Monday, July 19, 2010

Budapest: When Everything Goes Right

Sometimes, everything just goes right.

In Budapest, that's how it was. This was my last stop on my own and my most fun since Switzerland. I got off the overnight train at 8 am with four days to explore the city, nothing could have gone better.

For starters, my hostel was the perfect place to meet people. Paprika Hostel was more of an oversized apartment than anything. Mick, Steve and Nico live there, run the place, help you get your bearings in the city, and organize outings at night. When you're traveling alone, it makes all the difference to feel like you're staying with a bunch of friends. Here I am with Steve and Mick on one of several karaoke nights.

Secondly, the city of Budapest has all the beauty and history of Prague, but without the crowds. This means that you can actually see the city and feel the pace of life while you are walking down the street. You can eat in restaurants that might exist even if you, the tourist, weren't there. And locals, far from resenting tourists, will even stop to help you find your way.

Third, the serendipitous moment that can make your whole day. While sitting in a Rick Steves-recommended cafe, I got to chatting with a gentleman named Claus. His wife, wouldn't you know it, is the Israeli ambassador to Hungary, and by the way, would I like a tour of the Jewish quarter?

Claus spent two full hours walking me around the sites that I would never have known to look for. We saw the largest synagogue in Europe, which now has trouble getting ten people to services on Friday nights.

We walked through the new real estate developments in the Jewish quarter, built by Israeli investors who are coming under fire from the local Jewry for razing the authentic, but ugly, old buildings. To pacify the locals, the developers reconstructed part of the old ghetto wall, but you have to trespass inside a private courtyard to see it. (We did.)

That afternoon was EXACTLY why I am traveling.

Fourth, the baths. There is nothing so rewarding after a long day of sweaty sightseeing as a two-hour soak in the public hot water springs. I don't have any photos of the inside, but to give you a sense of the scale and importance of these things, here is an exterior shot of the Gellert Baths, which are not even the biggest in the city.

My first day at the baths, I made some Scottish friends and we had a post-soak drink... and where else but on a boat?

Fifth, did I mention our nights out? Here I am with that guy from Lost.

Just kidding. His name is Mike.

Sixth, the market. Top floor: souvenirs and stuffed cabbage. Main floor: meat and produce. Basement: Asian markets and pickled things floating in jars like scientific specimens.

So much else. The Terror Museum was a dramatic way to see the brutal tactics of Nazis and Communists alike. The goulash and potato dumplings and pork and cabbage and late night instant noodles were all exquisite. The views were dramatic.

But nothing could have made my last solo stop as worthwhile as the people I met at the baths, in the cafes, and at my hostel.

Location:Budapest, Hungary


  1. Have you gained weight with all these heavy meals or do you just hike it all off?? All sounds wonderful, keep it coming ... KA

  2. Nice to hear someone had such a great time in Budapest!!:)

  3. Sometime as much as triple for your accommodations than you would spend staying at hostels.

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  4. Nice article, thanks for sharing, Budapest is beautiful city, I know how to travel across Hungary and save a lot of time and money its Kiwitaxi this is the best Europe online taxi service, just check the price and make the book on using the official website, try to and I'm sure you'll like it.