How (not) to: Budapest

Statue of a horse in Budapest Castle

I have very mixed feelings about this city. A lot of people I know really really love it and can’t get enough of it. I am not one of those people.

A small disclaimer though: I went after spending 5 days in Prague and 4 days in Vienna. I suspect I was quite tired and homesick by this point, which might be why I was so grumpy the whole time!

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What I’m glad I did

Stayed at Unity Hostel

This was a very nice hostel with free tea and breakfast included. It was maybe a little cliquey when I first arrived (and the wifi wasn’t working) but I guess most people come to Budapest with friends to party.

The hostel is well located in Pest, about 15 minutes walk from Buda and right in the middle of the up-and-coming trendier district.

Saw the sun set

The first thing I did when I arrived was to head up to Buda. Basically, the older, fancier part of the city is on a hill overlooking the rest of it. You can get a funicular up to the top but I always walked. Obviously the views are incredible but you also get this beautiful sense of calm looking out over the whole city. It was very relaxing.

Ate a lot of goulash

Like, a lot. It’s practically Hungary’s national food! And its delicious. Have it with bread and pickles and beer and you will never be disappointed.

I also ate a schnitzel larger than my face. I know, wrong city! But it was still excellent. The waiter clearly thought I wouldn’t be able to manage it and was both proud and concerned when I ate every last crumb!

Had a proper poke around Buda castle

It is easy to just walk around the beautiful avenues on the north side, and if you did you wouldn’t be disappointed. However, if you have the time make sure to head south along the ridge. There are proper towers and courtyards and also guards that get angry because I think the prime minister lives up there. If you are concentrating you can find this pathway around the whole of the outside of the castle, which is very exciting.

Got off the beaten track

After walking across Chain Bridge a few times, Budapest can start to feel a little repetative. Head south to the Dohány Street Synagogue. I didn’t go in but you probably should, it looked really cool. Alternatively, hang around in the narrow streets below Buda. My guidebook made it sound like a very dangerous part of town but it’s not. It’s a little run down but filled with little churches and squares.

Took lots of pictures of Liberty Bridge

I mean, its beautiful and very photogenic. The one in the middle is my favourite because of the timing and planning it took so I didn’t get run over.

What I could have given a miss

The Parliament Building

I was excited about this. It’s supposed to look exactly like the Palace of Westminster… and, I mean, it’s a gothic building on a river. Aside from that, I don’t see it. Maybe I wasn’t concentrating. Maybe I was too grumpy…

Museum of Fine Arts

I admit it: I stole some culture. I needed to pee and that got me into the building, and once I was there… Anyway, it was nice enough, but no reasons to go out of your way.

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City Park

This was built for the Millennial Celebration (1900, not 2000!) and is filled with castles, statues and architecture from Budapest’s history. It’s kinda weird.

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Heroes Square

Similarly, not all that. It’s a big semi-circle of statues around Budapest’s history: lots of chieftains and warlords, really.

St Stephen’s Basilica

They did spend a lot of time building it (it kept on falling down because they got overexcited re. the dome) and it’s nice enough, but it’s not going down in history as the best cathedral ever ever ever.

Got ripped off on Margaret Island

So, I was spending the morning on Margaret Island. It’s a huge island in the Danube with a petting zoo (really great, the horses are lovely, go there!), the ruins of a nunnery and an open-air theatre. I was mad hungry so I stopped off in the theatre for lunch. It was delicious in a very Budapest kinda way. For example, I asked for salad and got pickles, which were lovely but not salad.

Anyway, when it came to paying the guy came over and stood over me the whole time and never really gave me a look at the receipt. I just paid what he said because I am a trusting soul 🙂 and on reflection he was a damn liar. Be warned! Apparently this is a very common trick since tourists can’t understand a word of Hungarian.

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What I wish I had done

Got the funicular up to Buda

I mean, I love funicular railways. Why didn’t I do this? I don’t know. Silly grumpy person.

Gone to a spa

Budapest is famous for its thermal spas. Due to a minor money problem I was too grumpy to go to a spa (I also forgot to bring a swimsuit so I would have had to cough up for that as well). There are two major spas: a yellow one in Pest and a fancy one attached to a hotel in Buda.

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Gone out

Silly grumpy traveller didn’t even go to a pub in Budapest. I mean, who am I? Let alone a club. Some of the people went to a club with mismatched chairs which made them very happy (I know that this is an outdated and cheesy style but their enthusiasm was sweet). However they also got robbed outside the club while trying to buy drugs so I would recommend that you be careful! Nobody is really trying to help you…

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Gone to Statue Park

I’d actually completely forgotten about this until I started googling to remember stuff from this trip! But yeah, after overthrowing the Soviets, they put all of the statutes and monuments in a big outdoor museum just outside of the city. It sounds kinda eerie and weird, and really cool. You get there by bus and if I return to Budapest I would definitely make the time.

While we’re on the subject, Budapest is full of statues and monuments. I guess it’s all about culture-making: for such a long time Hungary was Turkish or Hapsburg or communist, now they are Hungarian they really want to assert their cultural identity. It’s great because they have such a great medieval history that could easily be forgotten.

Money

So, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary all use a different currency. I tried to be organised and sensible (I’ll talk you through the Levi scale sometime) but obviously I messed up and ended up with too many euros and not enough florins. I had to use a Western Union for the money exchange, with an appropriately grumpy money behind the desk. It was a good, grown-up moment but I hate paying commission at the best of times!

I also had the classic Ryanair situation of needed to check-in via a weird internet cafe. Google was unhelpful and I ended up in one of those evil-looking, scary, definitely-for-terrorism-and-criminals internet cafes in a bad part of town. On the way back I realised that there was a internet shop right next to the hostel! Ah well…

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So, there we are! From writing this I clearly need to go back to Budapest sometime. I think I tainted a lovely city with my grump and anger so I need to go back and correct that.

Next time, I’m thinking of returning to my trip to Sicily. I left off just as I was about to get to Syracuse, easily one of my favourite places in the world so… less grump!

Cheerio x

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