As for my central European city tour, we’ve found our winner: Budapest! Beautiful, historic, cheap, amazing nightlife, kinda quirky vibe, not overly touristy, etc. I really liked almost everything about this city. So for those that don’t know (I didn’t before getting here) one side of the city is called Buda and the part across the river is called Pest. I stayed in the Pest side, as that’s where most of the action is. The focal point of the city is the Parliament building, which lights up spectacularly at night, also on the Pest side. The Buda side is more hilly, so it’s got the better views looking out over the city. Then you’ve got the bridges which connect the two sides which are also iconic of the city.
The first evening I made my way across the river to the Buda side of the city to take some photos of the Parliament building and the bridges. These are pretty classic Istanbul photographs so there were quite a few other photographers with their tripods out. But my photos surely turned out the best :p I had a drink at the hostel bar later on but most people were already out and about at this point. I mentioned this before, but when the sun sets at 9:15 I won’t get back to the hostel till after 10pm, and at that point it’s usually too late for social activities. Or everyone is already hammered. Alas…
The next day I rented a bike to ride around the neighborhoods. You do really feel like you’re going back to the 1940’s when you ride down these narrow streets. There are just rows and rows of old, historic buildings. And there is so much detail in the rockwork! Lots of intricate designs, sculptures of faces or even whole bodies are inlaid into many of the foundations. And if you look closely you can even see the bullet holes in the sides of some of the buildings. Plus there’s very little traffic, so it’s a nice place to go for a bike ride in general. Also from what I could tell there seem to just be very few big retail chain stores. Lots of little mom and pop corner shops, which seems to be a bygone era to anyone from the US. There’s lots of little things I liked about Budapest.
In one of the subdivisions there is a pinball museum, or flipper museum as they call it, which is basically just a massive collection of pinball games that you can play for free for as long as you want. They even have originals from the 50’s, which you really don’t want to play for long because they’re terrible. I stuck around for an hour or so, but I’m a pretty awful pinball player. Whatever knack some people have hitting the bonus loops and not letting the ball go through the middle, I ain’t got it. But it was a pretty cool place!
That night I decided to be bit more social and took a break from photography and hung out at the hostel bar. I ended up meeting some people that wanted to pregame in the park, mostly because they have little money, but also it’s like a popular thing to do in Budapest. So we grabbed some beer and wine at the convenience store and headed over there. I must say, it’s quite the scene. It’s a pretty big park and the place is pretty much jammed with people sitting in small groups drinking. There’s also pool for people to sit around. This one of the things that’s nice about Europe, it’s just very enjoyable to be able to sit around and drink in a nice public setting! No worries about the cops coming to bust heads.
I never knew this before coming to Budapest, but I guess it’s grown quite famous for it’s warehouse bars, where people have taken up spaces in old warehouses or crumbling buildings and turned them into bars, often several different type of bars in one location, and usually decked out in some grungy or kitchy type theme. There’s a whole bunch all over the city. We ended up at the most famous one, which has two floors, a hookah lounge, wine bar, cocktail bar, and couple of more normal bars, all with different themes.
The next day I already had planned out, baths and goulash! There are a couple of baths around Budapest but I decided to go to the big outdoor one. It has a huge outdoor area, plus various indoor thermal pools, as well as various saunas and steam rooms. Good for a hangover! It’s also located in a really nice park, which makes for a nice bike ride and a very pleasant afternoon. I stopped at one of the restaurants in the park (I think there were 3 in total) for the Hungarian classic: beef goulash soup!
Then to ruin the happy vibes I stopped at the Terror museum, which is the same building that housed the AVO (secret police) in the Soviet era, who wreaked havoc on the Hungarian citizens. As I had just read a book on some American correspondents in this time period, I wanted to see if I could match up any of the names in the book to the museum. It is amazing the extent of the spying and surveillance on anyone who was suspected of being an enemy of the state. And so much work wasted to monitor pointless everyday stuff just in the hopes of picking up anything incriminating!
Sounds like a pretty awful time and place to live. In the book I was reading the son obtained and opened up the AVO files on his parents after they passed away, and because they were west-leaning journalists they had volumes and volumes of files on them. Pretty wild. Even they didn’t know the true extent of the surveillance. As for the museum itself, it wasn’t that great, mostly just videos of old people talking about those Soviet days and very little English on any of the exhibitions.
Then for my last night I hiked up the hill to get a view over the whole city at sunset. Some stunning views!
So I thought Budapest was pretty great and I'd recommend it to anyone!