So Budapest has been both the best part of my trip so far and the worst!
Reasons I Loved Budapest
1. Great company on my overnight train from Kraków. I shared a beer and some great chat with Christis and her boyfriend Adam from Manchester and Nura from India. I was kept awake a bit by six skowser lads in the cabin next to us who were drinking and singing until the wee hours. But they actually were really good singers and their renditions of American Pie, Eleanor Rigby and other favourites kept me waiting for more. Important rule: if you are going to drink and keep everyone up on an overnight train, you better at least be able to carry a tune!
2. Excellent free walking tour with Norbert! We visited all of the highlights of the Pest and Buda districts all while given an excellent and entertaining narrative by our guide. He even escorted a few of us back to a cafeteria where he said the tour guides and workers in the area eat and the food was authentic Hungarian. I am sure this is actually a place owned by the tour company or they at least get a kickback but I did really enjoy the food. Being basic cafeteria style, you are able to see everything and just point...it was all so tempting that I ended up ordering two dishes...stuffed cabbage and a Hungarian mushroom goulash with dumplings. Yummy!
Side Note: dumplings is the go to word in so many countries but means totally different things in different languages. In China, it is a large doughy bread ball stuffed with all sorts of tasty things; in Poland it is Pierogies; in Hungary it is little drops of dough which seem to have been boiled. I am interested to explore the wide world of dumplings even more!
3. I met Kieran and Laura who were both studying law at Western in London, Ontario and doing internships with the WHO in Geneva. Well Laura was but I'm not sure what Kieran was up to exactly but something lawish I believe! They are in Europe for three months and are taking the opportunity to do as many weekend getaways as possible. We met on the walking tour and spent the day together discussing the state of world politics, best European places to travel and where to drink in Budapest! I spent the afternoon at Széchenyi Medicinal Bath with these two and had a great laugh. They invited me to join them that evening for a few shots at some of Budapest's famous Ruin Bars (yep, bars located in the ruins of buildings leftover from some of Hungary's struggles). Unfortunately, I was too tuckered from shopping for a camera to meet them! My beat memory of Budapest will be when Kieran broke the metro ticket machine with a load of people standing behind us. Kieran hit the help button but the voice at the other end wasn't exactly helpful and we were stuck there apologizing to a growing group of would be metro travellers!
4. Excellent, inexpensive and easy to navigate Metro system. I bought a twenty four hour pass for roughly $8 Can (1600 HUF, I think) and I made very good use of that bad boy! Fun Fact: Budapest is home to the oldest underground metro line in Continental Europe.
5. Széchenyi Medicinal Bath - This hot spring baths is a fantastic place to unwind, rest and relax after several days of walking and touring. The building itself is quite old and boasts endless rooms of hot spas, saunas and massage rooms while the centre is a huge pool area with three different large pools, a restaurant, stalls to purchase beer and other drinks, and a large space with very comfortable loungers. The pools and spas are fed from the natural hot springs which apparently lie beneath Budapest and are thought to have healing qualities. This is a hugely popular spot for locals as well as tourists and can be quite crowded, and even a little smelly, but it is definitely a must visit! (Cost 4700 HUF or $22 Can)
6. Beautiful scenery, old buildings and architecture!
Reasons I Hated Budapest
1. I learned that my LifeProof iPhone case wasn't really lifeproof when I forgot I had it tucked in my bathing suit and took a full dip in the naturally warmed waters of the Schenyi baths. This one is totally my fault and isn't at all a reflection on Budapest but unfortunately the loss of my phone and all of the photos taken on my trip thus far did put a damper on the day (pun intended!)
2. When Hungary finally gained autonomy from Russia in 1990, Budapest became the go to place for young, hip travellers but also western investors. Twenty five years later it is a magnate for the those seeking a place to party and drink, so by as early as 9pm the streets of the Old Town and other popular sectors are jammed with scantily dressed twenty something girls and very loud young men.
3. In a few short years Budapest has become a major tourist destination with the overpriced restaurants, tacky souvenirs and crowds that come with that honour. As usual, if the traveller seeks a more "authentic" Hungarian experience it would need to be somewhere other than Budapest!