I have to admit, strange though it may seem, Budapest didn’t even make my initial shortlist as I considered the options for my last-minute Eastern European getaway.
Ironically, I wrote it off almost immediately due to the recommendations that I’d received about the place from friends and family. The beer is so cheap. Everyone just loves wandering along the river and taking photos with the buildings. Sounds like a haven for stag parties, I thought, but maybe not for me. During my time in Riga, Latvia, I’d seen the atmosphere of the city change overnight on Friday as the LADS ON TOUR! groups arrived in their matching t-shirts, and made a bee-line straight for the “Irish” bars in the Old Town. I didn’t like what I saw, and that had been during low season.
I’m delighted to say that my fears proved unfounded. Perhaps the best things might be discovered shrouded in cliche, hidden in plain sight, like a cryptic postcard in a flea market, itself in the shadow of a church. Budapest turned out to have a hidden Asian sub-culture, relatively unexplored towns within an hour and half’s journey from the centre of the city, and a wealth of interesting places in which to observe local culture, both well-known, and more obscure.
Starting out on this trip made me reconsider the reasons why I travel at all. After all, there’s quite a few places in the UK that I’ve not visited! So why is it that I’ve taken to heading abroad so often recently? It was only two months ago that I was in Lisbon, Portugal.
- I feel less constrained by “life” when I’m away [RE sorting out my next job, keeping up with household chores, responding to a weekly round of emails and requests from family.]
- I feel more independent and empowered when I’m solo-travelling abroad. It works wonders for my self-confidence to be able to navigate a foreign subway system, or stroll along unfamiliar streets.
- I feel like I’m my “best self” when away from home; I’m more talkative [no one wants to spend their entire holiday without conversation!] I’m good at “bringing” people together in a hostel, and I tend to be more relaxed and therefore more care-free around strangers.
- I feel as though I get more out of life when I’m abroad. I’m not accountable to anyone for a timetable of my day, or an explanation of how I’m spending my time. Although this might cause some people to get lazy, I tend to get up earlier [6am, to be at the Szechenyi baths for 7am], go to bed later [2:30am, after a night in Szimpla kert, a ruined pub], and do more with the hours in between [I still have the blisters!]
After all, I don’t just enjoy trips in the run-up, or whilst I’m actually away. I like writing about them afterwards, listening to podcasts about the places I’ve been, sketching and journal filling, and even watching films set in those cities.
Back to Budapest. Part of what made this trip so good was definitely part of the fun of being in a random hostel in high-season. I met everyone from a Swiss Youth Choir to a Scottish stag party, a thirty-year old looking to relocate himself and his online business, and a middle-aged woman from Rome who was in Budapest in order to access the cheap (but quality assured) dental surgery. So really, it was silly of me, beforehand, to be scouring random countries (Macedonia? Montenegro?) in order to avoid somewhere “too touristy” – by the way, Lake Ohrid (the most famous European destination you’ve never heard of) actually has a festival which lasts for the entirety of July – and was already driving up prices when I looked.
Where to find.…hostels that look like high-end hotels — Oktogon, Andrassy Ut
Where to find… a taste of Asia – try “Sushi Planet” for Japanese food at Oktogon, and the BUBU Bubble Tea place down Teréz krt. Plus, the Korean Residents’ Association can be seen practicing traditional dance in the gritty underground concourse by Nyugati Train Station (Nyugati pályaudvar).
Where to find…locals in their natural habitat – Margaret Island, preferably on a Sunday
Where to find…some of the best scenes in the city without the summer crowds – Obuda & Buda hills neighbourhood (street level)
Where to find…“un-touristy” quaint little place on the Danube bend – Vác
Where to find…the “Malaga” of Hungary, the “party capital”, every Hungarian teen’s first mates-only holiday (or so it seems…) – Siófok
Where to find…a visual reminder of Hungary’s turbulent past (the 1956 Uprising) – almost everywhere, just look up and around the streets from Kodály körönd to Nyugati pályaudvar.