It’s crazy to think that I was gallivanting Europe just 2 weeks ago. I had the pleasure of visiting Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. All three cities were extremely different from one another, and I enjoyed each of them immensely. I booked this trip through the same travel group I did my last trip to Europe through, Go Ahead Tours. In a nutshell, GoAhead takes care of every logistical detail so you can just show up and focus on the fun stuff! They do offer guided tours, and excursions, but they don’t force you to do anything; I enoy that flexibility because I never feel tied to anything. This particular trip there were 4 other girls around my age who all booked this trip by themselves, too! So we formulated our own little pack, and it was a blast!
The first stop was in Budapest. There is a Buda side and a Pest side (pronounced "pescht"), separated by the enchanting Danube River. One of the first places we went to was the Fisherman-Bastion, which is on the Buda side on top of a hill overlooking the city. Although it was a cloudy day, it still provided a stunning view. From there we went back to the Pest side and toured Parliament, which was maybe not the most exciting thing, but still something to appreciate.
From there we went to the market, which was a multilevel indoor facility with tons of restaurants, food carts, and street vendors. Budapest is known for their paprika, so I stocked up. I was always though paprika was a good spice but very subtle and often unnoticeable, but when you have REALLY good paprika… it is out of this world delicious! (Side note: if you ever see paprika Pringles, buy them, buy dozens of them!!). At the market we tried a variety of Hungarian grub. I essentially ordered the equivalent of a hot dog cone. It was a thick breaded cone filled with various sausages, sauerkraut, and sauce. One of the other girls got a different variation of what I got, and another got something called “langos”, it’s the Hungarian version of pizza - only the dough tastes more like fried dough, and the cheese wasn’t melted. It was very good, but I still prefer Jersey pie. ;)
After the exhausting task of eating and shopping for hours, we decided to check out one of the infamous thermal baths, Szechenyi Thermal Bath. The outdoor bath was amazing, and the cool air made the hot (but not scorching) water feel that much more amazing. The architecture you’re surrounded by enhanced the ambiance, crafting the perfect “I can’t believe this is real life” moment. Inside the building (to call it a building doesn’t really do it justice… it looks like a palace), they offered several other baths to choose from. I got a little germaphobic with the indoor baths (used bandaids on the floor are never ok!), but I’m glad I gave it a try. Although I admit it was a little nerve-wracking to take a photo in my bathing suit after eating hot dog cones and langos, I’m glad I captured the moment (on Instagram). After relaxing at the baths for a bit, we stopped at the Heroes' Square… a really beautifully done monument.
The next day I took a really intense tour that focused on the history of Budapest. If you’re into history and want to look up something disturbing, research “Bloody Thursday”. We also went all the way through a lengthy guided tour of the House of Terror, which depicts the fascist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary. I definitely saw and learned things I’ll never forget. I honestly didn’t know a lot about Hungarian history and politics prior to this trip, but I learned a lot.
After that tour we walked through the city and passed by St. Stephen’s Basilica. I wish we had had time to go into it. That’s the hard about about these trips - no matter how hard you try, you can’t see everything, but at least you can plan multiple trips back! :) We stopped at a “cafe” that was located inside of a multilevel bookstore. Sound familiar? Well I assure you that this was no Barnes and Noble, in fact, I think Barnes and Noble needs to take some notes! This cafe was located at the top level of the building and was extraordinary. The artwork and molding on the ceilings were beautiful, and made the coffee and cake taste that much better.
From the cafe we strolled over to the Dracula inspired castle, Vajdahunyad Castle, which although was built not that long ago (for European standards) in 1896, it was gorgeous. I loved the gothic features, especially the gargoyles. On the Vajdahunyad Castle grounds we also stopped by the Anonymous statue, which has an interesting background story!
After a full day of walking, the girls and I decided to go back to Szechenyi Thermal Bath and completely indulge and get not one but two massages - one foot/leg message, one full body. I actually dozed off during the foot/leg massage which is quite a feat because if you know me, you know I am a very light sleeper!
To keep with the theme of indulgence we then took a cruise down the Danube River that night. I normally am sort of “meh” towards river cruises, and I almost didn’t do this one. But I am SO glad I did. Budapest is a city that is meant to be seen at night, with a glass of bubbly in hand. We didn’t want the night to end so we ended up at a place called Boutiq Bar, where they served delicious cocktails made with the Hungarian liquor, Unicum. I ended up buying two bottles of the plum flavored Unicum, and can’t wait to try to recreate the art I drank that evening. The conversations that flowed were a lot of fun, too - traveling, boys, politics, you name it, we girls talked about it! It is amazing to think about how each of us are so different, but have the common thread of love of travel that brought us together. So many opinions and perspectives were brought to the table; I find those connections to be both invaluable and remarkable.
- Hungarians are grumpy.
- Ruins bars are like frat houses, and not the good ones. We briefly stepped into one, and quickly left.
- Budapest is crazy inexpensive.
- The folks in Budapest do not dress as well as the people I’ve seen in other parts of Europe.
- Buy as much paprika and Unicum as you can if you go.