Relax and be Spontaneous – Budapest

“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.


Yet another train station selfie!

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.


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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.

Did I Make a Mistake? A Trip to Bratislava

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
Clifton Fadiman

I am not even a little ashamed to admit I didn’t tell any of my teachers that I was going to Bratislava. After having my host mom get a little bit paranoid about me traveling last time (and that was with another person), I was not in the mood to have people start worrying about me. So as far as they know…I’m going to Austria and Germany…which is true…but not just Austria and Germany.

Why Bratislava? Because I wanted to ensure I saw some new things, not just new cities, but also new countries.

Ideally I actually wanted to go to Ljubljana in Slovenia. Because it is a bigger city and supposed to be up and coming as a tourist town. However, it put me way off track and I would have had to probably go through Italy. And I discovered last time that Italy on the Eurail pass sucks. Why? Because any train that takes you anywhere you need to go needs a reservation. Which costs more money and takes more time and effort.

So new country that was logically placed for this trip? Slovakia.

As my trip to Slovakia became closer I began to feel more and more nervous. It didn’t help that on my first night two of my roommates were in awe that I would dare to go to a more “eastern” European country by myself. I’ll have to post later on traveling alone as a woman, but that definitely did not put me at ease.

I’d done everything in my power to be prepared. Read a few things on Slovakia. Picked up an ebook of Slovak and other eastern European languages. Booked a hostel that was supposed to be excellent. But no matter how much preparation you do, there’s only so much you can ease anxiety.

I boarded my train and spent most of my ride simply trying to ease my worries. Everything was going to be fine. I was only going for a night. I could just hide in my hostel if need be right?

I arrived and immediately started feeling waves of anxiety as soon as I stepped off the train. The station itself was grubby and disorderly. Not in the way that most train stations are. There was a pile of dirt in the middle of the one of the floors with a few rails around it and no sign of anyone actually doing construction. I walked out the main doors and heard the chatter of a language I didn’t understand a single word of, and certainly couldn’t begin to speak. After having spent so much time in Prague, I’d become used to hearing a little English almost everywhere. Here I felt completely alone.

Feeling like I was maybe in over my head, I immediately decided to head towards my hostel. However, they’d told me to take tram 1. And in front of me I only saw buses. But maybe the hostel had mistranslated?

I didn’t really like the thought of taking the bus, but I would do so if need be. So I walked over and looked at the schedule.

No bus 1 listed. No anything 1 listed. All the numbers were 203 and 46. I looked at a map but again felt hopelessly lost. And most of it was covered in graffiti anyways.

I hesitated to ask directions. Did anyone even speak English here? I had no idea? Maybe. Would they respect me asking them that in English? I was feeling panicked so I headed back to towards the station and had a seat. A homeless man came over to bother me for money as I tried looking on my phone to see if there was any indication where a tram or bus 1 might be. My phone wasn’t giving me clues so I glanced at the hostel directions again. Sure enough it still said tram 1. I was toying with calling them. Or maybe trying to walk.

Just as I was beginning to feel hopeless I looked up and noticed a sign.

A bright yellow icon of what looked to be a tram.

I sprang to my feet and grabbed my bags and rushed towards this beautiful sign that was leading me back towards the station. I hustled onwards, trying to keep my smile in control even as I wanted to laugh and shout for joy.

Sure enough after heading down a long corridor and down some stairs I came to where a line of trams were waiting. One of them had the number one on its sign. I did my best to not start exclaiming my happiness as I stepped onto the transportation and settled into a seat.

I was surprised to see the tram was fairly modern looking. Decently clean too. Actually cleaner than some of the German transport I’d been on. And they even had the screens that play advertisements, showing several for tourist things and including English. I smiled as I began to realize it wasn’t as bad as I’d made it out to be. Clearly this place was trying. Perhaps it wasn’t quite the hellhole my imagination had made it out to be.

I arrived at my stop and walked a short ways to my hostel. I found it with no problems, which was another reason to celebrate. I headed up to the reception and checked in.

I stayed at Hostel Blues, which again had been given really good reviews, even won a Hoscar or two (yes that’s right…hostel awards…such things do exist). And sure enough I soon found out why. The price was really affordable for being right downtown, and it was really quick walking distance to the old town too. On top of that the staff was the friendliest and most helpful of any other hostel staff I have EVER encountered. So incredibly kind and warm.


The view from my hostel window!

They handed me a brochure on restaurants to try and different local foods I might enjoy, and pointed out various activities including a free walking tour they recommended. I’ve never had a hostel do this before, but when they handed me a map they went over it with me. Most just mark their hostel if anything, but Hostel Blues made a point of showing me what was good to see, asked how many nights I was staying, and told me the easiest ways to get around.

I headed off to the castle first. I’d read on Tripadvisor that it was a reconstruction, so I wasn’t particularly interested in going inside, and didn’t have time anyways if I was going to catch the walking tour. But I knew the views were supposed to be amazing, and I was right! It was a nice hike up the hill and then I enjoyed looking down at the city.

From there I headed down to meet the walking tour. For any looking it’s called Be Free Tours.

My hostel had said something about a statue, and I thought they’d said a man on a horse. But when I arrived at the square I could find no men on horses. And it was a big square too! Not the small little things I was used to. So I wandered up and down for a while trying to find a horse, only to see an orange sign and realizing I must have simply misheard.

Our guide was this small bubbly Slovak woman who was clearly very excited to share her country with us.

As Bratislava is not a really big place, she led us through the main sites, but she also took some time to share with us about Slovak history, culture, language, and food. In a bigger city I might have been annoyed by this, but I felt she showed us all the main points of the city that were close enough together to walk to, and found these additions a good way to balance and make it feel like we were getting our money’s worth. Plus her enthusiasm was simply contagious. No break, which I found unusual for a walking tour, but all in all I recommend it as a good way to get oriented if you are going to Bratislava.

She showed us the old town area, and the statue that’s supposed to bring you luck if you pat his head or babies if you rub his nose (I just patted his head thank you), and some of the other fun sites, before ending near the famous blue church.

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After it was over, I tried to head to a restaurant that both the guide and my hostel had recommended after. But unfortunately there was no menu posted, which didn’t put me at ease with eating there. So I picked up a discount ticket for another place close to my hostel called the Slovak Pub where they were supposed to have a great example of the garlic soup, a local dish that was supposed to be tasty.

So I headed over there. Unfortunately, the only space left to sit was smoking room only. Times I truly dislike Europe, but I was hungry and not in the mood to go find another place, so I sat down and figured it made for a more real pub atmosphere. My clothes smelled for a few days after, but what’s laundry for anyways?

Anyhow, I ordered the garlic soup and some salad (hadn’t been getting enough green veggies that’s for sure) and a local beer.

The garlic soup arrived and I was so glad I hadn’t ordered anything else as a “main” dish because it was HUGE.

Overall it wasn’t my favorite unfortunately. I’m not a big garlic fan if it’s not mixed in with other flavors, and I didn’t feel there was much else to flavor the soup. Very creamy and filling, but just not really to my palate, and there was WAY too much bread to possibly finish.


After that I headed back to my hostel.

So overall would I recommend a stop in Bratislava? Well I can tell you (since I’m not really writing in real time) that I ran into not one, not two, but THREE groups from my Bratislava walking tour in Budapest (one of which was in my same room at my hostel…what the heck). So this is quite a common thing to do. I honestly think it’s a fun way to get a taste of another culture, and it makes for a very logical stop between Prague and Budapest.

Overall, I enjoyed myself, but probably wouldn’t have stayed a lot longer. Maybe one more day to see a few museums that I missed. So yes, I’d recommend it if you’re looking to add something different between some stops. Would I say you should go to Bratislava all by itself? Probably not worth the money, but it’s up to you! The main thing I’d say is I was more comfortable than I’d expected there. Certainly a little more out of my comfort zone than in “western” Europe, but still much better than I might have thought. So for any with similar anxieties, don’t you worry too much. Bratislava is a nice place, and I’m glad I had a chance to stop by!