So I know I went to Budapest in January, but since I started uni again I've been too busy to sit down and formally write my post about this trip, so two months later, here goes!
Budapest (pronounced Budapesht) is the hustling and bustling capital of Hungary... well, sort of. Whilst it is the largest city and arguably the most important one for this Eastern European country, at the time that I visited it was pretty dead. Featuring snow, rain and below-freezing temperatures, January is the coldest month of the year and understandably, the tourism was off-peak and even locals didn't want to venture outdoors.
On day one we arrived in the evening and successfully navigated our way from the airport to the hostel, which was called Rastel Hostel probably because it's ran by Rastafaris. Keen to stock up on snacks, we were delighted to see there were many Tesco supermarkets around where we could see some gastronomic differences. We then explored Ráday utca, Budapest's famous street restaurant street, where I enjoyed a lovely meal featuring some traditional sour cream.
We kicked off the next day with a free walking tour of the Pest side, where we got to learn a lot more about Hungarian culture as well as see some classic city sites. Some interesting things I was told by my tour guide (and haven't found evidence online to support them) include:
Getting around Budapest
Travelling around Budapest was relatively simple. I think in normal weather conditions you could definitely explore the city by foot as it is rather small. There is however, a reliable (but not heated) network of metros, buses and trams.
The Budapest Metro is the second oldest electrified underground railway system in the world and whilst being timely and efficient, still rocks some old school infrastructure. The quaint yellow Line 1 - a declared World Heritage Site - took us conveniently to the popular Széchenyi thermal bath, which were the highlight of the trip. I was shrieking like a girl when I had to run in a bikini across snow and gravel to get into the warm waters in the outdoor pools but I look back fondly on the memory now :)
Night-life and social scene
The night-life we experienced was pretty hit and miss. We visited two gay bars, one aimed at the older generation where I had a dance with a nice gentleman who looked a bit like a Sontaran from Doctor Who and chatted to the pessimistic yet cheerfully sarcastic bar man about the social and economic issues in his country. We tried the typical Hungarian drink unicum and then moved on to a slightly more happening bar where I made the mistake of ordering us some cocktails on the basis that they "sounded fun". One was a disgustingly strong cosmopolitan-lookalike, whilst I got lumbered with something awful made with black coffee!
On another day we braved the crap arctic weather to go to a nightclub called 5kert, where it seemed all the beautiful young people of Budapest had been hiding all along. This brings to mind a funny incident at a laundry/internet cafe, where the owner who had been recommending us bars to try said as we were leaving "Wait, look at this!". We turned back and he swivelled his monitor round and showed us this - which made my friend think we were going to be murdered or something!
Budapest in my opinion is a great place to go to and look at cultural sites and learn more about a place that is really quite different from anything in Western Europe. It's very accessible through Easyjet and extremely cheap, especially if you search for well-disguised local canteens such as Frici Papa - just don't expect anyone to even say hello to you when you enter or leave a restaurant! Also on the food note, Hungary has markets dedicated to selling it's paprika and sausages, but you may suffer a little in terms of finding vegetarian options in non-touristy restaurants. One thing I didn't do there was go into Labyrinth of Buda Castle, because it was pretty expensive and wouldn't even have been scary because the tunnels were wide and well lit - which might be right up your street! I did however give in to buying a shot glass as a souvenir and kept a 100 Forint coin for memories.
My top advice for anyone visiting Budapest? Come in the summer so that you aren't miserably cold and so that there's no fog obstructing the lovely views you can get of the river, parliament and city from the Buda mountain!
- REVIEW: Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott