Before jumping right into Budapest and the 7-hour journey to get there, I feel like we need to rewind a little bit back to Prague. In my last European travel post I left off with my last night in Prague, spent at a few casual bars and ending at Anonymous Bar. Ben and I trekked through the gorgeous Jewish quarter back to our hostel to get ready for the long journey ahead of us the next day.
We woke up a little before seven a.m. to get to the bus station. The hostel was amazing and scheduled a cab to pick us up the day before, warning us that the drivers sometimes try to charge exorbitant fees to tourists. As we were sleepy and out of Kroners, we got lucky that our driver not only accepted card payment but also was more interested in what we were doing in the Czech Republic and why we would ever leave New York City, instead of charging us extra. We made it to the station with time to spare, unlike in Amsterdam where we almost missed our bus because we had somehow skipped passport control. This ride would be shorter, but only by a few hours.
Like any lengthy trip taken on public transport, little room is left for belongings and the space that is left is reserved for frustration. There were about 15 stops before we arrived in Budapest and contrary to popular belief, the driver did not permit passengers to exit the bus unless they were getting off for good. This led to 7 hours sans a bathroom break (the bathroom on the bus was so gross it was not worth it) and sans lunch – or in our case, breakfast and lunch. By the time we arrived in Budapest, our body’s hated us for rationing three Belvita bars and two apples over the course of the 7 hour ride, plus the time it took for us to wake up and arrive at the bus station… It goes without saying that I ALWAYS carry a snack with me now, even if I’m just going out for a few hours.
Despite all of this, the 7 hours also went by quickly at times, while we were napping or taking in incredible landscapes as we drove through the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Windmills and lush green terrain swept across the outer areas of Bratislava, Slovakia and through the hill and mountain towns outside the main city. As I have ancestry in Slovakia, this is a trip that I hope to come back and do fully; spending more time soaking in the country’s beauty, food and culture.
Unloading the bus we listed our priorities and set out for the nearby metro station. We tackled the bathroom and ATM before figuring out that there was zero chance of us figuring out how to reach our hostel by train sans an Internet connection, so we defeated (and hungrily) took a cab.
We stayed in the Essential hostel, a converted apartment building with a spiral staircase, marble floors and a gorgeous exterior. The staff was incredibly helpful and when we asked where to go for lunch they directed us to a traditional Hungarian buffet a few blocks away…
Already used to the heavy potato-based dishes of the Czech Republic I was hoping to find something on the lighter side in Hungary. Yet it seemed that the further south in Europe you go, the heavier the food is made. The buffet offered simple and traditional Hungarian dishes such as Goulash and blood sausages – something I ate without realizing what it was for the first few bites, as the labeling signs were in Hungarian and I was unable to decipher them. I had a sampling of these foods as well as pasta that looked something like mac and cheese but tasted nothing like it, and a selection of yummy deserts and beer. In total, for two people to eat all of this food and alcohol was a grand total of about 5,620.00 Forint – which though seemingly exorbitant, when converted into USD was about $21. What a nice break from the crazy Pound to USD conversion rates!
Tummies full (and starting to hurt) we walked around a small downtown area before heading back to the hostel for a nap. Our room – a four bed dorm – was the largest hostel room we had stayed in and it had a lovely view of the street below. After a quick nap we changed and decided to go out for some nighttime exploring in a nearby part of the city by the Danube River. It was this short hour of casual sightseeing where I fell in love with Budapest and it became the favorite trip I took outside of London.
Along the waterfront, Budapest at night is simply incomparable. Each side of the river represents half of the country. Across from where we were walking on the West Bank was “Buda” and the side on which we were walking on the East Bank was “Pest” – pronounced “pesht”.
Originally a Celtic settlement, the two cities, along with “Obuda” or “Old Buda” fought between one another to see who could build the tallest, most relevant and most beautiful city. Each side of the river tried to outdo the other, eventually becoming one united country in November 1873 and the result is an unfathomably splendid sight to see.
The deep gold lights on Pest’s Parliament buildings reflected into the Danube and connecting with Buda is something so beautiful that it made me wonder how I had been so blessed to see it for myself in person. Budapest is truly a place of surreal beauty.
After our stroll Ben and I stopped at an outdoor beer garden for appetizers and a pint or two – the Hungarian version of a pint is the equivalent of a huge German beer mug… a lot of beer! We had just another half hour before hopping on the Metro and going to the event we had decided to splurge on… the Sparty.
I will go more into detail about the history behind Hungary’s thermal bath culture in my next post, but the country’s thermal spas are a huge draw for people from around the globe.
The “Sparty” is a huge party that happens just a few times a month on Saturday in Budapest’s largest thermal bathhouse – Szechenyi. It is an experience that is truly once in a lifetime. There was a DJ in the pool and people from all over the world stripped down to their bathing suits and swim trunks and swarmed the bar and the pools.
I feel like this was the epitome of a crazy European college kid experience and had so much fun that for the first time I forgot to get a picture of myself in front of the craziness. However just before heading out I did take a few photos of the Sparty but not even a picture can capture how cool the experience was.
Stay Classy! xx