Budapest – full of surprises and utterly fascinating

My train from Bratislava was delayed by an hour or two, so by the time I arrived in Budapest it was already nearly midnight. I only knew the way to my hostel via the Metro, but unluckily none of them were running. I didn’t know where to go and there weren’t many sober people about. In desperation I hopped into a taxi and managed to get to my hostel, minus a few thousand Forint – don’t use taxi’s in most of Europe as they rip you off! But it was worth it to arrive there safely.

The hostel was quite quirky. In my room the beds were part of this big wooden frame, with stairs up to the upper level – my bed was underneath in a little cacoon of its own with some curtains for extra privacy – pretty neat! The guys working there were so chilled out and probably high most of the time. It was a cool hostel but completely dead, the few people that were there didn’t talk at all, so I did start to feel a little lonely after a while.

Tour and Castle

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I allowed myself a little lie-in the first morning, since it had been a late and stressful night. I headed out on time to catch the free walking tour (these tours have been great, based on tips and in most cities, they’ve usually been a great way to meet people!), there were a lot of people on this one so they split us into three groups. The guide was very informative, telling us all about the history of Hungary and Budapest – I never realised for instance, that two thirds of Hungary’s land was given away after the war – and about the buildings in the city. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who decides to visit.

The tour ended at Budapest’s magnificent castle that is one of its most well known landmarks. It’s situated on a hill on one side of the Danube, with the humongous white parliament on the opposite bank. The turrets and fisherman’s bastions are incredibly impressive and somewhat fairytale like; the sunshine and clear blue skies only added to the fantastic spectacle.

Langos – deep fried flat bread smothered in sour cream and cheese. Rather filling!

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House of Terrors

After I’d revelled in the mysteries of the Budapest castle for long enough I decided to head to the House of Terrors museum, which I’d heard was excellent. The museum is housed in the building that was the main hub of Nazism and Communism in Hungary, and was where many were imprisoned, tortured and executed. It’s a strange place, incredibly informative to the extend of being overly so. All of the information is printed on sheets of paper that one can pick up in each room. After a while it got a little tedious reading everything and I ended up taking home wads of paper – rather wasteful! Don’t get me wrong it’s a brilliant museum, but they need to rethink the way they present the information and maybe reduce it a little. Maybe I’ve just been a little overloaded with Nazi and Communist history on my trip so I’m a little biased!

The most interesting part of the museum was seeing the cells and torture chambers in the basement. You queue to be loaded into the lift down to the area, once in the lift everything goes dark and the TV turns on. It very slowly descends downawards while listening to a man talking (in Hungarian) about the prisoners, conditions in the cells and executions. There are also subtitles in English but unfortunately I couldn’t see them as some idiotic tall Spanish guy thought it was OK to stand directly in front of me – the poor short ginger girl. I had to make do with picking up sections of what I could see reflected in the glass.

Once out of the lift you find yourself in the bleak, musty and damp basement of the building. There are rows and rows of cells that you can walk in. One is a standing cell, there is barely room to move even for a small person like me; another is covered in padding – stepping inside it becomes deathly silent. Others have solitaty beds in, and another is in complete darkness with a lowered roof – I couldn’t even stand up straight. It makes you realise the lengths that those in charge went to to enable complete control and humiliation over those they were keeping locked up. You also walk through a room full of wooden frames with nooses attached, and other metal implements, presumably used for torturing the inmates. It was a sombre experience; its unbelievable how much of European history is filled with Nazism and Communism – it can get very draining after a while, but is nevertheless worth exploring and learning more about while you have the chance in these places.

It was almost dark by the time I came out of the museum – as the clocks had just gone back an hour, annoyance! I decided to head to the Heroes Square nonetheless. It was quite impressive by night, it was all lit up and looked fabulous. The sky wasn’t quite dark yet so the deep blue hue behind the column was fabulous.

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Caving

I’d heard so much from fellow travellers about going caving whilst in Budapest and their recommendation did not disappoint! Everyone met at a bus stop in Budapest and all 22 of us were escorted to the caves. We were divided into two groups and given helmets with a headlight and an equally appealing bright yellow overall. We spent about 3 hours underground – though it went very quickly! We were taken through tiny passages, into huge caverns, and squeezed into miniscule holes. The guide was brilliant and told us lots of stories, he also managed to remember all of our names – impressive! At one point we all sat in a circle and turned our lights off; its so incredibly dark, all you see is the strange lights in your eyes. We also listened to the silence of the cave… you couldn’t hear a thing. If you’re claustrophobic or afraid of the dark this probably isn’t the activity for you – but if you love a challenge and want to fit into tiny crevices, heave yourself up over slippery rocks and delve through low passages then you should absolutely give this a try.

Ruin pubs

The old Jewish quarter is filled with cool places that puts Budapest’s nightlife up there with Berlin and London. These places, affectionately known as ‘Ruin Pubs’ are hidden away gems – in between run down buildings and covered in lights, graffiti, broken cars, toy bikes and all sorts of random memorabilia – they’re really cool venues to grab a beer and hang out with mates. Unfortunately though, as my hostel was dead, I had no one to hang out with so I endured a beer by myself at the most famous pub and then left – gutted!

Central Market

The biggest market in Budapest is all under one roof. There are rows and rows of stalls selling meat, vegetables, fish, cakes and also souvenirs. I was fascinated just wandering around and watching the locals interact and buy all their goods for the week. Upstairs there are a multitude of places selling traditional Hungarian food – but because they’re in a line the path beside them got pretty clogged! I sat down and had some delicious Goulash Soup – yum.

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Budapest Baths

On my final afternoon in Budapest I decided to enjoy a relaxing few hours at one of the many baths that Hungary’s capital has to offer. I headed for the cheapest bath that the locals go to, and that was part of the charm. There are a few pools with varying temperatures, from cold to hot, as well as steam room, sauna and jacuzzi. I lazed around for hours going in between pools and watching the locals converse with each other – it was very interesting. One deaf guy signalled to me that going in the steam room and then jumping into the cold pool was worth doing, and it was incredibly invigorating! I slowly allowed my skin to prune and then realised that 3 hours was probably long enough, but I could’ve easily spent many more there. I went away with soft skin and feeling relaxed, calm and also very hungry. It was a great way to end my stay in Budapest. It’s an absolutely fascinating city but if I visited again I’d like to bring some friends along – its the kind of place which has so much to do but isn’t much fun when you don’t meet any people!

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