Arriving in Budapest, Hungary, shortly after midnight, a smile crossed my face as I took in my surrounds, there is always something exhilarating about touching down in new lands. Arriving at night in any destination makes tricky for me to form an informed first impression, as bright lights can be deceiving. The Hotel apartment we were staying in was situated in Kiraly Street, slap bang in the city centre. The street was alive and bustling with bars, cafes and revelers on a night out. This was definitely a good choice in location. Budapest is separated by the Danube River into two parts, Buda and Pest, the two sides couldn’t differ more in character, landscape and ambiance. I couldn’t wait to discover the sites, food and people, the three top reasons I love to travel.To my delightful surprise, the apartment had a view of St Stephen Basilica and the major attractions were but a stone’s throw away. While the city slept peacefully at dawn, our keen sense of adventure took over and led us on a stroll. On the stroll, we made interesting discoveries, such as little quaint coffee shops, cafes, antique and thrift shops littered on the narrow cobbled roads.
As we were wandering, it was nearing 6 am when suddenly my senses were aroused by the comforting homely smells of fresh bakes. Instinctively following the smell that led to a petite bakery. My heart sank as the man inside motioned that they were not opened for the day, needless to say we went back for some freshly baked croissants and bread rolls, which were well worth the wait. Whenever I travel, I have a golden rule: my diet goes on holiday when I do. After all, your experience is incomplete without indulging in local cuisine, this is how I justify putting aside healthy eating habits.
Traveling to Budapest was a spur of the moment decision, a friend spontaneously wanted to go for her birthday so I was more than happy to go. Before I travel anywhere, I ensure that I am overloaded with information about my target destination. I even learn a few phrases to get me by, I admit I knew very little about the city when I arrived but learnt so much by the end of my stay. One thing I did check was the cost of living, which I found quite reasonable. The Hungarian Forint is their currency and other major currencies are widely accepted.
With the myriad of dessert shops, street food offering oversized pizza slices, shawarmas and rich cuisine, it was surprising that I hardly saw any overweight people in Budapest. I learnt that Hungarians live very active lifestyles; I guess being calorie conscious is furthest from their minds.
We could not have chosen a better time to go, July is summer in Europe, and the weather was perfect for shorts and T-shirts. The sun was pleasant and wind offered a cool breeze on most days, the kind of weather that calls for a refreshing cold beverage. Not being an avid beer drinker, as I dislike the bitter aftertaste, I surprisingly grew very fond of their local brew Dreher that really hit the spot and quenched my thirst each time. Although I must say, I sampled Singha beer in Thailand and it still ranks first in my books.
we stayed a couple of blocks from the Ruin Pubs, which were once home to the Jewish community before World War II.
Beautiful ruins The Ruin Pubs are essentially abandoned buildings that have been converted into pubs and are decorated with old worn pieces of furniture bizarre art, toys and gimmicks that are hippy, retro funky, weird and wonderful. In one of the pubs, a vintage car is used as a seat where you could enjoy a drink. It was absolutely gob smacking and intriguing -junk has never looked more beautiful. The most popular of the Ruin Pubs is called Szimpla Kert, with its bustling vibrant vibe; provided a chilled laid back vibe. They serve food at the Pubs so they double up nicely as a dinner cum drink joint. There is just something about the food in Hungary. While at Szimpla Kert,I had one of the most delicious beef burgers while perched on an old bench overlooking hanging bicycles, what more could one ask for?. The Ruin Pubs are scattered close in the vicinity, which means you can pub hop effortlessly, even on one leg.
Hungary is famous for having the largest Parliament building in Europe. The Opera House, was absolutely enchanting, captivating and charming and a must see for those who like me, had never seen one.
Shopaholics alert For shopping enthusiasts, a walk down Andrassy Avenue and Vaci Avenue will definitely prove exhilarating. It feels like a New York of sorts, with many designer stores offering the latest fashion. If that were not enough, there are plenty jewellery, shoe, antique and souvenir shops and so much more. Be prepared to do a lot of walking as both Andrassy and Vaci Avenue span quite a few kilometers. Chances of getting lost are slim as the city is quite small but if you do, don’t be afraid to ask, the people are pretty amiable however English is not widely spoken so communication tends to be difficult..
The Central Synagogue situated in Dohany Street happens to be the largest Synagogue in Europe ironically. Outside the Synagogue, stands a weeping willow tree made from stainless steel and silver and on its 4000 leaves, the names of the Hungarian Holocaust victims. The tree is potent in evoking feelings of sadness and empathy.
Buda is separated from Pest by the Chain Bridge. As previously mentioned the two places differ in character greatly. Whilst Pest is bustling and lively, Buda is more relaxed, serene and scenic. Buda is hilly so one has the option of either taking the cable cart or working off the gelato by walking up Gellert Hill to experience the gorgeous panorama. If you are adventurous enough you can climb up to see Liberty Statue which commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary. I loved the little parks everywhere around Budapest, which offered a perfect spot for those who wish to read, catch up with friends or even dance.
Buda is surrounded by greenery and cobbled uphill roads, it is where you find Castle District, Museums, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion, Gresham Palace, where I was fortunate enough to see the changing of the guards at exactly 15:00. The views of Pest across the quiet Danube are breathtaking. There is a charming little Café at Fisherman’s Bastion where we were serenaded with Hungarian and Gypsy folklore music while spooning chocolate fudge ice cream into my mouth.
Bday/ Farewell Cruise We had the pleasure of winding up my stay on a magnificent cruise down the Danube River watching the sun set in the horizon, candle lit dinner, gourmet food, wine swirling in my hand, a band in the background playing Eric Clapton classics. You gaze to your left and see Buda and Pest on the other side, both so proudly beautiful knowing that the lights that dance upon them do not provide a façade of beauty but accentuate every inch of this captivating and intriguing city.