05.12.2011 - 08.12.2011
Day 4: Dec. 5
We woke up early on Monday and made our way to the train station to catch our train to Budapest, Hungary. We took the 12 o’clock train and we were in Budapest by about four. The train ride to Budapest was actually really interesting. I am pretty sure we went through some poor sections of Hungary and Austria. It looked like some of the houses still had outhouses. The houses were very small and looked a lot like shacks. It was really cool and interesting. We finally made it to the train station and it was really easy to find our hostel. My first glimpse of Eastern Europe was exactly how I pictured it to be! It literally looks like what Eastern Europe looks like in the movies, but it is so surreal when you are actually walking around the city. It had a very soviet vibe (Hungary has only been free of soviet rule for about 22 years, which was so interesting especially for me being a history major). All of the buildings are really old looking, the paint is chipping, they are all a shade of beige or another very bland color and some of the buildings look really run down. We found our hostel which was in an old building on one of the main streets in Pest (Budapest is technically two cities, Buda on one side of the Danube River and Pest on the other). We were staying on the Pest side.
The hostel was located on the top floor of the building and there was no elevator so I walked up about nine flights of stairs with my travelers backpack on (no easy feat). We finally made it to the top and the hostel was awesome! It was decorated with all retro materials and it was so homey and welcoming. It was really dimly lit and there were things from all over the world. The building itself felt very Eastern Europe/ Soviet. I could immediately tell I was in Eastern Europe! We then met Suzie, who was working there that night. She was so nice and helpful and gave us all these recommendations of things to do and where to eat. It was awesome. Our rooms were awesome. We had two doubles with a common shower and bathroom. Even the key was cool, it was so old and one of the big metal ones. The set up of the hostel could not have been more perfect. I was in love with the hostel, and it was nice that we liked it so much because we would just stay there at night hanging out! The ambiance was awesome!
That night we went to one of the restaurants that Suzie recommended. It was an anchored boat right on the Danube. Because it was on the Pest side, we were able to have an amazing view of Buda. There is a castle and a great church and all these bridges connecting the two cities and everything was lit up, it was awesome. For dinner I had the traditional Hungarian Goulash. It is a beef dish with little dumplings. I did not really like it, but I needed to try it since I was in Hungary. We then walked back to our hostel where we just hung out in our rooms for the night. We decided to sit in the common area of the hostel and the owner of the hostel was there and he offered us some Hungarian wine. It was really interesting tasting. It was called Tokaj. It is a grape that has fungus growing on it, so it gives it a strange taste. It was pretty good, and it was really nice of the owner to give the four of us each a glass because I am pretty sure it it kind of expensive.
Side note: Hungary is not on the Euro. They are on the Hungarian Forint. So I had to exchange all my euros for some HUF (what we called it because that is how it is abbreviated). The funny thing about HUFs are they are in the thousands. So the hostel cost 30 euro total (for three nights, yes 10 euro per night = about 12 dollars, sooooo cheap) and it was 8,100 HUF. It was comical and my friends and I would continually make fun of things saying “oh wow this only costs 2,100” , perfect. It sounds like a lot but it is actually nothing! The whole city was really cheap, one night I had a full dinner for 3.50 euro. It was crazy!
Day 5: Dec. 6
We started the day pretty early because we were attempting to see all of Buda on this day. The first stop of the day was to a pastry shop to get some Kremes. I CANNOT EXPLAIN HOW GOOD THEY ARE!!!! It is a tort type pastry. There is cream/custard in the middle and there is flakey, melt in your mouth outer covering. The cream is whipped cream but with 10x the flavor and really light and delicious. I was in heaven. The second stop was the great market. It was exactly what you are thinking a great market is. There was tons of food, vegetables, meats and rows and rows of paprika. Who knew that paprika was big in Hungary? Not I, that is until I walked into Paprika heaven. There were two levels of the market and the top was all tourist shops. It was really cool.
We then walked over the bridge to the Buda side of the city. We decided to hike up Gellart’s hill. It was a pretty long hike, but the view from the top was totally worth it. You could see pretty much everything on both sides of the city. The view was gorgeous and the sky was blue and the temperature was really nice. Everything about it was perfect. We then walked over to the castle district. There wasn’t actually a castle, but instead there was a HUGE museum in the middle. After walking a little further we found the Fisherman’s Church. This may have been one of the coolest churches I have ever been to. The facade of the church was a beige color, but the roof was tiled with red, orange and green. The roof was absolutely amazing. So different from any other church I have been to. After the church we decided to go across the river to the Pest side, where there is a parliament building. Wow, what a cool building that was. It was huge and it was full of pillar like structures. So cool! After seeing parliament we walked over to the Cathedral in Pest. There was another Christmas market there, where we got lunch because we were starving. I got some sort of potatoe medley. Who knows because I don’t speak Hungarian. We went into St. Stephens and it was really cool! So many gold structures and domes and red marble. We then made our way to the main Christmas Market in Budapest, but I was freezing so I ended up standing in a store called “The NewYorker” the whole time. I did a quick viewing of the market but nothing was standing out to me so I decided I wanted to be warm.
For dinner on Tuesday night, the hostel was making us dinner for free. Every guest who was staying in the hostel was invited to have dinner in the common room. We made a “campfire” Hungarian food. It was potatoes, onions, sour cream, sausage, water, and paprika. It was kind of like a stew. It was delicious! The girl who was working at the hostel was helping us make the dinner. She was so cute and so happy. She was so interested in what we were doing in Europe and our lives back home. It is so funny because whenever I say I am studying in Barcelona peoples expressions are “ohhh wow that is so awesome” or “I LOVE BARCELONA.” And then I feel way cooler than I probably should because I think I am cool for living there. Anyways, dinner was such an awesome experience. There was an Australian couple, a couple from England, one solo traveler from Australia, and four people from Portugal. Everyone spoke English (even the people from Portugal, and the girl working at the Hostel). Everyone was in such a great mood and interesting in everyone else’s lives. We ended up sitting there for about four hours. AND the dinner was awesome! The main topic of conversation was accents, seeing as 8 out of 13 were native English speakers. I could not tell the difference between the Australian accent and the British accent. It was sooo interesting to me, and I never got bored talking to any of these people that I had literally just met. They were making us do British accents and they were saying it was more Aussie, except when we quoted Harry Potter. When we asked them to do American accents they refused. It was funny how easily we would just do a British accent and they would refuse to try the American “because they thought they sounded strange.” It was such a great experience and I love the traveling/ hostel mentality because everyone is just enjoying themselves and everyone is between the ages of 18-25. I love hostel culture, it is SO fun!
Day 6: Dec. 7
This was our last full day in Budapest. We walked over to Auguszt Cukrászda, which is supposed to have the best krémes in the entire city. (shout out to my mom for sending the New York Times article listing the best krémes in Budapest). IT WAS SO GOOD. It was a huge piece and it was a little slice of heaven. The cream tasted amazing and the flakey outer part was melt in your mouth. HEAVENLY.
After breakfast we did a walking tour around the Jewish Quarter and saw the second biggest synagogue in the world! We also walked over to the opera house which was also very cool. Intricately designed. We went back to the great market for lunch where I got Langos. Langos is fried dough with pretty much anything you want on it. I got sour cream with sausage and onions. It was sooo goood! Amazing.
We them headed over to the famous Budapest thermal baths. The bath we went to was called Széechenyi. It was this massive yellow building with the baths in the middle of it. Some of the baths are outside (the best ones are outside) and there are also some inside. We stayed in the warm baths outside for the majority of the time. It was a giant pool with water the temperature of a hot tub outside. It was soooo great. There was steam rising from it and then it got dark and all the lights came on. One of the best experiences of my life!
On the walk home, we stopped to get mulled wine. Mulled wine is hot wine mixed with fruits and spices. I was hesitant at first because of my bad experience in Vienna, but once I tasted it, all my worries went aside and I was loving the mulled wine. I want to try to make some at home! After dinner we went back to the hostel to hang out and have some treats because we had a 4:15am taxi in the morning.
We made it to the airport before 5am and we were back in Barcelona by 8:10. I was able to see the Alps and the Pyrenees all in one plane ride!
My last trip was nothing less than amazing. Seeing Vienna and Austria for a second time was just as great as the first and was different enough because I saw a different season. Budapest was the furthest East I have traveled thus far in my life and has only opened a new desire to continue traveling and experiencing new cultures. I am sad that my time in Europe is winding down, but I am so grateful that I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime to travel around for four months and I am certainly not going to take these last two weeks for granted.