Thursday, April 2, 2015

Budapest: ein bescheidener Schatz // A Modest Treasure

March 20th-21, 2015

We arrived in Budapest around 12:30am and checked into our hostel, which was located in in the Pest side of the city. I shared a room and bathroom with four other people, who I had thankfully all met before. The next morning we had another city tour that lasted twice as long as a usual city tour, to our dismay. It was okay at first – we went up to the highest point on the Buda side and saw an incredible view of both sides of the city, the famous Turkish baths, and some of the historically important sites.

With each new area of the city we saw, I fell more and more in love with Budapest. It’s not an outright beautiful place, but it has an old, modest charm to it with a long history; I could so clearly see the local culture and get a feel for daily Hungarian life and appreciate what the people of the city have gone through over the last several centuries.

After the first two hours of our tour, we went up the castle district where we got a new tour guide whose English was much worse than the first guide’s and was less interesting to listen to, so again our group of ten or so Mannheimers left the main group and went exploring on our own.

Our first goal was to withdraw cash (Hungary isn't on the euro), our second was to find food. An ATM was easily found and with the help of Wendy’s offline maps, we found an inexpensive place called Vigadó to eat. The common thing to try is the goulash, but I wasn’t feeling it that day and instead ordered Csülkös bableves tejföl (bean soup with ham and sour cream), which was delicious. We also tried Hungarian beer, of which I wasn’t really a fan - it tasted like a mediocre American beer.

After eating we went next door to a coffee shop to replenish our caffeine levels before taking a walk along the Danube River and back across to the Pest side. We walked across the oldest and most picturesque of the city’s bridges and went back down the riverbank on the other side to the Shoes on the Danube monument, a series of iron shoes on the riverbank constructed from molds of real shoes owned by Hungarian Jews who were killed along the river during World War II. It was a chilling experience, seeing the shoes and knowing that hundreds of people had been killed where we were standing.

Our album cover
Photo credit: Shannon

The view across the street from my hostel room

At night everyone decided to go to the boat party/clubbing event that the travel agency had put together, but with the 15€ cover charge and the unfamiliar layout of the city, I opted out and spent the evening in the Costa Coffee across the street from the hostel, journaling and reading, happy to find a cafe with iced coffee in Europe. We didn’t leave Budapest until the next morning, so we had two peaceful nights in a real bed in a hostel before spending most of the next day and night on the bus again.

Some final thoughts from Budapest:
  • If I’m completely honest, I had low expectations for Budapest. In my mind it was a standard, rundown eastern European city with little to offer beside some good party spots. Instead I was blown away by how beautiful and understated everything is. It’s one of my favourite places I’ve been to in Europe and I would have been happy skipping the other stops that weekend and spending all of my time in Budapest.
  • I was also surprised by the number of people who spoke English and how well everything spoke English. For a country controlled by the USSR until the 1980s, it surprised me that even the older generation knew a fair bit of English, and how prevalent its use was – even more so than in Germany.
  • Hungarian people know how to dress well and I enjoyed people watching.

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