After visiting my cousins in Rostock, I took a bus back to Berlin, where I took a 14-hr overnight train to Budapest to meet up with my fellow WU exchange friends. It was quite the long ride, with the ticket officers coming in to check our tickets at every stop (I swear it was every hour), but I finally made it at 8:30am. I joined the others (Jason, Melissa, Jessica and Ryoka) at our Airbnb and we did some sightseeing that day. They had already stayed one night and had seen a lot of the city already, but they were nice enough to accompany me again.
After having brunch at this cute little Italian-style café, we took a hike up Gellérthegy (Gellért Hill) to check out Szabadság Szobor, Budapest’s very own Statue of Liberty. It was first erected in 1947 in remembrance of the Soviet liberation of Hungary from Nazi forces during WW2. The 14m statue holds a palm leaf in the air, and its once bronze figure had transformed into a green-black coating over the years, similar to many of the old European buildings that were once adorned with copper and bronze accents. The air was cold and humid while hiking, but it was some much needed “exercise” due to my workout laziness from all the travelling I’d been doing in recent weeks.
Our sightseeing continued and it was very foggy, which inhibited our full view of the landscape, but we went on to see some of the city’s major points. We must have walked 10km that day. We snapped some pictures at Buda Castle, where there was a mini version of Vienna’s Stephansdom. This one was called Matthias Church. Over the course of the day I realized that certain parts of Budapest looked exactly like Vienna – a smaller, rough-around-the-edges replica. I recall seeing a mini Parliament, Greek-style and all, as well as a structure that looked suspiciously similar to Vienna’s Schwarzenbergplatz. And need I mention the State Opera Houses in both cities? Carbon copies. I suppose it makes sense that both were once part of the formerly powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire and that rulers wanted the architecture to look similar in both of the major cities. I haven’t done any research on this, but the evidence is there. Well, it is to me anyway.
We walked across the Chain Bridge to visit the Pest side (Budapest was once two cities separated by the Danube, called Buda & Óbuda and Pest, but in 1873 they united to form a single Budapest). To be honest, the Chain Bridge was a bit underwhelming. But I guess I was expecting more after hearing friends talk about it and the fact that it’s in the Top 15 things to do in Budapest, according to TripAdvisor.ca. Nonetheless, bridges are pretty sweet because of their ingenious architectural design and structural strength. After walking around a little bit, we started to get tired and cold. So…. naturally, we went back to our Airbnb to take naps!
That evening, we’d planned on going to the thermal baths that Budapest was so famous for. Sadly, Jessica and Ryoka couldn’t join us, so the three of us went. We were so excited to visit Széchenyi fürdő (Széchenyi Baths), which are considered to be the best and most popular in the city. It was 4,100 HUF (€13.50) for a daypass and a locker, not bad for a prime tourist attraction. The building itself looked like a Baroque palace, making us feel like royalty. There were a few baths each at different temperatures, but it was extremely soothing. Personally, I’m not one to enjoy spending more than 15-20 minutes in a hot environment like saunas or thermal baths, so I had to hope from pool to pool to mix it up. In the colder bath, there was a little whirlpool that went around a tiled pillar. We had way too much fun being swept away by the “current”. From what I’ve researched, the Széchenyi baths also has 15 indoor pools, and several steam baths and saunas. We didn’t have enough time to explore those areas, but overall it was a fun, relaxing time at the famous baths in Budapest.
After bathing, we were pretty hungry. Jason, who’s a pro at choosing places to eat (based on ratings and reviews), chose a restaurant called Paprika. It’s meant to be a traditional Hungarian restaurant, and it was delicious!! The portions were huge, and I’m pretty sure nobody paid more than €12-15 per person.
After stuffing ourselves with the best meal of our Budapest trip, we hit up Szimpla Kert, a really cool and eclectic bar within walking distance of our accommodations. It wasn’t really “hipster” and pretentious, it was more just a hodgepodge of random décor: wires from electronics strung across rooms, plants growing from ceiling-suspended pots, brick walls paired with steel accents… it was a bit grungy and worn, but very lively and full of energy. One of my favourite things about this place was that they had people walking around selling carrots. No, not chopped up into nice bite-sized sticks… these carrots could have literally been pulled from the ground, skin peeled, and ends chopped off minutes before they arrived in a bucket at our table. I love carrots, and I was so taken aback by this ridiculously random carrot vendor. I just had to. It was one tasty carrot alright.
The next day, we had one final meal before returning “home”. Wanting to move away from the heavy Hungarian food we’d had the night before, we stumbled upon a Mexican joint at the right moment. It was called Arriba Taqueria, and it was a really good choice. It didn’t even phase us that we were a group of North Americans eating Mexican food in Budapest. There’s globalization for ya. The ingredients were really fresh, and even though I just had a taco salad, it was really filling and satisfying.
And with that, we took the bus back to good ol’ Vienna, where it began to dawn on us that we had a mere 10 days before leaving the wonderful experience that was exchange.