Budapest is the capital of Hungary, a city of 1.5 milion people. Hungary was a part of the former eastern bloc and it is this history which has shaped Budapest of today.
We arrived from Vienna in a 3 hour train ride in a Slovak train. Budapest Keleti station is a relic of the past, built in the old times, it can do with some cleaning. We realised we were in Eastern Europe the moment we arrived in the train station. There was a neglect of the historic buildings which would not be seen in Western Europe.
Unbeknowst to us, its prosperity combined with it’s cheap cost of living had Budapest thriving. Tourists, expats and locals were living in a city which while protected the best places also neglected many beautiful buildings. There were hippy markets, hundreds of restaurants and people selling everything from sightseeing tickets to marijuana on the streets.
Hop on and off
You know how we said we won’t do touristy things and won’t go to the museums? Well, we ended up changing that after Vienna. In Budapest, we bought 2 tickets to the Hop on/off buses and away we went. The buses were being run by multiple companies and arrived every 10-15 minutes.
Budapest is actually twin cities of Buda and Pest joined together by the beautiful chain bridge in 1849. Buda was the capital of the Roman Empire while Pest was mostly a village. Buda had the Gellert hill, Buda Castle and the museums. Gellert Hill was our first stop in Buda with spectacular views of the city seen from a high dolomite hill overlooking the Danube River. It’s Soviet history was present witht the ‘Statue of Liberty’ soviet-style still present symoblising peace.
Castle Hill was another smaller hill overlooking the Danube with a history going back 2000 years. This was the capital of Roman Empire, various tribal empires and finally, the Hungarian and Turkish empires. We spent a few hours seeing the museum in the Buda Castle which was actually several levels of old palaces on top of one another. The castle right at the bottom was medieval while the top was only a 100 yars old. The Hungarian archaeologists did an amazing job saving the medieval castle from the city authorities who wanted to blow the hill up and put something else on it.
Underneath the Castle hill was the Castle Gardens, Bazaar and trams and road before reaching the Danube. We didn’t know this but the Danube is quite a wide and well-traveled river. It’s a trading river which various empires tried controling. Budapest was controlled by Romans, Germans, Turks, Hungarians and Austro-Hungarians at various points in history. The result was a city with a mixed culture and a mixed people who are now all Hungarian.
Pest was where we were living in Budapest. Pest is the flatter, grand, new and more touristy side of the city. Despite this, Pest contrasts Buda and it’s beautiful in its own right. Baroque ad Gothic buildings stand next to newer buildings with Pubs and Kebab shops. The inside streets are beautiful even if a little rustic. There is cobble stone almost everywhere in Budapest and it looks incredible though it is a pain to drag the luggage on it.
The Heroes Square and the surrounding suburbs were an incredible sight of Pest. Heroes Square is dedicated to the 8 clans of the Magyar Tribe who came to the Carpathian Basin and conquered it from the Slavs. Magyars are what we call Hungarians. The heroes square had the broze statues of the Hungarian warriors on Horses with huge moustaches and beards. Several other ancient heroes, those who converted Hungary to Christianity and continues the dynasties are also present. The Heroes square is incredibly grand with grey stone everywhere against the greenish broze statues. The surrounding area has a beautiful castle which is now a museum as well as huge mansions of prominent Hungarians and Embassies.
Another highlight of the city was the Parliament walk at night. We walked on the Buda side at night to capture the parliament all lit up. The Hungarian parliament was built on the Pest side to contrast the royal side of Buda and each night it is lit up along with the bridges over the Danube. It is really an amazing sight.
There were other historical buildings we saw like the National Museum, the Great Market and the second largest synagogue in the World. All of these were beautiful buildings and all provided Budapest its character. Budapest really was beautiful and rustic at the same time. This was what we loved about it, it was a real city with real people and not a tourist wonderland or a city with fake grandeur.
Restaurants and Ruin bars
Our locality, Goszdu was originally in the Jewish quarter where during the second world war, a wall was put up creating a jewish ghetto, forcing the jews to live in squalor without food or medicine. Eventually, the Nazis exterminated thousands of these jews. Despite this cruel history, Goszdu today is a lively neighbourhood with restaurants, bars, cafes and ruin bars. One of the small streets was converted into bars and restaurants and appartments built all around it. Unknowingly, this is where we ended up living. We’re no party animals any more but we could literally have partied all night and gone up to the appartments. It was a really great area.
Ruin bars are a Budapest invention. Due to neglect many old buildings were falling apart in the Jewish Quarter and in 2001, some guys thought of creating a grungy, rustic bar which put the neglect on its chest proudly. This was Szimpla bar which is now an institution. Every tourist and party bus stops here in a tiny street to visit this one of a king mecca. Inside, the theme is old and rustic. There are bathroom doors with telephone for handles, old pc screens displaying graphics and a housy beat playing. Oh and the place is qute dark with a Sheesha room.
We visited another ruin bar closer to home which was also following the old rustic theme but much less crazy than Szimpla. The point is the same, apreciating the old buildings by keeping them as is instead of renovating and making it look like bars around the world. The party was hotting up as we left around 10:30 full of people from all over the world.
Hungary does not have the Euro and we had to convert our remaining Euros into Florints. It is around 300-350 per Euro depending on the rate though we got it pretty bad using the money changers at the train station. An average meal for 2 people cost around 5000 Florints.
We had scheduled around 2.5 days in Budapest with a 4pm train to Prague. However, call it our stupidity but we arrived at the wrong train station missing our train. We again made a mistake of not taking the bus to Prague and took the night train instead. We ended up waiting an extra 6 hours in Budapest. We spent this time in Starbucks and the local mall shopping and eating.
Remember, there are 2 international train stations in Budapest, Keleti and Nyugati. Check which one the train goes from. It cost us an extra 100 Euros because we thought it was the former where our train left from. As a side kick, Our night train at 8:25PM didn’t ended up leaving until 11:30PM. Not a pleasant experience being too hot in a 6 people cabin shared with Chinese students.
In one word, Budapest was AWESOME! Unlike the other cities we visited, Budapest had a real vibe to it. It was the capital of a developing country but it felt as much non-european as it felt european. It was also a little cheaper which helped us in shopping.