My Christmas present to my girlfriend this year was a long weekend in Budapest. Take note, this is a very good gift for several reasons.
- It gives her memories for a lifetime.
- It shows I’ve listened to her when she’s been idly talking about places she’d like to visit.
- I get a holiday too.
My girlfriend lives in Roskilde, Denmark, which complicated things a bit. I should have just booked us flights to meet in Budapest. Moron that I am, however, I booked a flight to Budapest via Copenhagen, flying out of Luton airport, which gave me a lovely 18 or so hours of travelling. We did it in the airport bathrooms though, so that cheered me up.
We touched down at midnight on a snow dusted runway and fetched a taxi into the centre (with the cabbie blasting a glorious gypsy-folk version of Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’). Budapest is a gorgeous city. It snowed the whole time we where there, which, alongside looking spectacular, really amplified the post-communist vibe present. Think vast, flag draped buildings, windy parade squares, and a ratio of statues to people of roughly 1:1. Either Hungary has churned out an exceptionally huge number of notable characters through it’s history, or you just don’t have to do very much to have a statue built over there.
We stayed in Gozsdu Court Aparthotel, which is a swanky apartment building, smack in the middle of a busy strip of bars and restaurants, all prepared for the winter months with an army of patio heaters and zig zagging, multi-coloured festoons overhead. We had a couple of beers in a bar called Spiler, which was perpetually heaving for the entire duration of our stay. It very quickly became a favourite thanks to its badass Shanghai-inspired décor, and we drank many delicious beers there.
Absolutely unrelated but worth mentioning, is that I accidentally farted in front of my girlfriend for the first ever time during our first evening. I was waiting for her in a hallway and tried to let out a sly one. Unfortunately, it reverberated down the empty corridor into an astounding crescendo. She is either stone deaf or pretended not to notice. I love her.
We woke early the next day and grabbed a coffee before heading out to explore, armed only with a vaguely doodled map. We were prodded by multiple ticket touts to take an open topped bus tour of the city, which is surely the worst idea ever when it’s minus 7 degrees and snowing. On our 2 hour stroll we crossed the enormous Chain Bridge and hiked up to the stately Buda Castle, where we made a little snowman and lobbed snowballs at old people hundreds of feet below the castle walls. Just kidding. (I’m not.)
Circling the castle brought us stumbling accidentally upon the imposing Matthias Church, giving way to the famous and iconic Fisherman’s Bastion. My girlfriend was tired and couldn’t be arsed, but I insisted we scale the tower, from within which was emanating a mysterious red glow. Fascinated, we heaved ourselves to the top, to find the glow was coming from a Red Bull machine, taking pride of place in a tiny cafe. Ah.
Back on the Pest side of the river we had goulash for lunch, which was fuckin’ exquisite. Imagine beef stew, but with – actually, just imagine beef stew. It’s beef stew.
We had an hour or two to kill at this point before we wanted to go for beers, and a swift Google revealed a popular Budapestian attraction (Yes I’m fairly sure that’s not a word but you know what, this is my blog and I’ll do what I please), namely escape rooms. If you don’t know (we didn’t), an escape room is a room crammed with puzzles which you need to solve in order to get out. We picked one with rave reviews and set off to find it. We eventually located it, and I nearly walked away immediately on seeing the premises. The only evidence of the escape room existing was a small intercom on a run down apartment building with the word ‘Claustrophilia‘ scrawled on it in biro. As is becoming the norm, I assumed I was in for a solid buggering. We pressed the button and were buzzed into the grimy stairwell, where again, we came across ‘Claustrophilia’ daubed on a grim looking fire door. We went inside… and an hour later we emerged, absolutely beaming.
What? You thought I was going to ruin it for you?! Get over there yourself, you lazy bugger. And no, it wasn’t a sex thing.
On a high, we went for some Hungarian food before heading over to ruin bar Szimpla Kert. Budapest’s ruin pubs are fairly self explanatory – dilapidated buildings hide unique ramshackle bars, and none is more famous than the huge, crumbling mess that is Szimpla Kert. Every room is a tangle of bric-a-brac, with neon oddities dangling from the ceiling and outcast furniture littering the halls, apparently decorated by Willy Wonka on a nightmare peyote trip. We got hammered all night and had a dance. It was a bit touristy and a bit cool for school, but a fun night. The DJ took a shine to me for some reason and kept beckoning me over to try his massive shisha pipe. It was strawberry flavoured. I told him I liked it. He gave me two thumbs up over the decks. It was weird.
The next day we we realised we were really running out of money. It’s definitely a cheap city, it’s just that we’re pretty broke. We visited the Great Market Hall, gorged on cake, then walked up to the fort on Gellért Hill, which overlooks the whole city. It’s an easy climb and offers staggering views of the city stretching off into hazy distance. We wandered back through silent, snowy woods.
After goulash and a dark, heavy beer called Dreher (it’s good shit, try it), we headed to Széchenyi Baths, passing through Heroes Square en route. The baths are over a hundred years old and are the largest in Europe, with vast outdoor pools heated by thermal springs. Ornate, grand Hungarian architecture surrounds three outdoor pools billowing steam, as old men engage in heated (literally) games of chess. Inside the buildings were more pools of varying temperatures. Old, red faced Hungarian men sat in saunas, silently sweating, only leaving on occasion to roll about in the snow for a bit before flopping back down on the red hot benches. It was absolutely charming, and we had a fantastic afternoon here, despite the hordes of sweaty men.
We walked home the long way, stumbling across possibly the most gorgeous building of the weekend – Vajdahunyad Castle. Straight out of J K Rowling’s imagination, the snow capped turrets, portcullis-clad gatehouse and silent gardens were a joy to explore. I’m an absolute history nerd, and experienced a full on castle-gasm. The looming towers overlook a lake, which was frozen, with people ice skating around it.
Next morning, we had one last stroll, taking in the Hungarian Parliament and the tragic Shoes on the Danube Bank Second World War memorial. I gave the equivalent of about 25 pence to a tramp, which my girlfriend told me off for, saying we needed it for the taxi. I chastised her for her lack of charity. I was proven a tit, however, when indeed we were the equivalent of 25 pence short of the taxi fare to the airport. The driver let us off though, which is a nice karmic endpoint to finish our adventure on.
In all honesty, Budapest was way down my list before going. Now having been there, devoured the goulash, drank all the beers, honked on a massive shisha pipe, and watched hairy old men in Speedos climb out of an icy bath, I can safely say that Budapest is an absolute marvel of a city, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Why are you still reading this?
Get over there!