On to the next leg of EuroTrip 2017!!
We arrived in Budapest and made the short walk from the train to our Airbnb. We had a super cute loft apartment for the four of us that was right on one of the main streets in town. Our place was super cute and the host was so nice- she even gave us a free bottle of Hungarian wine on arrival! After settling in we headed out for dinner at a Hungarian place near by recommended by our host. I think it was called Huszar Etterem Sorozo. Three of us grabbed Chicken Paprikash which was great and my fourth friend got the beef goulash which she said was only okay. The place is super cute and local and the food is good and affordable.
For our first day we started with, surprise, a walking tour. We did the three hour free walking tour by Sandeman’s that starts in downtown Pest and ends by the castle. The tour was great and covered so much of the historical centre. After the end of the tour we were quite hungry so we headed down the castle hill and back to Pest to another Hungarian spot that came recommended. Kishrang Etkedze is in District 5 and serves great, super affordable local food. We snagged a table outside and people watched for a bit before heading off to explore the neighbourhood . We passed the cutest donut store but were way too full to even consider splitting one but maybe next time!
We made our way to the famed parliament building, stopping first at a park that had a WWII and Soviet War Memorial. From afar the WWII memorial looked like any standard memorial but up close there was a very interesting counter memorial that was set up. The counter memorial pointed out that this memorial, commissioned by the Hungarian government, depicts Hitler’s Germany as an occupying power that forced the horrors of the war and the Holocaust on Hungary, denying that Hungary was itself allied with Hitler way before the 1944 invasion. The memorial argues that this memorial, and other acts of the current regime, are attempting to rewrite history and absolve any guilt on the countries part. As political/history nerds we all found this fascinating as Hungary is in a very interesting place politically with the current ( regressive) leader and it was interesting to see how active the anti-government movements were.
After walking through the park we made it to the beautiful parliament building! The Hungarian Parliament is stunning and HUGE! It was made this way to both be a) larger than the Westminster Parliament building and b) to compete with Vienna as the most important city in the Austro-Hungarian empire. We walked around and snapped pictures of the building from all angles before making our way back through Pest to our Airbnb.
Seeing as there is so much important Jewish and Holocaust history in Budapest we decided to do a second walking tour dedicated solely to this subject. Our tour started in the same place as yesterday but went the opposite way into the old Jewish Ghetto. Budapest is home to three beautiful synagogues, including the largest synagogue in all of Europe! Our tour took us through the creation of the ghetto, the three synagogues and their religious differences and of course the history of the Hungarian deportations and the Holocaust. One interesting thing we learnt was that until 1942 Budapest very successfully avoided most deportations and many people were able to live quite normal lives in the ghetto ( if you can call that at all normal). But Hitler became fed up with this and got the government to change it tune, leading to some of the largest deportations. All of the synagogues survived the war with differing levels of impact, the Neologue Synagogue( largest in Europe) was given sums of money from the government to rebuild and now its beautifully restored and open to the public.
After the historical part of the tour our guide begun to tell us of the current state of the Jewish Ghetto. After the walls were torn down and the neighbourhood opened up it became a hot spot for cool coffee shops, restaurants and ruin bars! This area seemed like such a cool place to just come and hang out on the weekend and I would definitely recommend just walking around here. Our tour ended at one of the famous ruin bars, Szimpla.
After our tour we headed over to the market and wandered around for a bit before splitting a Langos ( Hungarian fried flatbread) and some streudel from stands here. Since we were still hungry but in the mood for something lighter we walked back through central Pest to Hummusbar for some hummus pitas. This place is great! It is a chain across Budapest and serves good, decently healthy fast Middle Eastern food ( from pitas to hummus bowls to shashuka). Its quite cheap and they also have a student discount!
We continued walking through the centre, stopping a couple stores as there are still huge sales happening all throughout Europe before we finally found a bus to take us back over to Buda. Yesterday we were too hungry after the tour to stop and take photos around the castle and fisherman’s bastion so we went back to today to spend more time here. Definitely worth it! This hill is so picturesque with beautiful views over the city and the stunning cathedral. To round out of tour of historical Budapest we walked back across the Chain Bridge to the Shoes on the Danube Memorial. This memorial is dedicated to the Jews who were lined up along the river during the Holocaust and shot. It is a beautiful and moving memorial, definitely worth seeking out.
After a full day of hopping across the city we went back to rest for a bit in preparation for our exploration of some ruin bars tonight! Ruin bars are pretty much exactly what they sound like, bars in old ruined buildings that were never rebuilt after the war. These bars have made Budapest infamous for nightlife. None of us really enjoy clubs at all but we all love a good bar so we were excited to get feel of the city at night. Before heading back to Szimpla we stopped at the Karavan food truck area to grab some dinner. This area, just down the street from Szimpla, is just a collection of a bunch of food trucks and picnic tables where you can grab a super simple ( and pretty cheap) meal. We were especially happy we grabbed food close to the bars because even at 11:30 there was already a pretty big line outside. Thankfully the line moved quickly but later in the night these lines get crazy long so go early!!
Inside Szimpla is a collection of a bunch of different rooms and indoor/outdoor spaces with bars scattered although the building. We grabbed wine spritzes and started to explore the huge space! The vibe in ruin bars is really cool. It is more chill like a bar with people standing and talking ( because you can actually hear one another despite the music) but its super busy so it gives off a bit of a club feeling too. It was honestly the best of both worlds.
On our tour, our guide went on about a local Hungarian drink called Panlinka. Palinka is essentially moonshine brandy which comes in a bunch of flavours and ranges from 50-70% alcohol (!!). Of course we had to try it after hearing so much about it. This drink is crazy. It tastes and smells just like straight alcohol with only a hint of the flavour you order, so honestly I don’t think it matters if its apricot or fig, and it is obviously very very strong. This is a one shot kinda drink. It was super fun to try and despite our fears it honestly wasn’t that bad at all, would definitely do it again ( but just not in the same night).
We spent a while longer at Szimpla before deciding we should check out some other bars but once we left we realized that lines everywhere else were crazy busy ( it was around 2:30am) so we just decided to head home.
For a final day in Budapest we wanted to take it slow and spend most of our day in the legendary mineral baths. While there are a bunch of baths to choose from we decided to go to the largest and most famous, Szechenyi. Located in a big park with the zoo and heroes square these are the beautiful yellow baths you see all the time in photos of Budapest. We tried to get there on the earlier side as apparently it gets quite busy, especially on weekends. Szechenyi is huge! There are two giant baths outside ( and a lap pool) and a ton of little baths, steam rooms and saunas inside. We treated the baths like a Scandanavian spa and went hot, cold plunge and then warm over and over again trying out every single different section (literally every single one). Favourites included the hot bath outside ( the indoor baths smell very strongly of minerals) and the Eucalyptus steam room. We spent a good couple hours here relaxing before it started to get super busy at 2:30 at which point we left. We grabbed food at this burger place in the park, I don’t eat burgers/wasn’t hungry so I just had some fries but apparently the burgers were quite good! We then walked through Hero’s Square and wandered home to pack up. I was leaving super early the next morning so I wanted to be as prepped as possible the night before.
For our last night we headed back to the Jewish Quarter to grab food at a great Vietnamese place, Sao, and then went to one of the many outdoor patio bars that line the streets in that area.
Overall I fell totally in love with Budapest. It is a beautiful city with very interesting, has an amazing food scene with great restaurants, bars and coffee shops on every corner and seems to be a very fun and growing population. This ended up being one of the best “surprise cities” as I obviously knew I would like Budapest I just never realized how much.