Budapest, A Hidden Treasure Chest

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

              Budapest is a young traveler’s dream.  It is bustling, beautiful city with so much to see and amazing foods to eat.  The best part? It is an incredibly inexpensive destination.  Using Hungary’s budget airline, Wizz Air, I was able to fly from Budapest to Milan for around 55 euros ($60) and stay three nights in a great hostel for about 40 euros ($45).  Finally, after making meals from grocery stores but also eating a nice lunch and dinner out, my total food cost was only around 60 euros ($66).  It was a wonderful weekend and the easiest on my budget yet!

              This weekend in Budapest, I met up with a few girls that are spending 5 weeks studying abroad in Turin, Italy.  I flew in separately, but we all arrived Friday night.  I came in first and used the MiniBus service to arrive at my hostel.  Costing 14 euros ($17), it was cheaper than a taxi, but was still door to door service.  As night was falling, I decided that paying a little extra for security and to not get lost at night trying to find the hostel, was more valuable.  Friends Hostel Budapest, is located on a main street about a 10 minute walk from the city center.  It was a very clean, safe hostel set up in an old apartment building.  Their rooms vary from full apartment rentals to double and triple private rooms to an 8 person dorm room.  One friend and I had booked to be in a 5 female dorm room, but were pleasantly surprised with our own private room due to an overbooking situation.

Central Market Hall
Central Market Hall

            Since we had all arrived late Friday night, we agreed on a late start to Saturday morning.  We met for coffee and were off to explore.  We marveled at the architecture on our way to our first stop, the Central Market Hall.  This market was astonishing.  All housed in one giant building, the first floor was entirely food, covering all food groups.  The top floor was all sorts of artisans booths with great souvenir and handmade pieces.  There was also a food court on the second floor, serving traditional Hungarian dishes like goulash  and lagos.  The market as a whole was a great way to see the differences between American and Hungarian cultures.

              After the market we were off to find a great lunch.  We structured our visit so that each of the two full days in Budapest, we could experience a meal out and eat from grocery stores for the others.  Winding our way along the Danube and up through the city center, we made our way a few blocks from the main tourist areas to a little side street with just a few bistros.  Finally settling on one with outdoor seating, we were handed a massive menu.

Paprikash
Paprikash

     We started with some flavored lemonades, something we didn’t know at the time, but is very popular in Hungary.  Many restaurants will put a pitcher of lemonade on your table instead of water.  Between the four of us we had mango, raspberry and I had elderberry flavored (my new favorite flavor).  For lunch I had paprikash, a traditional Hungarian meal of chicken (or any meat) baked in a paprika sauce and served with homemade dumplings.  It was one of those meals that just makes your insides happy.  It was so much flavor in one plate but they all worked together seamlessly, it was delicious.  Just one of the many spectacular meals in Budapest.

              After lunch, we were off to the meeting spot for our free walking tour.  Unfortunately Sandeman’s does not have a tour in Budapest, but our hostel was able to suggest a very good replacement for us.  Hopeful that it would not rain during the walk, we were off on a two hour tour of Budapest.  It was full of great information from a tour guide who was born and raised in the city.  These tours are the best way to learn the history of a city.  The most interesting tidbit I learned was that Budapest actually used to be two towns, Buda on one side of the Danube and Pest on the other.  They will still refer to where you are by what town you are in.

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

            We walked everywhere from the major squares and the basilica on the Pest side, up the hill to the palaces on the Buda side.  The views from Buda hill are absolutely breathtaking (partly because you are dying from climbing about a million flights of stairs to get up there, partly because of the views).  I could have sat up there for hours and been content.  However, the most helpful part of this tour company was the orientation to the city that ended their tour.  The guide went through phrases and pronunciations, tipping protocols, free activities, foods and drinks of Hungary, everything.  Then she gave us a great cheat sheet of it all.  I have never had this in a free walking tour but I would love every one to do it.  This was so helpful to our group.

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

              We left the tour with a wealth of information and headed back to the Pest side of the city.  Walking down one of the many staircases traversing Buda hill and over the famous Chain Bridge, we worked our way back to St. Stephen’s Basilica where we had been told we could climb for a great vantage point.  Only costing 500 HUF (1,70 Euros, or about $1.50) we climbed about a million stairs (again dying and breathtaking), then took an elevator to the top (of course they make you work for the elevator).  It was breathtaking, but even more so was that with all you could see the city, it still stretched

St. Stephan's Basilica
St. Stephan’s Basilica

out of sight.  Only a city of 2 million, it covered a staggering amount of land.

 

            Finally coming down, we headed back to our hostel by way of a grocery store.  We stopped to pick up a dinner of crackers, a couple types of cheese, some ham, a couple bottles of wine, some cookies, and a type of chips and a beer that we couldn’t understand (so naturally we had to buy it).  Just to show how inexpensive this city is, all of those groceries cost less than 10 euros ($11).  We were shocked when we did the math.  It is always fun to how travel friendly a town can be.  After speaking with our Hungarian cab driver on the way to the airport Monday morning, it made more sense.  The minimum wage in Hungary is less than 300 euros a month ($350) which usually only covers housing with not much left over.  Bribery and the black market are common practices to make the country run.  So while great for travelers, it unfortunately comes as a problem for the country.

Chain Bridge
Chain Bridge

              After all of our history lessons, a great dinner, and some time off our feet, we decided to check out the bar scene, “the ruin bars”.  The Jewish Quarter is home to Budapest’s ruin bars.  These buildings were severely damaged in World War II, but instead of completely tearing them down and rebuilding, they have been renovated into bars.  They are some of the coolest places, everyone must go.  It looks like you are walking into any other bar, but inside there maybe no ceiling, or crumbling brick work or holes in walls.  They are all different, so make sure you don’t get sucked into just one.  Any traveler must check out Simpla, the most popular ruin bar.  It is a series of, easily, 20 rooms, decorated with the most random items.  You may walk into one room filled with couches and odd statues and the next room has bikes and lamps hanging from the ceiling.  It was one of the coolest nightlife scenes I have ever experienced.

              The next day held great plans for a Jewish history walking tour, the Liberty Statue and the Shoes on the Danube (a chilling tribute to the Jewish lives taken in WWII), but forced some flexibility.

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

The morning started out with a great breakfast at the supermarket and a walk to the center.  Along the way we stumbled upon an alleyway artisan market.  Winding its way through the ruin bars, now transformed to cafes in daylight, the alley was lined with people selling their creations.  One friend found an amazing, handmade, leather purse, another some gorgeous rings.

 

              Finding our way downtown, we did a bit of shopping before starting to make our way to the walking tour.  Unfortunately at that moment the sky decided to open up and downpour.  Buying ponchos and covering our valuables, we made our way back to the hostel.  We decided that resting for a bit before dinner (and waiting out the rain) wasn’t a half bad idea.  An hour or so later we headed out for dinner.

              On our walk home, one of the group had picked up a flyer from someone handing them out on the street.  It was for a restaurant serving 20 euros ($22) all you can eat and drink (including wine, beer and coffee).  Normally buffets are not my go-to for good food, but this was a very upscale place.  It offered Hungarian wines and beers, as well as all of the traditional Hungarian dishes.  This ended up being a great idea for the night.  We spent a couple of hours trying every single dish from stuffed white peppers (something we had been wanting to try since the market) to goulash and burgundy braised venison.  Every single thing was delicious.  At the end of the meal, it took a lot to be able to walk home.  We were full and tired from a weekend of touring and walking (one girls FitBit said we walked about 30 miles in two days).  We went home to go to bed early for our 3am airport wakeup.

              Budapest was somewhere I never knew I wanted to go and now I can’t wait to return.  There is so much to see and do in the city that just two day was not close to enough.  I would highly recommend Budapest to any young traveler.  Whether you are on your first trip with a group, a solo traveler, or seasoned traveler, this city has something to offer you.  For the first timer, most everyone speaks enough English, and there is plenty in the city to see and do.  You can have an amazing experience with a low price tag.  For the solo traveler, the people of Hungary are so kind and very helpful.  I thought it was a very safe place to stay and would not have been nervous on my own.  And the seasoned traveler, Budapest is its own world.  It has so much to offer that I have not found in other cities, both in sights and tastes.  Budapest is well worth adding to your destination list, and with a full belly, I am very glad to have checked it off mine.

Laughter at the Chain Bridge
Laughter at the Chain Bridge

-The Very Hungry Traveler

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