28 May – 1 June
Within a few hours we leave the mountains behind, cross Slovakia and arrive in Hungary where we hit the Danube River, the second longest river in Europe. It is a very sunny and warm day so we stop along the river to have a bite and to take a little rest with our feet dipped into the refreshing water. Following the Danube we eventually get to a destination that we have been looking forward to very much – the city of Budapest.
On the highway there, we notice several strange signs with the words “vignette” and “video kontroll” and it seems that, just like in Czech Republic, a vignette has to be bought in advance, in order to use the highways. Since we had no idea (and apparently did not pay attention to this tiny detail when crossing the border) we are not in possession of any vignette and suddenly get a little worried that the parking ticket that we got in Prague might not be the only fine we will have to pay once we get back home. Anyway, there is nothing we can do about it at this point and we have something better to focus on – finding the apartment of our couchsurf host Matthias. And this is not as easy as it sounds since the main road (that we are supposed to take) is closed due to a parade of some sort. Matthias (who is Dutch) invited us to stay at his place even though he is away but his flatmates (a German and a guy from Malaysia) welcome us and show us where we can crash. And that is exactly what we do right away after this long day on the road.
In the morning, we wake up with our batteries fully charged and full of excitement to explore this new city. We leave the house at ten past nine, just on time to find a guy right in the process of putting a parking ticket on the windshield of our car. We knew that it is only allowed to park for free before 9:00am but we did not expect that they would already check for parking tickets at 9:10am. However, we are lucky and convincing enough not to get a fine and thus relocate the car to a green area with free parking where we first enjoy a picnic after this thrilling start of the day. A walk through this park leads us to Vajdahunyad Castle which is very well preserved and beautifully located next to a little lake.
Not far from there and still in the same park something typical for this city can be found – a thermal bath. With 120 hot thermal springs, Budapest has 21 thermal baths turning it into the biggest spa town in Europe. A brief look inside Széchenyi Bath gives us an idea how massive and spectacular it is with its castle-like complex including 18 pools and 10 saunas.
After passing the Heroe’s Square we walk down the Champs-Elysees of Budapest, a very busy avenue framed by large buildings, shops, boutiques and restaurants and finally end up at tranquil Margaret Island in the Danube River. Its calm promenades and parkland invite to sit down, to have a picnic and to take a little nap after all this walking around. Heading back to the “mainland” around sunset turns out to be a great idea as we get to see the absolutely impressive parliament building, located right on the river’s edge, first illuminated by the setting sun and then by more and more lights – a truly beautiful and stunning sight.
It is rather late when we return to the apartment and for obvious reasons our legs and feet are sore and exhausted so we cannot wait to lie down and to relax our muscles a little bit. However, when we ring the bell we find out that this is not the time for it yet since nobody is at home to open the door for us… After talking to our host’s flatmates on the phone it appears that we have another walk ahead of us as they are sitting in a beergarden and suggest meeting up for a drink. Even though we can barely walk nor keep our eyes open anymore, it turns out to be a nice evening on the terrace of one of Budapest’s famous ruin bars. The idea of a ruin bar is very simple but attracts large crowds of people: it basically is a bar put inside an old building/warehouse etc. – a ruin – but the atmosphere that is created is very cool, industrial, cozy and one of a unique kind.
We receive another couchsurf invitation so we swop places in order to get to know an additional host and a new neighborhood. It is a pleasant walk down to Marc’s apartment, an easy-going French guy who lives and works in Budapest since a while. He lives right downtown so we take it easy on this hot day and just stroll around the commercial city center with its hundreds of souvenir shops and its old but very pretty market hall. Later that day we go for dinner and drinks with Marc and some of his international friends (from Mexico, Japan and France) and next to meeting some news faces we learn how active and diverse Budapest’s expat scene is.
Actually, Budapest used to consist of two separate cities, naturally divided by the river: Buda and Pest. Until now, we have only been exploring the Pest part of the city, that’s why it is about time to cross one of the bridges to have a look at the other side as well. The Buda bank has some large and interesting buildings to offer, next to the amazing views across the river. We first have a look at the castle hill with its big castle on top before heading to beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion, an impressive terrace around a church with a colorful, mosaic-style roof which looks very similar to the one of the market hall. We almost spend the entire afternoon up here, just taking in these wonderful views and slowly but surely saying goodbye to this amazing city…