The enthusiasm of two of our co-hikers, and now friends (Steven and Klaudia) of the gruelling Salkantay Trek in Peru, convinced us that we should include Hungary, and especially Budapest, their home city, in our itinerary. Our travel plans for south eastern Europe were very flexible – actually we did not have the faintest idea where we wanted to go. So, we decided to include an arc from Slovenia, through Hungary and Romania to reach Sofia, our final destination for this side of the world.
The third overnight train for our adventure delivered us to the centre of Budapest mid-morning, but too early to check in at our lodgings. The four kilometre walk from the station to where we could store our backpacks at an affiliated hostel turned out to be a great introduction to the city. Still abiding by MapsMe, that previously took us via non-existent paths in Croatia, we walked up the Buda Hill passing the Royal Palace, over the Chain Bridge, through List Square, along the State Opera House, St Stephen’s Cathedral and meandered through the Jewish District (now packed with street cafes and pubs). Unfortunately, the weight of our backpacks was such a distraction that we only realised that we had walked along all these landmarks when we recognised them during our guided walking tour later that afternoon!
We spent our first night in Budapest in a very basic apartment located above a “ruin bar”. These bars were the new occupants of dilapidated buildings in the historical Jewish District that were deserted after the Second World War. Dark doors set within derelict facades open up to waterholes with interesting décor that captivate the senses. Noisy places, especially at night. So we were glad to move to a spacious apartment located very centrally in the city the next day.
Budapest is a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds. Architectural masterpieces of large scale and grandeur line the banks of the Danube. Behind these, there are street upon street of ornate low-set buildings opening up to numerous beautiful squares filled with sculptures, fountains and restaurants. We opted for the “menu of the day” more than a few times. This gave you a selection of hearty and deliciously paprika laden traditional Hungarian dishes for about A$7 which went well with a dry Hungarian rosé.
We caught a tram to Margarit Island for our morning runs a couple of times. A five and a half kilometre synthetic running track takes you once around the island. It is clearly a favourite of the locals and a great inner-city facility.
A “must do” in Budapest, is an evening dinner boat cruise on the Danube when the stately buildings are dressed in their finest, glowingly lit to accentuate their features. This was an excursion we could not afford on our tight travel budget, so we opted to catch a public ferry instead. The first ferry we attempted to board was jam packed and did not allow us on. We did, however, managed to board the last ferry of the night, which turned out to be just perfect. As we zig-zagged across the river, daylight faded and the buildings came to life in golden hues. Spectacular!
The evening of 20 August was even more spectacular. Hungarians were celebrating over a thousand years of nationhood and the capital city was the centre of the festivities. The streets were alive with people, the banks of the river a bustling hive of music and stalls. The evening culminated in a fireworks display rivalling a Sydney New Year extravaganza. Here we were, standing on the banks of the Danube amidst the crowds, Strauss’ famous Blue Danube waltz giving the cues for the exploding colour above us, majestic buildings bathed in light all around us. We are privileged.
– Jarik –