Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Budapest is Buda-ful!

A few weeks ago my friend Dru and I broke out from a travelling slump and hopped a RyanAir flight to Budapest.

On arrival at the Ferenc Liszt airport, we made the brilliant decision to take public transportation in order to save a few bucks. In order to do this, we needed local money, the forint (226 forint = $1 USD). As you can probably imagine, I had a mini panic attack when I took out 29,000 forint from the ATM. Anything with more than 2 digits sends me into a panic these days, when money seems to have completely disappeared from my bank account (how did that happen? I plead complete innocence… or maybe just ignorance). After a while, however, having 29,000 forint in your pocket feels pretty good. Dru and I spent a few hours under the self-created delusion that we were rich, as we have never had more than 20 euro and a few American pennies in our wallets at one time.

After buying bus tickets (an entirely different issue in itself), we boarded a very sketchy bus outside the airport and, after a 30 minute ride, were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. There was a bus stop, a sketchy looking building, and dust floating through the air. The bus literally left us in the dust. Thankfully (or not, depending on your opinion), the super sketchy building turned out to be a metro station. We bought tickets from an aptly sketchy machine, thanks to getting help from a very nice Hungarian woman who spoke English, and boarded a sketchy metro train. Everything about that place was sketchy, but we lived to tell the tale.

It took us over an hour to find our hostel. You would not believe how difficult it is to navigate streets with names like  Deák Ferenc tér,Rákóczi út and Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út. We basically had no idea where we were going for a good 45 minutes, until we finally stumbled on our hostel (Astoria City Hostel), which was right behind a huge Burger King. It turns out we were housed in an apartment about four blocks down the street from the actual hostel, but we dealt with it. After all, we couldn’t be phased by the fact that the hostel certainly did not look like the pictures online. We had adventures to be had!

First thing you need to know about Budapest: It’s hot. So, so, so hot. I think it was in the 80s every day that we were there. It put Italy to shame. Second thing to know: Budapest is big. It’s really, really big. Put on your walking shoes and carry some Advil with you. Third thing to know: Food is cheap and good—the beer is even cheaper, and better.

After getting a hearty meal at a fantastic little restaurant, the name of which I can never remember, for whopping $20 after conversion (included an appetizer, two large beers, two huge plates of food, and a coffee). Needless to say, we were not hangry (angry hungry) in Hungary. With our stomachs full and moods refreshed, we set out to see the sights.

In terms of sightseeing, Budapest is a beautiful city aesthetically speaking. The buildings are really old and have lots of character, the Buda Castle is beautiful (especially at night), the Fisherman’s Bastion is gorgeous (I feel like big garden gnomes should live there), and there are great little gardens dispersed through the city. That being said, Dru and I found that there wasn’t a lot to do in Budapest—we went to Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion two or three times, we tried to get into Parliament on two separate occassions (both major fails, all the tickets were sold out by 10 AM both days), visited the Budapest National Gallery, and had an afternoon at the Szechenyi baths. Other than that, we were kind of at a loss for what to do. There was a lot of eating, lots of wandering aimlessly, and lots of showers (it was so hot).

Buda Castle

Don’t get me wrong,  Budapest is a great city. It’s just not somewhere I’d want to go again, at least not for a little bit. Unless you’re someone who can spend hours and hours and days and days going to Roman or Turkish-style baths, Budapest can be done in about 2-3 days. I would totally recommend the Budapest National Gallery—it’s incredible. There are several works by big-named artists there, like Renoir, Monet, Manet, Courbet, a few Raphaels, Degas, one or two Michelangelos… you get the picture (pun intended).

The lovely Dru sitting in from of the river on the railing of the Buda Castle

Parliament building... the one we never actually got into.

The baths are an… interesting experience. While they are quite nice to lounge in after a long day of walking, it is a little bit weird to be around very hairy men in very small speedos… then there is the awkward couple making out, or the random small child screaming. Stay clear of all of the above. Find a nice corner or bench and just sit and enjoy the bath-like waters. Bring flip flops for the changing rooms, and don’t even bother with the hair dryers. Those are my bits of advice for that particular adventure.

Overall, my trip to Budapest was a fantastic time. Was it as fantastic as Paris and Barcelona and Scotland? No—but it was still 4-days of adventure with my best friend, and that makes for a fantastic vacation. I would recommend it to anyone who has one or two days to spare, as it’s cheap and relatively easy to see in a day or two (as long as you’ve got your walking shoes). It’s surely another great adventure to add to the list!

Until next time!

Parliament at night

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