Let me begin by saying that Hungarian men are seriously underrated. The general worldwide consensus seems to be that Italian men are the best looking, most charming etc etc. I say, Pshaw! No one holds a candle to the Magyars. I’m not even kidding.
(If I made anyone uncomfortable with that declaration, I am truly sorry, but the world needs to know.)
Budapest was the city where I realised what a dumbass thing it is to not note down the address of the hostel I plan to spend the night at. Till then, I had been reaching new cities in the day time, so I had plenty of time to walk around and find free wifi, and find the exact location of my host or hostel. I reached Budapest after 11pm. It was also the first city in Europe where I came across touts. Not too aggressive, but, yes, enough to freak me out. I had no local currency, and the Hungarian language is very, VERY different from any other, so I didn’t even know how to say ‘Hello’ (or ‘Help’!).
Well, we know that story ended happily because I’m writing this now, which means I evidently got out of that ordeal (it may sound ‘meh’ now, but trust me, at that time I wanted to kick myself) safely. For future reference, ‘Good Day’ (used interchangeably with ‘Hello’) in Hungarian is Jo Napot Kovanok or Szia (unlike the variations of Dobryden that are used in all the neighbouring countries- Poland- dzień dobry, Slovakia- dobrý deň, Slovenia, and even Croatia- dober dan), and ‘Help’ is Segitseg. I would never have guessed.
The reason behind this, the reason the Hungarian language is so different, is the Mongolian invasion (like Attila the HUN and HUNgarian). As far as I remember from the tours (why the hell didn’t I write stuff down???), Hungarian is distantly related to Finnish, Estonian, and the logic of the language slightly matches that of Chinese. I can’t find any info on the internet to back any of these things up, so I’m not going to say anything more. Maybe I’m getting my facts mixed up. (I’m getting more and more confused the more research I do. I distinctly remember the guide telling us all about the Mongols, and I can’t seem to find anything that agrees with that theory. Hmmm…)
Anyway, as I always practice what I preach, I went on a bunch of Free Walking Tours to learn as much as I could about the city. The first guide was Endre of Free Walking Tours, Budapest. I started off with the Original Walking tour in the morning, and did the Jewish District tour in the evening with him as well. The next day, I took 2 more tours- a Communism tour in the evening with the same company as the day before, and an Orientation tour in the morning with Free Budapest Tours.
Like most other cities with rivers, Budapest also has its own version of the everlasting love waala locks. What’s unusual here though, is that the locks were not on the bridges, but instead on a tree-guard several hundred metres from the river. Why? Well, in case you want to change your mind, it gives you enough time to think about it while you walk to the river to toss the key into it 😉 There were a bunch of combination locks as well. Oh, this generation 😛
The tours were quite exhaustive and exhausting. They’re usually 3ish hours of non-stop walking, and those days were HOT!
Buda is the hilly side of Budapest (Buda + the flat side, Pest, on either side of the river Danube together form Budapest), and the view of Pest from Buda hill is magnificent.
I think the Parliament building is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen.
This here, is the Four Seasons hotel. It was earlier The Gresham Palace, and since it’s a historical building, they don’t really mind tourists wandering into the lobby and taking some pictures and leaving. I did plan to do that, in fact, I even planned to have a coffee there, but I have awesome time management skills.
This weeping willow is a Holocaust Memorial. Every leaf has names of Hungarian victims etched into it. It is within the complex of the largest Synagogue in Europe (and the second largest in the world)- Dohany Street Synagogue.
This very odd structure looks like, to me, the eye of a needle. But actually, it’s the ‘0’ point of Budapest, that is, all distances are measured from here. So, if you type ‘Budapest’ in your Google Maps, it’s going to display the distance to this point. The guide said there’s no apparent logic behind this position, it’s not the centre of Budapest, or Pest or Buda, or anything significant for that matter.
When we were walking around Buda hill, we saw this car. It seemed quite nondescript, till curiosity got the better of us and we walked closer to see what the piece of paper taped to the window said.
Budapest is famous for its ‘Ruin Pubs’. Anyone I had mentioned Budapest to always said ‘Ooooo… You must go to the Ruin Pubs.’ And I was always like… WHAT ARE RUIN PUBS???
A lot of buildings were destroyed during World War II. Though many have been renovated, there are still many in various states of disrepair. You can see bullet holes clearly in a lot of those buildings. Now because these buildings obviously had very low rents, entrepreneuring youngsters took them over and converted them to pubs, and, so, Ruin Pubs were born.
The picture right above is not a ruin pub, but it’s one of the many buildings in the area where, if you look closely, you can see bullet holes. The bear below was painted in one of the pubs. And I JUST realised that the positioning of the bullets is rather amusing 😉 I wonder if that was intentional.
I’m quite superstitious when it comes to asking for something, like, I never make wishes. I’m a firm, firm believer of ‘Be Careful What You Wish For, It Might Just Come True’, and I think I’m plenty content with how my life is. No wishes for me, thank you. BUT that doesn’t mean I pass up any opportunity for good luck. So when I saw this (admittedly androgynous-looking) Little Princess here with shiny knees, I used up all my will power trying to restrain myself from lunging at her at that very moment. I looked all nonchalant and sophisticated about it at that time, but made sure to come and grab her knees later when I was done with the tour.
Budapest has a FRIGGING AWESOME Farmer’s Market. I LOVE these kind of things. Seriously! My funda is to visit a supermarket in every city (or atleast country) and it gives me an idea of the place. You really can learn a lot about a place and its people just based on their markets. My love for Farmer’s Markets is partly an extension of that.
And partly the feeling of my eyes drooling when I see such displays. (That was not a typo. Drooling Eyes, it should be a thing.)
Buda has this Liberty statue on the top of Gellert Hill. I had some time to kill so I decided to go visit it. Fun Fact- Doesn’t this statue look like a bottle opener? A beer bottle opener? 😀
It was a long hard walk up. Well, not really, but it was 42+ degrees Celsius.
I nearly died. I was sweating like never before (okay, exaggeration, but it was quite bad).
And just to prove that I actually did make it to the top… Here’s a picture OF me.
And here’s a picture BY me.
The top of the hill has displays of war weapons. Tanks and the like. And with the walk, I had just earned the right to take silly photos, so…
I approached some random lady with a little kid to take this picture for me (the one above)… And funnily enough, she just took for granted that I speak her language and began full-on conversing with me in Italian. So, here we are in Hungary of all places, and here I am- completely toasty brown, CLEARLY not even remotely European, and this woman assumes that I speak ITALIAN?! I just happened to understand what she was saying (after 6 months in Italy it would have been a shame to fail at that), and managed to get away with my dignity intact. But I did find it very strange.
On a completely unrelated note, I love it when I see a sign of India anywhere. Look! Our very own Swift 🙂
I spent 3 full days in Budapest and I think my itinerary was quite efficient. Day 1 and 2 were the walking tours and a lot of wandering around by myself. Ideally, I would have liked to go to one of Budapest’s famous thermal baths on Day 3, but it was just TOOO hot. I went for a Caving Tour instead (a post on that coming up soon) and it was MORE than amazing. I didn’t have a camera so I asked this Finnish girl to send me any pictures she took but she still hasn’t And I don’t even know her name to hunt her out somehow.
There are a few things I wish I had done better though… One regret is that I missed a trip to Margaret Island. The other one… I didn’t experience any of Budapest’s ‘awesome’ nightlife. That’s one of the few disadvantages of Couchsurfing… I can’t stay out as late as I’d like cause it’s terrifying to walk back at 1am in a strange city. I’ve never dared try. I’m not a very ‘night-out’ person, but it would be nice occasionally.
Oh well, next time.
The church above is St Stephen’s Basilica, named after (surprise!) Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary. This Basilica and the Parliament building are the two tallest buildings in Budapest- both at 96 metres, symbolising that religion and state are equal. Nothing is allowed to be taller than 96 metres. The square around it is St Stephen’s Square (Szent Istvan ter), and is full of cafes and restaurants (hello, free wifi 😀 ).
What’s the significance of the 96? The Magyars arrived and settled here in the year 896. So, that’s when Hungary was formed.
I have a ritual of sending a postcard home from every city I visit, and since I’m SO organised, I’m usually running around like a headless chicken on the last day, frantically trying to find stamps and a postbox 10 minutes before I’m due to board the bus or train or ferry or car or plane. (In a LOT of cases I’ve just handed the postcard to a waiter at a restaurant with some money for the stamp- they’ve all thankfully reached home, nice people 🙂 ).
So, anyway, I was particularly stressed that day because it was a Sunday and near impossible to find someplace could buy stamps from, AND I was about to hitchhike a long distance for the first time (intentionally). And that’s when I saw this character, and totally freaked out.
It was a sculpture.
I stayed at Home Made Hostel for one night, and couchsurfed the next three. The hostel was amaaazing! I think I need to publish a post with hostel reviews. Some were really worth writing about, while some are best avoided.
And in case anyone is wondering what’s with the title of this post… Budapest is actually pronounced Budapesht. Saying BudapeSt is a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist, because PEST means the Plague, so no local is going to say it that way.
I loved Budapest. Sometimes, sometimes, if I contemplate staying on in Europe or looking for a job or internship here, Budapest is the first city that comes to mind (along with Berlin and maybe Ljubljana). But, Budapest was also one of the only cities where I felt slightly uncomfortable walking back at night. I do text home to let my parents know I’m safely tucked in every night, but I usually do it for their peace of mind. Here, I was doing it for my own sake because I felt a little insecure. Don’t get me wrong… There was NEVER any hint of danger, or even racism (which I am rather paranoid about), but I just felt a minor sense of jitters within me when I was walking from the centre to my host’s place.
Budapest is a wonderful city- there’s history, culture, nightlife, shopping, tons of outdoor activities and incredible food! And it’s cheap too! A local referred me to Oktogon Bizstro, and I went there for dinner one night. 3 Euros, all you can eat. THREE!! I was so shocked (and ate so much), I tipped them another 3 Euros. But even for 6 Euros, it was a lot of food!
A story we were told during the Communist tour really stuck with me. While the Iron Curtain was in place, it was very difficult to be allowed to go to the non-Communist countries. You were allowed to go for some days maybe once in three years. Our guide (Anita) has a friend who was around 7 when this incident happened to her family. They had gone to Austria and saw bananas there. They were completely in awe and bought a lot of those ‘exotic’ fruits for friends and family back home. So when they were (unsurprisingly) stopped at the border with accusations of trying to smuggle stuff in and were asked to either throw the bananas away or eat them, this kid and her parents ATE all the tens of bananas they had. She hasn’t touched a banana ever since.
When I told anyone in those post-Communist countries about Communist parties in India, I usually got a very strong reaction because they couldn’t imagine how I could be so casual about it. Isn’t it weird to imagine what life was like for them during Communist times?