Budapest was never on my original travel itinerary. Originally I was going to fly from Athens to Paris, but I couldn’t find a good flight deal. That’s how I decided to go to Budapest and I couldn’t have been happier with my decision. As soon as I set foot in Budapest I knew I was going to love the city. The architecture is unique yet expected. I loved the juxtaposition of imperial and soviet buildings with the Danube River as the centerpiece. History runs deep in Budapest and it’s one filled with communism, religious persecution, and enlightenment. The people were warm and friendly and the wine was delicious.
I arrived in Budapest in the late afternoon and took the public transportation into town to my hostel. After settling in and showering away a long day of travel, I had dinner at a traditional Hungarian restaurant and meandered around Margaret Bridge to photograph the Hungarian Parliament Building at night.
I was up early the next morning to take advantage of my short time in the “Pearl of the Danube” and see as much as I could. I was excited to find out my hostel had free breakfast. Winning! I spent the first few hours just walking around the inner city taking in the Parliament building in daylight hours and strolling along the banks of the Danube River. The early mornings are quiet. Only a few locals and tourists can be seen walking down the main tourist streets. The old yellow trams hum and clang along their tracks amongst the cobblestones. The sweet smells of pastries drift in the air. The sun was warm and the air saturated with summer. Budapest was delightful.
I met my United Europe Free tour guide for a free walking tour of Budapest in Vorosmarty Square at 10:30am. For the next three hours we explored the Danube Promenade, Municipal Concert Hall, Gresham Palace, Academy of Hungarian Sciences, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Chain Bridge, and the Castle District. I love walking tours as I think they are one of the best ways to get a feel of a new city from a local expert.
Following the walking tour I explored more of the Castle district enjoying the narrow streets lined by colorful buildings. The Budapest landscape is perhaps one of the coolest ones in the world. The Pest side of the city is flat while the Buda side is full of hills with an extensive cave network underneath. Before we all went our separate ways from the walking tour, our guide suggested that we check out the Hospital in the Rock. Beneath the Buda Castle lies an old WWII and Cold War hospital museum built in a 6-mile stretch of interconnected caves and tunnels filled with medical artifacts from the 1950s. A one-hour tour in English starts every hour. I found the hospital and the tour to be fascinating as I know little about Hungarian history and its involvement in WWII.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat at a nearby cafe I walked across the Chain Bridge and headed back to Vorosmarty Square to participate in the free Jewish District Walking tour with the same company. Can you tell I like free walking tours? Budapest has a rich Jewish history dating back centuries. Unfortunately not all of the history is good, especially during the WWII years. Today the Jewish District is home to the second largest synagogue in the world (largest in Europe) and the largest Jewish population in East-Central Europe. During the 2.5 hour tour our guide showed us the Dohany Street Grand Synagogue, the Kazinczy Street Ortodox Synagogue, the Wallenberg Memorial Park, and finally finishing at the famous ruin bar, Szimpla Kert.
On my way back to my hostel I walked the banks of the Danube River so I could see the shoes on the Danube, a memorial of 60 cast iron shoes in remembrance of the thousands of Jews that were shot point-blank on the banks of the Danube during WWII so their bodies would be washed away by the river.
The next morning I woke up early again to spend the morning soaking at Szechenyi thermal bath and swimming pool. Thermal baths are a favorite Hungarian pastime as Budapest is filled with natural hot springs. The experience was interesting as I spent some quality time with locals and tourists of an average age of about 60 years olds. I left the baths feeling relaxed and ready to take on my next adventure.
My train to Vienna was leaving mid-afternoon so I had a few hours to kill before I needed to be at the train station. I accidentally took too much Hungarian forint out at the airport ATM and my main mission was to exchange it back to Euros for the rest of my trip. The money exchange shops are numerous appearing on every corner in the inner city and they don’t charge commission! Awesome! But, I couldn’t leave Budapest without trying the famous goulash. On my way to the train station I stopped at a cute little cafe with sidewalk sitting and enjoyed a bowl of traditional goulash and a glass of Hungarian wine. Both were delicious. In retrospect I would have loved to have brought home a bottle of wine from Hungary, but I guess that means I have to go back for more.
Two days in Budapest was not enough time to really explore the city. While I feel like I got a good overview of the highlights, there is so much more I would love to see and experience. Not to mention I would love to do a cycling tour of the countryside. Budapest, I will be back; 48 hours in Budapest is not enough time!