Budapest, Hungary

After spending a short night in Vilnius, Lithuania, I arose early on and began my travels to Budapest, where I would be joined by my boyfriend and faithful travel partner (he’s endured many a spontaneous road-trip, including a fateful trip to West Virginia in which everything was closed for holidays and we had to purchase bbq in Virginia to take across the WV border to “have lunch in WV” – oh well!). I was scheduled to fly through Amsterdam, traveling on to Budapest. The flight was smooth, and I realized that Google Maps updates your location in flight if you fly at a cruising altitude below 30,000 feet.
Upon my arrival, I checked into the hotel (thankfully, we were able to cash in all of my hotel points from business travel for the remainder of the trip to make our lives a bit more comfortable), and began to explore the surrounding neighborhood. I noticed many beautiful doors (eyes are a window to the soul, and I believe doors are a window into a place’s past), and quickly settled into a pub to grab a beer and continue my daily ritual of reading and enjoying a libation while I waited for my boyfriend’s arrival.
After lunch, I made my way to the main cathedral, and was amazed by the quality of the art and interior decor. Absolutely beautiful.
I returned later on to the hotel to relax and change for dinner. Interestingly, Budapest was the first place from my travels where I felt uncomfortable as a woman traveling alone. The city has quite a seedy feel, and I got cat called more than once, something that didn’t happen at all during my time in Finland or the Baltics. Anyhow, the interior of our hotel was beautiful, with an art deco vibe (it apparently used to be the New York Life Insurance building). We also had a great view of the sunset.
I went to a local hipster restaurant for dinner, and had a delicious meal consisting of matzo ball soup and a whole fish. The entire meal cost about $12, which was great news considering I somehow managed to blow my budget during my time in Finland and Estonia (…oops).
On our second day (first full day together), we spent the day exploring “Buda” across the Danube River, making our way back to “Pest” where most of the activities seem to be (although the famous views are on the Buda side). We started with a walk across the Elisabeth Bridge, which provides a good view of the old fort and Buda castle in the distance. It was shocking the amount of pollution in the air – we were both wheezing and having a bit of trouble breathing with the amount of soot and cigarette smoke on street level.
Then, we went over to the castle, which is primarily a means of seeing the Pest side from above, including the beautiful Parliament building. The castle is also home to a history museum and art gallery, but as its a Monday, both were closed. So, we enjoyed the views and then wandered into old “Buda” (there is a new Buda, but it is not up on the hill with the castle grounds) where there is a beautiful cathedral – especially the roof tiles and the painted decor on the inside. They also have a mini-museum inside, which is a bit lackluster but has a couple interesting artifacts from Hungarian history.
Then, we headed to grab a coffee at the restaurant overlooking the Danube, where we tried the “chimney cake”, which is essentially a savory bread dough (think pizza dough flavor) cooked wrapped in small strips around a metal pole, with cinnamon sugar on the outside. We both had been looking forward to trying it, but it wasn’t as exciting in reality – kind of tasted like a less cooked dessert pizza. We later saw a tourist feeding the remains of his chimney cake to pigeons in the park, looking much more excited than he had been while eating the pastry.
To get down from the castle, we took the UNESCO World Heritage acknowledged funicular, the mini-train that basically functions as a people mover up and down the mountain (I think I previously rode one in Ecuador too). Overall, not a thrilling ride, but a great view going down.
We grabbed a very late lunch at a nice Hungarian restaurant, where we learned that goulash and paprikash are both extremely heavy meals (unsurprising). However, both were delicious despite their appearance. Then, we meandered our way the mile or so back to the hotel through the Jewish district.
At the restaurant we had dinner at, we found some great translation errors: the first was an offering for “Mangalitsa” (a fancy type of pork I’ve heard about on Food Network), accompanied by “Virgo and Puppy” (I hope not!). The second was “Catch” (we assume the fish special), happily accompanied by grilled frying pan, cauliflower, and millet. Sounds delicious!
The following day, we wandered to see some of the sights in Pest we hadn’t made it to on our first day. The morning started with the House of Terror, which is the Budapest KGB Museum. It’s an interesting exhibition, although a little bit more like a history lecture than a museum. Overall though, some interesting artifacts and exhibits, although obviously very depressing.
We then took a walk over to the Budapest Parliament building, which is located alongside the Danube River.
There isn’t much to see other than the architecture, so we quickly moved on to the Holocaust Memorial, which is a set of metal shoes which are alongside the Danube River bank, representing the shoes which Jews left behind as they were forced into the river for extermination. It’s a small, but extremely poignant representation of loss.
Then, we went to a local Hungarian restaurant for lunch, where we had a duck with onions, cabbage, and garlic potatoes, and I had the mushroom paprikash, which was shockingly much lighter than the first version we had sampled.
After that, we essentially did a walking tour along the Danube, looking at the beautiful architecture. Most of the area alongside the Pest side is touristy, but fortunately I had the opportunity to introduce my boyfriend to the “ice pub” which is essentially a bar made out of ice, with ice furniture and ice shotglasses. Super touristy but a pretty fun central Europe experience. We also made it to the big market, where we purchased the obligatory small bag of paprika as a keepsake.
We then proceeded to head back to the hotel to get changed for the evening. We went to one of Budapest‘s famous “ruin bars” which is essentially a bar in an unrenovated building. It was pretty neat!
Then, we went to a Michelin Star winebar for dinner, where we tried the artichoke soup, beef tongue, and venison, with a Hungarian chocolate dessert. The best part was that it was incredibly cheap for Michelin Star food – about $40 total, each!
Overall, Budapest was an interesting experience and certainly a place worth visiting once. I’m not in a rush to get back, as now it’s a smog-filled city that is a bit rough around the edges and clearly had a beautiful heyday many years ago. I can understand why it would appeal to people who haven’t traveled extensively in Europe before or who are excited to find a cheap haven of culture and food might be especially excited about it, but I think in the future I’ll head back to Prague instead!

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