One of the perks of long-term travel is that you have almost the entire world open to you. This can be both a blessing and a (mild) curse. It is great that you could throw a dart at a chart and say “that’s where we’re going next,” but when you have difficulty making big decisions, like this guy, it can cause a lot of frustration. In these moments of indecision, I tend to look for advice. Through a recommendation from our friend, Bryan, we decided to head toward Romania. Flying from Copenhagen to Budapest was cheap (at the time of purchase–more on that later), and we knew of a night train that went from Budapest to Romania. So, we decided to make Budapest our starting point for our journey east.
Now, back to the flight. Jacquie alluded in our last post that we had a new experience flying from Copenhagen. Often the cheapest option that shows up whilst looking for flights within Europe is Ryanair. The price for the flight to Budapest was more attractive than anywhere else ($62), and we knew we were going that way anyway, so we clicked buy and kicked our feet up. Fast forward to the airport. We arrived an hour and forty-five minutes before our flight (plenty of time) and were told that we couldn’t check in. Long story short, we didn’t know that an online check-in only rule was part of Ryanair’s schtick. Said online check-in closes two hours before your flight, after which you must pay $65 for the privilege of checking in at the airport. It was an expensive lesson to learn but, well, now we know. After getting it all sorted out, we sat on the hottest and noisiest plane in our collective experience heading southeast to Budapest. We were finally able to relax upon checking into our hostel, and the next morning we got to work on making the best of our two and a half days there. We crammed a lot into that time, so let’s get started.
Architecture. Simply put, the city is gorgeous. From the Parliament Building to apartments in the less-busy parts of town, it is clear that the city cares about how it looks. Most of the city’s beautiful Art Nouveau structures, which can be found everywhere, were built to commemorate the Millennium Celebration of 1896, which lauded 1,000 years of self-governance in Hungary. As we said, they’re quite beaut– we’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.
Retreat. As we had just spent 2 straight weeks in big cities, we decided it was time to take a day trip away from the crowds. We succeeded, as we found Esztergom, an hour’s train ride north of Budapest. Esztergom, it turns out, is one of the more important towns in Hungary’s history. Inhabited as long as 20,000 years ago, it served as the capital from the 11th-13th centuries, contains the largest church in Hungary, and was the birthplace of Saint Stephen, the last Grand Prince and first King of Hungary. While it belonged to the Turks for a significant chunk of history (as did a lot of this region), Hungary is proud of Esztergom, a fact that shows when seeing how well-preserved the historical sights are. We enjoyed spending a day walking around, visiting the castle, the basilica, and even popping across the Danube over to Štúrovo, Slovakia, for an hour.
Baths. It sounds silly, but we almost pulled our hair out trying to decide which public bath to visit. If you ask people who have been to Budapest about what to do, I would bet most of their answers would contain going to one of the baths in the city. There are a total of six or seven thermal baths around the city, and they are all unique in their own way. Do you want to sit in a pool on a rooftop overlooking the Danube? There’s a bath for that (Rudas). Do you want to feel like you’re a part of an Art Nouveau painting? There’s a bath for that (Gellért). Do you want to have 13 pools, ranging from 64° F to 100° F, steam rooms, and saunas at your disposal? There’s a bath for that (Széchenyi). We were originally put off by how popular Széchenyi was, but it seemed like the best experience if we were to do just one. I’d say we picked right. It was busy, but we didn’t once feel like we were being crowded or forced out of a pool due to crowds. The whole experience was downright pleasant. We didn’t take any photos ourselves, something about bath selfies just felt a little too basic, but I’ve attached a photo that does the place justice. We spent a good 5 hours moving between all that was available to us before we had to make tracks to the train station to catch our night train and begin our grand Romanian traverse.
Hungary is a country that is often overlooked on the American tourist circuit, and there’s no reason why it should be. It is a stunning country with an alluring history, and we’re glad we got to have a little sample on our journey. Among the other things we enjoyed were meeting new friends, goulash, langos(!!), the view from Fisherman’s Bastion, Ruin Pubs (unlike any place I’ve ever been before), and the journey of just walking around the town. Put simply, when it came to great new experiences, we weren’t left Hungary!
Three days is a good amount of time, but I’m sure we didn’t hit everything. Let us know what we missed in the comments!