turkish baths – some pools have minerals in them. Some of the local baths are a certain sex depending on the day and are clothes-optional. We went to Szechenyi Baths which is mixed-gender and clothes are required! These are the most popular baths and are actually the largest medicinal baths in Europe. The water is supplied from two thermal springs. There are mix of hot and cold pools (indoor and outdoor), showers, and saunas of various hot temperatures. The hottest sauna was 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 Celsius). I felt like I was being cooked alive and struggled to stay in for even close to the typical 10 minutes. My favorite were the warm, outdoor pools – some even had whirlpools that pushed everyone in circles. It was a relaxing way to spend a Sunday morning.
Budapest actually used to be two different cities – Buda and Pest. The city is now one and connected by multiple bridges over the Danube River. Buda is the hilly side with Cathedral Hill and Pest is the flat side with the large Parliament Building and most of the hostels, hotels, and action. The hills of Buda have fantastic views of the whole city. The Parliament Building is an iconic landmark in Budapest. The huge scale and symmetry of the building are amazing. It’s the third largest Parliament building in the world. Pictures of the building are best taken from across the river but you have to walk next to the building to really understand how huge it is – you feel like a tiny speck. Further along the river past the Parliament building is a poignant reminder that Hungary didn’t escape the horrors of the Holocaust. There is a long line of cast iron pairs of shoes to commemorate where the Jews of Budapest were lined up and shot at the rocky edge of the Danube River. 🙁
Today the Jewish Quarter of Budapest is one of the most popular places to be in the city. It’s much less touristy than many areas and the prices are better. This area is also home to the popular “Ruins Pubs” or “Warehouse Bars.” Bar owners buy large, run-down buildings that are doomed for destruction and make funky bars out of them. They keep the dilapidated-look and add lots of rejected random, odd pieces of junk. There is graffiti on the walls, old, mismatched chairs, and strange things hanging from the ceiling (like gnomes or birdcages). Some even have bathtubs, old cars, and eclectic things as furniture. They have a funky, unique vibe and are a nice change to the typical bar scene, and especially to the uppity, overpriced tourist bars.
Just like many of the other countries we’ve traveled through lately, meat is the major staple in Hungarian diets. Of course, Hungarian goulash is a popular, delicious food. Even more popular is the spice Paprika (made from grinding the red pods of peppers). Paprika is everywhere in Budapest! And it’s actually very healthy because it’s extremely high in antioxidants and Vitamin C.
Okay, so it’s time for a Dumb Kristin Story. . .which I know everyone enjoys. 🙂 There were only two dorm rooms in our hostel in Budapest. For some reason I had it stuck in my head that we were in the first room. In the middle of the night I had to go to the bathroom and went back into what I thought was our room and climbed into the empty bed. A few hours later I was awoken when a skinny, drunk, tattoo-covered French guy in tiny underwear climbed in bed with me. “EXCUSE ME!?! Get out of my bed!!!” I hissed at him. “I’m sorry, but this is my bed, it’s been my bed for two nights,” he told me (in a French accent). I jumped out and ran to the other room. Ooopps . . . he was right. Awkward. Bryan was in the other room. I was worried I’d run into the French guy again and things would be really weird, but thankfully I never saw him again. Everyone in the hostel, including the hostel owners, enjoyed the story. From now on I’m going to pay close attention to which room and bed I’m in.
So luckily this time I get to follow-up my Dumb Kristin Story with a Dumb Bryan Story. 🙂 Our last night in Budapest Bryan went to the ATM to get a bit more money out. It was our last night in Hungary so we didn’t want to have too much Hungarian money (Hungarian Forints). He went to take out 20,000 Forints ($90 USD), but he accidentally hit the 200,000 button ($900 USD!). A huge wad of cash came out and he knew he’d screwed up. Our ATM card never even lets us take out more than $500 USD! Why would the quick cash button have the option to take out that much money in the first place? Especially in Hungary, a relatively inexpensive country.
So after our stupid antics in Budapest, where are we off to next? Honestly, your guess is as good as ours! Head to Romania or Ukraine, spend a few more days in Hungary, or maybe just fly south to Greece? We’ll let you know as soon as we figure out a plan.