Dear Budapest,

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As always, but even more so with this trip, I wish I had more time! Three whole days in the beautiful city was not nearly enough. If you are looking for amazing (CHEAP!) food, stunning scenery and architecture as well as a raging nightlife, look no further than Budapest, Hungary. There’s nowhere in the world like it. (Very open to be proven wrong though). Disclaimer, some of the pictures in this blog post were taken by my very talented roommate Cata. Go give her Instagram a wee look!

This trip, I went with Cata (left) and Cata’s best friend from Chile, Clau (right)! Over the few days that we spent together, I grew more and more inspired by their creativity, intelligence and all around bad-assery. Cata did the Camino De Santiago in Spain BEFORE her three month study abroad trip and Clau CAMPED for a month in the Chilean Patagonia just because! Meanwhile, I scrub my body for an hour after a three day camping trip. My aunt has always said that you are a combination of the 5 people that you surround yourself with and I wish that Chile wasn’t so far because I think it’d be really cool to have some of their greatest attributes in my personality as well.

Sample Itinerary

Friday:

9:00 – Tesco Run

11:00 – Exploring Buda

17:00 – Drum Cafe

21:00 – Bars and Clubs

Saturday:

12:00 – Gozsdu Weekend Market

3:00 – Drum Cafe

21:00 – Bars and Clubs

Sunday:

11:00 – Vajdahunyad Castle

3:00 – Tukory Etterem

4:00 – Parliament Building

6:30 – Danube River Tour

Budapest is a city with a rich history, to say the least. One of the aspects of this trip that I appreciated the most was who I traveled with. While we were waiting at the airport in Edinburgh, Cata was getting quite frustrated with herself because she didn’t know enough about Hungary. According to her, traveling is meaningless if you can’t put any context to anything that you see. I can’t say that I disagree.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend a guided tour for any of the attractions that we visited. So to compensate for that, she would read from various websites about the ever changing political climate, or about how the food came to be, or how the buildings were built/sustained even amid the World Wars. She and Clau, my other companion, were so knowledgable in the history of the Hapsburgs, and in Marxism and in all these things that I can recognize from the classes I’ve taken but for the life of me cannot completely recollect. I truly mean it when I say that it absolutely changes your traveling experience when you at least have some form of understanding about the how’s and the why’s.

Here is my very brief and surface-level understanding of the city. Budapest is actually a merge of three settlements: Buda, Pest and Óbuda. Nowadays, it’s more recognized as having two sides – Buda (the left side of the Danube River) and Pest (the right side of the Danube River). Buda is where the royal town used to be, so therein lies the Buda Castle, Matthias Church, Castle Gardens, and various museums. Pest used to be a prosperous trading center and is where the majority of the city-life is – the delicious restaurants, the night clubs, and other touristy things. Going into our trip, we actually wanted to dedicate Sunday to a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia. After Friday and Saturday though, we knew that there was way too much that we still wanted to do in Budapest to make that happen.

Making our way from our Airbnb to Buda was quick and easy. We decided to stay in Jewish Quarter/District 7, so it was a bit of a walk away but I’ll specify why this was the perfect place to stay later in the post. On our way there, we passed the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe, which is incredible considering which side Hungary was on during WWII. (well…it’s complicated…) It gives me so much hope for humanity. Unfortunately, the stars did not align and we were unable to visit the inside of the synagogue but someday, I hope I’ll be able to come back.

The streets were filled with tourists, especially since the Christmas markets were already being set up. We passed a small one, with no more than 20 booths, and I just know that I’ll love them even more if I see them at their full scale. Hand-painted ornaments waited to adorn trees. Piping-hot langosh passed from fryer to customer quicker than the speed of sound. Perfectly stacked sweets tantalized the children that passed by. Christmas markets were everything that I hoped they would be. They remind me of the Sawdust Festival, in Laguna Beach, California, something I could never get sick of, even if I go year after year.

As soon as we crossed the Chain Bridge, we were bombarded with tour promoters. Buda side definitely gives off a more “YOU ARE IN BUDAPEST” vibe, if that makes sense at all. The whole experience on Buda seemed very structured because there were only a few roads in the town and everything was centered around the attractions. We ended up succumbing to one of the promoters and for 7 euro each, we were able to get transportation to and from each of the four major points on Buda Side. We ended up only using it to get up and down the hill and not between places but it was worth it because that distance was quite far.

Buda

First stop, Buda Castle! Here’s the thing about Buda Castle. It’s not just one building. It’s an entire complex. We should have done way more research before going into Buda. The “castle” (singular) is made up of several (plural) buildings. There were three different museums, multiple-viewpoints and two buildings that I have no idea that they’re for. We walked around, confused and lost because of the sheer size of the buildings. This is probably the first country that I’ve been to that English is not a language known by most of the people. They primarily speak Dutch in Amsterdam but their english is also very good. We never had trouble communicating with broken english, pointing and lots of smiling but it was different being unable to understand the signs or what was being spoken around me.

This next story is incredibly embarrassing but I think it’s a really good lesson on the necessity of research! I’ve grown very lax in my travels and have paid the price for it. I’m all about going into a city and just figuring it out but now I really need to do more than just a bit of research. So long to free-spirited Rosa and hello again to planning expert Rosa!

So we were wandering around, trying to find the Buda Castle, which we assumed was one building. Finally seeing some security guards, army men and very professional looking cars, we thought that perhaps we found the front entrance to the castle. With confidence, we approached them and asked if this was the castle. They nodded yes and started to laugh. Unfazed, I plowed ahead and asked if it was open today. We had seen that there was a guided tour that came with the purchase of a ticket or something and like I mentioned, we wanted to learn! Because they didn’t speak much english, one had to translate to the other and they laughed even harder. They reply that they are closed. I persisted. Tomorrow? Sunday? Monday? They shake their hands and continue laughing.

We walked away, still confused. While explaining to them the situation, I was struck with the realization. Wait. Army. Security. Nice cars. Oh my goodness. I just tried to get into the Prime Minister’s Office. The Prime Minister of Hungary lives in the Buda Castle Complex. I just asked if his office is “open” and if my American tourist ass can come in. Might as well start writing my speech for stupidest tourist of 2019. So lesson has been learned, start planning things again! Life’s just been moving so fast that I’ve forgotten my roots in being obsessive with preparation. Now that this story is out on the world wide interwebs, I’m never going to be able to forget it, but hopefully you won’t either and you’ll learn from my mistakes!

Moving on from that, we went to Fisherman’s Bastion, which was built originally as a fortification system for the Buda Castle District as it was first being developed in the 1400s. The view is unparalleled. From the Bastion, you get a panoramic view of the Pest portion of the city and beyond. You see Margaret Island to the left, the Parliament Building and St. Stephen’s Basilica in front of you and then the rest of the city on the right. You look under you and around you and you feel the history through the stone. The Bastion was severely damaged once by nature’s abuse and then again during WWII. Each time, it was built up again and better than before.

Right next to Fisherman’s Bastion is Matthias Church. I have a big thing for churches but I have an even bigger thing for gothic churches with romanesque roots. From the outside, you are struck first with the unique tile placement on the roof. Then, when you go inside, your senses are overrun with color and light and shadow and how tall the church is and how perfectly the arches curve and enclose you in and it is just perfect. The style of architecture is completely unique to anything else that I’ve seen firsthand before. There is so much more color in Hungarian buildings that I thought there would be, but I’m not mad about it at all.

Our final stop in Buda was the Gardens. We weren’t able to wander around them too much because we started to grow a bit famished but as everything in Budapest – it was beautiful.

Pest

Before this trip, we only planned on having one night out in town. Nothing too crazy. I didn’t even pack clubbing clothes and I am usually always ready for a night out. I didn’t expect that Budapest would be so…for lack of a better word…lit. However, as soon as we made it to Szimpla Kert, one of the top ruin bars in Budapest, we knew that it would be impossible to truly experience the city without taking advantage of the raging night life.

Szimpla Kert is so weird but absolutely awesome. Honestly, I still don’t know exactly how to describe the place. I feel like it was a dump for all of those things that people throw out onto the street when they are moving house. There were random bathtubs everywhere, bike tires from the ceilings, typewriters attached to the wall – you name it, it’s probably in a nook or cranny somewhere there. Yet, it totally worked. The vibe was spot on. You could be celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary or going out for your mate’s 21st birthday and still have an equally amazing time. It’s just one of those places.

After that, we decided that we wanted to go for some dancing and boy oh boy. Instant Club: 2 buildings, 6 bars, 3 dance floors, 2 gardens. It doesn’t matter who you are or whether or not you like to party. JUST GO!! We stayed out until 4AM for two nights in a row. As someone who is very particular about dance music, I can confidently say that the best DJs that I have ever seen were at Instant Night Club. When my current favorite song by Meduza (give it a listen) played, I legitimately almost cried because it’s been on repeat for the past two months for me and I haven’t ever heard it played in Scotland. Glasgow needs to hire these DJs (or hire me) because Hungarians know how to properly party.

Remember how I said that staying in District 7 was a really smart move? We were at most a ten minute walk away from Instant Club and only around the corner from Szimpla Kert. Also, oddly enough, our street was not rowdy at all, even though we were so close to all the bars and clubs. Our Airbnb was in a complex with residents that seemed to all have families and jobs to get to so it was very nice happy medium. If you are going to party or go on pub crawls late at night, I’d really recommend looking for a place close to the bars that you want to go to, rather than close to the places you want to go during the day. In Ireland, it was a 30 minute walk from the last bar to our hostel. How we got home safely, I have no idea. However, both nights in Budapest, we barely had to walk half a mile to get home!

Because we partied both Friday and Saturday night, our mornings were a bit harder to get going. We knew after Friday night that we had to make the choice to party again or to have the energy to do many of the tourist-y things that we also wanted to do. We chose the partying and I don’t regret it because I think I’m at the age and point in my life where I’m not in too much of a rush to experience everything. At 20, I can physically and mentally keep up with the partying but I’m not sure if i’d be willing to do that if I’m traveling with my husband or with my kids. I’m really lucky to be able to travel right now with no responsibility, no long-term relationship and a fair amount of money in my pocket. It’s going to be a while before I’m able to up and go like this again, if at all, but I think that finding the joy of traveling so early means that I have years ahead of me to plan for it.

Of course, it would have been nice to be able to see inside the synagogue, Parliament building, or to go to the thermal baths, but both nights at Instant will forever be some of the best times of my life. Besides, I will do everything in my power for an opportunity to take my parents or my future family to Budapest again. It’s been my favorite destination so far!

Back to the wholesome content… After our first night out, we wandered around the Gozsdu Weekend Market, a passage way full of hand embroidered tea towels, soviet collectibles and jewelry makers. I love finding these small markets where you get to meet locals and really see what they’re passionate about. We saw an old man that collected stamps from every Olympics in the past sixty or so years. He had them in books and separated them from country to country, era to era. It sounds like a dream to spend your weekends people watching and sharing your passion with others.

Vajdahunyad Castle is straight from a fairytale. There’s the idyllic lake wrapping around the grounds, the bridge leading to the massive entrance, and of course grand staircases that lead to even grander rooms. It seems with all the castles that I see, I never expect them to be how they are. Like Edinburgh Castle, Vajdahunyad Castle is surrounded by apartment complexes and very close to the main road. It’s crazy for me to think that people live no more than a stone throw’s away from a whole freaking castle! I guess that’s the appeal of traveling/moving to Europe for me. You don’t have to look too far to find a piece of history or a beautiful castle!

The weekend that we were there, the castle decided to gift us with a beautiful Orchid festival. For someone with a black thumb, I sure love flowers. It was a massive affair, with different types of orchids (even carnivorous orchids) on display, brought to life behind a velvet rope and bright spotlights. 60 year old women stuck their phones right up to the orchids, ooh-ing and aah-ing at how strong and healthy the flowers were. It was as if I was seeing myself through a time-traveling machine 40 years into the future. The funniest part was that the husbands were all clustered around the few chairs available, holding floral print scarfs, Coach purses and jackets way too small to be their own. I think that’s a deal breaker for me. Are you willing to hold my things while I take pictures of flowers for hours and drag you along? Yes? You sure? Confirmed: soulmate.

While we were exploring the grounds, there were sudden bursts of very strong winds. As we are in the middle of Autumn (there are SEASONS here!), the leaves started to fall. I wish I had a higher quality video camera to capture the moment. It was the first time that I witnessed magic.

Quick! Funny story. Near the entrance, they were offering a view in one of the towers for 300 HUF, which is about 1 Euro. Paying the price, we climbed up some stairs and were lead to this room, where there were photographs and illustrations about the damage and subsequent renovations that the castle had to go through following the wars. My friends went through the door to the outside first and I trailed along at my own pace. Stepping across the threshold, I was calm and cool until I looked up and saw THIS:

Excuse my french but WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?? WHY IS THAT THERE??

I am still just so confused as to why there is a dummy on this viewpoint. I understand having a scarecrow in a field so that the crows don’t peck at the crop but we tourists are supposed to pay the 300 HUF to go to the top of the tower! Why is the dummy there!?! Also, why is the dummy fully dressed with tied shoe laces?! I’m just confused.

This was the view from the platform though. Quite pretty.

We ended off the trip on a very good note. Even though my nose felt like it was going to freeze off and my hair turned into a rat’s nest from the wind, the Danube River Tour was well worth it. It was only 10 Euro a person! We were given a glass of Vino Caldo (mulled wine) and a beautiful view of both Buda and Pest. I thought to myself: when are we ever going to get this view again? I don’t think it’s necessarily about making every second in your life matter but it’s about knowing which seconds do matter. You’re going to have the occasional day where all you did was make yourself a Cup Noodle and watch Mind Hunter. (I’ve had way too many of those but let’s not get into that) That’s okay! I’ve forced it into my head so much that every day has to matter and if it doesn’t, then I’m not living. That would require me to be on my A-game 24/7 for my whole life, which is just foolish! It seems that every year that I grow older, I have more of these seconds that matter and that thought makes me incredibly happy.

One of the biggest disappointments of this trip was not being able to go inside St. Stephen’s Basilica or the Hungarian Parliament. We were on our way to the Basilica but unfortunately found out that it was closed and we were unable to book a tour with the Parliament and they only allow in visitors via guided tours. I would have never been in this situation a year ago. I would have made sure that I had tickets for the exact time that I wanted. I would have made sure that I knew how much time it would take to walk to every site and about how much time I would spend at each.

I wish that I was like that on this trip. I had so much fun and I don’t regret any moment of it but I think, especially with my last few trips as well, that if I had only just taken the reigns and let myself plan instead of trying to match everyone else’s pace, I could have gotten so many more things done with the same amount of time. With my next trips to Rome, Paris and London, I’m trying to structure my time a bit more since those cities are so overwhelming. At least with the places that I’ve been before, I’ve done 85%+ of all the things that I’ve wanted to do so I can confidently say that I had a good trip. However, with the big cities, there’s no way that I will be able to do even most of the things on my bucket list so I just have to pick and choose and make sure that I choose the right things.

This picture doesn’t do Buda Hill at night justice!

Who would have thought that Hungarian food would beat out every other type of cuisine that I’ve ever had in my life? Cheese, paprika, bread, pasta, more cheese, paprika, pasta, bread, even more cheese, paprika. I’m drooling just looking at these pictures. We were trying to find an authentic Hungarian restaurant to try and for the three of us including drinks, our meal only cost about 35 Euro. We loved it so much that we ate at the same restaurant twice! So amazing. Phenomenal. See pictures below.

Here’s about a chart about Hungarian food/Drinks that I had way too much fun making:

FoodIn a sentence or two…My advice:
LangoshBREAD CHEESE SOUR CREAM BREAD CHEESE PAPRIKABREAKFAST LUNCH AND DINNER
GulashPeanut. Chicken. Paprika. Light Broth. Flavorgasm.EAT IT EAT IT EAT IT EAT IT
NokedliGnocchi but lighter and more egg-ySCOOP & CHEW SCOOP & CHEW
GyrosBest 4am decision I’ve ever madeAre you drunk? Are you tired? Are you in Budapest? Just get the damn Gyros.
Soproni#BeerwiththebrosWDYM YOU DON’T LIKE BEER
PalinkaSmells like rubbing alcohol but tastes like fruit. Take Caution.hard pass. never again. will die if consumed. steer clear. danger zone.

Ending Remarks

Budapest, I love you so! Your culture, your food, your people – everything! I hope that I see you again soon and by soon I mean tomorrow, preferably! I write a postcard to my parents with every city that I visit. I usually tell them what happened with excitement and they respond with an equal amount of happiness that I experienced what I did. Yet, as I wrote the words “one day in the future, I want to bring you here to visit this beautiful city”, I couldn’t stop crying. In Vietnamese, those words bring even more emotion because they carry a sense of longing and “far-awayness” if that makes sense. I wish so much to be able to share my experiences with them. I wish that I could show them that all of their hard work has not been in vain and that every wrinkle on their face and every ache in their neck for me has been worth it. If traveling for myself is not enough incentive for me to work my ass off for the next few years, taking my parents to places like these will be.

Wow this was an incredibly long post. Almost 4000 words! If you got to the end of this, you’re a true homie and you should go to Budapest. Everyone should! Goodbye for now, Budapest. Next stop, Rome!

Egészségére!

Rosa xoxo

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