Although my last two posts may lead you to believe otherwise, Budapest was not made up entirely of foolish dancing and drunken antics. No no, I had
everyone all those that could be bothered up and out the door by 10am (usually) for some hardcore tourism. Here’s what cultured frolics we got up to over the first couple of days…
Our first day wandering around the ‘Pearl of the Danube’ was spent mostly on the Buda side of the river. I say mostly… I may or may not have taken the entire group 30 minutes in the wrong direction, waaaaay off the map, to what could have been the ghetto of Pest… Safe to say my first day as Trips Officer got off to a good start! This little #realbudapest excursion meant we missed our Buda walking tour and ended up strolling around a little aimlessly for the rest of the day. I whipped out my Lonely Planet and attempted to act as a tour guide, but the group were more than happy to meander casually. We stayed on Castle Hill, going past the ruins, Matthias fountain and church, and the Fisherman’s Bastian. Along our tour we also popped into the Budapest History Museum, located within the palace. Now, I have been to many museums around the world, but this has got to be the most scatty yet. Unfinished and still a construction site in places, the lack of signage left us wandering around a maze, stumbling upon random exhibits that appeared to be in no organised order. At one point three of us ended up a couple of stories below ground, in the medieval section of the castle, with not a clue as to where we were and pretty sure we were walking towards our deaths… And yet, we all really enjoyed it; something about the mystery of what laid around the next corner made it a bit more exciting. After a couple of magnums and a short rest, we found ourselves at a flash champagne bar at the top of the Fisherman’s bastion, basking in the sunshine. It was glorious.
The following day was kick started bright and early for the 10:30am walking tour of Pest, free with The Budapest Card. We were informed the tour should take roughly 2 hours, but it ended up being a mighty 2 hour 45 minute history lesson that a few members of the group weren’t best pleased about. For those of us who fancy ourselves as history boffs and were interested in what our very smiley guide had to say, it was fascinating, albeit a little depressing at times (Budapest has a saaaad history). The tour took us up to Heroes Square, down Andrassy Avenue, past the Opera House, Parliament, several monuments, and ended up right by St. Stephen’s Basilica. One of the side streets we visited was not supposed to be “most beautiful” street in Budapest (due to the bullet holes that decorated most of the buildings outer walls), but I would have argued otherwise and had she not pointed out the gruesome wounds I would have walked away thinking it was ever-so-sweet. Apart from groping a nice policeman’s belly to keep me slim, I was also impressed by the ‘Hunger King’ – Burger King, but for the poor and homeless. Apparently this is a new addition to Budapest, and the guide didn’t have much more information on it, but I thought it was cool!
Tired after a long day walking, I made the executive decision to change plans and spend the rest of the afternoon in the Lukács Thermal Baths, another freebie off the Budapest Card. It took us a short while to find them tucked away in Buda, and the queue we created to get in was not as swift as we might have liked, but once in it was heavenly. The locals absolutely hated us and I felt terribly awkward telling the group to shhh (the echo did not help!), but heck the tour guide said Budapest needed more tourists for the economy… I have never been to a Spa, and I tend to get bored after 10 minutes in my jacuzzi bath at home, but the mixture of hot, warm, and cool baths, inside and outside of the complex kept us all entertained for a few hours. The outside pool even had a ‘Lazy river’ which, as totally mature 19-25 year olds, occupied us for a good 30 minutes at least. Supposedly the water in the Lukács baths could heal all sorts of muscle and skeletal problems; I’m not so sure about that, but the stench of sulfur was a sure reminder this was a place of natural remedies. For a freebie we were all very content, although if I were to go again I would head for the Gellert Baths where tourists are probably more welcome.
By our second day I was well and truly, head over heals in love with Budapest – and I wasn’t the only one! Apart from the vibrant nightlife, the beautiful architecture, history, and culture was so engaging it felt almost addictive. Due to the several empires that have conquered the city, we were spoiled rotten with variety and we’d barely even touched the surface yet. Some preferred the more laid back approach in day 1, but I personally enjoyed the mixture of leisurely wandering alongside the intense tourist-spot hopping. Over the next few days the group split up and each of us went to seek out whatever took our fancy. I’ll discuss my highlights (Aquincum, Cat Cafes, and the Museum of Fine Arts) in Part II…