Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Budapest: City of Spas

I spent this past weekend exploring Budapest. The entire trip was amazing and packed full. I barely had time to sleep and still wanted to do more. We toured the city with WSA (which I highly recommend). After flying in at 9 am, we met Bogi, our tour guide, and the group for breakfast before the tour seeing the city.

We took a bus up to the castle in Buda (the rich side of the river). It was like a fairytale castle, complete with turrets and towers, courtyards and statues. At the top of the castle, there were entertainers and venders walking around in medieval dress—some playing music, some selling food, and others with a giant hawk for people to take pictures with.

We all tried chimney cakes (typical Hungarian street food) and went to Hero’s Square, where we saw famous Hungarian leaders through the ages, before heading to the Szechnyi Baths. Budapest is famous for it’s thermal baths, so of course this was a must. After a long day of walking, soaking in the warm baths was just what we needed! There was a sulfur bath (which smelled as awful as you would think), some kind of red mineral bath, steam rooms & saunas, and my favorite—the whirlpool bath, which literally created a whirlpool in the center of the pool.

After heading back to the hostel too late to squeeze in a nap, we got ready for dinner, and then headed out for a night of bar hopping! We explored the Jewish Quarter and the Ruin pubs in Pest. Ruin pubs are old, abandoned buildings that have been turned into pubs. The best way I can describe Budapest is eclectic. It has been taken over by countless empires from all directions in the past and has influences from all over. The Ruin pubs are characteristically eclectic. My favorite was Szimpla Kert, which Lonely Planet rated the 3rd best bar in the world. Each room was filled to the brim with random art and d├ęcor. Nothing was what you would expect, so just walking around the enormous pub was an adventure.

Day two began with a trip to the Grand Market. We bought souvenirs and tried Hungarian crepes—so good! In the afternoon, we headed back to Buda to go caving. We climbed, slid, and army crawled through the caves in the hills of Budapest for two hours. It was an unforgettable experience, and I came out with a decent number of scrapes and bruises as temporary souvenirs.

That night, we went to the Magic Bath with a group from our hostel. It was absolutely crazy! Every Saturday night, one of the thermal baths opens as a club, complete with a bar, DJ, and light show. 

The last day was my favorite. Nicole and I got up early and took the metro to the market for an early Sunday brunch at an outdoor cafe. After we returned to the hostel, we met up with the WSA group and headed to the Szimpla Market (which turns into the Ruin pub, Szimpla Kert, at night). Our last stop as a group was to a local jewelry market, before we all went our separate ways. Some went to catch flights, some went to museums, and others headed to the opera. As for Nicole and I, we did some serious shopping, then stumbled upon some live music. We got fresh potato chips and (slightly warm) beer and sat out in the sun listening to music for over an hour. It was basically all locals, so few people spoke English there. It was a perfect afternoon to end our trip.

That night, we got some hummus and falafel and a bottle of wine and took a bus back to the castle. We ate our dinner on the castle steps and enjoyed the view of the city lit up over the river.

I sincerely wish I could have stayed longer. Budapest is a wonderful city and everyone we met was so helpful and friendly. If you ever get the chance, go to Budapest. You won’t regret it.

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