When I write up my notes from the places I’ve been to, it’s sometimes easier to just dig out the ‘Donald Trump thesaurus’, and list a bunch of other ways to say ‘excellent’.
However, I’ll avoid falling into that trap on this occasion and stick to being honest- and by doing so I can say that the locals of Budapest are some of the moodiest people that I’ve ever met.
But before I start ranting, let’s set up a bit of context as to why Hungarians are so miserable.
To say that the country has had a bit of a tough run of late is a bit of an understatement. Under the Habsburg empire, the United Austria-Hungary was one of the biggest in Europe. Since then, it has engaged in a number of wars, battles, revolutions and coups, finishing on the losing side even more often than my shambolic cricket team.
After WWI, Austria-Hungary collapsed, causing Hungary lost two thirds of it’s territory and with it over half of its population. When WWII rolled around, it’s unfortunate geographical position meant that the Germans rocked up for a while and killed a load of people. Eventually the country was liberated by the Soviets which was a result…well it was until they stuck around for a while and killed a load of other people.
Since Hungary joined the EU in 2003, a lot of locals have had it away on their toes. In fact, Hungary’s second city is London, as after Budapest more Hungarian’s reside their than anywhere else. Not to mention the tourism boom in the last ten years, which has pushed up the price of everything and left every corner of the city with an 7-11, an international tour coach, and some moron posing for a selfie in front of everything.
I’m far from being a historian – in fact I’d strongly recommend checking any statement I make with a google search at a minimum, but given the general gist of the above you can perhaps understand why the fella at the off-licence didn’t crack a smile when he handed me my change with my morning pastry the other day.
Despite this, we still had a good few days in Budapest. I wasn’t too bothered with the coldness of the locals, I suspect this was because I spent twenty-three years of my life living in Walsall so I’m quite used to being around people who are moody as fuck. If you’re able to get over the unfriendly welcome, there are some excellent things to do here. Below is our top five:
The two old cities of Buda and Pest are deliciously separated by the Danube River. A cruise is a great way to see some of the sights that are dotted along the river whilst you relax with a drink. In particular, the evening cruises are a good option as a lot of the buildings are lit up and look very good at night.
As with all the ‘touristy’ activities in Budapest, expect to be joined on your cruise by half of Beijing happily snapping away on their camera phones, and obviously make sure you give a wide berth to any of the pubs and restaurants on the river who charge more than double what they should for a drink or a bite to eat!
Budapest is renowned the world over for it’s Thermal Baths, the most famous of which are the Szechenyi Baths located on the Pest side of the river. The architecture on these is quite stunning, they date back over a hundred years and there are a number of indoor and outdoor spa’s, a large outdoor swimming pool and a couple of sauna’s inside as well.
Fortunately I didn’t take my phone into the baths so regular readers are spared from seeing a photo of me in my swimmers on this occasion!
Some of the best views from town can be found from the Castle District, which is on the Buda Side of the river. You’ll also find Buda Castle here, along with the equally impressive Fisherman’s Bastion. If you’re feeling super lazy there is a funicular that can take you to the top, but the walk is only up a mild slope so most able-bodied people should be able to make it up there.
We ended up staying in an apartment on the Pest side of the city in the Jewish Quarter, which was a bit of a find. Thankfully it was away from the tourist hordes and had a bit more of a local feel. The area contains a number of bars and clubs; whilst we weren’t feeling that adventurous we did manage to head out and get some great Israeli food at the highly recommended ‘Mazel-Tof’ restaurant, along with some traditional Hungarian stew elsewhere.
A good way of working off some of the goulash and lager is to get on a bike tour. Most of the roads in Budapest are flat and have bike lanes, so it is pretty easy to get around, even for amateur cyclists like me. Our bike tour lasted five hours and during this time we were able to take in a lot of the sites from the city.
Overall, whilst Budapest is a beautiful city which is definitely worth a visit, my second trip here will probably turn out to be my last. If you’ve never been I’d certainly recommend spending a weekend here to take in the sights, but if you are looking for a more authentic experience away from the tourist masses then there are better places to be found further south, or I suspect even elsewhere in Hungary.
I’m writing this blog from Belgrade which is quickly becoming one of the best cities I’ve ever visited, so stay tuned for a more upbeat blog next time around!