I have been so nostalgic for Europe lately. Who am I kidding? I’m always nostalgic for Europe. I miss the more laid back pace of life, the culture of food and drink, the beautiful surroundings filled with so much history…I want to go back!
I thought I’d reminisce over my very first trip upon moving to Italy. It was only my second week in country, I was still living on base in billeting, but I was ready to start exploring. My friend Michelle, stationed in Germany at the time, suggested we take a weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary. It wasn’t exactly on my top 10 list of places I wanted to visit, but I figured, why not? I wanted to see as many places as I could. And i'm so glad I did! We booked our flights for after work on Friday, and met up at our hotel on the Pest side. Fun fact, Budapest is split by the Danube River, one side known as the Buda side and one side known as the Pest side. The Buda side is on the West, and it’s hillier with winding streets, as well as the Hapsburg Palace. That leaves us with the Pest side on the East, which is flat and has tons of bars, restaurants, and cafes. Both sides have their charm, but I’m much more partial to Buda.
Anyway, we arrive at our hotel, which is TINY, as most European hotels are, which also included a shower with a see-through wall into the bedroom! Good thing we are close friends, or it might have been awkward…We crashed right away so we could wake up early the next day, refreshed and ready to see the sites.
We started the day by walking to Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere), which is a complex of statues that represent the leaders of the seven tribes that found Hungary. This square (which is more of a circle) is located in the middle of, and surrounded by, a busy road. However, the walk along the vast boulevard (Andrássy) to get there was very interesting because you get to see a lot of beautiful buildings and eclectic neo-renaissance architecture. As we were walking around, I noticed quite a few older ladies with hair an unnatural shade of red that looked like they had a poorly done dye job. When I commented on it, Michelle told me that these women used to use beet juice to dye their hair during the communist regime, due to lack of hair dye availability and funds, and apparently, they still do it today. I don't know if that’s true or not, but it seems plausible enough.
Our next stop was the House of Terror (Terror Háza Múzeum). This was not a haunted Halloween house, which I would have loved, but rather a museum containing exhibits related to the Nazi and Communist regimes, and a memorial to those that were tortured and killed in that very building. The building the museum is housed in is actually the former quarters for the secret police for both parties. It was really interesting to see and very moving.
Moving along, we stopped for a tour of the parliament building (Országház), one of Europe's oldest legislative buildings. Budapest was united from three cities, and the building of the Parliament was supposed to express the sovereignty of the nation. Also located within the Parliament building is the Holy Crown of Hungary, which has historically been used by the Kingdom of Hungary as its coronation crown. It is now on display and guarded by Hungarian guards.
Later on in the afternoon, we caught a bus that took us up to the Citadella Folklór Étterem, where we were able to get a prime view of the city. Unfortunately, it appears the Citadella has been closed since we've been due to "reasons beyond their control", but it's still a great view even if you can't go inside.
Once we got back into central Pest, we were ready for dinner. We didn't have anywhere special in mind, we just knew we wanted to try some authentic Hungarian cuisine. Unfortunately, I don't remember where we went, but I do remember I had the chicken paprikash served over buttered noodles, which is a traditional Hungarian stew with, you guessed it, chicken and paprika! I believe Michelle tried the goulash. We also ordered glögg to drink (which is essentially mulled wine), because, well, it was called glögg.
We also had signed up for a guided night walking tour and river cruise. On our walk from the hotel to our meeting point at the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (linking East and West Budapest over the Danube), we came across the beginnings of a Christmas market! Since they don't celebrate Thanksgiving, setting up for Christmas takes place much earlier. It was such a lovely surprise, I love Christmas markets!
On the Buda side, I discovered how much more quaint and picturesque the buildings were. I loved how decorative they made the exteriors. The tour included sites such as the Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) and Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom). The church had one of the prettiest roofs i've ever seen, I wish all roofs would follow suit. The Fisherman’s Bastion was really charming, as well (neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style architecture) and overlooks the Danube. The design of it reminded me of something you’d see in the Little Mermaid movie. We got there in time to watch the sunset, which was beautiful. Right down the street from there was an outdoor market, where vendors were selling fabric and Hungarian knick knacks. I bought some little ceramic plates that were delicately hand painted.
After the walking portion of the tour, we took an hour boat ride along the Danube, where we received a complimentary drink (not so complimentary when I’m pretty sure we paid for it in the cost of the tour…) and glided down the river, taking in the beautiful sites all lit up at night.
I don’t know what it is, but walking around Budapest at night is a completely different experience than walking around Budapest during the day. And I don’t mean that as in it felt dangerous, it was just a completely different atmosphere. The city transforms somehow and the energy is even more vibrant. I really enjoyed it! Unfortunately, we were too exhausted to partake in the night life, so we went back to the hotel and crashed.
Before our flights home on Sunday, we stopped by the Vajdahunyad Castle to check it out. Inside was a Hungarian Agricultural Museum, which we weren't interested in seeing, so we walked around the grounds. It was a gorgeous fall day in November, and perfect weather for stomping on every crunchy leaf in my path. We stopped for some yummy dessert and drinks by the lake next to the castle, and were able to eat outside on the patio due to the fortuitous weather.
And thus concludes my first weekend jaunt during my time in Europe. Budapest was awesome, and I can't wait until I can explore it again!