Strongest memory: I was only in Budapest for a really short time, like 2 days worth of time. I had caught a bus from Prague to Budapest, during which time I had tried to zone out as I watched repeats of Gossip Girl playing on the screen attached to the seat in front of me. It was meant to be a 6.5 hour bus (yuck, I know) but this dragged out to be much longer, as traffic ahead basically bought the bus to a stand still. I was seated next to a girl who had booked a flight from Budapest to the country of Georgia later that night and as our bus crawled forward, inch by inch, I could feel tensions climbing. Eventually she confronted the hostess, who explained patiently there was nothing they could do to speed up the traffic (and reading between the lines, who books a flight on the same day as a 6.5 hour inter-country bus anyway?) and told her they were going as quickly as they could. As her check in time came and went, I started to suspect she would not be making that flight. We arrived in Budapest hours late and this girl absolutely bolted to the taxi stand hoping to get to the airport in time… I will never know whether she was successful or not! Meanwhile, I arrived at our Air BnB refreshed and ready for new adventures with friends, only to find everyone bleary-eyed and exhausted, nursing the fatigue that is expected post attendance at seven day music festival.
Memorable meal: My first meal with the group was brunch at a place called The Pantry. Until now, I had been travelling solely with Andy or family, so it was somewhat refreshing to be hanging out with friends again. I could tell The Pantry was relatively new on the scene, the staff were taking pictures of food for the bulk of our meal, but it was a really fun and cozy spot. We all got to fill out a checklist of the food and drink we wanted on our breakfast platters, which I thought was a really fun way to eat and do brunch.
Best activity: I didn’t really do a huge amount of activities, but something I did do and believe is a must-do for anyone visiting Budapest is the walk along the river and across the Fisherman’s Chain bridge from the city of Pest (home to Parliament, Heroes Square and St. Stephen’s basilica) to the city of Buda (Liberty Statue, Palace, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion). The climb up to the Fisherman’s Bastion is SO worth it as it gives amazing views of the city and the glorious Parliament on the river.
Favourite place: The Fisherman’s Bastion for the perspective it gives of the city. Once you escape all the touristy shops around the Palace, there are lots of hidden gems of shops and restaurants that are so fun to wander and explore. They feel just a bit more off the beaten path than their cousins across the river, which are the beneficiaries of far more foot traffic which subsequently results in higher prices in similar stores.
Unforgettable sight: Parliament by night: it’s absolutely breath-taking.
Strongest memory: A quick foreword – up to this point, many of our recollections have been kinda eerily similar – same restaurants, same activities, same unforgettable sights. Which is an interesting outcome in itself, even though it may not lead to interesting reading. However, that is unlikely to be the case here! Nicole and I each approached Budapest in very different ways – I had what amounted to a full week in the city (although it felt like barely half that time) and Nicole joined for the final two nights, having had a three day layover in Prague while I attended the Sziget music festival. My strongest memory, weakest memory, highest memory and lowest memory all get rolled into one here, and it was the reason that I raced to get to Budapest before Nicole – the Sziget music festival. The festival was superlative. Huge in scale, duration, attendance, joy, everything. Just a surreal thing to hold in such recent memory given the warped global circumstances I now write in. To be more specific, my strongest memory is probably not-watching Post Malone’s set and instead just watching my good pals George, Jess and Jas instead.
Memorable meal: My memorable meal is a story of deliverance in a dire situation. The morning after the festival ended, we were unceremoniously hurried out of our accommodation at a checkout time apparently strictly observed. After Jess briefly held court with our host about the -ahem- extra numbers we seemed to have been harbouring in our eight bed house, we were left on the street with all of our luggage, ravenous hunger, and nowhere in particular to go. It quickly dawned on me how little I had come to know the city around me (four days in, all I knew was the tram stop that took me to Sziget). After a few hurried internet searches, trudging back and forth between streets being turned away from places due to our group size, we finally found a quiet backstreet cafe that had an outdoor table capable of seating us all and our suitcases. Here, I had the first meal that wasn’t one euro pizza or festival food truck fare in over a week. I had pancakes and coffee, and I don’t know if it was the food or the context, but it was fantastic.
Best activity: My best activity is probably of limited help to the common traveller looking for tips on seeing the best of Budapest, but it’s hard for me not to award this to the Sziget-affiliated Danube river boat party that we went on. Boat parties are usually of pretty limited appeal to me, and coming off a particularly late night I was concerned that this one would only affirm that view. Fortunately, Budapest from the water is just far too interesting and pretty to not get into the spirit of things. There are famous bridges and some pretty spectacular civic buildings all the way along, so I would definitely recommend getting onto some sort of river tour when you’re in the city – whether or not there’s a couple of people dancing to a world class DJ at the front of the deck or not.
Favourite place: Undoubtedly, the best spot in town is the Fisherman’s Bastion. It’s the garrison-topped hillside that overlooks Budapest downtown, and all the main sights are visible from it (except for the bastion itself, in a way). Nicole and I toured the hillside and its buildings after she had arrived from Prague, and it was super refreshing to begin seeing the city for its more subtle charms and to realise that it truly does compete with the other great cities of Europe in terms of beauty.
Unforgettable sight: I’ll always remember feeling taken aback when, two days into my time in Budapest, I crossed the Danube on the tram for the first time and caught my first glance of Hungary’s parliament building. It was almost sundown and the building, with its sharply detailed spires and massive dome, was quite the sight to unexpectedly behold. I got plenty more looks at it in the days that followed – enough to decide that it is a strong contender for my favourite building on the whole continent. But that first sighting – very few things in these recollection diaries have deserved their place more than this one.