Friday, July 22, 2011


First things first, Budapest (pronounced boo-duh-pesht) is officially my second favorite city in Europe. There's still plenty of room for that to change given that I've only been to seven European countries, but for now, Budapest is in line right behind Prague.

Buda from Pest

It's big, but not that big. (Two cities in one!)

It's walkable.

It's affordable.

There's a healthy drinking culture.

They have amazing food.

They have a millionty spa baths.

I could basically stop right there and be satisfied (with this blog post that is), but I know you would be disappointed so I'll delve further into our 2.5 days in Budapest.

But first a bit of background: For those of you who don't know already (i.e. almost anyone who is American) Buda and Pest were twin cities (Buda on the west bank of the Danube and Pest on the east) which became one unified city in the late 1800s. It is, of course, the capital city of Hungary.

Hungarians, to me, are quite similar in personality and mannerism to the Czechs. They've both suffered occupation time and time again and are 'technically' very young countries with very young governments but both have extremely long, complicated histories. 

Hungarians, like the Czechs, are cynical and pragmatic. I love them. 

We took a train from B'lava to Budapest's main train station. We quickly and easily snatched up a Budapest card (which allows you on all forms of public transport and gives you discounts to lots of the city's main attractions), jumped on the underground and headed to our flat. 

Our flat. Notice the balcony.
I found our flat online and it cost us just under 70 Euro a night. (Why spend that on a crappy hotel when you can have a whole damn flat?) It was centrally located in Pest walking distance from the Danube and one of the major metro stops. 

So once we arrived, got settled in and checked in with everyone to let them know we were alive, we decided to go in search of food.

We opted to go the expensive route the first night. We found an outdoor patio smack in the center of one of the nearby squares which smelled delicious. 

We proceeded to stuff our faces and drink an entire bottle of amazing Hungarian wine. Two people. One bottle. 

Mmmm, goulash in a cauldron and a bottle of wine.
This is honestly not that surprising or unusual when we're discussing my drinking habits with my friends, but this is my seester we're talking about. She doesn't drink all that often anymore. (Read: She's a cheap drunk.) 

So after getting toasty on vino we decided to walk about near the river. We took pictures and then headed south. Despite being tipsy, I have a damn good sense of direction. (I know that if you keep turning left you end up back where you started.) We ended up back in the square we had eaten dinner watching some bartenders do a flair routine to Lady Gaga. 

I unfortunately did not think to get video. (Apparently my shutterbug instincts go away when I'm wine-drunk.)

After they were done with their routine, we sat down at the bar so we could get a proper drink. We were given a free cocktail (a Sex on the Beach, of course) which seester drank most of. Then we ordered another cocktail each. Then another... plus a kamikaze (which came as a martini instead of a shot?). Needless to say, we were toasty.

What I look like when Gwen is tipsy... And when I am too.
We returned to our flat around midnight where I forced seester to drink some 8903890482 glasses of water and take some Aleve because even I would have a hangover the next morning and we were planning on taking a free walking tour.

Well, planning. 

We actually got up and out the door, but we were both cranky and had trouble finding the walking tour sight. (Note: Don't go on the walking tour that's offered through the Budapest Card. More on this later.) So we gave up, went back to the flat and nursed our hangovers.

That's proper tourism right there.

Chain Bridge
Don't worry, that wasn't it. It was, after all, our only full day in Budapest and there was no way I'd let us waste it. It actually turned out to be a really awesome day. What better way to nurse a hangover than to go to a spa?
Me thinks the Hungarians have got this figured out.

So we tooled around online gathering information about the bajillion bath houses and finally chose Szechenyi Bath. It's in Pest and probably the second most popular. Gellert is supposed to be really big and intricate and pretty, but I did not want to deal with a trillion tourists. 

Sure, there were tourists at Szechenyi, but I'll bet not half as many as there were at Gellert.

See that's a real live posse of old Hungarian men dressed
in red speedos, drinking beer and contemplating life.
I honestly had no idea what to expect. So things to note: 

  • Some baths are hot. Some baths are not. 
  • You can change there and there are lockers for you to keep your junk.
  • Bring a towel or be prepared to give a hefty deposit
  • Be prepared to see old folks naked. Szechenyi doesn't split the sexes (like parts of Gellert and other baths) so you'll only see naked folks in the bathrooms showering. It's unavoidable. Seriously, I tried.
  • Go to the not hot-not cold bath which has the swirly whirly thing. You'll know what I'm talking about when you see it. It's SO MUCH FUN.
  • Food and beer are available. So are cocktails... I stuck with beer.
We hung out at the bath house for like three hours and it was about all I could handle after all the saunas and bathing and trying to take underwater duckface pictures.
So we headed back to the flat, took showers, got pretty and went in search of food.

When in Budapest, the further you go into Pest the cheaper food you find. So we did. 

I ate my face off. By 'ate my face off' I mean I ate the hell out of some chicken papprikash, one of the national dishes. It. Was. Perfect. 

I will learn to make this dish if it kills me. And I will learn to make it well. Of course, like with goulash, there are as many recipes as there are cooks.

That night we decided to check out another district of town that we'd been told had good bars, in particular one called "Paris, Texas." How can a Texan resist the opportunity to see something so random? Well, you should. The service sucks. It's not expensive, but it ain't cheap either. And it just wasn't really all that Texas-y anyway. Not that Paris, Texas, is really the part of Texas I'd want to be taking with me to another country anyway.

However, hangover + sun = early to bed. We found out the hard way that the metro stops early (before midnight!!!) and so we managed to walk back to the flat. (I <3 walkable European cities!)

Matthias Church
The next day we were determined to go on a walking tour and found out that there's one that goes from the square our flat was near and it takes you on a tour of Buda and Pest not one or the other.


Our tour guides were a) Hungarian b) informative c) hilarious.

They all spoke great English. They gave us a quick rundown of Hungarian history. 

Our tour guide, Agnes.

They showed us lots of great stuff. Since it is a free tour they simply walk you around the city, point out all the major attractions and some random things. Then you can decide for yourself after the tour what things you really want to spend the cash on to see the inside of, etc. It's genius really because it also would save you a ton of time on trying to find your way around the city and locate different landmarks. 

At the end they give you tons of useful information that not the average person gets (where to eat, how to save money, what's not worth spending the money on, what to drink). I wish we had done it on day one so we could have used that information, but at least now I know. Because I will be returning. 

I <3 Budapest.

— J

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