Hungary – Budapest

Budapest was yet another city that had been on the bucket list from the very beginning. As many of you who are in Europe know, bucket lists get added to so often that it is hard to remember what they looked like in the beginning. It always seemed a little too difficult or too expensive to get to. Wizz Air flies out of Frankfurt Hahn, but the flight times always seemed to be really inconvenient. It’s important to consider everything when booking flights. If your flight arrives at the destination at 11pm at night, will you be able to get to your hotel?

In the end, through working my magic on the Lufthansa website, I was able to get open jaw flights for under €200 each. While this is quite pricey compared to most of our trips, it wasn’t too far off Wizz Air when considering the flight time (no extra night of accommodation required, or a taxi late at night) and 20kg of luggage is included in the price. We were also able to fly into Budapest and out of Vienna, but that will be explained when I get to my post about Vienna.

It was quite the novelty flying out of Frankfurt Main for once. When I looked up parking at Frankfurt originally it was going to be €100 for only five days in the main terminal. Rather than pay that, I found a hotel (NH Hotels Frankfurt Airport) that included 14 days of parking for €89 a night. I was all over that idea – we wouldn’t have to get up super early in the morning to drive to the airport and we were saving time and money in the process. I think it was a bit of a blooper on booking.com – but hey, we even got the most epic breakfast included in the rate! I would highly recommend that hotel if you are in a similar situation. We haven’t had such a rested night’s sleep in a long time.

Day One

The hotel had a shuttle bus that quickly got us to the airport in about five minutes. The shuttle bus was included in the hotel rate. We had previously checked in online with Lufthansa, so we just had to drop our bags at the check-in counter. Our passports were never checked, which made me feel a little weird. I know that we were travelling in the visa-free Schengen area, but we weren’t Europeans so why weren’t we checked? If anyone knows why then please comment below. It makes me feel uneasy to think that other people could so easily be travelling around, especially from such a major airport.

Our flight left without a hitch, promptly at the scheduled time of 0830. We received a light snack on board of a full sandwich and there was also a full beverage service. What a luxury that was! People were requesting beer and mimosas – what champs! We arrived promptly at 1000 to a scorching hot day in Budapest. We picked up our baggage and I proceeded to make the first mistake of the trip.

While Nick waited dutifully for our bags, I went to withdraw our Hungarian Florints for the trip. I headed over to the machine and was promptly placed in a bit of a conundrum. The machine only gave out large amounts of cash. I had talked to Nick earlier about the exchange rate and couldn’t exactly remember what he had said. I pulled out 80,000 florints thinking that would be roughly $75. Actually it ended up being more like $275. Oops! Lesson learned – when in doubt, don’t pull it out. (Haha).

Our cute apartment
Our cute apartment

We went with airbnb for Budapest as for whatever reason, the accommodation prices seemed to be through the roof for Budapest. I didn’t understand why at the time, but it turned out that we were visiting when the Formula 1 was there! I was much happier with the $60 a night we were able to get for an airbnb trip – after all, this was supposed to be a cheaper trip after our budget-breaking Scottish adventure.

The owner of the apartment we were staying at organized for us to pick up the keys from the luggage storage room at the airport. Well, of course, the man at the desk was really unhelpful. Cue domestic argument in the airport because we were both frustrated over his, frankly, and excuse the language, shit attitude. I ended up calling the owner who scalded the man at the desk over the phone and we were soon on our way.

From my research I managed to find out that public transport was pretty good. There was a machine we could buy passes at right beside the bus that would take us to the metro. For around $5 we got a 24-hour public transportation pass. We put in one of the notes and it spat out the change. Thinking that Hungary was like many other countries that had large denomination coins, we walked away. We were surprised when a man came running up behind us giving us a wad of notes that the machine had spat out after we walked away! Lesson learned – never walk away from an automated machine without counting the change. It was also a good reflection on Hungary – we were immediately struck by the honesty of people.

The bus ride was miserable. The only spare seats were in the back by the motor. Nick was sweating profusely. I was bright red. The ride was about 20 minutes and dropped us off at the mall that was attached to a metro station. Thankfully it was air conditioned in the mall so we had a little bit of time to cool down before we headed into the metro station. The metro was easy to understand and easy to use. After 10 or so stops we were where we needed to be to get to our apartment.

The doors to the courtyard of our apartment
The doors to the courtyard of our apartment

Although the metro wasn’t air conditioned, as soon as we walked out of the station the heat really hit us. There was the local council outside the station giving out bags of water so that people weren’t getting dehydrated. The walk to our apartment only took about five minutes, then we had the drama of trying to figure out how to get into the place. There were two huge wooden doors and a box with the house numbers on it. After a lot of frustration with the key, it turned out there was a fob that we had to hold up to the box. Then the door automatically opened. Nothing like a little more frustration! The little apartment was hidden in a courtyard behind the doors. It felt like another universe! We were happy with it.

After dropping off our bags we headed out to explore, despite the unrelenting heat. We headed to the Great Market Hall, that I had heard a lot about. I knew it closed early on Saturdays, so we hurried through all of the interesting tourist areas to get there in time. Once we got there, it was unbelievably hot and stuffy. I didn’t want to buy anything to eat there because I was worried about it not being air conditioned in there and after my unfortunate food poisoning experience in Vienna, I didn’t want to risk it. It was interesting to walk around, but I would say – in my own opinion – that Barcelona’s Boqueria was better. Hungary is well known for it’s paprika and the majority of stalls seemed to have their own version available for sale.

Grand Market Stalls
Grand Market Stalls

Our tummies were rumbling after walking around and looking at all the food so we headed back to the only place I knew for sure would be air conditioned – Hard Rock café. We were both celebrating/commiserating. Nick got a great promotion at work, and I had just had my last day at the job that I had grown to love. As I was not leaving by choice, it felt necessary to indulge in the Hard Rock alcoholic beverages for once. Let me say – the electric blue drink is fantastic. It’s probably the cheapest we will ever have. We left the Hard Rock café after at least two hours of having whatever we wanted for under $35. Go the Hungarian Florint!

After browsing shops for the afternoon, the weather broke into a random storm. It suddenly started raining as we were heading to our nighttime boat cruise along the Danube. I have to spend some time discussing this cruise, because it really was pretty ridiculous.

Our tickets said to go to a certain location where everyone would be gathered together for the cruise. We then all walked together for over 15 minutes to the boat – I’m not sure why we didn’t just meet up there at the allotted time. They then held us there at the dock for another 10 minutes in the rain before we got onto the boat. As we weren’t eating on the cruise, we were shunted into an outdoor area of the boat. Our ticket included two drinks, the first of which was thankfully given to us as got on the boat. We then sat there on the boat for at least half an hour before we even left.

The tour eventually started and it turned out to be pretty great timing. As we cruised north along the Danube, we got to see all of the sights in semi-daylight. On the way back we saw them in the dark, with all of the beautiful lights lit up. Budapest really is stunningly beautiful – in a very different way to many other parts of Europe. I can see why Vienna became insecure about Budapest when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – it actually is more beautiful.

As we were on the cruise, the storm continued. The wonderful thing about it was that the rain didn’t persist, but the electrical storm did. As we cruised along, incredible lightning lit up the sky. The skyline of Budapest, particularly the parliament, looked all the more stunning. While I don’t recommend the tour that we took, I do recommend doing a cruise on the Danube, particularly one at night. I really do think it was magical.

After the cruise we walked through the city back to the apartment. At 11pm the city was pumping, mainly full of young people socializing and having a drink. I find it hard to describe the feel of where we were staying – I would call it hipsterville. There were open areas for drinking, kind of like bars that weren’t enclosed. I loved it. There wasn’t any fighting or drunkenness going on, for the most part everyone seemed to be having a good time without any drama. It’s a little embarrassing, but I didn’t expect Budapest to be like that. I expected it to be a little more Prague-like; I expected the dark undertone to exist here too. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure it would be there if you were looking for it – but that wasn’t obvious. I thought given its Soviet-era past that it would be a little more ‘eastern’ feeling.

Day Two

Our second day started off with eating a couple of pieces of pizza for breakfast. It was pretty good, I believe the place was called Pizza Me – there were several of them around the place. For under $5 we got two pieces of pizza and a drink to share.

We then jumped on the Hop On Hop Off bus. It’s the first time we have utilized one before, even though they have been in every city we have been to. I had heard that all of the attractions in Budapest were really spread out, and it seemed like that was pretty true advice. The pass we got was a 48 hour pass and it helped to get us to what we wanted to see. We sat on the bus for a good one hour before getting off at the old royal palace. There was the option of taking the tram up or walking up. We of course opted to walk up.

At the top of the hill were beautiful sweeping views of the city. We wandered back down through the royal grounds and ended up coming across a bit of a random event. There were men in interesting looking uniforms walking down the hill with all sorts of brass instruments. Suddenly they started playing a variety of tunes over the next few minutes. I love random things like that when we travel – right place, right time without even knowing it!

Hipster pub/cafe
Hipster pub/cafe

We rode around the bus some more, hopping on and off to see what we wanted to see. Later that day we hopped off again at the palace and walked up to a small hole in the wall pub that had a neat outdoor seating area. Nick had a local beer and I had a local wine – both were pretty great and it was a really neat atmosphere. Again, quite hipster! If I didn’t know I was in Budapest then only the language being spoken would have given away that we were in eastern Europe.

A few weeks earlier I had booked a wine tasting. The only available spot for a couple of months turned out to luckily be for one of the days we were in Budapest. I jumped on the chance to try it out as it seemed to have pretty good reviews. The directions were a little odd. “Go to the Hilton hotel and head to the basement. Follow the signs. There are 54 steps.” Umm – ok! It sounded like a dungeon.

First of all, the Hilton has a lot to answer for. Right next door to the beautiful Matthias church was a hideous looking monstrosity that was the Hilton. Think of the most awful 1980s style building you can think of and that would probably look better than this place did, but I digress. We headed inside and followed the directions and came to a very small wine cellar – and yes, it was deep inside the Hilton. I would call it more of an annex. There were five tables with two groups already there when we arrived, but each of us had our own wine tastings independent of each other.

Our host was quick to get us started on our first wines. They were all very generous pours. The first three were pretty good. The fourth was a little harder to swallow. After that, I don’t really remember how they tasted. The tasting cost about €24 and included seven full size tastings and the eighth was a repeat serving of your favourite. During the tasting only one serving of bread was offered. This lead to my downfall. My recommendation would be that unless you have a high tolerance for wine, then eat a big meal before the tasting and/or opt for a shorter tasting.

We purchased a couple of bottles of wine – a very different tasting sauvignon blanc, and a local specialty. The Hungarian varieties were very different; I was really surprised by them. It was definitely a novelty. If you’re interested, the wine cellar is Faust Wine Cellar.

The advantage of the cellar being inside the Hilton is that it was easy for Nick to hail us a cab. It cost about $10 to get a cab all the way back to our apartment, which was some distance away. Let’s just say I got a really good night of sleep that night!

Day Three

I woke up surprisingly refreshed and not hungover, which I have to say was impressive. Obviously the Hungarian wine is easy to consume and doesn’t have any lasting effects! I purposely didn’t have anything booked for Monday so that we didn’t have to rush in the morning.

The street outside our apartment doors
The street outside our apartment doors

We decided to use Monday to explore on foot. We headed out and started walking through the main center, following our noses and letting our bellies decide where to go. We tasted delicious tapas-like bread with toppings. We stopped at a supermarket and got some pastries. We had lunch at a place called Hummus, which was pretty yummy Middle Eastern food.

Eventually we made it on foot to see the Parliament up close. I wasn’t interested in doing an actual tour, but walking right beside the building was really lovely. It’s intricate up close – there’s so much detail to it. We went along the Danube for a stroll and ended up passing by the Holocaust memorial. For those that don’t know, Hungarian Jewish were not immune to the Holocaust. At one point, the Nazis rounded up the Jewish people and shot them. Their bodies fell into the Danube where they were washed away. It was deeply moving to see that no one was immune – the little toddler shoes really brought it home.

The Holocaust Memorial
The Holocaust Memorial

On a lighter note, after lunch we ended up doing a little more window shopping. Nick got told off by a grumpy old Hungarian woman for trying to pat her dog that she had in a shop with her. “Nononononononono!” It was actually kind of funny.

There was a delicious pastry shop that we walked past. There was a man eating a custard square looking thing in the window, so we couldn’t help but go in there. For less than the equivalent of 50 cents we got to try a delicious sensation. It was pretty much a custard square, but with a layer of sweet, thick cream on top of the custard and a caramel flavoured icing. So yum!

We ended up getting stuck in the rain, but that was okay. We ended up going to the famous New York café and tucked into a delicious dessert pastry that was a pistachio flavoured cake. It’s hard to explain, but it was extremely tasty. The actual building itself is the draw card for most people visiting Budapest. It was originally opened in 1894 and was a popular hangout for writers and editors. It fell into disrepair after the two world wars and neglect during the communist era. It was restored since the fall of the Soviet Union and is now a popular tourist attraction. I recommend popping in for a coffee and snack just to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Monday seemed to be all about eating our way around the city. I managed to score a reservation with the top rated restaurant in Budapest, Comme Chez Soi. I had read about the amazing hospitality and couldn’t wait to splurge on a delicious meal. Given the USD/HUF conversion rate, I knew we could splurge more than we ever have at a restaurant before and we had all intention of doing so.

On arrival we were swiftly seated by our friendly host and I believe, owner. He gave us drink recommendations – I wasn’t keen on a wine but he talked me into a Hungarian chardonnay. It was delicious as it was un-oaked. He quickly brought us a free appetizer – and that’s not where the free stuff ended! We had a delicious bruschetta that was probably the best I’ve ever had. Our main course wasn’t even on the menu – he came up with it when we were asking about different side options. Soon came free tokaj wine, free chocolates, free gelato, free limoncello. When we ordered a dessert and asked for two spoons, he instead brought out two half portions so Nick and I could have our own plates. This was seriously the best restaurant experience we’ve ever had. If you’re going to Budapest, do not miss out on Comme Chez Soi! While we were seated he turned away over ten groups trying to walk in, his next available wasn’t until three weeks later and they were lunchtime bookings.

I’m sure we put on at least three kilograms each in Budapest, but it was completely worth it. I definitely feel like we didn’t see all that we wanted to see in that timeframe – I think at least four days in Budapest would be the perfect amount of time. We didn’t go to any of the baths that Budapest is famous for as the thought of a spa in the heat wasn’t very appealing, however I think we’d do that if we were to go in a cooler part of the year. I think we will end up doing another trip back to Budapest. It is truly beautiful – every turn we made there was something breathtaking to look at. The fact is is more of a budget destination (once you are there) certainly helps, too!

IMG_7123

In my next blog I will discuss us travelling from Budapest to Vienna.

Until next time,

Emma


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