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Budapest is made up of two cities – the hilly, quieter Buda and the lively Pest. Originally, Buda was where the royalty lived and Pest was for all 99%. They merged in the 1870s, with the beautiful blue Danube running between them.
We didn’t explore Buda too much because it seemed very quiet, almost empty. Perhaps it’s because we went to Buda on a Sunday. Perhaps we didn’t go to the right part of Buda. After climbing a massive hill and checking out the Buda Castle, we walked through a giant tunnel and came out the other side expecting to find streets full of shops and cafes and people. And we found nada. We walked around for half an hour, not finding but one open pub, where we stopped for a refreshing drink, to assess a map and figure out what to do next. (Hint: we went back to Pest).
Quick story before we leave Buda: We didn’t want to wait in the funicular line (picture 1), so we decided to just hike up. We walked up a long road, then followed the creepy handwritten sign (above), up some stairs, then up a long slanted footpath up the hill. But when we saw how far we had to go (picture 2) , I almost wanted to give up; my legs were shaking! This couple (picture 3) were in front of us and watched as we stopped walking up the paved path and just climbed up the side of a hill, digging our feet into the previously-made dirt foot handles and pulling ourselves by tree roots (picture 4). At the top, I wanted to die (picture 5) but the view was worth it. The guy from the couple followed us as his girlfriend called after him, “Stop! What are you doing? I can’t climb up that thing!” He got to the top, took a picture of the view, and hollered down to her, “Yes you can! Just come on up!” She hollered back about how she wasn’t gonna do it and was ready to stomp off up the longer, “official” path. “She seems pretty mad, man,” I say to him, as we pass him and go up to the front of the castle. “Yeah, she is,” he said, sighing. I didn’t see the end of what was probably a little lover’s tiff, but I did see her climb up the hill our way. 🙂
Okay back to Pest. Isn’t that pretty?
St. Stephen’s Basilica is one of the prettiest churches! We had to visit twice since the first day there was a wedding (!!) going on and the second day there was a church service. But eventually we got to see the inside in full and it did not disappoint.
Our AirBNB was exactly what we needed: cheap and in the center of the inner city so it was central and made getting around super easy. Highly recommend (here’s the link if you are interested). It was super secure, too, with a door code to get into the building, 100 stairs to climb, a gate to open, and two locks on the door. Haha. Our hosts were friendly, communicative and helpful. The apartment was roomier than I expected, with lots of light, and all of the basic amenities that you could need, including a working fan. One thing that was unexpected, however, was the number of stinkbugs we had to fight off! On our last night in town, after capturing nearly 30 of those suckers, we had to shut the beautiful big windows before going to bed 😦
The ruins bars were fun. We only went to two (Szimpla Kert and Koleves Kert) and then to the open-air Karavan food court beer garden. Both bars were very chill, full of people of all ages, including families with kids. We saw plenty of young, college types and backpackers, but also lots of older, more mature travelers. We don’t know if there were many locals at these places or not but we heard a wide mix of languages.
Lots of public spaces for people to gather and hang out. No open container laws. Very chill attitude of the locals hanging out. We didn’t see anyone get out of hand. The police are present without looming. Our first night in town, we found this random public park area in the inner city, and it was lively without being loud, full of teens eating ice cream and groups of young people hanging out. A bunch of guys showing off on their bikes. Another group comparing their motorcycles. Some groups had guitars. Others were content with their bottles of wine. There seemed to be no separation between the surrounding restaurants and bars and open park areas. Everyone could be out without spending the money it costs to ‘go out.’ Very cool, very laid back.
We went to City Park, home of Vajdahunyad Castle and a thermal bath, and apparently a zoo! None of which we explored because we stumbled upon a festival as we strolled past the castle. Justin got to eat some sausage and drink cheap local beer while I tried a weird and wonderful pastry called a chimney cake. It was a good afternoon.
Converting to Forints required a calculator. 274 forints per dollar (though the exchange rate varied depending on how we paid. Sometimes it came out to 240 or 265). You order some food, and the total is in the thousands. It cost nearly 7000 forints to get to the city center from the airport. Many places would helpfully post prices in both forints and euros, giving us a fast conversion that was close to dollars. But we pulled our phones out often to do math.
Budapest has Eastern Europe’s largest Jewish population. We saw many Hasidic Jews walking around, and there were several beautiful synagogues, such as this one. The big party district is oddly enough also the big Jewish district. There are several statues and memorials for the victims of the holocaust, including the House of Terror, a museum about the atrocities committed during the communist and fascist regimes.
Food and beverages were inexpensive and delicious. Unless you were in a clear tourist area, prices were more than reasonable, usually veering into ‘cheap’ territory. Our roomy, safe, centrally-located AirBNB cost us $150 for 3 nights. Meals were all very affordable, so much that we never felt like we had to scrimp. Nicer, more expensive restaurants were still less expensive than their counterparts at home (for example, the pricy lunch we had cost us $35 for pasta, sushi, bottled water and a beer; and the more upscale restaurant where we had a quick bite one afternoon, cocktails were $7 and Justin’s meal was $15).
This city is beautiful from all angles. I mean, for real. There is something old and beautiful everywhere you look.
Have YOU been to Budapest? What your favorite part of the city? Have any crazy, weird, or unforgettable experiences? What advice do you have for first-time visitors?