It's official: Budapest has stolen my heart, and I don't think she's going to give it back. In this post, you'll get to read about my adventures in Budapest, my favorite hangouts, some great food, and some unexpected twists.
We arrived in Budapest late the night prior. We didn't even have an opportunity to see the city from our crowded bus ride, so walking out in the morning, it was like I was seeing the city for the first time. I don't really have a ton of positives to say about the place I was initially staying: the Wombats Hostel. Nothing really negative either, except for the persistent smell of mildew. It just wasn't noteworthy.
I started the morning by meeting Isaac and his friend, Julianne for breakfast at the Blue Bird Café. Julliane was such a treat to have along the trip! I was missing another female presence, and she was the perfect addition. She is a reporter for the New York Times and is studying gender science at Cambridge.
Anyways, back to the food. Knowing me is to know I am obsessed with eggs benedict, and this may well have been the best-tasting eggs benny I have had in my life. Not to mention the prices in Budapest are a lot more reasonable than some of the other places we have been along our journey. The ambiance of this restaurant is so fun, yet shabby chic. Also, like many other locations in Budapest, the Blue Bird Café has breakfast by day but dancing by night. They turn into a night club when the sun goes down.
Castles, Cathedrals, and Legends
After breakfast, we headed to the other side of the river to Buda Castle. In case you didn't know, Budapest used to be the cities of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda.
They unified as one city in 1873. Buda Castle, which overlooks much of Budapest, was initially complete in 1265, though the Baroque palace that occupies most of it presently was completed in 1769. Vlad the Impaler, also known as the original Dracula, was said to have been imprisoned here.
We wandered all around in awe at the complexity of the architecture. I will forever be amazed and baffled by how they were able to create such massive architectural feats with the technology they had at the time. Especially considering how simple American architecture is compared to these European feats. It's hard to believe the determination behind building such amazing places as this.
On the castle grounds, we then visited the Matthias Church, which was built in 1015 (yes, I wrote that correctly), though it was destroyed and rebuilt in the second half of the 14th century in a new style. As with most churches I have seen in Europe, words cannot describe the beauty. I love the way the light shines through stained glass windows. It never gets old to me.
If you get the opportunity and are willing to pay for it, I recommend climbing the Magdalene Tower. This tower, which was built in the 13th century, though it was destroyed many times by unfortunate events, such as the Retaking of Buda from the Ottoman Empire in 1686 and World War II. Though it had to be restored, it survived both the Soviet and Nazi occupations. Though it was closed to the public for decades due to the damage, it has since been restored and reopened to the public. It is roughly 200 steps up a narrow stone winding staircase. From the top of the tower, you get the most incredible 360° view of the city. It was well worth having to grab my inhaler for.
To end the evening, I had some traditional Hungarian street food before bed: Lángos. This Hungarian dish is a deep-fried dough (kind of like a funnel cake consistency) topped with garlic, sour cream, cheese, and ham. It was right up my alley. If nothing else, I love this city for its impressive food.
Best Sandwich in Town
Listen up. If there was one food place you should check out from this blog, the following would be my choice. At the recommendation of my dear friend, Justice, we started the day with the most incredible sandwich I think I have ever had in my life, which was from Bors GasztroBar. Their sandwiches are perfectly packaged into a little roll of slow-baked happiness. My mouth is watering just remembering it.
To make it even better, this restaurant is completely Star Wars themed. We all know how I feel about Star Wars. I was in heaven. I got the Toki Pompás, which is made with garlic-sour cream, Mangalica sausage, roasted bacon, red onion, and cheese. I accompanied it with the soup of the day, which was a Hungarian potato and sausage soup. The sandwich is so perfectly rolled, you don't have to worry about making a mess at all, and the flavors will change how you define a sandwich. This little joint is so popular, there was a line out the door. It's a true example of how excellent street food can be.
We headed over to a museum about the Soviet and Nazi occupations of Budapest after this. The museum building itself, the House of Terrors, was the Hungarian Nazi party headquarters before becoming the home of two communist terror organizations. This building was the base for torture and countless executions.
I would share pictures from this museum, but none were allowed. I was honestly very disappointed in this museum. The way it was set up took away from the history of the terrible things that happened in this city. It was very poorly laid out, with little to no linearity. In each room, you find a sheet of paper with a significant bit of history. The history on the sheets is fascinating but is dry and out of order, making it hard to connect to the information. As for the artifacts, there is no explanation of their value, in English or otherwise.
Without context, I felt there was no purpose here. They do have audio recordings to listen to around the tour, but they didn't tell us until after we had paid that they didn't have any available. Very disappointing. To top it off, the staff was insulting. It was very frustrating because this location has the potential to be so meaningful and educational, but the lack of structure truly took away from the severity of the atrocities committed in that very building, or in Hungary and Europe altogether.
After a drink at my hostel's bar, I met up with the crew, and we headed out to Szimpla, which is the most unique bar I have ever been to. It is a ruin bar, which is a bar that has been built within a reclaimed, run-down building of the old Jewish Slums.
It's a cool place because it has a corner for just about anyone. The endless maze of rooms and bars takes you on a journey through art and history. Graffiti and paintings cover the walls. One room is covered with foliage, where the next is missing its roof and is completely exposed to the elements. And it is utterly full of life, filled with people from all over the world. Somehow, in this crazy, chaotic place, I managed to meet a guy from Whitefish, Montana, sitting at the table next to me. It's amazing how such a huge world can be so small.
Interestingly enough, Szimpla completely transforms in the daytime. On Sundays, it turns into a Local Farmer's Market. There's cheeses, vegetables, ciders, and all sorts of handmade snacks. Even in the light, this location still breathes life, giving new meaning to an area with a dark history.
Due to some circumstances that I would rather not get into, I ended up having to relocate accommodations. Luckily I found an incredible Airbnb not too far from where we were staying. This beautiful 2 bed, 1.5 bath apartment is centrally located right in the heart of the city. It's complete with rooftop views, a kitchen, washing machine, clawfoot tub, and secure assess to the building. Isaac and Julianne joined me at this lovely getaway, which was so peaceful and a wonderful escape after a month of hostel life.
My favorite part of this Airbnb was taking a nice, relaxing bubble bath with the rooftop windows open. Listening to the cars go by, and the rainfall on the roof was the perfect way to unwind.
After getting settled into our new home, the three of us headed towards the river. Across the square from St. Stephen's Basilica, we found Bestia. This is an incredible and reasonably priced restaurant, complete with indoor patio style seating that was perfect for people watching. I got a delicious burger, a side of cauliflower with chickpeas and coriander, and two americanos. I spilled the first one on Isaac… Oops. The only thing I didn’t love about this place was that their food had no descriptions. I had no idea what was going to come on my burger, which was odd. But I was very happily surprised with what I received.
After lunch, we headed over to St. Stephen's Basilica, which we had passed earlier. It is 200HUF to enter into this incredible cathedral. The Basilica was built in 1851. This, by far, was the most beautiful cathedral I had ever seen. What made it unique to me was the detail within the ceilings and art. Everything was so beautifully and ornately crafted. It blew the others out of the water, frankly. The amount of detail in every corner of this building. It was stunning. One unique feature, which was actually super creepy, was a box containing the holy right hand of St. Stephen. Please tell me I'm not the only person creeped out by a dead person's hand in a box.
After touring this incredible structure, I headed back to the Airbnb. Remember those job applications I was doing in Prague? Well, I ended up having a 10am video interview, which was 6pm here, so I had to prep. (I think it went well!)
There's no better way to detox after psyching yourself out for an interview than by using my favorite world wide cure: food. Isaac, Julianne, and I met at a little restaurant called VakVarjù for a late dinner. We were kind of put off from this place because although we arrived two hours before closing, the staff acted almost annoyed by us coming in. They were rudely rolling their eyes, acting like we were an inconvenience.
As for the food, I started off with their goulash soup, which was topped with freshly fried dough. This was fantastic soup. The dough was the perfect thing to dip in. It had so much flavor and reminded me of my dad's stew. For my meal, I ordered the steak tips, which was fine. Although the steak, zucchini, and demiglaze were great, the pureed parsnips they were laying in didn't match the flavor palette of the rest of the dish.
Once closed out at VakVarjù, we headed back to Szimpla for a drink and to give some of the dancing a shot. Once back home, it was so lovely to sleep in my own room without having to listen to other people snoring or worrying about others coming in and out of the room at all hours of the night. Don't get me wrong, I love hostel life, but it was a nice change.
In the morning, Julianne headed back to Cambridge, leaving me with Isaac. After doing some laundry, Isaac and I sat down to some bad news. At this point, the Coronavirus outbreak had started to get worse in Italy. We had already canceled our plans to go to Venice due to most of the area being in quarantine. But the next morning, we were supposed to be heading to Rome, which through the night began to boom with the virus.
Deciding it is better to be safe than sorry, we spent this day of our trip canceling flights, rooms, and figuring out where we would go next. Ultimately, we decided it would be safest and cheapest to stay in Budapest until the weekend before proceeding to Athens. The rest of my day was spent completing my dreaded midterms. I always get asked why I did classes online while going on this trip rather than just taking the semester off. Besides not wanting to pay back student loans yet, I honestly, I'm very glad I did this. I