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Budapest: My New Favourite European City

Budapest has it all. Seriously, within a few hours of being there I had settled on the fact that it was my favourite city so far in Europe. And that’s not an easy feat, we’ve covered most of the ‘must-see’ European cities: Reykjavik, London, Brussels, Paris, Zurich, Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Athens, Munich, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Vienna, and Bratislava. Yes, I admit we’ve missed a few, but you get the point. I thought Budapest would be cool, but I didn’t expect that much – and it blew my expectations away. The city just has so much to offer from modern vegan and raw food eateries to wine bars and hip cafes to a huge influx of craft beer and brewed-in-house bars to organic food markets and Christmas markets all mixed with traditional markets and delis selling Hungarian sausage and around the corner from a crumbling church hundreds of years old is a crumbling building turned into a Ruin Bar. I mean, every European city is a complex mix of hundreds (usually thousands) of years of history and modernization (which in many ways is synonymous to Westernization) but Budapest seemed to pull off the mix of new and old best. It has managed to keep it’s complex and lengthy history alive while showcasing how far the economy and people have come in the past decade.

November 6th was are our year-anniversary as people who fall under the category of “unemployed.” For many, that would obviously not be a good thing – but for us it was something worth celebrating! So we made a date of it. We spent the morning at Széchenyi Thermal Bath and in the afternoon we had lunch at Borkonyha, a Michelin Star Restaurant. All I can say is that I wish everywhere we went it was as easy and affordable to treat ourselves as in Budapest (but if we treated ourselves too often then it wouldn’t really be a treat, would it?)

Széchenyi Thermal Bath is the largest medicinal bath in Europe and the water is supplied by two thermal springs (temperatures are 74 °C and 77 °C). The complex consists of two large outdoor pools (closer to the temperature of hot tubs) and a series of hot and warm baths/pools, steam rooms, massage areas, and a restaurant inside as well as indoor and outdoor lounging areas. The bath is located in the middle of City Park and easily accessible from Budapest city centre via the Line 1 Metro which has been running since 1896 making it the second oldest electrified underground railway system in the world. The baths were constructed in 1909 and in the year 1913 over 200,000 people visited; by 1919 that number increased to near 900,000. Since then, the baths have been expanded and changed their rules to allow for both men and women to bathe together (some pools in Budapest still have separate men and women days for using the facilities).

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Local men playing chess on the side, a common site!

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Enjoying the water

Feeling relaxed and rejuvenated we headed to Borkonyha for our lunch reservation (dinner was fully reserved during our entire stay in Budapest). The name of the restaurant translates to “wine kitchen” so it’s no surprise they offer over 200 types of mostly Hungarian wines! The atmosphere in the place can be described as a blend between a simple French bistro, a Hungarian family restaurant, and a wine bar and was awarded  its first Michelin Star in 2014. We both had multiple glasses of wine and a main course (and our bill came to less than $70 CAD!). Both our meals were phenomenal; I chose a daily special: wild boar shoulder covered in the most delicious sauce I had ever tasted while Dan had the rolled leg of turkey with blood orange, marjoram, and Brussels sprouts.

The rest of our time in Budapest we spent exploring the niche little places we could find around us in the District VII neighborhood (the old Jewish quarter) and just living life not getting up to anything too much in-particular.

We did make a point of spending a night at Budapest’s largest and original ruin pub, Szimpla Kert (“Simple Garden”), which happened to be around the corner from our apartment. The ruin bar scene has been called the “hippest nightlife in Europe” and they were crawling with European tourists from across the continent that come down to party for the weekend. Almost all of the ruin bars are in District VII, an area left to deteriorate after WWII, and have taken over many of the abandoned buildings, stores and empty lots. Szimpla Kert is a two story pub which first opened in its current location in 2004. There are over five bars offering different options (a wine bar, a craft beer bar, a cocktail bar, etc.) and there is a mish-mash of chairs, bathtubs, tables, old cars seats, couches, and benches throughout the indoor and outdoor areas where you can sit back and take in the craziness. Graffiti covers the walls, weird antiques stashed in odd places, house plants in one corner, car parts in another; everything everywhere and of course, nothing matches. And somehow I was still shocked when a lady walked by serving raw, peeled carrots (she claimed they were a traditional Hungarian bar snack).

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One evening we did a walk around the city with our camera – something we try to do in any city where we stay long enough; cities transform at night and night shots are beautiful. The two main sites we enjoyed were the Hungarian Parliament Building (viewed from across the Danube river) and Matthias Church.

The Hungarian Parliament Building located along the Danube embankment is one of Europe’s oldest legislative buildings (completed in 1904) and the largest building in Hungary at 268 meters in length with over 691 rooms.

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Matthias Church is a Roman Catholic church located in the heart of Buda’s Castle District. We were actually looking for the castle when we stumbled upon the church by chance – it’s brightly lit up and hard to miss from below. When we arrived there was a Mass and we weren’t allowed inside the church. However, we were allowed on top of the surrounding walls for a great view – and we didn’t have to pay (the turn styles that accept a ticket were all left open at night).  Flying all around us were bats, which quickly reminded me of that time we could not get the bat out of our hut along the Rio San Juan in Nicaragua and I was glad these ones stayed away circling high above us.

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Check out more photos on Flickr 

How did we get there: Direct train from Bratislava
Additional transport: Public transportation (minimal)
Transport cost: €16 ($24 CAD) per person 
Transport time: Approx. 3.5 hours
Recommended nights: Minimum 3 nights, it’s a fun city!

Accommodation: Airbnb at $34.2 CAD per night; we used our airbnb credit to upgrade to a nicer place, the apartment actually cost $61.4/night
Average Cost per day: $102.5 CAD/day for two people 

3 thoughts on “Budapest: My New Favourite European City

  1. Anna Jean Mallinson says:

    So nice to come home from the weight room and find your adventure story. I’m impressed by your list of cities visited, glad that Budapest pleased you in so many ways. I expect the thermal baths to be old but didn’t know the metro dates back to the 19th century. Budapest sounds like a great mix of the old and the new. I love your celebrating being unemployed. you are certainly making good use of your hard earned leisure! I’m interested in the “ruin pubs”. They appeal as a creative response to dereliction. I like the mix and match, the anything goes! I wonder how Istanbul will measure up. maybe it will be beyond comparing.

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