Just back from a 3 day trip to the ridiculously under-priced eastern Europe, this time in Hungary for a Budapest city break. Savvy people that you are, or for those that have picked up a guide book (yes that was us) I am sure you are aware the Budapest is actually two cities that straddles either side of the Danube River, the hilly and green Buda on one side and the more modern Pest on the other. This is our rather rough guide to a Budapest city break. Rough, mainly because I’ve still got a hangover from the cheap booze and rich food we’ve gorged ourselves on.
What we got was a city of unexpected elegance, grandeur and cosmopolitan culture. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Budapest has had its fair share of visitors from Romans, Magyars, Turks, and the Soviets all leaving their mark. Today, the tourists are its visitors to stunning architecture and beautiful baroque buildings.
The journey could have gone a little smoother, a late night trek across some very busy roads from Stanstead’s medium stay car park to the airport hotel and an inappropriate joke about fireworks being anti aircraft artillery when waiting for a flight with your wife who doesn’t like flying and who isn’t sitting with you, doesn’t always go down to well. Further frustration followed by a delay to the fight caused by 3 rabbis not sitting down despite multiple intervention from the cabin crew, Unhappy at not sitting together, they worked their way down the plane asking others to move to suit them. 25 minutes later…..
After unceremoniously stepping out of cattle class by Ruin Air, some call them Ryan Air, we made our way onto the bus where we were sandwiched in like sardines and forced to smell the underarms of other travelling passengers who smell worse than a can of sardines for the 40 minute drive to the city. It’s at this point we wondered if it was worth investigating the species of taxi driver that Hungary has to offer, we had heard that they feed off tourists.
The language is impossible, and I can only assume that Hungarians must be absolute masters at playing Scrabble with the amount Z’s they use in their language. Apparently Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to learn. We managed to get along in English just fine. Which was a good job really considering that when we first landed in the bustling and busy Pest city centre, we had no idea where to go. Phone data doesn’t work, you have to rely on hopping on WiFi signal from various shops and bars like we had to in Reykjavik. Might be an idea to download Google Maps offline before you go next time.
After dropping our bags off at the hotel we venture into the city centre to arrive at a rather Christmassy market that had the most fantastic looking food which of course we dived into with a drink. A walk around to get some bearings with a walk into the Jewish quarter to visit the infamous “ruin bars” of Budapest. Called ruin bars because they are often in old buildings, turned into pubs with a bizarre set up of rooms, indoors and outdoors with a mish-mash of decoration. We spent more than a few hours in Szimpla Kert getting ruined. We were forever trying to work out if anything was expensive due to the crazy currency notes. In the end, eating and drinking was very cheap.
Although the 48 hours hop on hop off bus is (relatively) expensive, it’s also probably the best way to get around. This took us all around the city and included multiple boat trips on Danube. The Danube is supposed to be blue if you are in love, so I’m expecting at this point that Mrs C needs her sunglasses ‘cos the blue is so shiny – it never happened. A trip on the Danube at night is a must, the Gothic parliament building lit up at night is beautiful.
When we got to the hilly Buda area after Chain bridge, we found that there wasn’t any need to ride the funicular up to Buda Castle as there was an easy set of steps up instead. The Buda castle area, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion are all fine buildings and give a pretty city view with a sweeping vista of Budapest and the Danube.
We walked from Heroes Square down the famous Andrassy Avenue to the House of Terror that was the party headquarters of the Hungarian Nazi Party and then the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party. As if being invaded by the Nazis wasn’t bad enough, the Soviets occupied and stayed with conditions getting much worse. The House of Terror is a now a museum that commemorates the victims of terror. Greeted inside by a huge Soviet T54 Tank that once trundled down Andrassy Avenue, and the faces of those who lost their lives under terrible dictatorship. Sadly, most Britons have very little idea of how it was for lots of Europe.
It is the last few rooms that are the most memorable, the cells, torture chambers, and the gallows. It’s a sobering reminder that we must never let right-wing nationalism or extreme left-wing rise again. Open up a history book of Europe from the late 1930′ to the mid 1950’s to see the devastating impacts and the parallels in modern times with politicians building walls and barriers craving nationalism. Remember that the next time you see people being labelled as dissenters in the papers being labelled as unpatriotic or not carrying out “the will of the people.”
We’ve had a great time with our Budapest City Break. The people of Budapest and Hungary were awesome, very pleasant, helpful and welcoming.