As I mentioned a post or two ago, I recently spent a few weeks in Europe as part of a work-related trip. While I was planning, I had to decide on a place to spend about a week between conferences that was close to both Romania and the Czech Republic. After a peek at Google Maps and an Instagram poll, it was decided: Budapest.
Ah, Budapest (pronounced Buda-PESHT). To say that I enjoyed this city would be a serious understatement.
Budapest is the capital city of Hungary and it is regularly cited as one of the most beautiful and idyllic places to live in Europe. After spending a week in the city, I can’t say that I disagree with these claims.
Although it was often raining during my stay, I walked all over the city and took in as much as possible. On my first day I took a tour through free Generation Tours, which took me to popular tourist attractions like Buda Castle, the Chain Bridge, the Fishermen's Bastion, Matthias Church, and St. Stephen's Basilica. Our tour guide also informed us that when Queen played a now-legendary concert in Budapest in 1986, Freddie Mercury surprised the crowd by singing a famous Hungarian folk song. In the video of the concert, you can see him reading off his hand to remember some of the words.
On the tour I met some friendly Trinidadians and ended up meeting up with them for a beer in the evening at Budapest’s oldest ruin bar, Szimpla Kert. The city is famous for its ruin bars, which – as the name suggests – are eclectic bars that were originally set up in abandoned buildings. Szimpla Kert had a really cool vibe - think less people-wasted-falling-over-everywhere and more graffiti-art-and-craft-beer.
Later in the week I took a second tour that focused on the Jewish Quarter of Budapest. During the tour I also learned about the Stolpersteine (or stumbling stone/block) art project, which installs brass cubes inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of the Holocaust. The stones can be found all over Europe, so make sure to look down the next time you find yourself walking down a European street.
As both a museum and art lover, one of my favourite days was spent visiting Szépművészeti Múzeum. When I arrived, there was a large banner hanging outside with a name that means a lot to me – Leonardo da Vinci. Now, you have to understand that I am OBSESSED with Leonardo da Vinci – so much so that when I realized the museum was hosting an exhibition on his sketches and paintings (and works by several other Renaissance artists like Michelangelo) my eyes welled up with tears. Spending much of my day in this museum *this* close to his works brought me so, so, so much joy.
Near the museum was Heroes’ Square and Vajdahunyad Castle, which were two other very worthwhile stops.
Before leaving, I had to visit one of Budapest’s infamous baths. Although there are several to choose from, I decided on Gellert spa because I had heard good things from friends and it was a close walk from my apartment. Gellert spa houses several thermal baths containing water of varying temperatures from the hill springs, as well as saunas and pools. Since I was by myself and generally have a hard time just relaxing as it is, I found the experience a tad boring. That being said, it was nice to people watch (I went really early in the morning to beat the tourist crowd and was mostly with locals) and experience the (potentially) healing waters.
Now for the food. As someone who doesn’t eat meat or cheese, I was a little nervous about my options in Hungary. After all, a quick google search of “Hungarian cuisine” yields many returns of hardy, meaty stews. To my surprise, however, my apartment was surrounded by vegan options, including the best falafel I have ever had in my life. My apartment was also steps away from the Great Market Hall - a huge indoor market - where I was able to get fresh fruit and vegetables (and apple strudel!).
If you know me, you will unsurprised that I also managed to find some great desserts and a cozy cafe. My favourite of the bunch was Esterhazy cake, which Cafe Gerbeaud describes as a “sponge cake pastry made with finely ground walnuts, layered with brandy-flavoured vanilla cream, and topped with fondant.” Man, it was good. I also had an insanely delicious hot chocolate at the most beautiful café in the world - New York Cafe - and a piping hot Kürtőskalács (or chimney cake - similar to a cinnamon sugar donut, only better).
Looking back on my trip to Budapest, I can say that it is definitely one my favourite cities in the world. I hope to go back sooner than later to revisit some favorite spots, and to learn even more about this dynamic city.
Eat and drink: Gerbaud (esterhazy cake), My Little Melbourne, Budapest Bagel, Hummusbar (the falafel!), New York Cafe, Molnár's kürtőskalács
Do: Free Generation Tours