14.05.15 – 19.05.15
We arrived in Budapest an hour and a half later than expected, with little energy, the wrong currency and no idea how to get to our hostel. Not really the best start, but we were still in relatively good spirits all things considering. After getting our taxi driver to stop at an ATM, we now have Forints to pay him and arrive at the Budapest Bubble Hostel at close to midnight. We’re met by friendly worker Gene, a Californian who’s been living in Budapest for two years, who gives us a tour of the small hostel.
Bubble is fine, in terms of the vibe and atmosphere it reminds us of JJ’s in Lagos. The facilities are a bit basic and the mattresses really aren’t very comfortable at all, but it’s a small place –only about 16 beds. I think that’s what you’re mostly paying for, a personable and social experience where it’s very easy to get to know everyone staying there, as well as the staff and owner, Gabor. And even with the simple facilities, it is in a very central location –right next door to the national museum and barely a 10-minute walk from the Jewish Quarter.
Because we arrived much later than anticipated, we were completely famished after checking in, but with only a handful of choices available at 1am. Gene said our best option for some good local food, specifically Goulash, would be five minutes down the road at a place called ‘Pub For Sale’. After wearily walking down the main street, past several, closer, tempting Kebab shops, we ended up at this interesting ‘Pub For Sale’. Inside the walls were completely covered in paper –thank you notes, business cards, torn up menus- while the floors you had to wade through a thick layer of peanut shells, remnants from the huge bowls on every table. We were recommended to only order Goulash, and only order one between us. Daniel has a huge appetite at the best of times, and mine’s not bad either, but we could barely finish the tasty Goulash that was presented to us, along with the half a loaf of bread and countless condiments. Side note- a pub completely concealed by paper and peanut shells should probably not have candles on every table, but at least it added a little bit of adrenalin to the dining experience. Will I possibly engulf the place in flames as I reach over the candle for the salt, or won’t I? #daredevil
The Jewish Quarter is where you’ll find the famous ‘ruins bars’ of Budapest, and so on our next night we did a bit of a bar hop with some people from the Bubble and met up with some others doing an organised pub crawl as part of their hostel. The bars are amazing, kind of eerie in a way when you think of all the interesting and complicated histories of the quarter and all of the buildings. As far as the main ruins bars go, I’d summarise:
Szimpla – The original, and maybe the most interesting. It’s maybe the place to go to start your night, as it’s got a pretty relaxed vibe. There’s no dance floor, it’s more about open mic nights, ordering some shisha and having good chats with friends. It’s absolutely huge, infinite bars and ramshackle rooms spread across two floors. Like I said there’s no dance floor, but come midnight one has usually materialised somewhere. Also, on Sunday mornings it becomes a market place selling anything from home made jams to vintage clothing.
Anker’t– Also a good place to go early on, or stay the whole night if you want a place to hang out, especially during the warm summer nights. It’s a massive outdoor beer garden, but also has an edgy feel thanks to the neon lights scattered in the ruins above your head.
Kuplung – An interesting place which is more than a bar, but not quite a club. There’s a large outdoor area as you walk in, but then keep walking down the back towards a door which leads you to an inside room with a long bar, a dance floor and a stage. When we were there a Hungarian band playing 1950s style American music were playing and it was a fun experience to say the least.
Fogas Haz – Definitely more of a club, somewhere to end the night. Formerly home to a dentist practice, it’s pretty hard to get in to after 1am, but we got lucky. There’s one main dance floor, and then smaller rooms splinter off from the sides. We were almost ready to leave, but we decided to explore a little bit and then all of a sudden BLAM we discovered a whole other world. A massive outdoor area, probably a beer garden during the day but on a Friday night is was full to the brim of people and there was also a DJ set up too.
There are tonnes of ruins bars in the Jewish Quarter, and these are only a handful, but they are the biggest and the best known –apart from one, Instant. We didn’t get a chance to go to Instant unfortunately, but I hear there’s some pretty interesting décor going on there. Something to put on the list for next time!
The Danube River flowing through the centre of the city is stunning; the clear and calm waters lap against both the Buda or Pest side, and a mix of old and new bridges connect them to make one amazing city. It’s a really walkable city, the Pest side (where we’re staying) is almost completely flat, whereas the Buda side is a bit more hilly and uneven. It’s still nothing too challenging, but if you’re not feeling confident enough to walk to the top of the hill to see the castle or citadel on the Buda side, there is a funicular there too. But I’d recommend the walk, to save money and also to help burn off all those cheap beers drank the night before.
When we reached the castle, it was a lot more than I was expecting –as in there was so much more than ‘just’ a castle. It was almost like a little village up there, a number of interesting churches, a lot of cafes and small restaurants, infinite lookout points to see the city below from every single angle.
Even though Budapest is very walkable, another easy way to see the city is renting bikes. We used Yellow Zebra Bike Rentals –also attached to Yellow Bar, which is handy for quenching thirst after you return said bikes. We rode from the Jewish Quarter, along the river and then ended up at Margaret Island which is a fair way down the river, but really quickly accessible by bike. It’s an awesome inner city park, complete with huge fountain; which has an hourly music show. After resting our legs for a bit, and watching the fountain show, we spent the afternoon cycling around the park, which seemed to go on forever, enjoying the chance to people watch, dog watch and try and cycle with no hands. We afterwards also took the chance to cycle to another park, the City Park, which is larger and more central. To be honest, this one was really crowded and so lacked the urban oasis feel of Margaret Island.
If you’re not remotely claustrophobic and have a good sense of adventure, Caving is a definite must. We booked it through Bubble early on, so I had a good few days to mull it over and thought about cancelling every few hours. I’d heard stories from people who’d done it, or people who’d had friends that did it, and they were always positive –but they still always said it was really physical and involved getting stuck in tight spaces. I’m happy to say though that I didn’t back out, and it was not as terrifying as I was imagining! Apart from Dan and myself, there were three American guys, plus a group of about seven German guys, presumably on some kind of boys weekend. So I was the only chick, but this actually made me feel selfishly better, because everyone else on the group was bigger than me – so they were always going to get stuck before me! And of course they did several times, and so did I at one or two points, but apart from being scared the whole situation was kind of hilarious so mostly I just tended to get the giggles. It was definitely still pretty physical, although I am really unfit and it was fine mostly. I did however have a few bruises the next day. The guides are also really great, they honestly know the caves inside out, which is a strange thought when everything inside looks so similar.
Our visit to Budapest wouldn’t have been complete without checking out one of the thermal bathhouses spread across the city. We chose to visit Gellert, partly because it was walking distance from the hostel, but also because it’s meant to be one of the most beautiful of the city. The art nouveau style is really wonderfully relaxing, from the intricate, colourful tiles, to the stunning statues inside and outside. We arrived early, before 9am, so there were hardly any people there, mainly a lot of older patrons to be honest. We were also blessed with warm weather nearly all week, so spent most of the morning in the outside pools, enjoying the bliss. You could easily spend all day there, but unfortunately we had to leave to check out of Bubble and catch a train to Slovenia at lunchtime.
Overall, Budapest completely lived up to my expectations. It’s such a vibrant yet relaxed, old yet young city. We had five days there but could have easily spent many, many more there. Until next time, Budapest.