What did I know about Budapest and Hungary? Nothing at all! It is precisely for this reason that I decided to escape from the daily routine in this pure cutie of Eastern Europe.
This time my travel buddies are Claudia and Vitto and for those who don’t know, they are my amazing mom and that fool of my brother, who boasts so much about being cool and handsome.Flight booked a few weeks in advance with easyJet at a very good price and little apartment booked through Airbnb, my only love, little prices for excellent quality. Here’s link to have a little discount for your next getaway.
I’m usually super unlucky when I travel and anything can happen, but the bad luck that usually haunts me decided to sit in a corner away from me and a few days before we left I discovered that we would have found a super cute Christmas markets!
We arrive Monday evening and to get to our Airbnb was easy peasy lemon squeezy! As soon as you arrive at the airport there’s only one bus, the 200E, which takes you to the metro station from where you can get pretty much anywhere in the city. Our apartment is in a building a few metro stops from the city center, more precisely to Blaha Lujza tér, a good area where to stay: quiet and well served by public transportation.
Mamma Claudia was well equipped for dinner, a classic Italian mother with a lot of Southern blood in her veins, and instead of packing some extra sweater, she preferred to put a homemade lasagna worthy of Master Chef, a tortellini pack, some pasta, tomato sauce, olive oil, cookies, various kinds of teas because #GoCheap is her way to go.
Wake up at 8 and lucky us a beautiful sunny day was there and it allowed us to get around the city without any problem. Our tour begins with the Great Synagogue, which is located in the Jewish district of the city, at the intersection Rákózci út and Károly krt; a truly impressive building covered in yellow and red bricks and topped by two massive towers bulbs decorated with a golden crown and this s the largest synagogue in the world right after the one in New York! It can welcome up to 3,000 worshipers and it’s a synagogue built by the Jewish bourgeoisie who wanted to distance themselves from the orthodoxies. In the early nineties Estée Lauder, who has Hungarian roots, had a few million dollars that decided to donate to this synagogue to have it restored and to seen the result, we can only thank you, Estée Lauder, for investing just a few cloves in this majestic work. We proceeded towards the Basilica of St. Stephen, an imposing building that was hard to keep in the frame for pictures. The interior makes you lose your breath; a harmonious blend of gold and garnet, a succession of shadows and sunlight peeking through the window. Not to be missed is the breathtaking view that you can have once climbed onto the balcony of the dome: more than 300 steps to have one of the most sensational views of Budapest! I do not deny that the mission was kinda hard and I would have much rather taken the elevator but reaching the top with your legs at a height of about 96 meters was a double satisfaction!
The day continued in the pleasant sunlight and without further ado we continued the walk on the bank of the Danube and BOOM here it is the Chain Bridge, the first bridge to unite Buda with Pest in 1849. We remain in Pest and walking along the river bank we bumped into the most touching work of art I’ve seen so far: the memorial “Shoes on the Danube”; sixty pairs of old metal shoes, of all sizes, thrown in bulk along the bank of the river just where thousands of Hungarian Jews were brutally shot by the Hungarian fascist militia. The thing that really melted my heart in my chest, was to glimpse candies and colored buttons in the tiniest shoes, the children’s ones, that passersby left them as a tribute to this work that barely has a dozen of years. It made me think about how to travel is essential; we all study the history books, we all read the atrocities of the past but it is totally different when you see with your own eyes, when you can touch with your own hands; the emotions are the cruelest teachers who slam the truth in your face and make you understand, make you think, activate your brain and say:
“Look at what we have done. Learn and make the world a better place.”
Behind this memorial stands the Palace of Parliament, the largest building in the entire country, and here I learned something I really did not know anything about: on October 25th, 1956 took place one of the largest mass slaughter of European history. Tons of books and articles have been published about this tragedy but despite this neither politicians nor historians have yet thrown light on the events of that day. On the other hand, the Hungarian judiciary has obstructed about the discovery of the truth. The witnesses who were there that day are the only sources from which you can try to reconstruct this event; just below the square it has been set up a gallery with videos, photos, documents that testify the atrocities and the absurdity of that day, thousands of people came together peacefully in front of Parliament to hear the speech of Prime Minister and in only 20 minutes they’re massacred without an apparent reason. I recommend going to see this gallery, totally free and very suggestive.
It gets dark really early, it’s 4 PM and it looks like is already 10 o’clock at night. We cross the Chain Bridge and we decide to take the scenic funicular that connects Clark Ádám Tér to the Castle area and the view from here is really crazy: that evening the sky was clear, without clouds and a very large and bright moon mastered all over Budapest and the city with all its lights looked like a starry sky.
Buda is totally different from Pest: quiet, with few people on the street, it seems to have stepped back a few hundred years, and here is where you can find the all-spires church of Matthias Corvinus and the Fishermen’s Bastion that in the Middle Ages were defending the castle; The seven towers of the Bastion symbolize the seven Magyar tribes that founded Hungary. Needless to say, the view from this point is simply wonderful.
For dinner, we wanted something typical and I, who had never eaten Goulash, was excited to gulp down something warm. Looking on TripAdvisor I’ve found this little place called Paprika, which is located in Pest, in the Jewish district. As we get in we are greeted by a thousand scents, and all efforts to get to this restaurant are rewarded by a sumptuous Goulash and grilled meat dinner. The place is cozy and rustic, the staff is the nicest, the menus are in Italian and in English as well and everything is really really delicious, the price is really small for the amount of food served. The paradise for Giulia Salerno: much good food with little money. Super recommended!
Dead tired by 9 hours of walking we come home and pass out on our beds like there’s no tomorrow but tomorrow was right there and we woke up at the sight of snow-covered roofs.
We spend the morning in Buda (we wanted to see it in the daylight) and in the afternoon we are off to the Christmas markets in Vörösmarty Tér a small square in the heart of Pest. In the center of the square, there are all the booths where they cooked all the most typical foods and they are definitely too tempting, almost sexy. I take a stuffed cabbage roll, the Töltött Káposzta that goodbye to my taste buds, I loved it! Claudia takes a carved sandwich filled with your choice of meat or goulash, while my brother Vittorio threw himself on a classic steak and fries. The afternoon goes on among the Christmas markets with hot tea and sweets breaks. Around Christmas time they do this warm sweet called Kurtoskalacs, made of dough that looks like the one crêpes one. It’s a tubular sweet cooked over charcoal which is then covered in your choice of cocoa, or coconut, or nuts, or vanilla or other super inviting things.
We would have loved to go to the Rudas’ thermal baths, that are the oldest ones dating back to Ottoman times, but we couldn’t go because during the week only men can enter, while everyone can during the weekend. Yes, in 2016 this kind of things still exist.
This city was a real surprise! I’ve always heard good things about Budapest but I‘ve never thought that it was so nice and pleasant to visit! Clean, tidy, well-served by public transportation, low-cost and easy to get around! Not to mention the locals: one who was riding the bike with music in his ears stopped by, seeing us in trouble with the map, and asked if he could help us! Never happened in my life!
1000 points to Budapest and to the Hungarians!
- In Hungary, there’re not Euros but Forints. The exchange rate is about 1€ = 300 HUF, I changed money at Forexchange and they changed 100€ for 30000HUF with no commission fees! I recommend booking online service.
- Supermarkets close at 10PM and some tobacco shops are open 24 hours
- The metro tickets cost 350HUF, I advise you to visit the city on foot!
- If you want to go to the thermal baths I suggest you to check their websites because some close the entrance to women during weekdays.
- The airport is about 45 minutes far from downtown
- Taxis are not suggested, many are sneaky, then you don’t need them! The city offers excellent public transportation services.