Day 1: The Journey to the Center of the Universe... or at least it felt like it
Saturday morning kicked off bright and early when I caught the local train from Fredensborg with Geena at 7:51. We then took the S-Tog into Copenhagen and met Andrew at Copenhagen Central. From there we took a train to Malmo, Sweden, where we took a bus to Malmo Airport. We then flew to Budapest where we took a bus to the metro station, took one metro train and then switched to another before arriving at our final destination, the Black Sheep Hostel in Budapest. Grand total: 3 trains, 2 buses, 2 metros, 1 plane, 8-9 hours. That night we went on a hostel sponsored pub crawl to some Budapest ruin bars. Ruin bars are bars or clubs inside what appear to be rundown buildings. One of the coolest ones I found was Szimpla kert. Google it; Lonely Planet rated it the third best bar in the world.
Fun fact of the day: That night we went on the pub crawl with 8 Americans who are studying in Istanbul. One of them is in the same class as a high school classmate of mine that is also studying in Istanbul. Small world.
Bonus Fun Fact: The first metro we took was in all honesty, terrifying. It was my first time in eastern Europe and the metro train looked like a relic of the Soviet Bloc and completely out of place in the 21st century. Although my week in Budapest was amazing, I certainly had my doubts sitting on that first metro, especially after a long day of traveling.
Day 2: We'll Just Look It Up Later
Andrew, Geena and I spent Sunday tagging along with 6 of the other Americans, who were trying to see as much as possible as fast as possible because they were leaving very early the next day. This resulted in us essentially following the Hop On, Hop Off Bus route but without ever getting on a bus. All in all we walked nearly 15km throughout the day and saw Hungarian landmarks like Heroes' Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, Buda Castle, the Chain Bridge, and St. Stephen's Basilica, among others. While we were walking around, though, we pretty much just took pictures of things without knowing what they were and then looked them up afterward. I don't think the other Americans could have squeezed any more out of their one day in Budapest if they tried.
Fun Fact of the day: Kebab shops are everywhere in Budapest and they have both affordable and delicious gyros.
|The three stoodges at Heroes Square|
|St. Stephen's Basilica|
|Vajdahunyad Castle (Hogwarts Budapest Campus)|
|Buda Castle from Chain Bridge|
Day 3: That's an Interesting Smell
Another day of walking awaited us on Monday. Most of the people we had met had left for other places so the three of us headed out ourselves to the Great Market Hall. Along the way we passed one of the largest synagogues in the world and took a stroll down Vaci Utca, a walking mall similar to Stroget in Copenhagen or a larger version of Church Street in Vermont. Inside the Great Market Hall is incredible. On the ground floor there are so many produce, sausage and paprika stands it's impossible to figure out which one to choose. In the basement there is a mix of fish markets and pickle shops creating the most confusing attack of scents on the senses that I felt lightheaded. Upstairs there are several gift shops selling traditional Hungarian trinkets and food stands where we tried langos, a Hungarian dish like pizza but essentially with a funnel cake as the dough. After the market we hiked up Gellert Hill, the best perspective view of the city. In the evening we met new roommates at the hostel in the form of two Aussies and a South African which we became immediate mates with.
Fun Fact of the day: Australians do in fact say 'mate' and 'far out' in regular speech. I also learned a new word to call change in your pocket: 'shrapnel.'
|Food stands galore|
|Nesting dolls everywhere|
|Upstairs in Great Market Hall|
|View from Gellert Hill|
Day 4: Parkour Not Welcome Here
In the morning we took off another walking tour of Budapest, this time accompanied by our new Aussie friends. It was cool to show them some of the places we had been already and witness the amazement on their faces that we had just a few days back. Along the way to Margaret Island, a small island in the middle of the Danube, we stopped at parliament and took in its massive glory. Margaret Island was alright, but it seemed like more of a local jogging spot than a tourist attraction, at least at this time of the year. From there, with our stomachs growling, we went on a mission for lunch which we found at Food Fusion. $2.50 for ham and cheese on a baguette: mission accomplished. While we enjoyed our lunch at the edge of the Danube overlooking parliament from across the river, we witnessed two teenagers who were doing parkour get apprehended by the police. Either parkour is illegal or they were subjected to a random search of all their belongings, including shoes, bags, pockets and clothing. When the search was done the police just walked away and the two teenagers went about their business and smoked a cigarette as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. From there we went back up to the Castle District to see some of the sights we had rushed through on Sunday. The views from Fishermen's Bastion never get old. The afternoon was capped off with a taste of delicious Transylvanian funnel cake from a stand by Buda Castle.
Fun Fact of the day: That night we made more friends at the hostel with a guy from New Zealand and a couple from Germany. Together we all went back to Szimpla kert where we experienced the strange phenomenon of a girl walking around the bar selling carrots. One of the Aussies bought one and it was dubbed the worst carrot he had ever tasted.
|View from Fishermen's Bastion|
Day 5: Just Slothin Around
By day 5 we had seen most of the touristy parts of Budapest, albeit the entrance fees deterred us from going into most of them. So we planned a day at the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Gardens and it was above and beyond my expectations. From the outside, I'm going to be honest the zoo didn't look like much. But inside the gates you could get lost in all the animal houses, exhibits and creatures. The best part by far was the sloth exhibit. We entered the building and were shocked to learn that these awesome animals were just roaming free. Not only that, but the sloths would approach you when they saw you and pose for pictures. The icing on the cake was that one of the sloths had a baby resting in her lap that was the funniest/cutest looking animal I had seen up close. We spent hours at the zoo and were exhausted by the end, but we managed to go to Szimpla again, this time adding a Colombian to our crew but losing two Germans.
Fun Fact of the day: I saw my first baby sloth and baby elephant, Geena got sprayed by a lion and prairie dogs are some cold-blooded sonsofbitches. Also a South African told me I had beautiful hazel eyes; and it was a girl.
Day 6: Soak and Recover
We knew for quite some time that our sixth and final day would be spent at the Szechenyi Baths, a famous thermal bath complex in Budapest. Our new Kiwi friend joined us and took pictures with his cool waterproof camera. Inside an architecturally amazing looking exterior is a massive courtyard complete with what are essentially huge hot tubs. Inside there are more baths of varying temperatures, saunas and ice baths. I found out quickly that I do not enjoy saunas and promptly exited, but the the 'cold' baths were basically the ocean temperature in June. It was great to relax our sore feet and bodies in the soothing hot water for a few hours. In the evening we were treated to a traditional Hungarian dinner at the hostel for free and spent one last night with all our new international friends before repeating the gauntlet of transportation in the morning.
Fun Fact of the day: Unbeknownst to us, the Indonesian president was in town and he was presenting a wreath at Heroes Square while we were walking past to the baths. The police presence around the square was confusing and intriguing to say the least. On the way back we passed a gathering protesting the passing of a fourth amendment to Hungarian's constitution, which we were unaware of until later.
So there you go, my trip to Budapest. Despite its appearance, this is in fact the abbreviated version. All in all I got to see all 9 landmarks that were pictured on a postcard I saw and made friends with a wonderful crew of mates from around the world. If you would like to hear the exclusive extended director's cut version with optional commentary from the producer then you'll just have to ask me about it some other time. If you've read this far do yourself a favor and make some langos; you'll enjoy it.