Hungary - Budapest
Trip Start May 30, 2013
151Trip End Dec 10, 2014
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Where I stayed
After 2 months in the Czech Republic that passed actually extremely fast we´re about to continue our trip around the world. Nevertheless, we´ve changed our itinerary a little bit and our next destination is supposed to be Budapest and not Zagreb as planned originally.
Gonzalo spent 2 or 3 days in Budapest 3 years ago, however, I have never been there and felt quite bad since it´s not so far from the Czech Republic and besides we have so much common history so after Poland and Slovakia (I have been there for the first time this year as well….I know shame on me :)) we decided to go to Hungary before visiting the other countries situated in the southeast of Europe.
We left at 15
After arrival in Budapest (at 22.30) we took a metro (HUF 350 for a single ticket) and found our hostel without any significant problems. We paid for three nights and negotiated a little bit at the same since the guy from the hostel wanted to charge not only a special late arrival fee but also an additional tax. None of these fees was mentioned on the website so we got a little bit upset and tried to defend our interests. We won and were allowed to stay without paying the tax (it was a few dollars but still it was the matter of principle, wasn´t it?).
Then we were actually recommended to go and check one of so called "ruin-pubs". Ruin-pubs started to sprout up all around Budapest a few years ago
Most of these pubs may be found in the historical Jewish quarter (the part of Budapest that used to be the ghetto in dark times). Since our hostel was located in the Jewish quarter one of these ruin-pubs was literally next doors and by accident it is supposed to be the third best bar in the world (at least according to Lonely Planet). The pub is called Szimpla Kert. Szimpla kert was Budapest´s first ruin pub opened in 2002. It´s said that annually around a million people are curious about it. Of course, we couldn´t miss this!
Day 1: August 18, 2013
Even though we went out for a bit last night, we couldn´t sleep till late because that day was supposed to be quite busy
First of all, our guide who was a young Hungarian girl (actually born and grown up in Budapest) talked briefly about the history of Hungary at the bank of the River Danube. She didn´t forget to mention that in 1987 Budapest was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List for the cultural and architectural significance of the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue.
Then we took a short walk along the River Danube and could even take pictures with the statue of a girl that looks like a boy. We were told she was a daughter of one of the Hungarian kings and touching her knees should bring us a good luck.
Then we walked to the Erzsebet square where another interesting statue can be found. It is the statue of a man who set up the current street system in Budapest (after massive floods).
Later on we occurred in the St. Stephen´s square from where we could admire the largest Roman Catholic church in Budapest of which dome is 96 meters high. The church is called St. Stephen´s Basilica. In fact the Hungarian Parliament´s dome is also 96 meters and it´s said that both constructions have exactly the same height intentionally, thus demonstrating the equal position of both powers - political (state) vs. religious (church). With regard to the St. Stephen´s Basilica its construction started in 1851 and was finished in 1905
On the way to the Chain Bridge we passed by the Gresham Palace which was converted into a hotel (Four seasons) some time ago. Then we also stopped for a while in front of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. It was built between 1862 and 1864 and nowadays it´s used for staging concerts.
Finally we reached the Chain Bridge which the bridge no. 1 of Budapest. It was built by Adam Clark based on the order of Count István Széchenyi and its construction lasted from 1839 till 1849. After WWII it had to be rebuilt in 1949 since it was completely destroyed during the final battle between the Soviets and Nazi Army at the end of WWII. At both ends of the Chain Bridge there is a pair of lions that has very important task which is to guard the bridge as best as they can. Well, the bridge is very beautiful so we believe they´ve been doing a great job so far :)
Note: After WWII 45% of the city of Budapest was completely demolished
After crossing the River Danube we started climbing up the Castle Hill where, among others, the Sándor Palace and the Royal Palace are situated. The Sándor Palace was built in 1806 and today it´s the official residence of the President of Hungary and the seat of the Office of the President of the Republic. We were lucky enough so we could even watch the guard change that takes place every hour in front of the Sándor Palace. On the other hand, the Royal Palace has witnessed wars and occupations from the 13th to the 20th century. It was occupied for example by the Turks or by the Habsburgs. It was destroyed three times and then rebuilt, each time in the architectural style of the given age. Today´s neo-Classical style was taken on after WWII. The building hosts several institutions: the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest History Museum and the National Széchényi Library.
From the Castle Hill we headed to the Szentháromság square so as to take a look at the Matthias Church and later on we visited already on our own the Fisherman´s Bastion that stands next to the church. Firstly, the square was named after the Holy Trinity sculpture in the middle, erected by survivors of the plague of 1711 – 1714. Secondly, the Matthias church is supposed to be Budapest´s most attractive and most famous Catholic church
After finishing the tour we tried to get something to eat since it was the official lunch time. Luckily, there was a market on the top of the Castle Hill offering typical Hungarian dishes. Unluckily, they were extremely overpriced so finally we went for a typical bakery product called “perec” which is basically soft pretzel with salt. Hungarians also love offering homemade lemonade. They usually keep it in huge jars together with fruit (the most often with oranges and/or lemons). You can get such a lemonade on every corner.
After having a quick rest on the Castle Hill we had to go back to the Vörösmarty square in order to take another free walking tour. This one should have given us better idea about the communist times in Hungary
During the tour we also passed through the Szabadság (Liberty) square on which north side there is the huge memorial to Soviet troops killed during the siege of Budapest in 1945. Today it´s the only communist monument in the city still standing in its original position.
The tour was ended in another of the famous ruin-pubs called Bar Instant where we had a short presentation showing various objects from those times, photos of some places or important figures or for example passports from those times (the red one for communist countries and the blue one for “the other” countries). Both of us found the tour very interesting even though it wasn´t anything new for me. I mean I obviously didn´t know all the details of the history of communism in Hungary so this part was very informative even for me. However, since my parents spent half of their life in communism I have already heard many stories helping me understand better how hard it had to be to live behind the “iron curtain”
Day 2: August 19, 2013
That day we decided to take it very easy and visit one of the thermal baths that belong to the most popular attractions in Budapest. Although we were recommended to go to Rudas Baths in the end we went for the supposedly largest bathing complex in Europe called Széchenyi Baths (HUF 4 300 per person and per day). It has 3 pools outside and then more than 10 pools inside. Their temperature varies from 12°C to 40°C. Inside of the building there can be also found Turkish baths and saunas (already included in the price)
On the way back to our hostel we still had several things to do. First of all, we stepped by the Vajdahunyad Castle surrounded by the artificial lake. It´s quite interesting that the castle was originally made from cardboard and wood for the millennial exhibition in 1896 but it became so popular that it must have been rebuilt in stone and brick. Nowadays the castle hosts the largest museum of agriculture in Europe. There is also the statue of Anonymous who wrote the first histories of the ancient Magyars in the 12th century. It´s said that touching his pen will bring you luck :)
Our next steps headed to the Heroe´s Square. The 36-meter-high column sited in the center of the Millennium Memorial may be seen from afar. On the top there is a statue of Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian Holy Crown and apostolic double cross
We stopped just very quickly at the train station since we had to check the prices of train tickets from Budapest (Hungary) to Belgrade (Serbia). We found the price as well as the schedule very convenient so we decided to come back the next day and buy the tickets.
In that moment we had been in Budapest for two days and we hadn´t tried any typical Hungarian dishes yet. I was bothering Gonzalo with this issue so much that he sat down and looked for some recommendation on the websites of Tripadvisor. Well, I must say he seriously nailed it! After 10-minute-walk we found a very cosy restaurant, btw. full of people, with very favorable prices and local dishes. We noticed immediately that the restaurant wasn´t meant for tourists (even if they represented more than 75% of the current settlement…I guess Tripadvisor worked not only for us) but for locals because our waiter spoke almost no English.
Note: It was sort of surprising for us that most of the Hungarians speak solid English
To finish the previous story we ordered two most typical Hungarian dishes (both of them known to me since the Czech cuisine has been actually affected by the Hungarian) – Beefgoulash with red wine (Vörösboros marhapörkölt) with noodles and Chicken breast paprikash (Paprikás csirkemell) with rice. Both were delicious and super cheap. We paid for two dishes, one tonic water and one homemade lemonade HUF 2 800 (including tip).
Then I convinced Gonzalo to go for a walk around Budapest by night. At first he didn´t want to accompany me but I insisted sooo much (plus, I was unfairly inventing numerous horrible scenarios in the style of “…what will happen if…”) that he finally agreed to come with me :) I honestly believe that it was definitely worth it. It was a wonderful walk that helped us completely understand why so many people had fallen in love with Budapest. It was so romantic! Although it was Monday the streets of Budapest were full of life – people were drinking and having fun everywhere. It reminded us Milan :)
Last but not at least we got really lucky since we decided to go to Budapest probably in the best period of the year
Day 3: August 20, 2013
We were so impressed by the city of Budapest that we made a unanimous decision to stay one more night. We just didn´t want to be in such a rush and preferred to enjoy everything calmly without unnecessary stress. Unfortunately, the beds in our current hostel were no longer available so we had to find another hostel with comparably good location and of course for reasonable price
That day we firstly visited the Great Synagogue which meant to go back to the Jewish quarter. The correct name is actually the Dohány Street Synagogue. It was built in Byzantine-Moorish style in the middle of the 19th century and it´s supposed to be the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. Unfortunately we had to refuse to enter the synagogue because it was way over too expensive (USD 13 per person).
On the way to the House of Terror Museum we had a quick lunch (kebab and pizza). Originally I was supposed to visit the House of Terror by myself because Gonzalo was already there during his visit 3 years ago. Nevertheless, due to the main national holiday (20th of August) all museums could be entered free of charge. So finally even Gonzalo decided to enter for a while. The building used to serve as the headquarters of the National Socialists (Hungarian fascists) in 1944, and for several decades after 1945 as the base for the political police (ÁVH), who were engaged in persecuting opponents of the communist regime
Then we went to the train station and bought our tickets from Budapest to Belgrade for the next day (HUF 10 620, incl. seat reservation). The tickets are valid for one month in Hungary and you can use time at any time which is very convenient, especially if you aren´t sure about your travelling plans.
After having our next trip ready we started heading to the nearby hill with two important statues on it – Statue of St
It was quite difficult to pass through some streets since most of the streets were either closed or extremely crowded because of the national celebrations. At least we managed to try another local specialty called Maggyes (it´s basically a pastry filled with cottage cheese, marmalade, apples or poppy seeds).
Well…we made it anyway! First of all, we had to cross the River Danube using the Elizabeth Bridge. In the year of construction (1903) it was the world´s longest suspension bridge (till 1926). The bridge was named after Hungary´ s beloved Empress Elizabeth. The original bridge was blown up by German troops in 1945.
Then we passed by the Statue of St. Gellért which can be found at the beginning of the hill. Bishop Gellért died a martyr in the 11th century. According to legend this used to be the spot from where pagans pushed the missionary bishop, sealed in a barrel, down into the Danube.
After climbing a doable uphill we occurred on the top of the hill decorated by the Liberty Statue
Later on it got much colder thanks to a very strong wind that started blowing in the afternoon. Hence, we went back to the hostel where we were told there would be a huge firework on the occasion of the Hungarian national day in three different places in the city. Even though it was very windy we decided to get the best spot on the Elizabeth Bridge since we were sure we would have the best view from there. While waiting we met several Chileans so we didn´t forget to take a picture with them :) The firework started at 21.00 and lasted 15 minutes. It was very impressive, full of effects….I just loved it…well, Gonzalo claimed that their fireworks in Vińa del Mar for the New Year´s Eve are much bigger, however, even after this comment I just loved it :)
In order to end that day even better we bought a bottle of champagne, sat down in a park and drank it all being inspired by locals the other day. Another successful day was over….more of these!
Day 4: August 21, 2013
Our last day was perfectly scheduled
We reached the building of Parliament 20 minutes earlier. Unfortunately, we couldn´t just chill in the park belonging to the Parliament since it is just being built. All the works should be done by the next summer; however, in the meantime it reminds more a construction site than anything else.
At 12.00 we were invited to walk a little bit further with one of the guards. At first we had to go through the regular check and then our tour could begin. The Parliament stands on the eastern bank of the River Danube, it is the largest building in the country and also the permanent site of the national assembly. The building was constructed between 1884 and 1904. It has 691 rooms, it is 268 m long and its cupola rises 96 meters into the air. The coronation regalia are guarded in the building of Parliament: St. Stephen´s Crown, the sceptre, orb and Renaissance sword
After visiting the Parliament we went to see another memorial commemorating the times of Holocaust in Budapest. It is located in front of the Parliament on the river bank. The memorial was erected in 2006. It is a simple bunch of shoes.
Since lunch time was almost over we walked a little bit more till we reached the Margit Island where we decided to have a picnic in the local park. Besides, this time we let the other people affect us a lot and after seeing how everybody was passing us in different carriages we rented e-scooters. It was our last money so we knew we´d be without dinner :) It was still quite cheap (HUF 990 for 30 minutes). In any case it was awesome! We managed to see the entire island within these 30 minutes, had a lot of fun and made a lot of people smile as well (when they saw us ride happily our “almost segways” they were just giving us spontaneous smiles).
At about 17.00 we left the park and started to walk along the western (Buda) side of the River Danube
We kept walking like one more hour till we reached the Central Market Hall. Unfortunately when we got there it was already closed. It seemed that it just closed earlier because of the national holidays :( Ok, everything just cannot be perfect.
Then I realized that we had almost no money and I hadn´t bought yet my favorite postcard souvenir :( In the end we had convince a lady selling souvenirs to accept one dollar banknote…of course, with an exchange rate of dreams – USD 1 = HUF 199! By the way, the official exchange rate is the following: USD 1 = HUF 225 (Hungarian forints). Anyway desperate situations require desperate actions. I would not leave without the postcard :)
Just to make a quick conclusion the Hungarians are super nice, welcoming and willing to help even if they don´t speak perfect English. We have also noticed they really like tourists. Definitely not comparable to people´s faces for example in Poland or the Czech Republic when you need to get some information or buy something.
We came back to the hostel, had a quick shower, ate our last sandwich and at 21.25 we took a metro to get to the train station. Our train left at 22.20…our next destination is Belgrade in Serbia!!!