Monday, June 22, 2015

Budapest, Part 1: #ObsessedwithBudapest

It is official: I am totally, completely in love with this city.

View of Budapest from Fisherman's Bastion (what is a bastion, do we know?)

A Lot of Gushing About Budapest:
Budapest is, hands down, my favorite city I've hit on this trip so far. I can't totally explain it, but something about this city just speaks to me. Imagine a city that has all the gorgeous historic charm of an Eastern European city - the riverfront is so, so pretty, with incredibly detailed architecture and take-your-breath-away buildings, complete with hilltop views of the city, castles, churches; you know, all the usual. Then you combine that with the funky, incredible, cooler-than-hipster vibe of the city itself. For example, in the area I'm staying, there's literally hundreds of cafes and bars and eateries - like adorable, local, awesome Brooklyn-esque cafes, only 10 million times better.

My first night here, I was looking for a place to eat and happened upon a small cafe near the hostel. It looked cute enough, so I walked into what I thought was just a small room. However, I saw a back door and headed out that way - and instantly, was in this huge, gorgeous courtyard - complete with fairy lights, awesome outdoor seating, a live piano player, rose-covered vines growing up the sides of the walls, small clusters of people - the works.  It just took my breath away. And every single place here is like that; it's insane. Any of Budapest's restaurants/cafe/bars, if you took just one and dropped it into New York, it would instantly become the hippest, no-reservations, never-can-get-a-table, place-to-be-seen spot of the year.

<end gush>

What It's All About:
Budapest is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been in. It’s equal parts gritty, hip, unique, gorgeous, historic, and funky.  It’s actually two cities in one (Buda and Pest) , that are separated by the Danube River. 

A little bit of Soviet era grittiness peeking through

A brief history lesson: Budapest used to be a huge deal - along with Vienna, they were dual capitals of the powerful Austro-Hungarian empire.  Which means both these cities were totally and utterly devastated by WWI, resulting in both cities being occupied by the Nazis in WWII, and then the Soviets shortly thereafter (hence the “Iron Curtain”/Communism business).  It’s crazy because these once-grand empires fell so, so far after the war- and then were under oppression from the Nazis, then Communists, for so long - and now, Budapest is trying to sort itself out and figure out what kind of city it wants to be post-Communism. Communism didn’t even leave Budapest till 1989! CRAZY.  

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  •  A walking tour of the city (obvs):

    View of Pest and the Danube River from Buda

      Matthias Church
    • On the tour, I met my new Aussie friend Bill, who is almost at the end of his 9-month solo backpacking trip (or was it 11 months? I get everyone’s stories mixed up). We ended up going for lunch at the Central Market Hall, a huge market filled with food and shopping stands

    Me, Bill, and Bill's porn 'stache

    Central Market Hall

    Lunch at the Central Market Hall. I initially wanted
    just the kebab - and promptly got upsold down the river

    • I had these grand plans of sightseeing all afternoon, but instead, Bill and I ended up at this public park/square with a giant pool/fountain, where all of Budapest was lounging in the sun, talking, drinking a beer (you can drink outside here too!), etc. We ended up just spending the afternoon like a local: sitting in the park under the sun, with our feet in the pool, and going for a late-afternoon coffee outdoors.  It was getting to truly enjoy the city on a local level - not just hustling to the tourist sights and checking them off the list. I genuinely loved every second of it. 

      Our perfect afternoon view at the pool

      A perfect afternoon coffee

      • Budapest has these bars called ruin pubs - they got their name because back in the day, students and young people were looking for cheap places to drink - and there were a plethora of huge, empty, post-war buildings. So they started bars in these buildings, taking anything they could to decorate the spaces. The best way to describe these bars are that they look like grandma’s attic threw up in every corner of the room. Mismatched chairs, a fox ornament mantlepiece draped from the old-school chandelier, Christmas lights, vintage tin signs….you get the point.  The most famous one is called Szimpla Kert, which happens to be right next to my hostel - it was one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Just these huge, rambling rooms - you can wander from one to another, some rooms are outdoors, some rooms are tucked away, some are up a rickety iron spiral staircase - it was like a maze where every room was wildly different and crammed with knick-knacks. I couldn’t figure out where to look.

        Room 1/40

        Room 2/40

        Room 3/40 - the second level looking down

        Room 4/40; and then I gave up taking photos. And maybe there were only like 10 rooms

        Moment of the Day:
        Randomly wandering through the streets after the bar around midnight, we noticed that a museum across the street from my hostel was open and selling wristbands. Bill recalled that he’d heard somewhere that tonight was a special night where all the museums were open til 2am, and you could drink inside, etc. Like a museum party night.  So of course, we bought a wristband and went in.

        The museum just happened to be the Electrotechnical Museum.  It's not in the guidebooks, basically because everything is in Hungarian - it’s def a museum for the locals. I think I would have had a hard time telling you what the museum was about if I hadn’t known the name of it was “Electrotechnical Museum.”  

        I reckon this is the most interesting photo I took of the electrotechnical museum

        So we had zero idea what was happening in any of the exhibits - just a lot of electric-looking stuff and gadgets and doodads. They were having lectures and interactive exhibits and all these cool things we couldn’t understand, so we just made a ridiculous time out of it -pushing all the buttons we could find and trying to guess what each gadget-y looking thing was, and making up our own explanations. We were definitely the only English-speaking tourists in that entire museum.  It was incredibly ridic, and so, so much fun.

        Next, we found out the wristbands were good for any museum in Budapest, so we hunted down the next closest museum to the hostel - which happened to be the National Museum. This museum was a little larger and more legit (but still probably not high up on the tourist list of must-see museums given the English accessibility wasn't quite there), and detailed Hungary’s history through the years, from back in the day when it was composed of 7 ethnic tribes through modern times.  It was so cool - they lit up the building and had movies playing out front, food, etc.  We actually spent a lot of time inside the museum and looking through the exhibits, which was super weird considering it was like, 1 in the morning.  I don’t think I got home until past 2AM. That Connie Wang, so wild. 

        The National Museum, all lit up

        Cool lighting on the inside

        Ceiling of the museum


        I think the part I loved the most about the night was how random it all was; we happened to notice some Hungarian women at a plastic picnic table with wristbands, and it ended up with an completely unexpected, wild night of museum-ing. These are the moments I think I love the most about traveling.

        Coming up, Part 2 of Budapest-gushing; who here is dying in anticipation?


        1. Replies
          1. So impressed with your Hungarian!!! And thanks for humoring me =)

        2. You're a great travel writer. Might've found your second calling "wild" one. "Grandma's attic threw up in every corner of the room" lol, what a description. Buda & Pest is definitely on my bucket list now too.

          1. Thanks, David!! You should 100% add Budapest to your bucket list. Too many places to see! =) I'm so glad you're following along; let me know if your adventures take you anywhere close this year!