Guten Abend from my very overheated apartment!
I’ve had my best childhood pal, Katie, staying with me for the last damp-and-miserable week, and now that she’s headed back to Scotland, the sun has come out with verve (I don’t think those two things are directly connected, by the way) and it is incredibly bloody hot. Still, we spent the weekend in Budapest, which was still muggy and a bit chilly for our liking, but a cheerful little adventure nonetheless.
I’ve wanted to go to Budapest since I arrived in Vienna, but had decided to wait until the weather improved (proved fruitless, of course) before I hopped on the bus from Schwedenplatz for the four-hour long journey. So when Katie announced that she was coming to visit me in Austria for a week, we decided to squeeze in a little mini-break (a holiday from a holiday, in Katie’s case) and just go.
In order to keep this post comprehensible and not just a flurry of pictures and silly jokes, I’m going to divide it into three parts, kicking off with –
Our House In Budapest
Do you see what I did there?
I’ve always thought George Ezra paints such a romantic and exotic picture of Budapest in his song, which is part of the reason I was so desperate to go. Here’s a picture of our front door:
I’m joking, in actual fact. This was a door I saw on the last day and just had to take a picture of because it’s so idyllic. I think if George did ever make it to Budapest, and hadn’t missed the train (he wrote the song because he never actually made it there. Is your mind blown? Mine was), his door might have looked like this. THIS is our door:
If you are grimacing and wondering what possibly went wrong in our apartment-booking process, don’t worry. This door led into a courtyard full of very old but very cute little doors, which in turn led into very old and very cute little apartments.
As soon as we got into the little house, showered our bus-hair and changed into something a little less comfortable we felt much better, and ready to get out and explore the city in the dusky and fairly warm evening. Plus, the bed was fashioned like a little nest in a kind of upstairs on its own (right up my street) and we found a bottle of sparkling wine in the fridge, which would put anyone in an equally sparkling mood.
Anyway, off we went, which brings me onto:
Sights and ‘Things’
So between the first evening, plodding mesmerised around Pest (on the right side of the Danube) and the second day of intensive sight-seeing in Buda, we managed to walk over twenty-five kilometres, according to Katie’s trusty pedometer, and saw – well lots of ‘things’.
- The Opera House
This was one of the busiest streets we ended up on, and I must say, I loved the buzz about the place and the yellow taxis zipping about the place. Actually while we’re praising the choice of taxi colour, we might take the opportunity to mention traffic in general. Mad, to sum up.
I happened to drift off for a bumpy snooze on the bus journey, leaving Katie to brush up on her gangster lingo watching Straight Out of Compton, and when I woke up she congratulated me on managing to miss the nightmare that was changing lanes on Budapest roads. “They just swerve in and out whenever they feel like it”, she said incredulously. At the Opera we witnessed somebody reverse at quite some speed up the road for at least 400 metres, for no fathomable reason. Aside from that, much like in Ireland, people dash hopefully across roads when there seems to be a slight break in the flow of traffic – something I must say I miss about home. The Viennese just loll about at the side of the road even if the way is completely clear as far as the eye can see, waiting for the lights to go green. That’s just not my way. I prefer the Budapest way.
2. The Parliament Buildings
We pottered along to the parliament after dinner and glass of wine (*cough* on top of the other bottle at the house) at night time, to find a gang of little glowing giraffes at the front, celebrating an exhibition that was being hosted at Budapest Zoo. The parliament building is one of the oldest legislative buildings in Europe, as well as the largest building in Budapest (it is bloody massive). Most impressive – I might even say magical.
This sad-looking chap, who is actually Lajos Kossuth, leader of the Hungarian War of Independence in the 19th century, also greeted us as we approached the mammoth building. Aside from being a very meaningful and impressive sculpture, he perfectly captures the state of the two of us waiting for the bus home on the last day. Down, but not beaten.
3. The Palace
The first port of call on Saturday morning was to grab breakfast before heading over the bridge to Buda and up the hill to the citadel, then onward to the palace.
Well, it was a steep old climb, though in fairness it didn’t last that long and offered plenty of opportunity for photos along the way.
I think these are my favourite two pictures of Katie – the first one is so idyllic and beautiful, with just two lone bits of rubbish on the ground slightly ruining the picturesque-ness of the scene. And in the second one Katie’s gently telling me to stop laughing and hand over the camera, but actually it seems like she’s inviting me into her rubbish den. I got into the rubbish den with her anyway.
Anyway, on we trekked until we got to the Citadel, a four-metre high structure built under the Hapsburg monarchy, which actually I didn’t take any picture directly of because it’s so tall that it’d be hard to make out what it was.
After getting lost numerous times and walking up the wrong paths back to the bloody Citadel, we eventually managed to reach the gorgeous palace, from which you can see the whole city.
The palace itself was completed in 1265 and housed all the kings of Budapest since (obviously -where else would they be? Hardly in our little apartment with the nest.) It has an extensive history involving countless destructions and reconstructions through the ages and the Austrian Monarchy and all sorts, but since I am not a historian and I’ve already been writing this for bloody ages I won’t go into detail. Just visit it. Soak up the atmosphere. Have an ice cream in front of it. Simple. We did find a very nice couple who overheard me saying to Katie, as we stood beside a massive modern art installation in the middle of the gardens, ‘Where the hell are we?’ and decided to inform us all about the place. They also directed us to their favourite cake shop and to the Rudas Baths, which I’ll now move onto (*resounding cheer of ‘THANK GOD. GET ON WITH IT’*)
4. The Rudas Baths
I’m very sorry but I have no pictures of our trip to the baths because strangely it’s illegal to take your phone into a swimming pool and take sneaky pics of everyone in their budgie smugglers. But I will describe the experience nice and clearly to you, so you can imagine it for yourself and feel like you were there.
After trudging approximately twelve kilometres across various hills and palace gardens, we slowly and tiredly made our way to the Rudas Baths, which the Palace Garden Couple told us was the oldest and most culturally rich of the Budapest Baths. That I don’t doubt – the indoor baths, built in the 15th century, resembled something of a tiled cave, thick with steam and glistening bodies. That sounds like everyone in there was dead – they weren’t. There were just a lot of people compressed into the five pools of different temperatures, and the sauna, in which you really could only stay three minutes before you needed to tip a barrel of ice water on yourself outside (cue lots of squealing). Amid the elderly regulars sprawled beneath water fountains and couples flirting on the steps, including one fellow who appeared to be smuggling a Kinder Pingui in his shorts, Katie and I splashed about and planned our Palinka-infused evening ahead, before clambering out and back to the apartment, ready for a bottle of Pinot Noir.
Now, we’ve done ‘sights and things’ and I kind of feel like the next section should be:
Food (and markets, I suppose)
So we kind of ate a lot while we were in Budapest. The thing is, you can eat like a king on your normal budget at home (we’re talking two euro glasses of good wine, we’re talking 70c per scoop for gelato) and obviously we weren’t going to stay in to cook, since we were only there for such a short time. So on the second morning, on the way to the palace, we accidentally stumbled into a little market place where Katie was coerced by a very enthusiastic bee-keeping chap to buy some of his home grown tea leaves (which was possibly the single most expensive thing either of us bought while there).
He really had tea to cure any ailment – as well as some lovely homemade honey in various flavours. For some reason bee-keeping seems to be a top passtime in Budapest. We encountered a few beekeepers during our stay. That’s something I never thought I’d say.
Something else we encountered was a lot of pig-based products. As in, dried and cured meat everywhere. As a vegetarian I found it quite difficult to find places offering food aside from fifteen different types of traditional Hungarian-cooked meat, thus creating a bit of fuss for us around dinnertime (sorry Katie). Still, we are troopers, and after the baths we ventured out and discovered a delightful little street-food market boasting numerous food vans and lots of veggie-friendly snacks.
Though we were a full bottle of red down and had some Palinka tucked in our handbags, we recognised that this place was super healthy, super cheap and super tasty, so it was 1o points to Ravenclaw, in my book (I’m a self-appointed Ravenclaw – that’s the explanation for that, if it confused you). After leaving this place in search for a ruin bar, we first encountered a delightful little bar called Chupito, which cruelly lured us in with the promise of fresh Mojitos that turned out to be the equivalent of €2.20 each. After a couple of mojitos and some sneaky Palinka (“One Palinka, two Palinka, three Palinka, FLOOR”), we gathered ourselves and went home, ready to hit the Ruin Bar Market in the morning.
So this Ruin Bar, called Szimpla, was a total gem, bang in the middle of the Jewish District. It was almost impossible to move for all the sugared nuts, truffle butter, dried meats, breads and honey (again), as well as locals doing their Sunday grocery run. The entire city closes down on a Sunday, so this is kind of the only place where you can pick up some emergency truffle butter. Thank goodness it exists.
The only thing we bought at this market was a stock of biscuits and cinnamon snails for the bus, which we promptly ate as soon as we left the place. Such is life. When in Budapest, eh?
So that pretty much concludes our little getaway to the Hungarian Capital. If you’re thinking of going, I’d suggest you try and pick a summer month so you can fully enjoy basking in the heat at the palace gardens and soak in the rooftop bath at Rudas. But despite the murky weather we had a super ole time.
And now I’d best be off – I’ve been at this for hours and I have errands to do like have a cup of tea and wash my hair.
Thanks for taking the time to read, and see you next time,