Budapest

*This is a blog post detailing a past trip. The post refers to my year abroad in Germany that I undertook between the summers of 2016 and 2017 (6 years ago at the time of writing). Therefore, details shall be a little foggy, but I have written the post for completeness. Ensuring my blog captures everywhere I have travelled.

Our train arrived early evening in Budapest and we were in a good mood due to the beers we had consumed during the journey. From the station, we made our way to the Air BnB in the city centre. Having checked in (although not really understanding much, more on this later) we headed out to find a bar and something to eat. Just a short walk from our Air BnB was a lively pedestrian street, home to a large number of bars and restaurants. We had a bite to eat before discovering a karaoke bar on the same street. The name of the which was Blue Bird Karaoke Rooms, highly recommended for anyone in Budapest. This was us for the night. We spent the next few hours in the karaoke bar having the absolute time of our lives. Our first night in Budapest was great and we were very much looking forward to the next few days in the city. As the early hours of the morning broke we made our way back to the Air BnB. Which was an apartment within an apartment complex. The main entrance to the complex was via a locked front gate. We had the supposed code, but upon entering this numerous times nothing was happening. It was now 2 am, and we had no idea how we were ever going to get into the Air BnB. In our efforts to find a back entrance we stumbled across some kind of shopping centre with escalators. At this time of night, they weren’t running, so we ended up sliding down the intersecting rubber handrails as if it was a slide. While great fun, it did leave a massive rubber burn on my jeans. Plus we were still no closer to gaining entry to our Air BnB. The large metal cast iron gate had a layer of glass over it, to stop people from simply reaching through and using the handle from the other side. The glass had already been partly broken right by the handle. It was here we made the decision to punch through the glass, and then undo the gate from the opposite side. Although I’m not proud of it, it worked and we finally gained access to the complex which led to our Air BnB. It wasn’t until the next day, that what we thought was a 6, on the code we had been given, was actually a key symbol. Which first had to be pressed on the keypad before entering the numerical code itself. Meaning we had the correct details all along, just stupidly had been inputting them wrong. For the remainder of my time in Budapest, I was convinced we were going to get arrested due to breaking a bit of glass on the front gate. Thankfully we didn’t, no one appeared to have noticed, but I still feel the pings of guilt even to this day. 

Széchenyi Chain Bridge and River Danube
Széchenyi Chain Bridge and River Danube

The next day, having not been locked up in a Hungarian prison cell, we embarked on our final city walking tour of the trip. The city of Budapest is split in half by the Danube River, the second longest in Europe behind that of the Volga in Russia. The name of the city stems from its rich history. The hilly western half of the city was formally known as Buda, gaining prominence during the renaissance. This area of the city is still very much the more affluent part. However, we would start our tour on the eastern side of the river, previously known as Pest. Over the years the great city was ruled by many different civilisations, often at times each holding different parts of the city. It was unified in 1873 and given the name today of Budapest. During the eastern position of the walking tour, we visited St. Stephen’s Basilica, a vast cupola-topped Roman Catholic place of worship, built from 1851 to 1905. As well as the Budapest Ferris Wheel. We then crossed from Pest to Buda or east to west of the city via the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which was built in 1849, 9 years after construction started. Once on the Western Bank, we first visited  Buda Castle. The castle complex was first completed in 1265, although the massive Baroque palace occupying most of the site today was built between 1749 and 1769. After taking exploring the castle complex we moved on to Fisherman’s Bastion, which is a 19th-century fortress with 7 turreted lookout towers. Its days as a fortress are over though. It’s now an excellent viewpoint overlooking the Danube and city of Budapest. There are sweeping panoramic views as well as an excellent vantage point of the Hungarian parliament.  The last stop on the tour and almost opposite Fisherman’s Bastion was that of Matthias Church. The 14th-century church was named after King Matthias, who married here, with the decorative title roof a really beautiful spectacle. 

Although we had a great time seeing the landmarks of Budapest on foot, we were all feeling a little bit ropey. Ollie in fact purchased what is probably the biggest chicken sandwich I have ever seen before the tour started. And then proceeded to carry it around in his coat pocket for the remainder of the tour. Taking a nibble out of it here and there when he so fancied. 

Young man holding a massive chicken sandwich
Ollie and his massive chicken sandwich

As evening arrived we went to grab some food and drinks from one of Budapest’s most famous bars, Mazel Tov. Budapest is home to a great selection of bars and none are more famous than Budapest’s Ruin Bars. But where did these famous ruin bars originate from? In the early 2000s, the inner part of the VII District of the city was made up of crumbling, abandoned buildings. Once the site of the Jewish ghetto, the historic Jewish Quarter became dilapidated in the decades following World War II. In 2002, the guys behind Szimpla (the most famous ruin bar) opened up the very first venue on Kertész utca – where you’ll find the Szimpla Café today. However, the real kick happened in 2004, when Ábel Zsendovits and his friends decided to gamble on a condemned building complex on Kazinczy street, which marked the start of the legendary ruin bar internationally known today. Szimpla began as a small experiment, a bar set up in an abandoned building offering affordable drinks for the young and creative crowd in Budapest. Szimpla became a bohemian hub after the crumbling building got spruced up with local design and vintage, mismatched furniture. Its chaos and extravagance has turned it into one of the world’s most famous bars. This then led to others following suit with a large selection of ruin bars now spread throughout the city. Although most are now visited by tourists, these epic bars are not to be missed. The bars are also like a labyrinth so it’s very easy to get lost. Especially after a few too many. Upon walking into Mazel Tov, I spotted a really tall guy, that looked exactly like someone I went to university with. I was certain it couldn’t be him but followed him through various rooms until we both arrived at the bar. Here we turned and looked at one another. Simultaneously announcing each other’s names in pure astonishment. Although the chances of such an encounter seemed impossible it was in fact my good friend James from university, who was visiting the city for the weekend with his girlfriend. Our two parties joined and we spent the evening catching up and drinking together. We also told James and his girlfriend Sadie about the amazing karaoke bar we found the previous night, which they had to try. Thankfully they were keen, meaning we headed back for round two in Blue Birds. 

By this time the two-week trip was starting to catch up with us all. Thankfully there is no better place for some rejuvenation than the Thermal Baths of Budapest. The city is home to numerous public baths so we took a trip to not only the biggest in Budapest but Europe and probably the most popular, Széchenyi Thermal Baths. The reason for the large prevalence of baths and spars is due to the city’s location. Budapest lies on a geological fault line, where the Buda Hills collide with the Great Plain. This causes more than 100 thermal springs to jet skyward, releasing some 40,000m3 of warm, mineral-rich water each day. The Eravisci tribe first stumbled upon the springs, calling the area Ak-ink (Abundant Water). But it wasn’t until the Romans marched in and built the regional capital of Aquincum here that the power of the waters was fully harnessed. As the 3rd century approached, some 30,000 Romans lived in what is today’s Óbuda district. Hidden below the city are the ruins of their massive Thermae Maiores (Great Bath), which had hot and cold water and underfloor heating. Following the Turkish conquest of Hungary in 1526, more Hamman-style baths (called ilidzas) appeared, including three still in use today: Rudas Baths, Király Baths Experience and Veli Bej Baths. Many of the city’s other spas, such as Széchenyi Baths and Gellért Bath, were built in the early 20th century.

The spa complex of Széchenyi not only offers a huge outdoor thermal pool, but also a large interior of, baths, plunge pools and saunas. One of the saunas within the complex is without  doubt the hottest sauna I’ve ever stepped foot in. It was roasting and being in there any longer than a few minutes felt as if I was relaxing on the surface of the sun itself. Having recharged, but also nearly melted, we headed for a look at the nearby Heros Square. It’s a worthy name for an impressive spectacle with towering columns and a semi-circle colonnade home to numerous historical figures. As evening fell, it would be our last as 3 on the trip. The following day the boys were flying back to the UK. We therefore went for a slap-up steak dinner before having a few final drinks in some more ruin bars. This time we headed to the first and original, Szimpla Kert, which is an extraordinary place. It was here that john decided to head back to our Air BnB with Ollie and me going on to party at one of the best clubs in the city, the Instant-Fogas Complex. Which has a total of 18 bars, 6 dance floors and two gardens. It was quite the way to end the trip. 

Morning broke and it was time to say goodbye to John and Ollie, my companions of the two past weeks. I, however, still had one final day in the city. During the day I made my way along the Danube river, passing the deeply moving ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’, which is a memorial to those killed on the river’s bank by the Nazis during WWII. From here I then went on to take a look around the Hungarian Parliament, which takes its inspiration from the house of parliament in London.  For my final night of the trip, I headed back to Széchenyi Thermal Baths, but this time for something a little less relaxing. I was joined by another university friend of mine for the famous Sparty. Henry was living in Hungry for the year, just as I was living in Germany. He, therefore, joined me for a party in the spa complex. Most Saturday nights the public baths are kitted out with disco lighting and a DJ culminating in a massive party at the complex. It was great fun, but the hot water and beer don’t do you any favours when it comes to dehydration. It was a unique way to end such a fantastic two weeks trip and was equally as good to catch up with Henry briefly. 

Sparty at Széchenyi thermal baths Budapest
Sparty at Széchenyi

The following day I flew from Budapest to Stuttgart before catching the train home to my apartment in Worms. Ready for work the following day. Which, after such an amazing 2 weeks was quite the struggle. Exploring the 4 cities of Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague and Budapest was an unbelievable two weeks and possibly the best way to celebrate a 21st Birthday. Interrailing around these world-renowned cities was fantastic. Jumping on a train for a few hours and being able to experience such diversity and variety in culture is one of the reasons that makes Europe so special. Its rich history also adds to the fascination of each place. In the remaining blogs, I’ll detail the rest of the European cities I was able to explore. 

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