As far as relationships go, Norway presented itself as a handsome suitor and dating went well in the beginning – cheersing our $12 beers and eating $25 reindeer burgers while gazing into its navy blue fjords. As much as we wanted to dig deep, we soon realized that Norway might only be a Scandinavian fling for us. Soon things turned cold, literally, it was cold there. We couldn’t keep up with Norway’s expensive taste and deep pockets nor could our appetites ever be truly satisfied on frozen pizza and freakishly perfect berries. It wasn’t so much that we broke up with Norway, but it felt like it was time for us to move on. Thanks for great dates and first kisses but we soon realized that we had wandering eyes.
Next thing we know, Budapest comes waltzing in all historically ornate and deliciously edible. I’ve never said this before but Budapest made me believe in love at first sight. I know, dramatic much? But something in the sights, smells, and feels had us hooked from day one. I’m not one to use such phrases lightly which is why part of me wonders if Budapest was our rebound relationship after Norway. We went from cold, broke, and hungry into the arms of sun, affordability, and delicious food. Is Budapest the hulky Hungarian player of Eastern Europe? Were we just another notch in Budapest’s belt? After too much unicum, I mean introspection, I think I can confidently say we were not. What we had with Budapest was the real thing. In the wise analogy of Billy Joel, Norway was our “uptown girl” and we’re more of a “downtown guy”.
Let me give you a quick recap of, unfortunately, a short stay in Budapest. A week in Budapest only let us *barely* scratch the surface of what we think it truly had to offer. We both said we wish we could have stayed at least a solid month. We found ourselves constantly comforting and reassuring each other that we can always come back and dammit, we’re planning on it.
We stayed in a minimal AirBnB apartment in the middle of the hopping Erzsebet Square and our location made walking everywhere a piece of cake and a great way to see the city. We walked by the Parliament building, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and all the way to Margaret Island, twice. Margaret Island is a 2.5km long and 500m wide island in the middle of the Danube River and was a highlight for us. While on the island we quadricycled the trails, ran the perimeter running trail (fitness is trendy here), caught numerous musical fountain shows, played in the parks, and swam at the awesome Palatinus Strand swimming center.
Our second highlight requires a brief history lesson. In Hungary, August 20th is St. Stephens Day (public holiday) which celebrates the formation of the Hungarian state over 1,000 year ago and it feels like the equivalent or even bigger national holiday than the 4th of July back in the states. For four days leading up to St. Stephens day the city is all a buzz with food, music, and the Folk Art Festival held at Buda Castle. Bridges close to car traffic and it feels like the people of Budapest come out of the woodwork to take part in the festivities. We spent an entire day at the festival eating cinnamon/sugar chimney cakes, playing old timey wooden kids games, listening to a Hungarian strings concert, browsing the craft stalls and watching the artisans create their magic. We ended our festival day at the Silver Carp restaurant where we were treated to a traditional meal of goulash, paprikash, and unicum with Tim’s former Hungarian exchange student Aggie and her generous husband Gabor.
Honorable mentions include the fireworks display on the Danube River on St. Stephen’s Day, relaxing in the Szechenyi Thermal baths all day, exploring the vibrant food scene and drinking the cheap but good beer.
And finally, a quick question and answer session with me and Tim about Budapest.
Three words to describe Budapest-
Tim: tasty, intriguing, happening
Alyssa: vibrant, ornate, FOOD
Budapest first impressions and surprises-
Tim: cleaner than he thought, more cosmopolitan than expected, exceeded eastern european expectations, international vibe, new wave food scene (expected fried cheese and greasy sausage but instead got international food and farm to table trend), underwhelmed by produce selections, not overly or underly friendly, and kid-friendly.
Alyssa: modern, fashionable, unexpected booming food scene, easy to communicate, great public transportation system, beautifully ornate buildings/castles/cathedrals, you can *feel* the history, focus on health and fitness, very open with public displays of affection, lots of people lounging everywhere, so much smoking, and an overall slower pace.
Tim: barely scratched the surface of the city, wish we could have explored the city caves, learned more about the history, seen some more thermal baths.
Alyssa: wish we had tried more traditional Hungarian food/desserts, taken a water taxi, learned more about the history of the city and it’s architecture.