Budapest

06:00

Budapest – Bled

Eight down; seven to go. Time is flying by, and it’s scary to think how quickly this trip has gone so far, but Budapest was a fantastic way to mark my halfway point. I rolled in from Prague fresh off a seven-hour train journey in 34 degree heat with no air-con or windows (perhaps ‘fresh’ is not the right word to describe the state I arrived in), bundled my clothes in the wash, headed to Tesco, and prepared myself for a relatively early night in.

I didn’t get that early night. I got very lucky with dorm-mates in Budapest, and the two sisters I got chatting to here were heading out that night, so I gladly accepted their invitation to join. We met up with a few others in the hostel bar while playing cards – one a friend of theirs, one a friend of his, and the third a fellow lone traveller – before heading towards the city’s famous ruin bars on a self-guided bar crawl.

The ruin bars here are amazing. I’d been told good things about them before and how you ought to visit if you can, but I was still so, so impressed. They’re just effortlessly cool – the first one we went to had a long corridor lined with makeshift bars, a large dance floor, and an upstairs gallery with rooms full of mismatched chairs and tables shooting off the sides. I can’t remember the name, but the whole place was decorated with hanging plants, coloured lights, and canopies made of fishing nets, yet retained the bare crumbling brick walls and exposed stone floors.

The second we attended, Instant, was more like a club. It was immense (for my Bristol friends, think at least four times the size of Motion), with more rooms than I could count spread over at least three floors playing every kind of music imaginable, and decorated just as quirkily as the first. It even had a nacho bar, from what I can remember. We stayed here until the early hours, but understandably I don’t have any pictures to show for the night, aside from a long-expired and somewhat unconstrained snapchat story (as is often the case for me when there’s alcohol involved).

The next day, I headed to the Hungarian National Museum with the twins in my dorm, Steph and Ellie, strolling via Saint Stephen’s Basilica. We spent a couple of hours here taking in the history of the country, but it is a small museum, so there wasn’t really much to see. The archaeological displays were interesting, and the gallery of religious and royal artefacts was beautiful, but with these seemingly being the only two permanent exhibits I wouldn’t reccomend paying the extra 500 forint for “photo permission” that I forked out for.

After lunch sat in one of the city’s numerous small parks, Ellie and I headed to one of Budapest’s most famous attractions – the Széchenyi thermal baths. This place is a lot smaller than I expected, and very, very busy, but definitely worth a visit. Three large pools sit side by side in the central courtyard of the early 20th century building, which itself is painted a striking sunflower yellow that contrasts beautifully with the turquoise of the tiles under the water and the bright blue sky above. Each of these pools is a different temperature, though we spent the most time in the hottest, bobbing at neck-depth between the fountains sprouting from the statues that line the edges.

Inside, there is a series of several more pools, once again with each varying in temperature. The coldest we saw was a 20 degree plunge pool, but the warmest in the complex remained the 38 degree outdoor pool we had just come from. There were a few steam rooms, too, but these were so unbearably hot we could hardly breath, so didn’t stay long. One thing I would say is that the indoor pools had a strange smell about them. I would liken it to sulphur, hopefully naturally occurring as the water is sourced from springs, but with added menthol, presumably to soften or mask the eggy smell the sulphur contributes. It’s not a particularly inviting scent, and these pools are visibly dirtier than those outside, with fragments of what looks like plant material and debris floating in the clouded waters. We didn’t go in. Still, these baths are definitely worth a visit, and I would recommend them to anyone heading to Budapest, or instead one of the quieter indoor centres we didn’t see elsewhere in the city.

After dinner at a street food market Rona had told me about while in Prague, the three of us walked towards the Danube and crossed the Chain Bridge as the sun set, before climbing the hill on the far side up to Budapest Castle. On the way, we encountered a concert, and sat on a stone wall above it watching the band perform to a dancing crowd. The music was some form of Hungarian indie rock with a splash of heavy metal, which somehow made for the perfect soundtrack to the backdrop; lively and upbeat.

Moving up the hill (by lift this time, we found one tucked away through a tunnel), we reached the castle itself – but more importantly, the breathtaking views it offers. At night, the exterior walls of the palace are illuminated, as are those of most of the monuments here, which makes for a spectacular display that glitters off the water of the longest river in the continent. We spent a while wandering around the grounds here, always circling back to that incredible view, before heading down towards our hostel for the night.

Miraculously, when I got to bed yesterday, my knee wasn’t in agony. I think that the thermal bath waters probably helped, but it didn’t even twinge this morning as I hauled my bags through the metro to reach the central station. I haven’t been wearing my knee support for the last couple of days because I think I left it on for too long when we went to the ruin bars – I woke up yesterday with a very red, very swollen calf. However, it seems to have managed the 15.8 miles I walked that day perfectly, although I am of course still being cautious.

I was up at half past four this morning for my train, so only really had 36 hours here, but I think Budapest easily ranks as one of the best cities I’ve been to so far. I certainly feel like I’ve got the most out of it and had the best experience here, so I would recommend it in a heartbeat, and definitely hope to return one day as there is still so much to see here. However, as per, it’s time for me to move on, and this time I’m craving some countryside. Hopefully Lake Bled can deliver.

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