The Paris of the East – Budapest

From Zagreb we took a 5 hour bus ride into Budapest. Luckily, the ride went very smoothly and we had a little room to spread out so it was well worth saving the money traveling by bus. Our first impression of the area in which we arrived was honestly not great as it was deeply in need of restoration, as was the train that was to take us into Budapest. Good thing for us, our travels so far have definitely shown us that first impressions are not always right and we were determined to give Budapest a fighting chance.

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Budapest, as we would later learn on our free walking tour, is the result of the merger of two cities in 1873, Buda and Pest (Pronounced Pesht). Budapest lies on the beautiful blue Danube, which, though it is the second longest river in all of Europe, Budapest is the first city we had visited to make that claim. On first impression, the city itself reminded me a lot of Prague as both are a little rough around the edges. The best way I have heard Budapest described is as a “faded beauty.” It was clearly a once beautiful city that through time and without continuous restoration has since lost some of that beauty. Though it sounds like a negative strike on the city, I for one think that this serves to add a lot of character to the city, more of a rich patina than an ugly rust.

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The first day was a work day for Lauren so I took off on my own to go to a popular museum in the city called the House of Terror. The museum is located at the infamous building at Andrássy út 60. At one time it was headquarters to both the former secret police of Hungary, as well as Hungary’s Nationalist Party, the Arrow Cross Party, which is infamous for its similarities to the Nazi Party in Germany. The museum also has exhibits which relate to the fascist and communist regimes that controlled Hungary. Part of the museum takes place in the basement of the building where Hungary’s special police often detained, interrogated, tortured or killed its enemies.

By Tbachner - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5688688
House of Terror (Picture from Wikipedia, credit Tbachner)

The museum was really informative, though at times too much so, each room requiring you to read a huge block of single-spaced informational text. The intense atmosphere of the museum mirrors the somewhat gruesome and often horrifying subject matter, though it often bordered on heavy handed. Also, there are a lot of things in the museum that have not been translated into English so I don’t feel I got as comprehensive an understanding of the history it presented as I would have liked; I think I would definitely enjoyed it more if I decided to purchase an audio guide. In spite of the museums flaws, the horrors of those regimes and their roles in the history and molding of Hungary must be told. In that way, I found my visit to be a valuable experience.

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Buda Castle

The next morning we of course had to do another free walking tour. At one of our first stops, our tour guide showed us St. Stephen’s Basilica. The basilica’s claim to fame being that it holds the mummified right hand of the first king of Hungary, Stephen, who brought Christianity to Hungary.

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St. Stephen’s Basilica

From there we walked across the famous Chain Bridge. More than just the first permanent bridge to cross the Danube, the Chain Bridge is a symbol of the city and the connection between Pest and Buda which allowed the cities to become one. It is also by far the most photographed bridge in the city.

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Chain Bridge

On the Buda side of the Danube, we ended up in the castle district, a district of the city nestled on top of a nearby hill which has amazing panoramic views of the city and sits directly across the city’s gorgeous and iconic Parliament building. The castle district is home to the Fisherman’s Bastion, an enormous complex on top of the hill that, of all the buildings I have seen thus far looks the most like Hogwarts. The stunning building has seven towers that symbolize the seven clans that banded together in 896 to found the city. It is truly an enchanting piece of architecture that adds a lot of character to the hill side. After, our tour was capped off by a visit to the beautiful Matthias Church, a Gothic church surrounded by the walls of the bastion.

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Matthias Church
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Parliament Building

That night, though neither of us our huge fans, we decided to go to a buffet. We originally wanted to visit a regular restaurant, but after seeing reviews for the restaurant (and that it had free unlimited alcohol!), we thought it would be a unique experience in that it would allow us to try several different Hungarian specialties in a single meal. The meal was everything we had expected and more as we left fully satisfied with our bellies filled with goulash, chicken paprikash, quark, and much more!

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View from the Fisherman’s Bastion

One of the popular spots to go to in Budapest to experience its nightlife are to places called ruinpubs. The first and biggest of the 20 or so ruinpubs is called Szimpla Kert which luckily for us was on our way home from the buffet. Ruinpubs are unique in that they are built and hidden away in the ruins of old, abandoned buildings. They are often filled with random items bought from flea markets and are painted with graffiti and lit up with multi-colored lights rather than fixtures. Szimpla Kert itself was such an amazing place to hangout. It is completely massive and decorated head to toe with extremely eclectic decor, including an old Trabant brand car you can sit and drink in. At night it is extremely dark which gives the pub an underground feeling, its unmarked location hiding it from the uninitiated . The bar has an extremely atmospheric feeling to it with its lack of lighting and quirky, sometimes strange, decorum. It was definitely a unique and amazing experience. Even if only to visit more ruinpubs, I would love to go back to the city.

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Szimpla Kert (from their Facebook)
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Fisherman’s Bastion

One of the largest draws to visiting Budapest is to visit the thermal spas that are abundant throughout the city. The spas are supplied by natural thermal springs from which water is drawn up from deep under the earth’s surface. There are many therapeutic benefits to visiting these springs and since Budapest is closer than any other city to these natural springs, it has become a popular activity in the city to go to them. There are a large number of spas throughout the city, but we decided to go to the Széchenyi Spa which is one of the largest, oldest, and most popular baths for tourists in Budapest. This spa in particular is also known for its beautiful architecture. There are several different baths in the complex, both indoor and outdoor, each with a different temperature ranging from 75 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was very cold outside when we visited, so relaxing outside in the 100 degree water was an incredibly fun, unique, and relaxing experience.

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Széchenyi Outside

As a treat to ourselves for having to deal with the pain of not being with our families on Thanksgiving, we decided to treat ourselves to a unique experience offered at the spa and reserved time to visit a beer spa. A beer spa is a private tub where the water is mixed together with all the ingredients that make beer – each having their own benefits to the skin – where we were able to soak and relax, just the two of us. Beside the benefits to your skin, the other benefit of a beer spa is the unlimited beer you are able to have for the duration of your soak! It was a very worthwhile experience to do together and we had such an amazing time just enjoying each other’s company.

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Széchenyi Inside

Overall, I never imagined how much I would enjoy our time in Budapest as I absolutely fell in love with the city; it checked all the boxes for me in ways I never would have imagined. The city itself is incredibly unique and positively dripping with character, while its warm and friendly inhabitants were nothing short of fantastic. The atmosphere throughout the city is unique and vibrant, as well as one of the cheaper cities we have visited thus far. I would gladly recommend anyone visit the city as I cannot foresee any reason why a trip here could not result in a wonderful time. I would visit the city again in a heartbeat.

Nest up, Bratislava! Spoiler: it’s nothing like it is pictured in Eurotrip!

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