We arrived in Budapest in the afternoon on Wednesday (5-11) and were pretty put off by the train station. There were bums everywhere and people immediately approached us and began hassling us about accommodation and taxis and the like. The area around the station was pretty desolate, and we could not find signs for anything.
After walking around the station for a while, we decided to go inside and try to find an information point to ask for directions/get a map. We found a really good tourist guide, but they only had Spanish versions, which didn't really matter because all we needed was a subway map.
The Budapest subway was really easy to navigate, but they were really strict about the tickets! Luckily, we had decided to talk to a person at the ticket booth instead of using the ticket machine, because we would have probably bought the wrong ticket... There were guards stationed everywhere checking tickets and handing out fines if you screwed up! Sad.
Our hostel was only 4 stops from the main train station, and the walking directions provided from the tram to the hostel were really good. When we came out from the underground, it was like we were in a different city.
There was a beautiful park with fountains and tons of lovely buildings-- no bums to be found! There were also way more young people in this area, which was very comforting because we didn't see anyone young near the train station.
The hostel was in pretty much the best location possible. Budapest is split in half by the Danube river-- Pest in on the East side of the Danube and is where most of the bars/clubs seemed to be. Buda is on the West side and is dominated by a gigantic castle on a hill (Kiralyi Palota) and Matthias church, which is a beautiful church opposite the castle. Our hostel was in Pest-- right next to St. Stephen's Basilica, 2 minutes from the Danube, and surrounded by little restaurants and shops. Unfortunately, we were too stupid to figure out how to get in the hostel door, so we screwed around with that for a while until two nice Dutch boys showed up to help us. There is something about the doors/locks/bathrooms in Europe that we can simply not understand. Good thing we found some nice friends to help.
Turns out the Dutch boys (Ed and Richard) were staying in Budapest for the same amount of time as we were, so we decided to grab some dinner and walk around together in Pest.
We got some Hungarian food (goulash, pork, same old Eastern European food), and we had some nice wine. Hungary is famous for sweet desert wine called Tokaj and red wine called Bull's Blood. We stuck to the red with dinner.
After eating, we walked towards the river past a few nice parks. There was a really cool fountain that stopped spraying water when you stepped on the stones in front of any given section! Jenna ran past it to demonstrate... There were a bunch of ballerinas trying to take fancy pictures in front of it, and they did not appreciate Jenna running around one bit.
Oh well, they were talking far too long. The lighting was interesting on St. Stephen's Basilica, so we tried to take some pictures in front of it that didn't turn out very well... We made it to the river around dark, so we got some nice pictures of the castle and Matthias church in Buda from Pest.
It was nice to have giant Dutch boys to walk around with so we felt safer going out at night, but Budapest seemed totally safe regardless. In fact, there was really excellent quotable phrase in our guidebook: "Overall, Hungary is a very safe country with little violent crime, but scams can be a problem in the capital.
Those involving attractive young women, gullible guys, expensive drinks in nightclubs, and a frog march to the nearest ATM sandwiched between two large Hungarian men have been all the rage in Budapest for well over a decade now." HAHA! Sounds like we offered our friends more protection then they gave us!
But they were pretty hilarious-- We walked across the Szechenyi Lanchid (Chain Bridge) to take more pictures, but every time I tried to get a nice shot, Richard would push me because he wanted the "best picture award." Thus, I have a bunch of massively blurred pictures... silly Dutch boys.
We picked up some beers and went back to the hostel to hang out and play cards. The boys taught us a new game that I don't remember the name of, but it was easy and fun-- it involved trying to get rid of all your cards, but you could play jokers or twos and the person to the left of you had to pick up cards.
Naturally, Richard was really good at the game and I was to his left, so I totally lost. OH WELL, still very fun. Definitely a good first night in Budapest.
On Thursday morning, we woke up pretty early to go to the Szechenyi thermal baths. Budapest is famous for it's spas-- this one was built in 1908 and consisted of 5 swimming pools, over a dozen thermal baths, and a ton of different saunas and steam rooms.
It was only 15 bucks for an entire day in the spa!
The baths were inside of a giant yellow palace building with beautiful domes and columns and surrounded by a nice park. Each of the baths was a different temperature or had different minerals in them, and all of the saunas were different as well (various colors of light, temperature, amount of steam, aroma...).
The baths were full of giant hairy Hungarian people-- we were easily the youngest people there! We had envisioned that the baths would be a little bit creepy and invasive, but everyone kept entirely to themselves.
It was super relaxing-- definitely a nice contrast to the whirlwind travelling we have been doing the past few days...
We were all totally starving after soaking in the baths for 6 hours, so we stopped at a pizza place on the walk back to the hostel. The pizzas in Europe are all thin-crust, and they are so delicious! All the ingredients are nice and fresh, and they are cheap! We went back to the hostel to sleep for a little while, then showered and beautified to go out.
First, we grabbed some beers and went to Erzsebet Ter (the giant park by the hostel). During the day, the park was quiet and clean with lots of nice fountains and people walking their dogs. But at night, the park was a giant party. There were young people EVERYWHERE, sitting in groups on blankets and eating/drinking a whole assortment of things. Everyone was so friendly-- definitely a nice contrast to the people in Vienna... There seem to not be laws in most parts of Europe against drinking in public. It's nice to be able to go to the park and have a few beers without having to sneak around-- it makes drinking so much less of a big deal, and probably decreases sneaky underage binging.
After the park, we went on a long walk to a nightclub that was recommended by the hostel reception. We got ID'ed at the door, which is especially hilarious since the drinking age in Hungary is 16. Guess we should take that as a compliment? The club was so fun-- it was 4 stories tall in a nice old building with an open-air courtyard-type area in the center. The top few floors were for quiet drinking with pool tables and arcade games, but the bottom two floors were for dancing!
The music was pretty bizarre-- mostly American top 40 songs with the occasional Dutch or French house music or Indian Bali songs. There were a ton of American study-abroad students that had found themselves Hungarian love interests-- they were very silly but fun none the less. We danced around until around 5 AM... then decided it was probably time for sleep. The club was still raging when we left!! Insane-- but apparently normal because the Dutch boys appear to do this every weekend...
We went back to the hostel and fell into a coma until 11 AM, when we woke up to finally do some daytime sightseeing in Budapest. Jenna and I went to the castle, Parliament, and the Matthias church, then spent a bunch of time enjoying the view from the top of the castle.
It was free to get into all of the courtyards in Buda, which was really surprising because they could have made so much money by charging tourists to enter. After climbing back down the hill, we tried crossing a different bridge across the Danube to find a big church.
Turns out that the church was totally covered in scaffolding, so we decided to head down Vaci Utica, the main shopping street in Budapest. We stopped by the grocery store to get some snacks for our train to Zagreb, then grabbed a quick dinner and returned to the hostel to work out the logistics of Croatia. Our Eurail train timetable said that a reservation was required on the train to Zagreb, so we were a little bit worried about getting a seat.
We decided to not bother with the train reservation until the next day because the train station was too far away.
Instead, we grabbed some more beers and went back to our favorite park, this time with our Dutch friends and two hilarious Polish girls that were also staying in our hostel room. The Polish girls had a friend that was celebrating her birthday, so they had a big blanket laid out with a bunch of Hungarian wine and a birthday cake.
We somehow managed to kill several hours in this park, and didn't make it back to the hostel until 3 AM. We had heard that Budapest was a really fun city to party in, but we didn't expect to be able to enjoy it much since we are two girls travelling alone. Lucky that we made so many nice friends to enjoy it with!!
Hope we make nice friends everywhere else too, but it will also be nice to sleep more than 3 hours a night.
On Saturday morning (5-14), we packed up all our stuff and said goodbye to our nice friends. Wish we were going to back to Poland to visit the girls, but we will hopefully see the Dutch boys in Holland in June.
We took our leftover forints and exchanged them for Croatian kunas-- will be nice to not have to search frantically for an ATM upon arrival in Zagreb. We took the subway back to the train station to try and figure out the seat reservation mess.
Turns out that you don't need reservations after all, so we hopped on the train and away we went! Unfortunately, we were sitting next to a group of very dirty and obnoxious French/Turkish boys. Pretty foul. Will post about the train/Zagreb tomorrow! Szia! Or as the Dutch say, WOP WOP!
Budapest has taken over the top spot on my list of favorite European cities. Sorry, Krakow.