Budapest. I knew little about this city before coming to Europe. What I could recollect from stalking my peers’ past Instagram posts was that there was some large pool there, and that everything was relatively cheap. (If you’re coming from London like us, you’ll feel like a magician. Making zeros disappear off the end of bills? No abra kadabra needed here, folks.)
Leaving Athens was hard for me, not only because I was becoming very aware that Hungarians are not as fond of hummus as the Greeks, but also because the sun wouldn’t be giving us that all-natural vitamin D.
Alas, we made it to the Athens airport and tried to find a seat. (Good luck, Charlie.) So we plopped down on the ground over by some outlets. Amrutha found a website with a list of things to do in Budapest if you only have a day (which was the case for us), and we started listing the ones we’d be most interested in.
Our flight was delayed an hour, which normally wouldn’t have been a problem. But our AirBnb host in Budapest could barely speak any English, so he wasn’t responding to our messages about our late arrival, and couldn’t comprehend what we said when we called - multiple times.
Somehow we touched down in Budapest in peace. It was 12:30am Hungarian time, and our taxi driver picked us up right outside of the airport, bound straight for the Airbnb. He took us along the scenic route, which meant passing the river, and I was googling all sorts of things on Google Translate in Hungarian. I managed to write, “I think Budapest will be the best city yet,” and made my phone say it out loud. Our driver laughed and said, “Yes, it will be.” Everybody thought that was funny, or maybe they didn’t and the lack of sleep had driven me to a state of incurable slap-happiness. It’s debatable.
Our Airbnb host met us and let us in right away. He told us we were in the party district. (Usually I would be raising my eyebrows at this. Tonight, the only thing I wanted to raise were the sheets over my head.)
I plopped down on the couch again, and we all set up shop. Amrutha started going over our tentative itinerary. Then someone heard a voice coming from the bathroom. Our friend Chantel had made the mistake of locking herself inside.
At first we didn’t freak out, because there was a key that came with it. But after making everybody take turns at jamming the thing in, and sliding the key back and forth under the door at the chance it somehow opened from the inside, we had no other choice but to call our host.
We played music to keep Chantel calm while we waited. When he showed up, he somehow got the door open within a minute. Not our brightest moment.
At this point we all went to the living room again and resumed talks about the plans for tomorrow, but once I laid down on that couch, there was no going back. I was out for the night.
Our 16-hour day in Budapest started around 10am, when we packed all our things up in our backpacks, threw on some shoes, and walked down the street to get some breakfast.
We found a French restaurant and decided to pop in there, but I still managed to get a traditional Hungarian breakfast. This meant meat, tea, eggs, and ratatouille. We also got mimosas because the prices were insanely cheap, and somehow I accidentally got much tipsier than I’d planned on being for 10:30 in the morning.
I took a backseat in the planning for this trip, because I really didn’t have anything I was dying to do in Budapest. This might sound awful to some people, but I was kind of glad. It took the stress off of “having to see” a certain building or site. I just got to enjoy the city as the day went by, something I couldn’t say I was always able to do on other trips.
Our first destination: Fisherman’s’ Bastion, inside the Buda Castle. It’s an insanely popular tourist destination, and as we approached it, I understood why. The architecture was gorgeous, and I felt like I was literally walking toward something from the mind of Walt Disney.
Before we climbed up the stairs, Mika and I found a bathroom to use. It cost a full Euro to open the door. (America, at least you’re doing something right.)
Fisherman’s Bastion has one of the prettiest views of Budapest. When you look out at the city, you can see the river and all the colorful roofs of the buildings across the way in Pest. The Danube River separates the two parts of the city. While Buda was known for the nature and greenery part of the city, Pest was more metropolitan.
We rode the funicular up and down, taking in the views once again. The funicular is a tram that runs alongside the hill, and while they have them in many other cities, it was my first time riding one. What a quaint city Budapest seemed to be.
For a snack, we all shared Hungarian chimney cake. If you like churros, you’d like this. It was basically a pastry wrapped in circles in the shape of a cone (or chimney). I was proud of myself for so far keeping up my goal of eating only typical Hungarian food for the day.
Next, we found ourselves outside the Hungarian Parliament Building. It sat right alongside the Danube River, and featured some of the most beautiful Gothic revival style architecture I have ever seen. A few statues stood outside of it, alongside monuments commemorating fallen Hungarian icons.
At this point in the day, everybody was getting a little tired. Me? I was nearly crashing. We took a seat on the ground by the river and enjoyed the view. But after a minute or two, I just laid down and felt the cool air from the river run over my face. No shame.
We knew we had little time in Budapest, so we decided another food stop was needed. (You just can’t try everything in 16 hours. We gave it a good attempt.)
We wandered into Elysee Bistro and Cafe, and we all got a drink (I got a Bellini), then one slice of plum pie to share. The waiter tried to give us some candy on our way out, although whatever flavor it was, I never want to experience again. (If tar was edible, this would be the taste.)
It was time for the Szechnyi Thermal Baths (what I had initially thought was a pool before doing a little research). When you buy your ticket in advance, you can choose to reserve a changing room or not. This was key for us, as we were lugging around our backpacks with all our essentials for the weekend the entire day.
The Szechnyi Thermal Bath is actually the largest medicinal bath in all of Europe. Two thermal springs source the water.
At first I didn’t want to get my hair wet, but then the inner child in me came out, and I just dunked myself for the heck of it. In the middle of the bath, people started putting their arms on the person in front's shoulders, and then making a train that snaked around into a circle. They were laughing and singing, and it was really cool seeing so many different cultures, languages, and types of people interact together.
We stayed until our fingers were pruned, then changed and decided to go to dinner. (I was cheap and didn’t want to buy a towel, so I dried myself off with my pajama shirt. It worked a lot better than anticipated.)
Dinner was at Panorama Terasz, an uppity-looking tourist restaurant on the side of the Danube. It appeared to have authentic Hungarian food (I was KILLING my goal today) and I ended up ordering the rosé duck breast with Tokaj aszú (a Hungarian wine sauce) and mashed potatoes. There was a live miniature orchestra with four members playing just a couple yards away from us, and they ended up walking to our table and serenading us. I was kind of caught off-guard, but in a good way. The music was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the view could not be beat.
We spent 5 USD after dinner on a ferris wheel ride in a popping nightlife district. After taking note of the area, we hopped back to the Parliament Building for a glance at night. It was almost more incredible in the dark as the lights illuminated the sides of the building from below. Between the flickering stars, birds flapped from spire to spire at the top. We stayed here for a while, and I FaceTimed my family to show them a glimpse of what I was seeing.
Our time in Budapest was rapidly ticking down. We checked out a few bars before ending the night with a greasy, cheap slice of pizza. It was all very cOllegE, and I was thankful I got to share it with a group of girls as fun as these ones.
We got to the airport at what we thought was 3:45am. Apparently, it was just our luck that this particular night was European Daylight Savings time. So make that 2:45am.
Not a mood.
I fell asleep on the floor of the airport with my head on my backpack, no cares given. We made it to London around 7am, back into the warm embrace of my bed by 9:30am.
Thankfully, we had the rest of the day to sleep and get some schoolwork done before Monday came knocking on the door.
All things considered, I think Budapest was a success. And while I did leave Hungary, my thirst for adventure was quenched.
Where to Go:
- Fisherman's Bastion (http://www.budavar.hu/halaszbastya-belepodijai)
- Hungarian Parliament Building (https://www.parlament.hu/)
- Szechnyi Thermal Baths (http://www.szechenyifurdo.hu/)
- Elysee Bistro and Cafe (http://elysee.hu/)
- Panorama Terasz (https://www.facebook.com/panoramacsarda/)