Budapest was once known as a shabby communist city. I can safely say that it is decidedly shabby chic these days. A far cry from how it was.
I visited Budapessssst… I write this because apparently, as told by our tour guide it is prenounced to exaggerate the S. Anyways… I went there with my loyal travel buddy and Bessie back in October of last year. Having left Croatia in the afternoon and after almost five hours on a train with dodgy customs half way through we finally pulled into Keleti Railway Station at 10.30pm. We did however get into first class by sheer luck so it wasn’t all bad.
Getting off the train was an experience that I wont forget but would quite like to. We had nothing but a bag each, we didn’t even know the Hungarian currency let alone have any of it. Every other person we saw was drunk including the man that approached us at the ATM. A distraction you don’t need when the machine is asking you whether you would like 18,000 or 25,000 Forint. This would be the first and last time I would see this available balance flash before my eyes. To be very honest, being at that station in the dark wasn’t the most pleasant experience and having failed to navigate our maps we finally phoned our hostel and they booked us a taxi.
Hearing a Hungarian man shout my name all over the street was hilarious. Even the homeless men that had now congregated around us laughed. In the taxi this elderly gentleman talked away in Hungarian and we answered in English. Neither of us speaking each others language. A conversation I think its safe to say was far from sensible.
We were staying in Wombats Hostel, right in the centre of the Pest side of the river Danube – a stone throw from the old ancient ruins. This hostel that cost us about 30 quid a night had everything we needed and more. Once a 4 star hotel it was restored and refurbished to make a safe haven for weary travelers like ourselves. Our four bedded dorm was lovely and they supplied quilts which was a welcome reminder of home. Our room mates were lovely and we ended up going out on the town with them. Breakfast was included in this price and the bar gave everybody a free drink on arrival. With free wifi and laundry services it was the travelers dream.
As some of you might know, Budapest is famous for its Thermal Spa’s…the most famous being the Szechenyi Thermal bath situated on the Pest side. It is considered medicinal, treating a variety of inflammatory ailments including arthritis and orthopaedic problems and Is the largest in Europe. The water is supplied to it via two springs and had three outdoors and 15 indoor pools along with saunas and Jacuzzis. All of which is heated. I personally hated the experience. They were overcrowded and the indoor pools smelled like sweat and rotten feet. People of all ages strip off in the freezing cold Hungarian air and emerge themselves into the hot waters. For someone like me who cant swim and doesn’t particularly like taking a bath infront of hundreds of strangers I definitely wont be back but to the people of Budapest and many others this is considered the best therapy there is and is even prescribed by doctors instead of medication.
We decided to do a free walking tour on our trip which involves voluntary groups of local people showing you the sights on foot at no fixed cost. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is city hopping as it really is the best way to make the most of your time and see everything worth seeing. We started off on the Pest side which is completely on the flat at St Stevens Basilica which is the 6th largest church in Hungary and Mathias Church which is the oldest in Hungary.
Here is my top must sees :-
The Love Lock Block between St Istvan Cathedral and Deak Square. This is a tree sounded by bars in a small park. Lovers come her to attach a lock and then together throw the keys in the Danube to seal their love.
Statue of the fat policeman in Pest. If you rub his golden belly local people say that you will eat well.
Hungarian Parliament Building – Europe’s oldest legislative building.
Chain Bridge – The Szechenyi Chain Bridge is a suspension bridge that spans the river Danube between Buda and Pest. The Western and Eastern sides of Budapest. It was officially opened in 1849 and was designed by a British Architect and designer.
Buda Castle is a historical palace where Hungarian Kings have resided in the past and was built in the 13th Century. It was built and rebuilt after being destroyed by the Turks and was finished in 1904. It was destroyed again in WWII. It is home to the Hungarian National Gallery and also the Budapest History Museum on Castle Hill Funicular.
The Horse and Rider Statue is rain worn and sun-drenched and sits at the top of Buda Hill. It’s said if you rub the horse’s testicules you will have good luck for the duration of the stay.
My all-time favourite experience was the old Ruin Bars of the Hungarian Past.
Szimpla in particular is the oldest ruin bar in Budapest and really has to be seen to be believed. With the bathrooms in darkness and spread over numerous floors this place is like no other. There is furniture hanging from the ceilings and cars and bath tubs cut in half to make quirky seats and bar stools. Inside girls go around selling vegetables instead of shots and a spirit and mixer will only cost u about two quid.
All in all my trip to Hungary was one that I will never forget. Its unique, dated, beautiful and best of all its just downright weird. But definitely in a good way.