Last weekend, I traveled the 7.5 hours from Bad Aussee, Austria to Budapest, Hungary. It was my first time in Eastern Europe, and I went alone. Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive at first. And when I arrived, it didn’t get any better. The Budapest train station was a hectic mess! I had never been so overwhelmed in my life. I clutched my guidebook like a lifeline. I converted 100 Euro to 25,000 Hungarian Forints. I nearly let the newspaper woman keep 4,000 of my Forints after I bought a bus ticket from her. I passed the entrance to the hostel twice. But in the end, I made it in one piece to the hostel kitchen, where I drank a much-needed tea with the owner.
It was nearly 6 pm by the time I arrived and the owner and I were the only people in the hostel. I didn’t feel like venturing out again on my own, so I waited until the other hostlers arrived back to make plans for the evening. Turns out, there was a group of 5 very simpático Spaniards, who invited me out with them for the night. We tried out some of the bars around town, but none of them were a smashing success. I bought a muffin at the 24-hour grocery store (!!! Something that doesn’t exist in Austria !!!) for 184 Forints, or 7 Euro cents. I poured myself into bed around 4 am.
I awoke to see the skies filled with rain clouds. No good. Still, I went out on a mission to find breakfast and have a day full of sightseeing. Well, long story short, I got very lost. I went back to the hostel (which I could still find), defeated, to reorient myself, or orientate for the first time. On the second try, I found the breakfast place quite easily and laughed at myself for having turned right instead of left.
After that, I checked out the Great Market, a huge indoor market. The stench of raw meat and fish, earthy smell of vegetables and succulent aroma of citrus fruit overloaded my senses. There was so much fresh food that I wondered how it could all be sold. Ever. I saw some creepy things, most creepy of which was a pig head, with his eye just staring at you. But I also saw some beautiful things. Over the murmur of Hungarian shoppers, I heard English all around me and saw tourists of all nationalities.
Despite the rain, I attempted to venture to the Buda side (hostel is on the Pest side). I crossed the Duna River (or the Danube River, which is much wider in Budapest) on the “Green” Bridge, and felt the bridge quiver with every tram that traversed it. The Buda side is much calmer and more residential. It reminds me of München or Wien, whereas Pest is more like Paris, with grand buildings, wide streets and always on the go.
Well, the rain just wouldn’t stop and had soaked my shoes, so I resolved to head back to the hostel and promised myself that Saturday I would see much more, rain or shine. I walked along the Duna and crossed back on the “White” Bridge. At the hostel, I tried to dry off and warm up with some tea. I took a nap that day, and when I woke, I went out to dinner with the Spaniards. We decided to have a night in and I would teach them how to play Kings. Needless to say, it was a really good night.
Saturday, it was raining when I woke up and I was upset. But, went out I did. I stopped by the Great Market and got a pastry, and by the time I got out, the sun was shining! I walked up the Duna to the Parlament building, which is huge! It was a long, but beautiful, walk (filled with other tourists). I walked along back roads to find my way to the main drag, Andrássy Utca (“Utca” means “street” in Hungarian). I was going to try out a restaurant Jordan recommended to me, Menza, but it was packed and I couldn’t get a table. I went instead to the Terror Museum, dedicated to the Nazi and Communist regimes that controlled Hungary, the spying that happened during those times and the citizens who fought back. It’s actually located the old headquarters of the secret police. Disturbing, moving and interesting.
From there, I walked toward the city center to the opera house and took a tour. So beautiful! They often compared it to the Viennese opera house, which I thought was funny. Ran into the Spanish people there. It was getting late, but I wanted to make it out to Heroes Square at the end of the Andrássy Utca, so I set off. I made it there at dusk, and it was truly gorgeous. Though there were some tourists, there were also many Hungarians as well, just enjoying the evening. I made the nearly 1 hour walk back to the hostel and was very, very tired so I decided not to go out that night.
The next day, Sunday, I woke up early, packed and caught my train at 11:10 am. The change in the train station from Thursday night to Sunday morning was astonishing. There was no one trying to get me to take their taxi, change money, stay at their hostel, no one checked my ticket – it was a pleasant change.
It was a perfect weekend. The city is awesome. It is cosmopolitan, but laid-back, grandiose, but small. I had no problem getting around using English – I had the feeling that people could understand me at all times (like, when I was at the bar, speaking English to the Spaniards). English was everywhere and also there was a surprising amount of German. For example, a menu would be written in Hungarian, then English and finally German.
Alas, a weekend was not long enough. I could have stayed until at least Tuesday and still enjoyed every second. I plan to go back over Easter Break (and hit the baths!) and continue even further into Eastern Europe. Can’t wait!
Have you been to Budapest? Hungary? Anywhere in Eastern Europe? What did you think?