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Budapest is an easy Easyjet flight away from the UK, perfect for a weekend break, so it would have been rude not to go.
This was actually my first trip into Eastern Europe and I had no idea what to expect, though I was a little trepidatious about the food. I had visions of many a cliche – stews, potatoes – that kind of thing.
We stayed in an Airbnb studio apartment in the Jewish Quarter, which is full of grand old buildings with bags of character. Of course, grand old buildings can mean dodgy lifts and when the lift let us down, during the unusual heat wave that the city was experiencing, being on the 4th floor seemed a cruel twist of fate.
The apartment itself was a huge, gorgeous studio with a rather kitsch bathroom with a massive corner bath which became handy for dunking in to cool off. Location wise, the Jewish Quarter was fantastic. It’s home to most of the ruin pubs, close to great restaurant and the metro.
Food & Drink
Food wise, I was delighted to be surprised. Not that a lot of the food wasn’t stewy, potatoey or as you’d expect, but that it was often light and very often delicious. There were definitely some interesting combos and nearly everything came with sour cream. My favourite meal was in a cute little cafe with a grand terrace with a ceiling covered by brightly coloured umbrellas. I had crispy goose leg with summer savoury seasoned cabbage, potatoes with pumpkin seed. It was soo good. My only other experience of goose was a greasy roast and I’d never gone back – this was a game changer. They do their food heavy and light at the same time.
Another delightful surprise was when we took a pit stop after a long, hot day sight seeing in the Four Seasons Budapest (get us!). They were very charming to our sweaty selves and we re-payed them by ordering some of their finest Hungarian rose champagne. Yes, Hungarian champagne! It may have been the heady mix of air conditioning and alcohol but it tasted pretty darn good.
A touristic must, was the rose gelato I’d seen grace many a blog post about Budapest. It was tasty, but also, of course, it was pretty.
Budapest is famous for its ruin pubs, which are basically bars that have popped up in beaten up old buildings and I guess originally from lack of budget, decorated with an eclectic mix of found or cheap objects, spray paint and a lot of creativity. They are in essence super cool. And if you don’t want to join the crowd of crazy young kids, late at night, you can go earlier in the day when they tend to be pretty quiet – apart from the odd walking tour popping in.
The must do spa
We knew we had to enjoy one of the city’s world-famous spas but I have to be honest, amazing as it was, I think it would be a much more enjoyable experience on a cooler, ideally cold day! The spa we went to was the Gellert, one of the more famous and pricey choices, but it is worth it as it’s a stunning place and there are so many things to do, you can spend a lot of time there. The grounds are stunning, but with its speciality is the heated pools, it was pretty hard going for us during the unexpected heat wave. You have to wear a super sexy swimming hat btw, which can be bought there, but it’s probably cheaper to buy one elsewhere and bring. We treated ourselves to a massage and I have to confess that I was relieved and giggling, when the hulking male masseur turned out not to be for me! The massage was ok, not great and not the cheapest so if I went again I wouldn’t bother.
Statues & Sculptures
Budapest is big on statues. Statues are big in Budapest. There is a lot of them. It’s kind of their thing.
‘Shoes on the Danube bank’ is one of the most beautiful and moving memorials I’ve ever seen. Remembering the victims of the horrific firing squads who rounded up the city’s Jews and Jewish sympathisers. The cast iron shoes, of men, women and children, bring a real human connection to the realisation of what went on here.
Budapest is surprisingly walkable, even in the heat we managed a lot of places on foot, but also their metro system, though old and shakey in places, was cheap and easy. A lot of the stations and trains themselves had a look of a bygone era. The kind of 60s/70s look you expect of an ex-communist country. For me, this is an added bonus as I love a retro metro.
We also went on a segway tour. I am a segway devotee, although it tends to be really expensive – it’s often the best and most fun way to get around a city. It is particularly good here as Budapest is broken up to either side of the river, Buda and Pest, Pest is way up on a massive hill so it was great to be able to get up and down from here easily. Our tour guide was very sweet and we particularly enjoyed it when she embarrassed one of the marching guards outside parliament by saying hello as we watched them, as he was friends with her ex-boyfriend.
I loved Budapest and despite the heatwave and being there the day the UK decided to throw itself under the bus and vote Brexit, I left with a good feeling about the place and am keen to go back. It is a city that feels a mix of eastern European and Mediterranean-ness. It has some throw backs to the past, which add to its coolness and it is still affordable enough for it to be a real creative hub. There’s lots of street art. There’s lots of weirdness. Long may it continue.