I always need a “post-trip” period to properly absorb a new place I’ve visited, to have a more accurate realisation of its impression on me.
Often I get a small souvenir for myself, for my little collection. Lately, my photographs have been my best souvenir. However, I’ve realised there is something that comes back with me after a trip, even if I am not quite aware of what. It’s more than an experience, new facts, or broadened horizons. It’s like a bit of a feeling.
From Hungary, from beautiful Budapest, I brought home the longing for a lost grandeur that I never possessed. I carry in my chest the pain of the Hungarian people so many times suffering in the hands of others. The Nazis, the Soviets. Whoever might be reading this could assume this must have been such a depressing trip. It was not. These little things I feel (they cannot even resemble the true suffering) are part of my conquest. Traveling is a learning experience. And you know you’ve learned, that you ’ve grown when you have acquired a feeling. A new way to look at the world, a new way of understanding it. And we all know life has never been an ocean of roses.
Budapest is as marvelous as people say. One of the most beautiful cities in Europe, crossed by the magnificent Danube, buildings elegantly thought in art nouveau style. You can see the immense influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, what it seems to have been the golden ages of Budapest. Going even further back in time, we mustn’t forget the Turkish invasion to whom we need to thank for the immense and diverse bathing facilities. But then it came the Second World War – the city destroyed, about 40% of Budapest’s Jewish population murdered in the concentration camps. And when the war was over and you would think things could get better, the Soviet Red army “replaced” the Nazis in bringing terror and oppression to the Hungarian people.
To truly understand a place you must grasp at least the basics of its History. Budapest is now an incredible city, trendy, fashionable, pulsing with Art, Culture, vibrating at night with a nightlife fitting all tastes, original and unique in its chaotic ruin bars. I was impressed. Truly.
It was very, very hot during our visit to the city – we spent four days in Budapest and every day the temperatures would go up to 30 degrees Celsius. Most times it was sunny, but a threat of small, spotty thunderstorms came by from time to time. I wished the temperatures were not so high all the time – you know how hard it is to travel when you feel you’re melting. I pretty much felt like a Dali painting all the time.
Regardless, I used my camera as much as I could to create my humble souvenirs. And this is my travel diary from the city.
Our first visit was to the second largest Synagogue in the world (the first is in New York). Beware you can’t wear shorts and your shoulders need to be covered for the visit. If it is a very hot day, they will give you some plastic cover for you to put on. If you go to Budapest, regardless of your background, you must visit the Dohany Synagogue. The Jewish population in Hungary is significant, being part of its culture.
Due to my very limit understanding of Jewish costumes, I confess the museum didn’t say much to me. However, the synagogue is magnificent and there is a courtyard where victims of the Holocaust were buried and are there remembered. It’s a heavy atmosphere… you have to be made of steel not to feel tears coming to your eyes – from sadness and anger.
We were tired from the flight (I had only slept 3 hours to be able to catch my flight at 6:30am) and so we decided our next stop would be the famous Szechenyi Baths – the biggest bathing and spa facility in Budapest. It is located near Vajdahunyad Castle (currently the agriculture museum), so we had a stroll with a stop for a cold beverage before heading there.
We faced a tremendous, sudden, thunderstorm in the meantime. But bad things always pass, and at around 7 o’clock in the evening, we were putting our bikinis on.
For dinner, I had a typical Hungarian dish – Goulash soup. Hungarian food is good, but I did find it sort of underwhelming. I guess I was expecting stronger flavors, especially Hungarians being known to be obsessed with Paprika. I tried a good selection of different dishes and found most of them included “dumplings” (Hungarian style) as a side. It resembles scrambled eggs and I was tired of them by the end of our trip.
We walked along the Danube to start the day, I got completely overwhelmed with the Parliament Building. Difficult to describe how beautiful and grand it is. Unfortunately, in order to visit it, you need to book online in advance, as places are very limited, especially for tours spoken in English. I was happy enough to be a living witness of that building – it’s the 3rd largest parliament building in the world – and it’s perfectly located by the Danube.
We crossed to the Pest side and it was so hot that day. I felt like the sun was frying my brains and regretted not having a hat. My skin is very fair and I got other dozens of freckles to add to my not-so-proud-of collection. Besides my struggle with the high temperatures, this side of the river is absolutely unmissable. Luckily there are different types of transportation available for tourists to get up the hill. As we had the Budapest Card (info here) we were able to use a mini-bus for free.
On Pest side what you can’t miss is the Fisherman Bastion and the views of the city from there. Mathias Church is also beautiful. We did not go inside, as it was closed when we got there. But there is really no need. Just observe the splendid colorful roofs of the church.
If you’re up to creepy things, you have to visit the Labyrintus, underground caves where Vlad Draculia himself was a prisoner. My skin was in goosebumps for the whole time. It was a great experience and you should definitely visit. Warning: it is not for the cold-hearted!
Still in Pest, you must visit the Citadel. So, in this case, there isn’t an easy way up to the top. Not that is difficult to walk up the hill – there are stairs built for the purpose of it. But when it’s over 30 degrees Celsius, the sun is high up there in the blue sky, and you still need to breathe air that is full of electricity and humidity announcing a possible nearby storm… yes, it becomes a little bit harder to go up a hill 🙂
Still, we did it! I was completely exhausted, an awful headache took over me. And then, we were delightfully admiring the sights when we looked at Buda side and saw how the skies had turned dark. We knew it was coming. A thunderstorm. And based on the previous day experience, we knew we had to go back down as quickly as possible before it hit us.
We got to our studio right before it started pouring. Had a much-needed shower and finally went out for dinner. We headed to the Margaret Island to see a fountain show which lasted for about an hour – really good and for free! After that, we stood for some time on the bridge looking at the Parliament at night. A truly beautiful view.
Our last stop was at Szimpa Kert, the most famous ruin pub, where we drank a Palinka shot, supposedly apricot flavored. All I could feel and taste was the alcohol down my throat.
I barely took any photographs this day. It was extremely hot (unbearable). We started the day by visiting the House of Terror. The museum is dedicated to exploring the terrors lived by Hungarians with during the German and Soviet invasions. This was definitely a must on my trip. It helped me to understand a lot more about the History of the country. It is very well curated, taking you through the years as you go through different rooms with a lot of different media used to display information. Advice: get an audio guide or you truly won’t understand most of it.
This was my birthday day. So we went for a relaxed lunch with a friend of mine from Hungary who I had met six years ago while I was studying in Erasmus in Madrid. It was fantastic to see her after such a long time!
As it was way too hot to go outside, we visited the Hungarian National Museum. After that, we ventured through some souvenirs shops and went back home for a shower.
Ended the day on a boat cruise in the Danube – unmissable. We chose to do it in the evening to appreciate the sights with the beautiful light of sunset.
Last day (sad face). We visit a cemetery and the Great Market Hall where we ate another Hungarian specialty – Langos!
Well then – the trip was over and time to go back home 🙂
And my overall rating of the city: 5 stars. I just wished it wasn’t so damn hot all the time.
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