“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
I’d heard marvelous things about Budapest.
It sounded like some kind of magical land. Something out of a fairy tale. A place of adventure and wonder like nothing I’d quite seen before. Something exotic and new.
Okay, perhaps that’s going a bit far. However, I’m not denying I was really looking forward to traveling there. The only thing was, I did very little research about what to actually do.
So I arrived there midday. It was early, but I figured maybe my hostel could at least keep my bags. Or maybe I could check in early. A lot of places will at least check if your room is ready.
I had to withdraw money first. As in the Czech Republic, I had no idea how much to take out being a completely foreign currency. So I started with a ridiculously small amount. Basically enough for my metro ticket. I’d say doing some research on currency might save you money, but oh well. Things I’ve learned for next time.
I arrived at my hostel, the Avenue Hostel, and they were not so helpful. I had to wait to check in and they wouldn’t take my bags. There was a huge crowd of people already waiting. I looked at the time. I’d hoped to catch a walking tour to orient myself on the city for the first day. It started at two thirty. My check-in wasn’t until two.
So I sat in the lobby and waited, feeling antsy and unable to really focus on much. By the time two rolled around, I should have realized… the crowds were growing and other people were clearly getting pretty eager to get going too. So as two o’clock hit there was a rush for the desk and the two people who could check in.
For some reason the process seemed longer than most of my other hostels. Perhaps that was simply a result of having a deadline of when I needed to be out, or because there were so many people, but they just seemed to take a good ten minutes a person on check in! I kept pulling out my phone and checking the time. Figured even if I was late I could possibly still see a big group in the area and join in. Most free tours don’t care if you come a little late or leave a little early.
So finally I got up to check-in for myself. Again, every bit of the process seemed to take forever. They told me if I paid cash I could try rolling their dice to see if I didn’t have to pay. Which is kind of cool…but I wasn’t sure I had enough money on hand anyhow, and the dice game would only prolong things. So I declined.
Then one of the workers showed me up to my room. The place was in a sort of apartment complex, so it wasn’t always easy to tell where your room was. So nice of them to show me, but still continued to take more time.
Shoved my things in my locker and ran out the door. It was pretty much 2:30, but I figured that they might not leave right on time and that a big group of walking tour people might be easy to spot near to the starting point.
So I set off on the subway, disembarking at the next stop over and running out to try to find the place. It said it was near the lion fountain. But I again saw no signs of a lion fountain. Hmm. Strange.
I wandered around, and I spotted a large group! I ran over, but I didn’t really hear any one person talking like they were giving a tour. Sure enough, I asked one of the girls standing there and she said she was waiting for the house of terror. I thanked her and bolted off.
After fifteen minutes I realized I wasn’t going to find them.
I sat down on a bench and pulled out my map.
And I realized that the name of the square, was the same name of the street I was currently on. And I’d gotten off at the wrong stop because I’d seen the name and assumed it was the same place. And it wasn’t.
So I sighed and headed back to my hostel. I had some tea and charged my phone and texted my mother in despair over having an afternoon in Budapest and no idea what to do with it.
After finally dealing with my self-pity, I did resolve that I had to see something before night came.
So I took the subway down to the river and then walked for a bit until I came to one of the indoor markets. It was starting to shut down, but I enjoyed getting to see some of it anyhow.
Then I walked over to the other side of the river, the Pest side and randomly decided I was going to walk up to the citadel.
Best decision I’d made of the day.
The views were breathtaking. But best of all, the sun was setting so the city looked even more gorgeous than before.
To any heading to Budapest, this is an easy and fun thing to do. I highly recommend it.
After that I had the fun of getting to walk down in the dark. Not very good lighting apparently, which was a wee bit scary as a woman by myself, but there were other people walking around me so that was reassuring. I’m definitely writing a post on this issue, so you’ll get more details on it later.
I was starting to feel hungry, so I caught the subway back to the area of my hostel. I’d had a recommendation to try Langos Papas, which was nearby and had very cheap traditional Hungarian food, plus I had a voucher from my hostel for a free shot of Palinka, which is a fruit brandy. Spirits are traditional in places like Hungary, so I figured it was worth a shot. Yes that was a pun.
Regardless, I had a goulash for my starter, deer stew with langos for my main course, and then a dessert that I’m still not quite sure what it was… but I did google and found something called begli that looks quite similar. I guess it is a pastry filled with either poppy seeds or walnuts? I preferred the walnut one.
Overall the food was good, and it was quite cheap. Paired it with a beer and then the shot of Palinka which was not too bad either.
After that it was back to my hostel for the night. I had fun chatting with some fellow Americans and weirdly enough four Canadians who had all been on my tour in Bratislava.
I didn’t sleep great unfortunately, which certainly didn’t help with the exhaustion that was beginning to set in after having been to so many places. Unfortunately, the hostel had a large window on one of the walls into the hallway, which did nothing to keep out noises of guests coming back late into the night and let a significant amount of light into the room as well. Not sure what idiot designed that, but very foolish overall. Another reason I wouldn’t recommend this hostel. It’s not a horrible place, but it definitely has some issues. And for the price I think there might be places that are better.
So day two in Budapest.
Now, I’d talked with some people earlier in my trip about the city. And the one thing they highly recommended… was going to the thermal baths.
And I was excited by the prospect! It sounded like an amazing experience, and one of my friends had already told me that maybe I should take it easy and relax a little.
Only problem was…I’d forgotten to bring a bathing suit.
Well not forgotten. Just hadn’t anticipated needing one. To be honest, at all other times during the trip I was either in clothes or pajamas, so really it wasn’t something I would have used excessively.
So the question was what to do? I wanted to go to the baths. I didn’t have the necessary equipment with me other than my flipflops and a towel.
The easy answer was to go buy one. So I did set out for a nearby H & M to see if they might have something. Unfortunately, the store didn’t open until ten. And I wanted an early start at the baths, so that made it a no go.
The second easy answer was one I didn’t particularly like but would nonetheless just have to deal with if I wanted to experience. Swimsuit rental.
A lot of people are maybe hesitant on that. I mean, it sounds a little unhygienic. And weird. However, I’ll just go ahead and say for any fellow forgetful/didn’t think of visiting the baths people in Budapest who can’t or don’t want to buy a suit…this is an easy way to do it.
So the first question you should ask is which bath to visit. There are quite a few in Budapest with the natural and abundant hot springs. However, the most popular are usually the Szechenyi or the Gellert. I was a bit torn, but Szechenyi had better reviews on tripadvisor, lower prices, and was easier to access from my hostel… so it came down to deciding that might be the better one for me.
I headed over and bought my ticket. As I’d suspected, rentals are done inside the spa, so once through the gate I put in the money for my bathing suit rental, part of which I would get back on return. The man looked a bit dubious on my size I told him… I know I’m not a skinny little European thing, but I did look up size conversion and was pretty sure I had it right. However, down in the locker rooms it became apparent it was maybe a little bit small…but I figured it would stretch in the water anyways so no big deal.
And then off to the baths themselves.
I cannot put into words what an amazing experience this was for me. The baths were incredible. Multiple pools all at different temperatures, saunas, and steam rooms as well. Outside there were two very warm pools running, both of which felt amazing in the cool fall air. I sat and enjoyed and relaxed for a bit. Let the stress and tiredness from traveling slowly fade away. Some of the most fun was actually dunking in the colder pools and then hopping back into the warmer ones or going to relax in the saunas.
After two hours (I honestly don’t even remember how much time I spent there, but that sounds about right) I managed to drag myself out. It was very difficult to do, but I felt like I’d had the experience I wanted. I’m not really a massage person, but for anyone looking for that kind of thing I’m sure you can spend more time at the baths for other things like that. Overall I felt like two hours was sufficient and probably enough to experience the baths for the most part.
I dressed and headed off to my hostel again where I grabbed a grocery store lunch before setting back out. I had a few other things in mind I wanted to do like seeing the Parliament, the bunker museum, and some other fun sites. However, I felt like with my limited time a walking tour might be just the thing to help me see some of the major points of the city.
I headed off to meet up with the free walking tour I’d missed the day before. Honestly, I’m just going to have to say it was a disappointment to me.
The tour was very slow paced. In Bratislava I understood why a guide might need to fill some time with discussions of traditions or food or language. But in a big city like Budapest, it seemed strange that so much time was dedicated to those things when there were plenty of sights to see.
I did have to cut out halfway through, so I admit I didn’t see it to the end, but again the pacing just seemed off to me anyways, so it was probably for the best. Besides, I had something else I wanted to do.
See I had to get to my boat tour!
Impulsively I had decided that it might be fun to take a cheap one hour boat tour. Actually all things considered it wasn’t bad value. For an 8 euro student price I had a glass of wine, an audioguide in English, and of course beautiful river views right at sunset (because I know how to plan these things). Utterly perfect. I enjoyed a relaxing, although quite cold ride.
The one good thing I did find out from my walking tour was two restaurant recommendations. So after I was off the boat, I set off to try one of those for dinner.
I tried a place called Koleves. I thought the food was delicious and really enjoyed my time there. Cute atmosphere! Definitely would recommend trying it. And there was a restaurant dog! Who can pass up on that.
Afterwards I headed back to my hostel. I was feeling pretty worn out and ready for bed. I grabbed my laundry at reception, since they wouldn’t let you do it for yourself (still don’t understand that…) and found they’d lost my towel, but they insisted they hadn’t. Lovely fun there. That’s the joy of traveling I suppose.
I wish I’d had more time in this city. It was amazing and beautiful and I will have to go back another time! The best thing for me was being impulsive in Budapest. Deciding to do things on a whim and experiencing new things. I’ll never regret what I was able to see and do while I was here, and it continues to remind me that spontaneity can be a wonderful thing.