It is a little known fact that Budapest is a black hole super nova of awesomeness. We had originally added it to the itinerary as part of the pathway to Greece. We had kept it on the altered version because everyone said it was beautiful and we still wanted to hit up a good Eastern European city. However, the plan was a quick day and a half stop over. When we checked into our hostel & Montana (aka the girl working there) commented on this and everyone told us we would stay longer. They said everyone stays longer…stays longer or comes back a second time… We kind of inwardly rolled our eyes. We were so naive. Our quick stop turned into a four night stay…and what an awesome four days it was!
Shall we start with the city itself? Budapest is home to over 20% of the population of Hungary. In this country you either live in the “city” or in the “country”. The city began as the royal town of Buda, in the hills on one side of the Danube, and the small village of Pest, on the other side at the beginning of the Great Plains. It was only in 1873 that these two towns were merged to form the capital of Budapest. It is absolutely beautiful, with that nice “lived in” feel. Over the course of our time there we were able to take part in a guided walking tour and then do plenty of self-guided (or completely at random) wanders. Budapest has a lot to see, as opposed to things to do, so it’s the kind of place you just need to walk through and get lost…this wasn’t a problem for Kristin since, even with 4 days to get to know the place, she never knew where she was…Justine on the other hand could always get herself back to the hostel…
We took the free city walking tour on our first morning. It’s always nice to have help getting orientated. As usual with free tours, the guide was spectacular. He was from Budapest but had impeccable English. There was not a single story told, question answered, or sight spotted that was boring because Andrew was the most animated person we may have ever seen. He was hopping onto walls & rubbing statues & trying to get us all to speak Hungarian…which is rated as one of the most complicated languages in the world. It’s actually the language aliens usually speak in movies because it sounds so odd. The tour set up was also very good. It was very “Ra Ra we heart our city” (but all of them are) and also very “here’s how to best see our city”. They were very focused on your ideal experience and making sure you knew the little tricks to get better service or not getting stuck in the tourist traps. And then at the end the took anyone interested to a cafeteria-style lunch place. It was so cheap & incredibly delicious and not somewhere you would ever find on your own. To get in you go into an unmarked building through a big wooden door that only featured hand written hours of operation. That’s it! We ate a wonderful traditional dish that involved boiled potatoes & meat stuffed peppers.
We talked about Parliament last time, so the other major sight of Pest is St. Stephen’s Church. This church was built to honor the first King of Hungary who became a patron saint after his death. Nice and creepy, they have his mummified hand in a back room of the church. It’s black & shrively. The rest of the interior was beautiful. It was more remeniscent of some of the palaces we’ve seen, with red & green marble lining every wall and golden accents everywhere. The wall mounted candelabras were a sight all in their own; if only we could have seen them back in the day when they dripped with real candel wax and flickered with fire light.
There are many bridge that cross the large Danube river that splits the city in two. The most famous of these is the Chain Bridge. There is a fun story associated with the bridge’s building. The engineer who designed the bridge was so cocky that he had created the most impressive, perfect creation ever that he told people he would jump off the top of it if anyone could find a single fault. No one did until one day a little boy looked up at one of the four lion statues that flank the entrances on either side. This child glanced at the lions open, roaring mouth and noted it had no tongue! Even for this minor detail the engineer was true to his word and jumped off the bridge. Ok, maybe that wasn’t a “fun” story persay, but still interesting. Although it is featured on the cover of every tour book/pamphlet/website of Budapest, we hardly found it the most impressive site in town. Still though, it was a nice bridge.
Once across the bridges you enter Buda. It’s most noticeable attraction is the Castle. The Budapest castle was destroyed during the Second World War but was rebuilt to look the same…kind of. The exterior matches it’s predecessor, except for the few areas of ruins you come across which are either unrebuild parts or remains of even earlier castles. Also the interior remains white and plain. There is nothing to see inside except a couple of museums. We did wander around to see some of the outside and catch some great views of the city from this height.
After our climb to the castle we climbed the even bigger hill to the Citadel. This large hill stands out on the Buda side of the river with the large Lady of Liberty Statue on top. The statue was built by the Soviets to honor those who died liberating Hungary in 1945. The people of Budapest liked the statue so much that, after the Communist left, the statue was covered for a couple of days, the cyrillic letters were removed & the statue was renamed, and when she was uncovered she was a brand new statue.
It was a weirdly fogging day and even being so high above the city we couldn’t see very far in any direction. It looked like the world only extended so far before plunging off and leaving only a mystical white blur. Luckily all of the cities main sights fell within the limits of our vision. Parliament & St. Stephen’s stood out as the only “hills” of Pest and the castle dominated the majority of our view of Buda. The fall colors we rather magical as we looked down at the city…as well as on the walk up and down the hill 🙂
A group of us walked up to City Park one afternoon. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but there are some cool things contained within the park. You enter (when coming from the south like us) through Hero Square. This is an open square with arches & monuments around the perimeter. It looked very similar to places we have loitered already on this trip, as that is one of our favorite pastimes. As you continue inwards you come across the castle. This was originally built out of cardboard for an art exhibition, but the government liked the look of it so much that they commissioned the building of a permanent model. It is very eclectic looking, featuring peaks & turrets that range widely in architectural styles. Also located in the park is the largest thermal bath complex. Budapest lays on a fault line, which means that hot water, supposedly with restorative properties, can seep up through the cracks. There are several baths throughout the city, but this one was supposed to be the biggest & best. We didn’t go in (not really our thing) but everyone who we talked to that did really enjoyed it…so we would still suggest for another traveller to try it out. We did however go to the market. This collection of tables & stands is set up every weekend and sells a little of everything. There are antiques, clothes, CDs, gas masks, toys, fake hair…seriously everything…. There was a large number of tables that looked like they had boxes from our grandparents auction sale emptied onto them. For those of you who understand what that means, you realize how random/junky/insane this place was. The park provided a great place to just lay about and enjoy the sunshine. There were ample dogs to pet, fallen leaves to kick about & trees to climb.
We also got to experience two of Budapest’s best night activities (Remember in the last post when we mentioned that the hostel organized an event every night? We took advantage of these). First would be the Jewish Quarter ruin bar scene. After the horrors of WWII much of the Jewish Quarter was abandoned. And with the communist era setting in, ownership rights were never really established for them. By the time Budapest was rid of the Soviets these beautiful old buildings had fallen into various states of disrepair & no one was jumping to claim them. They became the homes of various squatters & artists. Eventually the money making opportunity of creating bars in these make-shift art houses came up and the ruin bar was born. Even if one is not looking to party these are worth a look. Many of the buildings themselves hint at former grandeur and the interiors are packed with creative & artistic decorations…including minimalistic rooms littered with blinking tv screens, bicycles hanging from the ceiling and invasions of taxidermy bunnies. As a side note, one of the Hungarian shots of choice is tequila…not what you would expect, eh? But instead of using salt & a lime, they chase it with an orange slice sprinkled with cinnamon. It pretty much makes you want another shot just so you can have more orange.
Our other stellar evening was a river boat cruise. The boat floated up & down the best section of the river, affording great views of the landmarks. As per usual with European cities, the sights were all dramatically lit.
And those were just the things to see & do when you left the hostel. But you were never bored back at home base either. There were always people to talk to and groups to join for going out & about. The whole setup really encouraged you to be social. For example, there was the previously mentioned carpe diem (day) & carpe noctem (night) activites…what a fun play on the hostel’s name. But the staff would also organize things like communal suppers where everyone just chips in a little money and you all eat together. They say it’s the people who make the place though, and here was no exception. Montana, Sarah, Will & Moose were the most entertaining hostel staff we have ever experienced. They weren’t just a person behind a counter, but part of the group…the leaders of fun, if you will… They hosted some spectacular events, made some delicious meals and were super accommodating about us (& everyone else) extending our stay. But we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg; there are still the other backpackers: the rougishly handsome & utterly ridiculous Josh, the sweet & oh-so-dreamy Peter, the advice-filled Vixen Maggie, the cute, charming & slightly crazy Jon and the exceptionally wonderful Alberta-girl Katie…just to name a few… This cast of misfits made our time in Budapest truly unforgettable! However, amidst the fun, we did forget to get photos with them…oops…
Anyway, tomorrow we travel onwards…and get out of this black hole of awesome that has swallowed us up…aka we will actually start writing daily again…
– Hungarian money is fun…you feel like such a high-roller…or like you’re playing with monopoly money. Until you’ve been there it’s very hard to imagine holding a 20,000 bill in your hand…so many zeros!
– Check out this door:
There are no guards, no major locks and only 4 simple & in-plain-sight cameras (unpictured). Beside the door there were big windows thrown wide open. Basically it is a lower security place than most American high schools. Can you guess what this door opens into? It is, in fact, the Hungarian President’s office. No one wants to kidnap the Hungarian president.
– In Australia, bangs are called fringe. Australians also say H weird…with an extra “h” sound at the start.
– Justine has a super red spot on the tip of her nose. It is not sore or itchy, but is so bright red that she looks like Rudolph.
– Bras are not made for slithering..the underwire will pop out…
– No one outside of North America knows what pumpkin pie is.
– 24 hour McDonalds in Hungary have late night bouncers…you can be rejected from a Hungarian McDonalds…and it will be a low point in your life…
– You cannot make a man out of leaves.
Love, Luck & Laughter,