“In Budapest, you’ll find experiences like nothing else in Europe: Feel your stress ebb away as you soak in hundred-degree water, surrounded by opulent Baroque domes… And by speedo- and bikini- clad Hungarians. Ogle some of Europe’s most richly decorated interiors, which echo a proud nation’s bygone glory days.” ~Rick Steves Thursday September 8, 2016
Budapest was amazing. Way too much to do in that city. Way too many places to see than 38 hours can provide. I do wish I could’ve had the chance to stay longer. Preferably with a local. A CouchsurfEr. I didn’t get to feel the real vibes. The real feel of the city.
I was so lost when I got there. Thankfully, the dude in front of me on the bus worked at a hostel in Budapest and said it was only 9 dollars. Totally. For sure. I’m down. And since my phone was dead he escorted me all the way there. He had just finished a 4 day music festival up in Pula, Croatia by the beach and was telling me stories of his adventures. Once we got to the hostel he was invited into the arms of his hostel friends and I never saw nor spoke to him again. That’s ok.
I wandered the streets a bit. It was midnight. People were still ambling about drunkenly. The bars were exploding with music. I stopped at some deli for some food. They had all kinds of bready delicacies. Some flaky, some cheesy, some more bread-like and some more dessert like. I opted for this little pillow of bread with a nice melting if cheese and some meat layered on top. I have no idea what it was called but it was 180, which was $0.65, and a beer for $0.75 and they warmed m it up (the food not the beer) and I was so hungry I didn’t even wait until I got out of the shop to bite into it. Not that great. Kinda shitty. But it was food. And the beer helped wash it down as I walked down the street. I still feel naughty walking the streets with a beer in my hand. I remember when I worked at my hostel I was always shocked when the guests would walk on the streets on the way to Taco Tuesday or Drunk Thursday with a PBR in their hand. Now I fully understand. And it will be hard to go back. It feels so good to be able to wander around with a bottle of wine to share in the park or a beer while listening to an open air concert.
Anyway, I went back to the hostel shortly after to sleep. There were just 2 other people in the 6 bed room. It was a couple. They were sleeping together on the top bunk. It was sweet. But it made me sad. It reminded me if traveling with my Swiss German and how we would squeeze into little bunk beds to be near each other in the short time we had together. And now the way he acted toward me hurt, like I was nothing. Bittersweet memories started to flood in. I shook them away and went to sleep.
The next morning, I mulled over the suggestions of people I had asked on Facebook. There was an island with trees and nature to discover. Margaret island I think. The spas and thermal baths, since Budapest was known as Spa City due to the thermal wAter below its grounds. The caves below the hills that were used as cellars and a hospital. They were created as a result of the limestone rocks and natural hot springs beneath the city. Other caves in one of the other hills allowed for you to explore on a more wild level, crouching through tiny holes miles below where the sun touched the earth. The bridges. The food. The Basillica. The Jewish quarter. The museums.
I decided to start off slow and do one of the free tours. Technically, they aren’t free, you need to tip them at the end. No one could ever compare to my first free tour in London. Sweet Olly ❤️❤️ so animated and fresh and fun. No other tour I’ve been on, even the paid tours have been comparable to the show he put on.
Anyway, this dude gave a brief overview of St Stephen’s Basilica and how there is the preserved hand of Stephen, a king of Hungary. I spaced out while he was talking in his monotone voice. Why would he be a tour guide when he lacked so much enthusiasm? He gave us a brief talk on the local foods and drinks, but said them so fast and in Hungarian. I had no idea what they were. I asked him about them later and wanted him to write them in my phone, but he pretty much ignored me because I have him a mere 500 as a tip and others gave him more.
He talked of the Jewish quarters and the Turkish baths and how everything in the city was destroyed during WWII. He told of the famous Chain Bridge that was constructed by some Scotsman, but was destroyed in WWII and had to be rebuilt.
One thing I remembered was that the Rubix cube was created by a Hungarian math teacher. And the way to say hello in Hungarian sounds like “see-ya” in English.
We walked across the bridge and up on top of the palace on Castle Hill. Beautiful view of the city. Once again, I forgot all the stories because I saw butterflies fluttering by. Smetterling in German. Farfalla. Mariposa. Pappion. Or j saw something that reminded me of a song and I started singing it in my head instead of listening. I am the worst.
We ended at Matthias Church and the Fishermans Bastion. Apparently, the Fishermans guild used to protect that part of Castle Hill and it was my absolute favorite. It reminded me of a castle! Columns and stones a grand walkway from the street below and circular stairs that wove their way to a second level with lookout towers. It looked far too fancy and decorative to be used as a defensive building. And learning more, I found out it was actually built after the Buda castle was no longer in use as a castle, so it was more of a lookout or terrace to enjoy the panorama. All with a wow view of the parliament and the river and everything beyond.
But it was hot. And I forgot my water. And there was a fountain. The sound of the water gushing forth made my throat constrict with want. I saw people put their water to their lips and my mouth couldn’t even water due to lack of such delight. I ended up staring at them like some weirdo as they gulped the precious liquid. My body felt shriveled and dry.
I made my way down all the steps and found a little shop. I have grown fond of bubble water since here in Europe. I always felt too unsophisticated drinking it. Now it was normal.
I walked along the river. I knew somewhere down that way was the Rudas thermal baths. I was excited. Everyone told me it was something to experience. The water had medicinal powers. With all the nutrients in the near boiling hot, natural hot spring waters. This past winter, at Mammoth Mountain, where I worked, there were natural hot springs. But you had to off road to get there. And people most certainly didn’t flock there to heal themselves. They flocked there to warm up and soothe their aching muscles with a cold beer after a long day on the slopes… So I guess in a way, yes they went there to heal too.
Even the walk from the city was gorgeous. I found a little garden off to the side with marble steps leading up to a terrace lined with smooth white columns with green ivy twisting up and down. Once again the view overlooked the city. Fountains with mermaids and angels were every 150 meters or so. The grass was thick and green. And beyond that was the other hill. It was further from the main bits of the city and had a rocky cliff face that was covered in green. Marble steps zig zagging up and in the middle was a beautiful trickling waterfall. It looked wild. It looked untamed. It looked like my kind of beautiful. I had to stop and gawk for a bit.
Then I made it to Rudas. To my disappointment, the main thermal area was reserved for men that day, but the wellness option, which offered a smaller version of the thermal spas, was available. I debated. I knew it was highly unlikely I would be motivated enough to find another Budapest Bath, since I was tired from walking and it was already 3:55 and I still had to eat and figure out where to stay that night. I paid the money, 3,000 (or $11) and was told a string of unclear directions. They gave me a bracelet. Said something about a locker and waved me on.
I wandered down a hallway. Off to the left was an entryway. Two men dressed in crisp white uniforms were standing around talking. I asked them where I should go. One guy smiled and made a gesture for me to come into the room where he was. The other guy shrieked and waved his hands around to block the walkway, “No! No no! I’m sorry but this is men only day!”
So I continued on and ended up finding the lockers. How was I supposed to know which locker to use? I scoured the receipt looking for some clue. Nothing. I asked another guy in white. He smiled knowingly and explained I could choose any locker I wanted, but I better remember the number or I might never find it again.
Fair enough. I wandered to the back. Old men, old ladies ambled about… their weathered old skin wrapped up in tiny towels barely covering their private bits. But they looked happy and relaxed.
Dude. Was I the only “young” one here?
I had worn my swimsuit under my clothes so I didn’t need to change, just take off my clothes. I was nervous about wearing my bikini again, with my scar and all. But I decided it was the best way to get comfortable with myself. With my own body. Acceptance.
I wandered, trying to figure out where to go, following the signs for “Wellness”. It was beautiful inside. Stunning. Huge marble columns. Tall ceilings. Sparkling waters that cast a blue shimmery light on everything. Gorgeous tile work on the floors and walls. Lion statues poked their heads out of the walls and spat out drinkable water. There were 4 pools, each with different temperatures. The two biggest were lukewarm, where most people lounged. Every few minutes there were mini waterfalls that spewed out from the sides into the pools. The tile work and lighting were stunning. There were smaller pools to the side. One was raised and the cool blue light and ice blue tiles tipped me off that it was probably cold. And then I noticed a hole in the wall on one side of it and ice cubes slowly trickling out into the pool. Ok. Yes. It was cold. The other one had wArm red and orange lights. It was the “healing” one. 42 degrees Celsius with all the elements in it to heal and soothe aching backs and joints and cure the soul. I spent most of my time jumping from the ice water to the super hot one. I am not the best at relaxing, but I did get to play in the waterfall 🙂 And then I discovered there was a rooftop spa. A hot tub on the roof. It was round, circular, with the building off to the side of the city, looking down at everything . Wow.
I was the only solo person there. A couple groups of girls were there, giggling and talking amongst themselves. A few couples, mostly older. The younger couples spent the entire time in each other’s Laps or locked in embrace. A few groups of lads came through. A few people even tried to make conversation, including an Australian man bun trio. So, despite how much my mind perceived me and my body to be grotesque, I suppose other people didn’t think so. They saw me wearing the least amount of clothes I’ve ever worn and still wanted to talk.
Anyway, I wandered back to my hostel, booked another night and went to watch the sunset by the river. Magical scene to watch the colors wash over the city. It turned out there was an open air concert at a bar next to the Chain Bridge. I went and bought a cheap (but shitty) gyro, since I had forgotten to eat that day and needed something quick and wasn’t about to go to a restaurant by myself. I bought a few beers too and wandered over to have a listen. The music was wow. Jazz funk rock. Right on the river with the Chain Bridge lit up in the background.
I am not a clubber. I am not one for going and getting hammered at bars and talking up strangers. That’s why I like Couchsurfing and getting to know people and drinking and talking and listening to music. I missed it already. I wished for a friend. Though, sure I do enjoy bArs with a few good friends too. But I can be totally fine watching live music by myself. Some guy from tinder ended up recognizing me and came to talk for a bit, but I was a bit tipsy and way too involved in the music to talk.
I discovered the Ruin Bars. A hip area of Budapest in the old Jewish quarter. Buildings, stores, homes were abandoned and they were left to decay and rot. Walking along the street, you would never know the thriving nightlife inside. From the outside it looks like just another old, nearly abandoned building. Not much noise or signage or people lingering. But inside… Thrift store furniture. Crazy art. Funky vibes. Things hanging from ceilings. Nothing matched. Artsy. Ecclectic. The courtyards overrun with weeds. It was amazing.
I ended up going back early. Around midnight. Parties were still raging outside. But I had a fulfilling day. I got to wander the city. I got to go to a Budapest bath. I heard some live music. I watched the sunset on the river and the colors change the facade of the Basillica. I climbed to the top of a castle.
And since my room way right by the street, I pulled my headphones on my head, and put on my “Best Summer Ever” playlist. With every song that came on, I couldn’t help but let out a sleepy smile as I remembered where I heard that song, who I was with, what we were doing, how I was feeling… Reminiscing on this beautiful nearly four month long solo journey. ❤️ not quite ready to go home.