Our train from Vienna to Györ, Hungary was uneventful, but given our inability to travel without complications, our train to Budapest was a bit more exciting. We were informed by the stern conductor (who spoke practically no English) that we only had purchased reservations, not actual tickets. Whoops. (Pretty sure this site was in German. Yay language barriers!) The conductor was rather sassy but eventually let us buy tickets on board and the issue was resolved without much ado. Upon arrival in Budapest, we promptly located an ATM to make a withdrawal in Hungarian Forints (1 EUR ≅ 300 HUF), the local currency. The bills were large and colorful and the high exchange rate made us feel like we were using Monopoly money (this food is 1000 monies!).
Getting off the train, we knew we were definitely in a different place. From the signs to the language to the architecture, this city already had an extremely distinct feel to it, though we warmed up to it quickly. We accidentally stole a ride on a bus to get to our hostel, gawking at the otherworldly beauty of the city as we walked. We then checked into the Loft Hostel, a funky loft apartment-turn-hostel (the name was pretty self explanatory, eh?), which was run by two friendly, helpful girls with edgy haircuts. They directed us to a nearby restaurant for brunch, seeing as we were starving. Their suggestion, Cafe Alibi, was close and incredibly delicious. We had two rounds of scrambled eggs with cheese and vegetables and some of the best french toast I’d ever eaten (even while lacking maple syrup! Seriously, that’s how good this was.). We headed back to the hostel to get advice on how to spend our day.
Ultimately deciding we’d end up at one of Budapest’s famous bathhouses, our first stop was CAS to purchase bathing suits for Michael and I. Alyssa and I finished quickly and looked at speedos. We then decided to walk down one of the biggest streets in the city, Andrássy út, that was supposed to link Erzsébet Square to the Danube River. Though it stopped short of doing this, it still was home to Budapest’s aristocratic elite and a variety of shops, cafés, and restaurants, as well as Szent István Basilica and the Hungarian State Opera House. We had intended to stop at the Terror House, a museum dedicated to Hungarian history and the Holocaust (say that five times fast!) but it had just stopped allowing visitors for the day and was closed the next day. Darn. Guess I’ll just have to come back some day… We kept walking to Heroes’ Square, a massive plaza with a big monument featuring statues of important Hungarian leaders.
After roaming around there and the nearby grounds of Vajdahunyad Castle, we made our way to the Széchenyi Baths, also known as the best excuse for sightseeing ever. We initially thought it was closed then waited for the broken ticket machines to be fixed and at last, got in. While in line, we found some more Americans, two guys from Pennsylvania and Georgia. Funsies. The baths featured swimming pool style lockers that you accessed with rubbery wristbands and large, hot outdoor pools, and spa facilities. Though it was barely 10 °C outside, lounging in the hot pools of water was incredibly relaxing, so we stayed for a few hours, entertaining ourselves by taking pictures on my underwater camera. (Unfortunately, this camera was stolen soon after we got back to Valencia, before I had transferred any of the photos. Sadness.)
Wonderfully relaxed and steamy, we took (*continental) Europe’s oldest metro line back towards the hostel, grabbing yummy kebabs before on the way. We ate and headed to a famous local ruin pub, Szimpla. Later, we learned that these were postwar buildings that youths squatted in to protest their demolition and preserve their historic significance. They made them into bars so that people could stay there 24/7, making the buildings difficult to destroy. Eventually, the government saw the financial potential of such edifices, and allowed them to become permanent fixtures. Because they were founded by poor students, decoration was, and remains, extremely eclectic, decorated with everything from tricycles to dismembered dolls. There’s supposedly one ruin bar where no two chairs match. Anyways, Szimpla was massive, and filled with people of all ages. We walked around, grabbed some beer, and people watched. Unfortunately, we reached home just as Brendan and Adam got there, but they swung by our hostel for a bit before we went to bed.
The next day was our final day in Budapest, as well as the end of our Easter Break. We headed first to the Nagycsarnok, or Central Market Hall, and wandered around there, ogling the fresh produce, meat, spices, and souveniry things. I bought an assortment of things, including some paprika, which is used extensively in Hungarian cuisine. Alyssa got some gorgeous real cut-out eggs that looked incredibly fragile, but ultimately made it back intact. For breakfast, we grabbed some lángos, a deep fried flat circle of bread, one swabbed in sour cream and cheese, and the other in garlic. Greasy, cheesy, and garlicky, what’s not to like?! We ate an walked to Deák Ferenc tér (square), the meeting point for several free walking tours. As we couldn’t find the tour we had intended to join, we decided to partake in another, slightly later. In the mean time, we headed to the edge of the square to a large wooden frame with multicolored wooden blocks, and twisted them so it spelt “BioE.” #represent
Our tour guide was a peppy Hungarian named Timmy. She taught us about the Hungarian language, which is unique in that it is not related closely to any other language and is influenced by too many to count. It consists of 44 letters, many of which sound similar to a non-speaker. We walked near the cubes again and learnt that they are a sort of homage to the Rubik’s cube, invented by a Hungarian. The walking tour took us to several sites and was packed with tons of random stories and facts about the city, as well as Hungarian culture, lifestyle, and history. It was particularly interesting to hear about the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, lovingly called “Sisi,” because we could compare her portrayal from the Austrian side (in Schönbrunn) to that of the Hungarians – both of which were very distinct. We walked to the Opera House, Szent István Basilica, Elizabeth Square, the Little Princess, Chain Bridge, Buda Castle, and Fisherman’s Bastion, amongst others. What is now once city was at one point two, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube and connected by an assortment of bridges.
At the end of the tour, Timmy took us to a traditional Hungarian restaurant where we had goulasch and chicken paprikash – both delicious recipes I hope to try with the paprika I bought that morning. The three of us walked back along the Chain Bridge and near the iconic Parliament building to see the Holocaust monument along the Danube. It consisted of cast-iron shoes commemorating Jews that were unable to keep marching so were told to remove their shoes, then drowned in the river; beautiful and heartbreaking. We walked back to see the inside and top of Szent István Basilica, marveling at the gorgeous panorama that met our eyes. We then rushed back to the Buda side of the river to climb the citadel for an aerial view of the city at night. It was cold but gorgeous and worth it. We returned to the hostel and then headed to the supposed location of a pub crawl for which we had bought tickets, only to find no one there. Instead, we walked around until we found and ate at a trendy restaurant. I had a delicious carrot soup, krema with strawberries (upon the suggestion of a friend who had studied in Budapest last year), and hot chocolate. We headed back to the hotel to pack and relax before leaving the next morning.
The three of us grabbed breakfast at a nearby bakery before heading to the airport via metro and bus. The first flight was fine, but our second one was delayed… by 5 hours. We studied and loafed around, and they gave us a free sandwich and drink to compensate for our time. When we finally returned home, we found Maddie, Philippe and his visiting girlfriend Sonya waiting with a delicious tapas dinner, over which we shared stories of each other’s breaks. And just like that, the whirlwind adventure that was Easter Break came to an end and I had to return to the “real world” – if you could even call it that.