Think of a list of your favorite cities in the world. New York, L.A, Paris, Rome. Those are probably standard for most people. Last weekend I got to add a new favorite city to my list and a city that probably isn’t on most, Budapest. Although I did some research before I arrived, I had no idea what to really expect when I got there. Any expectations I did have, Budapest proved me wrong; and not in the sense that I was wrong about what to expect, but wrong not to expect one of the most fantastic cities in the world.
I traveled to Budapest with a friend from my program, Jackie! When we arrived to Budapest, the first thing I thought of was cold! Living in Rome I don’t have a winter anymore. Although the Italians may be terrified of the cold weather, to me, their cold weather is more like fall. Well, in Budapest it is cold, like December – March in New York cold. I was not happy. I left Rome and sixty-degree weather for Budapest and thirty-degree weather. Then I saw the city.
Friday morning we did a free walking tour to get familiar with the city. The tour started out in the main square, which was just a short five-minute walk from our hostel. But before we headed over to the square we made a stop at Starbucks. The first Starbucks I’ve seen since August. This in itself started my love for Budapest. Each day I spent way to much money on a Toffee Nut Latte and each day it tasted better and better. We navigated our way to the square and devoured our lattes. While waiting for the tour to start, we discovered the most amazing drink that may have been even better than the Starbucks. In the corner of the square was a small cart selling different foods and the prize of the city, mulled wine. We each got a glass of mulled red wine at 10:15 in the morning. Maybe not our best decision but it did keep us warm and did taste absolutely delicious.
When the walking tour started, we started learning about Budapest and the history of the city. In short Budapest is separated into two parts Buda and Pest, by the Danube River. Budapest didn’t become a democratic country until 1991 (the year I was born!) The Rubik’s cube was invented by a Hungarian who still lives in Budapest. We got a tour of the entire city in three hours and were amazed with each step we took at how beautiful Budapest is. The tour ended on the Buda side at a restaurant. This was our first taste of Hungarian food. Goulash Soup, Stuffed Cabbage, Paprika Chicken, just to name a few of Hungray’s most famous dishes. When the tour ended, we still wanted more of the city. We did a second walking tour that day of the Jewish District. This tour ended at a Ruin Bar. Ruin bars are fairly new to the city. Artists wanted a free space to work and express themselves and they started decorating the insides of Ruins. Eventually they added bars and opened them to the public. Our tour guide told us about a local Hungarian drink called Palinka’. They described it as a strong fruity brandy drink, so naturally we had to try some. We ordered two Palinka’s at the Ruin Bar, one apple and one fig. What the tour guides forgot to tell us was that this drink was not a drink but a shot and smelt like apple infused rubbing alcohol. That day I wasted three dollars because I simply couldn’t take the shot. Too strong for me! After the tour had ended we went back to the square for another glass of mulled wine and tried a Hungarian Chimney Cake. These cakes were shaped like a chimney and roasted over a fire sprinkled with sugar. After wine and dessert we went to dinner (a little backwards but worked!) By the end of the day we had walked six hours around the city taking in as much as we could of the culture (minus the Palinka’).
Saturday morning started just like Friday morning, with Starbucks! This time we decided to go on a walking tour of our own. We walked all the way down the Pest side to the Central Market Hall. The market hall was filled with Hungarians shopping for fruits, vegetables, and fresh meats. Fruits and vegetables were very standard, but pig’s heads in meat cases was something we definitely were not used to seeing. Upstairs at the market were vendors selling typical Hungarian souvenirs and also several vendors selling typical Hungarian food. We each got a goulash soup and split a stuffed cabbage. If it was even possible, this stuffed cabbage was even better than the day’s before. And if more possible than that, the goulash soup was even better than the stuffed cabbage. When we left the market we walked across to the Buda side and took a hike up to the highest point in the city. When we finally reached the top, the view was more than worth it. We had a view of both sides of the city and the Danube River and all its bridges. We walked around the top for a while and found a place to shoot a bow and arrow (my favorite part of the trip).
The great thing about Budapest is how diverse the city is. Would you ever think you could eat Mexican and Pad Thai in Budapest? Because I definitely didn’t, but we ate both! There were also steak houses and sushi restaurants and almost any cuisine you could think of. After eating Pad Thai Saturday night we went back to the hostel more in love with the city and its diversity.
Sunday morning we woke up to rain. We decided to go to the House of Terror Museum where we learned more about the history of Budapest from the communist and nazi regimes. While extremely sad, it was great getting a full background of what Budapest was like in the past and where the culture now comes from. Budapest has set up many monuments in the city for the victims of the Nazi’s. My favorite was the sixty pairs of brass shoes near the water. These shoes were put near the water as a memorial for the victims who were killed and thrown into the Danube River during the war.
After the House of Terror, we walked to Hero’s Square, which is another monument set up for the end of communism. We found a restaurant that was placed on a little pond called Robinson’s. This was my favorite meal of the trip. I had a chestnut soup with truffle foam and we split an appetizer of homemade sausage. The place was amazing and I recommend it to anyone who makes the trip to Budapest.
As our trip was almost over, we decided to go to the Szenchayi Baths, just a short walk from the restaurant. When you go to Budapest, after you eat at Robinson’s, you need to go to the bathhouse! There are several bathhouses all over the city, but the Szenchayi Bathhouse is the largest in all of Europe. After we changed into our bathing suits we decided to go to one of the outside baths. Although it was thirty degrees outside and raining, the water in the pools were about eighty degrees. As we walked to the pools we saw the steam rising from the water. This was such an amazing experience that I don’t know I will get to experience anywhere else.
Some other pictures from Budapest
If you decided to visit Budapest and want recommendations I will be more than happy to discuss this city and all it has to offer! I had a wonderful weekend in Budapest and just am more grateful every day for this amazing opportunity I have in Europe!