I really didn’t know what to expect before my girlfriend and I went to Budapest two weeks ago. Just the name Budapest sounded very exotic to meand I really didn’t know what the food, culture or people would be like. That’s actually one of my favorite things about traveling: That you don’t have a clue (or you may have some preconceived false notions) about a place until you actually go there and see for yourself.
It was the last stop in our trip that included Prague and Vienna. Although I really liked a lot of aspects of Prague and Vienna (and I’ll definitely write about them soon), Budapest was my favorite ‘overall’ city. Our first day in Budapest, we joined a walking tour to orient ourselves to the city. I had never really done any walking tours prior to this trip but now I’m a big fan of them. In a couple hours we got a good run through of the general history of the city and its people, and some good recommendations from the guides who ran the tours about which sites were worth seeing as well as good bars and restaurants to go to.
I really loved the vibe in Budapest. The city has this kind of artsy, comfortable, falling-apart feel to it. It’s in an in between state where the city is not nearly as expensive, fancy or developed as western Europe. A lot of the buildings have a similar style to the ones in Vienna because the Hapsburgs were responsible for much of the construction in the city, although, they’re a lot more grungy than anything we saw in Vienna. There are these bars called ruin bars that are in old run-down buildings and they’re really cool. One we went to called Szimpleis decorated with all these random nick nacks like x-mas lights, records, random toys and they encourage you to tag on the walls so everywhere there’s art from previous patrons.
By the time we hit Budapest we were pretty worn out on museums from Prague and Vienna (not to mention Paris, where I live and where there’s a gozillion of them), so in Budapest we only went to the Terror Museum. It was all about the Soviet occupation and the terror it brought down on the people of Budapest. The building itself was used by soviet officials as a base and in the basement they had the preserved interrogation and holding cells where enemies of the state were tortured. Some of the videos of Hungarians telling their stories about their experiences during that period were pretty gruesome. I thought the museum was one of the most visually striking and artistic I’ve ever seen, however it did leave us wanting for a bit more chronological organization. We found it a bit confusing sometimes what the order of the information that was presented was supposed to be in. Also, instead of having the info written on the walls like most museums, each room had a paper handout about that particular room. By the end we had a big stack of them and I felt a little bad for the amount of paper that must get wasted.
A few days later we also took the Communist walking tour, which was a nice complement to the Terror Museum because we already had the background info. It was really interesting to learn that because Hungary is located in a very central location in central Europe, they have been occupied by several neighboring groups throughout their history such as the Mongols, the Austrian and Ottoman empires, the Nazi party and most recently the Soviet Union.
One of our last days there we went to the one of the two major bath houses there. It was a huge complex with about 15 pools of various temperatures from ice cold to really hot (probably about 105 degrees). The water was from a natural source and was supposed to have minerals and healing properties to it. People recommended jumping from hot pool to cold to hot for healing effects but we mostly stuck to the warm or hot pools and only once ventured into an extremely cold icicle pool. We also tried to go into the steam room which was so hot I thought I was in hell. Literally it was so hot in there that it hurt to breath in the air. I could feel it burning my nostrils and air passages singing my nose hair and I had to cover my nose and mouth to breathe a little easier. We toughed it out for about 5 minutes then got the hell out of there. In any case the bath house was a really nice and relaxing way to spend a day in Budapest. We were there for about 8 hours.
I think we both agreed that Budapest was an amazing city. I would definitely recommend going there and although there are dozens of other cities I want to see in the next few years I’m sure that someday I’ll be visiting Budapest again. Here are a few more photos from the trip…