Now, a place I had been looking forward to since the initial planning stages of the trip: BUDAPEST! And oh boy it delivered!
By chance we happened to stay in one of the nicest hostels i’ve experienced after years of on and off travel; Goat Hostel. This wasn’t planned; the night prior to arrival to the capital of Hungary, we received an email saying our hostel (that we were originally planning to stay in); Hi 5, had in fact… closed. We looked into the matter further online, and a quick search showed some reviews saying they had rocked up to the place to find it was as dead as a dodo, due to a what must be bloody severe, case of bed bugs. As I am prone to being bitten by anything that moves (right now i’m sporting no less than 7 fresh bites whilst Ed walks away scot-free) I wasn’t too fussed about no longer staying in bed-bug central. A quick search later and we had booked ‘Goat’. Whilst the name may not provide you with an image of a gloriously cosy hostel, that is in fact completely what it is. Located on the first floor of an old building, you enter and head up a marvelous winding staircase. Arriving to the door you are greeted by happy, smiling faces (somewhat unusual in hostels – do you not know first impressions count for a lot?!) and then discover that it has a little living room with a huge corner sofa. Add free breakfast into the mix and you know you’re onto a winner. With just 3 dorm rooms and one private (there are other privates, located in a different building), the hostel was small and full of character and charm. Whilst some opt for party hostels during their stay in Budapest, staying at Goat meant if we wanted, we could party on our own terms and return to a terrifically nice little place, which after 4 nights, started to feel somewhat like home.
So, first impressions of the city had struck off to a cracking start and only continued to improve by exploring the local areas and sampling our first thermal spa; Gellert (which, as it happens, is a mere 5 minute stroll from Goat). There are many spas in Budapest, and this one was of art-nouveau style. With a range of indoor and outdoor pools, saunas and treatments, Gellert was big enough to spend a few hours relaxing but not too big to result in you freezing and shivering your way trying to find the next pool.
R&R sorted, the following day we headed to museum House of Terror. The museum provided a wealth of information about Hungary’s struggle with the facism and Nazi regime, and the rule of communism. Detailing harrowing yet vitally important history, the House of Terror is a must if you want to learn about some of the tragic events of the past which have shaped the city of Budapest we have today. However be warned: there is LOT of information and reading to take in, so head there with a clear mind and your thinking cap on.
After a couple of hours absorbing a heck of alot of information, it felt necessary to change the tone of the day. So, of course, it was time for another spa. This time, the infamous Szechenyi Bath and Spa. Whilst the name may not ring any bells, tap it into Google and you will no doubt recognise the beautiful building.
Whilst beautiful, yes, it is also HUGE and heaving with tourists (and a peppering of locals), meaning that if relaxation and a bit of quiet (along side clean facilities) is what you are after, a smaller or more local spa might be more suited to you. This aside, it was a good way to spend a couple of hours floating around in the outdoor pool whilst the sun went down.
By now, it was Friday. We weighed up whether it was worth investing in the Budapest card; a tourist card that is a set price for 24,48 or 72 hours and provides the holder with free or discounted entry to numerous sights and attractions, alongside free public transport. On first read, this deal sounded exceptional, however a little bit of research later into the places we would visit on the list, we worked out it was actually cheaper to do it independently – thanks to our British passports and being creatures of youth we were entitled to discounted entry prices. And, of course, the fact we would unlikely use public transport; Budapest is a beautiful city that is best experienced on foot. That decided, we headed to the chain bridge connecting Buda and Pest and walked over to the Buda side of the Danube river, and up into the castle area. Home to various museums, we visited the Budapest History Museum (which is actually a fairly boring museum about the castle and not what we had expected) and strolled around. Walking everywhere soon means you’re appetite has been worked up a treat, so we headed back to Pest for a liquid lunch at Budapest’s infamous and terrific Ruin bars. They are as their name suggests; bars in old, abandoned, ‘ruined’ buildings. With a fair few to choose from, we first headed to the founder, the Daddy of the ruin bars; Szimpla Kert. Full of old furniture, battered antiques and stuff you’d pick up at a junk shop, the bar is a truly awesome place to visit. With cheap drinks aplenty, Szimpla attracts a young, arty crowd of students, travellers and the eccentric types. A couple more ruin bars later and a few empty cocktail and beer glasses, we were a little tiddled and made our way back to Goat to chill out for the evening.
Waking up feeling fresh on Saturday (the good thing about a midday drinking session – the hangover has lifted before you’ve even brushed the dust out of your eyes the next morning) we headed out and did a spot of shopping. As it was our last day in Budapest, it seemed only fitting to go to one more thermal spa. This time, we went to St. Lukacs upon recommendation from the hostel staff. About an hour on foot from where we were staying, by the time we had made our way there we were all too ready for our last bit of thermal cleansing. A spa most frequented by locals, it was small, clean and very pleasant. A couple of hours later with muscles well and truly loosened, we headed back to the area of the hostel and ventured down Raday street – also known as restaurant street. A nice mix of tourists and locals and many eateries to choose from, we selected one that had plenty of scrummy vegetarian dishes and enjoyed our last evening in the beautiful city.
Budapest is known as ‘The Paris of the East’ and I can see why. The place is delightful and modern, old and buzzing and full of absolute charm. It is infectious and fun; it is a gem. It is BUDAPEST!