The morning after the Sparty I woke up in a daze. The night prior had been so surreal, swimming and drinking in one of the oldest thermal baths and spas in the country to strobe lights and a DJ had been one of the most extraordinary nights of my life. This being said, it wasn’t a surprise that the only thing I felt like doing the next morning was munch on some breakfast and float around in another thermal bath and spa.
These plans were met with opposition by my boyfriend, who kept reminding me that it was our last full day in the city and we still had so much to see. Agreeing to go out to breakfast and join a walking tour (which was close to four hours long!) I downed a few Advil and we were on our way.
The walking tour began in the main city center of Pest (“Pesht”), which was where we were staying. We walked away from the city center, where there was a children’s puppet musical going on in the square and marketplace, and headed down the East bank to admire the view across the Danube that stretched out in front of us.
The walk around the main streets of Pest were gorgeously eerie. The architecture of the buildings could be compared to those in Rome. Full of meticulous detail, marble and magnificent statues, the streets home to the opera house and parliament buildings were adorned with the majesty of the past, yet glazed over with the emptiness of the present. It is clear, just by a quick stroll, that Pest was once a prosperous and bustling city, which has now been reduced to a low-populated yet beautiful tourist attraction.
This emptiness became a cause for reflection, however, and added another layer of mystery to the unsung natural and man-made beauty surrounding us. The tour continued along the Danube until we came to the incredible bridge that connects Pest and Buda. The walking tour guide spent the entire bridge walk spinning a story about the famous architect and his tragic death only to end with the possibility that none of it was true – strange.
It wasn’t long before we had reached the hill-filled and mountainous side of the city. While Pest had the opportunity to build upwards through architecture, Buda had the natural advantage of higher ground. We took a quick break for lunch and then took the Budapest version of the Italian “funiculare” up to the top of the hill.
This had been where the royalty had resided years and years ago, and it was still the center of government on that side. Embellished with beautiful flowers, statues and a breathtaking view of Pest, the main center of Buda left little to want for. The main church and cathedral were at the top of this hill as well.
The roofs had been adorned with yellow and caramel-colored mosaics, stationed on a teal base. The overall impact of this architectural surprise was delightful and we took in the beauty from all angles of the cathedral.
Our last visit on Buda was an abandoned monastery close to the cathedral, that overlooked the Danube and Pest side of the city. Everything in Budapest is simply gorgeous.
This side of the city was more expensive than Pest by far. It seemed as if the Buda residents felt their higher ground gave them justification for higher prices. After the tour had ended we splurged on $15 ice cream cones and decided that it was time to head back to other side.
After making it across the bridge two things became indelibly clear. The first was that we were starving and needed food right then – if you know me, this is a frequent occurrence, especially after I started doing HIIT workouts… #alwayshungry. The second thing that was clear was that in the time we had been exploring Buda, Pest had been overcome by a triathlon, and many of the main streets had been closed to both cars and pedestrians. Hungrily, we ended up following along with the marathon in search of an open side street that wasn’t guarded with police. After another 40 minutes of walking we found our opening… across the street and across the marathon. Waiting until the quicker runners and bikers had passed, Ben and I sprinted through the marathon onto the other side of the road.
We began walking in that direction, happy to be able to follow our own route instead of one marked by blockades and marathon tape. It was not long before we came across an authentic Hungarian restaurant, where we gobbled down some very heavy goulash, gnocchi dumplings and beer.
As is customary after eating a heavy Hungarian meal, a nap was penciled into the agenda. A few hours later we made our way back to the main square on Pest, which had been transformed from puppet show hub to nightlife center. We joined in on a Hungarian pub crawl, which brought us to many incredible ruin bars and pubs in the Jewish quarter. It is truly a shame that I had not been able to snap better photos of the atmosphere, but the lighting was dim and the images were unable to come out clearer.
However, the ruin bars were one of the amazing additions to the mysteries of Budapest. The buildings had taken a hit during WWII, yet had never been demolished. Instead of tearing them down and building up brand new exclusive bars and clubs, the Hungarians had taken to redesigning the homes and spaces into gorgeous yet ghostly nightlife havens. Ruin pub after ruin pub, I wondered what the building had been like a hundred years ago. Who had lived there? What had it been used for? And of course, what had happened there?
The sheer magnitude of the semblance of the past connected with the attitudes of the present gave the ruin pubs a special quality that I haven’t come across before or since. The night ended at a ruin night club, deep in the Jewish quarter yet surprisingly close to our hostel. Just before going in, we realized we needed a snack and snuck away from the group and into a “halal” restaurant. Ordering Ben’s favorite, “chicken over rice” we sat down and waited for our food. A few minutes later the waiter came over with chicken over fries, apparently mishearing us. We didn’t complain, it was actually pretty good and tourists and Hungarians alike came over to our table to ask what we had ordered… heehee.
The ruin club was truly incredible. There were at least five different floors, whose walls were covered in colorful graffiti and vintage art work and décor. Each floor had a different atmosphere and the entire club was a maze. It was nearly impossible to find a room again after leaving it, because there were so many others to explore.
Each room played different music to a different crowd. There were people dancing in groups of bachelor and bachelorette parties, old people, young people, tourists, locals, DJs… There were different game rooms where you could play “escape room” where you had to find your way out of the pitch black room in small groups, foosball, pool, ping pong… People dancing, people engrossed in intellectual conversations, people sitting at the bars, on the couches, standing in the middle of the dance floor. It was the type of place that could make time stop for hours, that could merge past with present in one fluid motion, that could connect one person to another though they had absolutely nothing in common. This was one of the most diversely European experiences I had come across in the last few months.
Stay Classy! xx