Budapest or Bust
The following is a post from Justin Jones about our time in Budapest:
Arriving after a long day on the bus we made our way through the very efficient Budapest subway system to our apartment in the evening. The weather was a bit chilly but not nearly as gloomy and rainy as Prague, thankfully. The AirBnB was clean and modern – a nice change of pace from Prague as well. Starving, we left almost immediately to hunt down food. We were in a prime location surrounded by various shops and seemingly unlimited food options. The vibe was much different than Prague; very youthful, eclectic, and bustling without being overly-crowded. We devoured our food while we relaxed and got ready for exploration around this historic city the next day.
We started our day with a walk across the Danube, the river that divides this massive city, on the Elizabeth Bridge. We made our way to Gellert Hill, which is a big park on a tree-covered hill with winding pathways leading to an old fortification at the top. There is also the Hungarian Statue of Liberty next to the fort and a great panoramic view of the city as well. We snapped a few pictures and then made our way back down the hill and towards Buda Castle Hill. This enormous area is a designated world heritage site and is essentially an extremely old city with everything from medieval housing to the 700-year-old Matthias Church. The church has an elaborately-tiled roof with geometric patterns that are mesmerizing. There is also the Fisherman’s Bastion that has a panoramic view of the Pest side of the city as well as a perfect view of Budapest Parliament. It was crowded up on Buda Castle Hill and we went during low-season so I imagine this place being packed in the high-season. We stopped for lunch at a nice restaurant and had a delicious lunch that was abruptly ended by an asshole manager getting mad that we wanted to pay for our meals separately instead of all six of us paying one amount. He literally threw our change back at us after giving him a healthy tip. Whatever.
With a full stomach, we crossed the Danube again but on the Chain Bridge this time – the first permanent bridge connecting the Buda and Pest sides of the city. It looks very similar to the Roebling Bridge in Cincinnati. We headed over to the Parliament building that was built along the river. It’s scale and detail are hard to comprehend. It’s massive, gorgeous and designed with the most unique and beautiful features…and is unfortunately closed to the public since it’s actively in use. Very few buildings have inspired me to take so many pictures. From here we hopped on a metro train (or two since we started out in the wrong direction) to go unwind at the Széchenyi thermal baths. Upon exiting the metro we saw an interesting street festival around a nearby castle so we took a stroll through it. The girls picked up some mulled wine (really tasty) while we stared at stand after stand of epic street-food wishing we had found this festival before eating lunch. Eventually we entered the thermal bath and enjoyed all of the different indoor and outdoor pools, steam rooms, sauna’s and people-watching. There was a weird film-crew following around this one random girl too, which added an interesting and slightly creepy vibe. Joey left early to go pick up his friend, Emily, and let her into the apartment while we finished up at the baths.
The remaining five of us left the warm and comfy baths to step back into the cold and came back to the apartment to meet Joey and Emily. Emily is a well-traveled young woman who is currently living in Bulgaria teaching. She has a great attitude, is very energetic, kind and fit in with the rest of the group perfectly. She met Joey through mutual friends when they explored Iceland the previous year.
Our growing group of travelers had now reached seven as we hopped on the underground train to get dinner. We had planned on going to a medieval meal and show but after showing up we were met with a long line and no chance of eating anytime within the next few hours. Starving, we set out to find a viable alternative in a neighborhood that was absolutely filled with furniture and trash literally piled all over the streets. We thought it was a bad/dirty neighborhood but after doing some research we discovered that there’s a program where every neighborhood twice a year sets out unwanted furniture for others to dig through in case they want it before it heads to the landfill. Within a few minutes we found an Italian restaurant that offered an all-you-can-eat meal that included unlimited alcohol. Sold. The food was great and the unlimited wine was even better.
Now we were ready for a fun night out! We went to a club/bar suggested by one of Joey’s friends who had previously visited. We made our way upstairs initially and were in essentially a rave-like setting and it was packed. Feeling my age after a few beers I sought out an area a little more relaxed only to discover that this place was absolutely massive! Room after room, floor after floor were all completely different with bars, various DJ’s and eclectic decorations. After exploring this maze-like venue, we settled at a bar near the middle of the building that was decorated with dozens of fake rabbits hanging from ropes in a two-story tall room surrounded by balconies. We had a few more beers and then called it a day.
We woke up early to go spelunking in a nearby cave system. Adorning extremely flattering one-piece jumpsuits and helmets with headlamps, our group descended into the underground. Our guide led us through all types of areas and difficulty levels of spelunking including tiny holes that you had to crawl through but the most memorable obstacle was called “The Sandwich”. Apparently, it got its name because the walls are like teeth and you feel like you are a sandwich getting chewed up as you make your way through it. I would definitely have to agree with the name as this was far and away the most difficult part of the entire experience. It began with a 45-degree angle crawl where you can feel the wall on your stomach and your back at the same time for about 15 feet. Then you had climb up the angled wall on your stomach with your head tilted to one side since it was too narrow to turn your head. Then it somehow got even narrower as you had to breathe in to squeeze your body through the absolutely tiny passageway on your back/stomach as you pulled yourself along for another 20 feet. We eventually all made it through, sweating and breathing heavy all from a 35-foot passageway.
We worked up quite an appetite from spelunking so we stopped at a restaurant that seemed to have something for everyone to eat. We were pleasantly surprised by the business-model and ordering system. They didn’t have any hosts or waiters/waitresses but instead had tables with individual built-in computer screens under the table for ordering, playing games and surfing the internet. This made ordering incredibly simple and kept us thoroughly entertained as we waited for our food.
After showering the group minus Nichi and Adam decided to head out and explore more of the city. We walked around and visited St. Stephens Basilica, which is an impressively huge church. We saw a statue of Ronald Reagan and were creeped out by a guy in an all-black blow-up suit with a boom box blaring as he tip-toed around a park bothering people. Normally a weirdo like that would be begging for money but he was creeping people out just for the fun of it. We also walked to Margaret Island, which is locally known as Margitsziget and home to the Ziget music festival. It’s one of, if not the biggest music festivals in Europe and it’s smack dab in the middle of the Danube. We watched a fountain show timed up with several songs and then walked back home past the Parliament building as the sun was setting and took dozens more pictures. Joey and Emily had to wake up extremely early the next day so we called it a night and just hung out at the apartment for the rest of the evening.
Our group now reduced to five woke up late and, having seen everything we had wanted to, just spent the day relaxing while it rained outside until it cleared up enough for us to explore around again. We took Adam and Nichi to Margaret Island and rented a bike-wagon thing after watching the fountain show again but playing to different songs. Jimmy was the driver while we pedaled as fast as we could across the island jamming out to music and dodging meandering people. I can’t even fathom how cool this place would be during the festival. Next we took a ride on public transportation to a craft brewery in hopes of finding something like Mad Tree or Rhinegeist back at home. The beer was good but the atmosphere left us wanting more. We made our own fun though as we sat in movie-theater seats and played Piccolo. We had a few and then went home to make dinner and pack up for our trip to Zagreb the next day.