On a whim based on RyanAir flight prices, I spent a long weekend with Luca in Budapest! We left late Thursday evening and arrived a little after midnight in Budapest! Walking off the plane was an instantly beautiful thing- Rome is 95 degrees and humid and Budapest was about 70! We talk a fast/cheap/easy shuttle that dropped us off at our hostel- the Central Backpack King Budapest. We checked in and the guy working recommended a ruin bar about 10 minutes away and we started walking. Budapest was an immediate shock from Rome! The streets were straight and close to being laid out in a grid. Most importantly... they were empty! The street we live on in Trastevere is packed with people until 3AM every week day and the streets of Budapest were deserted. It was a little creepy. We got to the bar (Instant) with no trouble but decided not to go in because it looked a little crazy (more on that later). Instead we went down the street to what looked like a local bar called "Cheers!" and had a pint. Two pints cost 580HUF or $2.46.
The next morning we visited St. Steven's basilica, half a block from our hostel! St. Steven was the first king of unified Hungary and conveniently also the first Christian ruler. His right arm lives in the basilica as an important relic but the chapel that houses us was inconveniently closed both times we went. We climbed up to the dome to see beautiful views of Budapest!
The church was different than the churches in Rome but it's hard to express why. The architecture was set up as a Greek cross instead of a cruciform cross. The interior was less ornate and darker/more solemn. A big difference was just that St. Steven's is a relatively modern church, it was built in 19th century.
After exploring the church we ate falafel and it was SO GOOD! and it was SO GOOD to eat something other than pizza and pasta!
We spent the rest of the afternoon going to the Hungarian museum and walking the main shopping drag. One main thing I learned during the long weekend is that I'm super impressed by Hungarians! Hungary was first a Roman province, later ruled by the Huns, and then part of the Habsberg controlled Austrio-Hungarian empire. Hungary was constantly attempting to establish it's independence by fighting against the empire when they were sucked into WWI. After WWI Hungary lost a lot of land and a lot of citizens, and during WWII they were invaded by Germany. The fascist Arrow Cross ruled Budapest ruthlessly and murdered many Hungarians and Jews. After the fascists left the Soviets swept in and forced Hungary to become communist and part of the Soviet bloc. Somehow throughout all this foreign rule Hungary has a unique cultural identity. They also were one of the few groups of people to stand up to the Soviets in 1956.
After walking through the shopping district we stopped to eat some goulash at a cafe. A lot of the cafes provided blankets if you wanted to sit outside and the temperature was less than warm- it was perfect!
That night we went out with some other Americans from the hostel to Instant- the bar we skipped the previous night. It's a ruin bar, basically an abandoned building turned into a bar. It has about 25 rooms all decorated differently and playing different music, it was a really unique experience!
The next day we slept in a bit then walked to Parliament. My breakfast included a ricotta and cherry strudel bought from an old lady who set up a table selling strudel and lemonade along the Danube. It was delicious!
That afternoon we went on a free Communist walking tour to see what Budapest was like under Communist rule. Because the Eastern bloc was only opened in 1989 all our guides had lived under Communist rule. The only good thing they had to say about it was that high culture (opera, plays, classical music) was easily accessible for the average person. There are some really ugly communist buildings around the city- see below.
A statue of Reagan erected by the USA walks toward Russia's obelisk memorial to communist rule.
Bullet holes peppered the walls of buildings.
On a lighter note, we went on a wine tasting that night in Buda! We sampled just three wines- a Hungarian white/red/dessert.
The walk back was magical because of the night lights along the Danube- most of these photo credits go to Luke.
We ate an incredible dinner that night! The exchange rate was definitely in our favor. Duck and steak for about $10 each...