If you had asked me for my opinion on Budapest at any point over the previous year, you would have been met with an awkward silence and a lot of eye rolling.
I visited Budapest in August last year and it was one of the most underwhelming cities I’ve been to.
It was too big.
It was dull.
It felt like “just another European city”
It was boring.
I had no plans to return to Budapest but when Dave and I began planning our Interrail adventure, I discovered that he’d always dreamed of visiting. Now was my opportunity to give the city a second chance.
Almost one year later to the day, I arrived in Budapest.
Despite having a mostly negative view of the city, there were several places I’d enjoyed on my previous visit and I was more than happy to head back and show Dave around.
I revisited the impressive Heroes’ Square, the largest square in Budapest and one of my favourite places to hang out and relax. After taking hundreds of photos of the beautiful Millennial monument, we wandered across the road and found Budapest’s City Park. It was here last year that I discovered a bizarre and extremely loud Hungarian Bryan Adams tribute band at one of the worst restaurants in the world ($5 for one lukewarm, soggy chicken leg).
In the heat of the midday sun however, the crowds head to nearby Szechenyi thermal baths leaving the park quiet and serene – this was much more enjoyable. Sitting on a park bench under the shade of a tree, I couldn’t help but smile. To my surprise, I was having a wonderful day and seriously enjoying exploring the city.
My feelings for Budapest were beginning to change and I was struggling to understand why. I felt uncomfortable, embarrassed that I had been so quick to judge this city the first time around.
I wanted to tell Dave about my changing feelings but I knew what his reaction would be, I knew the amount of mocking I would have to endure for the rest of our time here. Lost in my thoughts, I bit down on my lip, forcing myself to remain silent.
It was too soon to come clean; I needed more time.
Passing St. Stephen’s Basilica on our way to the Houses of Parliament, I found that not even the approaching thunderclouds could dampen my spirits. As we wandered through cafe-lined streets, I felt tears welling in my eyes as I soaked up the wonderful atmosphere and stunning architecture.
I was finding it increasingly hard to keep my growing love for Budapest a secret.
I didn’t get a chance to see the Houses of Parliament up-close on my first visit, opting instead to view it from the other side of the river. This was a big mistake. From afar you just can’t appreciate how large and intricate the design is – it is even said that Imre Steindl, the guy who built it examined every single spire individually to make sure they were up to standard.
At this point, I honestly had no idea why I had found Budapest so dull and ugly the first time around – this city was seriously beautiful.
So what’s changed? What’s so different this time around?
Last year, I was staying in a hotel quite far away from the centre of Budapest. As you know, walking really isn’t one of my strong points (I have bad knees), so having to walk for half an hour before I’d even see anything would have me in pain, exhausted and ready to head back to my room. This time, I was staying in a very central area, within a ten minute walk from the main sights.
The fact that I’d visited much of the tourist attractions while I was here last time meant that I didn’t have to rush around and try to cram a ton of sightseeing into a few days, which is something that I find extremely unenjoyable. Instead, I was able to take my time and explore the city at my own pace.
Finally, the first time I visited Budapest, it was straight after Ljubljana, one of my favourite places in the world. This time I visited after Frankfurt, Prague and Bratislava – three places that left me feeling very underwhelmed.
Could the place I visit previously really affect my opinion of somewhere that much?
Whatever the reason, I was slowly starting to fall in love with Budapest…
And then there was our final night.
How had I never heard of these before?!
From the outside, they look no different to most of the buildings in the Pest district but inside each bar has a unique and quirky personality. Located in the old Jewish quarter in the ruins of abandoned buildings, these bars are filled with mismatched furniture and decorations that look like they’ve been sourced from junkyards and flea markets.
We went to Szimpla Kert, which has been open since 2004. It’s the first, and most well-known, ruin bar and arguably an institution of Budapest.
It was the best bar I’ve ever been to.
The place was huge. There was a haphazard array of torn-up sofas, old chairs and benches thrown together around unsteady tables. The front half of an old car was being used as a table; bathtubs and dentist chairs as seats. Rooms were filled with sewing machines, birdcages and old film projectors showing Russian cartoons and bizarre silent movies. From the ceiling hung a mixture of mismatched lampshades and smashed chandeliers.
Walking through a maze of equally quirky rooms and feeling overwhelmed by all the options, we eventually settled on staying in a small, slightly quieter room, taking a seat overlooking the downstairs courtyard. With beers priced at just $2 we were set for the night and spent the rest of the evening talking about how amazing this place was.
If I lived in Budapest, I’d be going here every night.
I awoke the next morning with a heavy heart and a pounding headache. Our two days in Budapest had been far from enough. Our bags were packed, the keys to the apartment had been returned. It was now time for us to leave. As we plodded towards the train station, I tried to ignore the waves of sadness that were washing over me like an emotional tsunami.
My opinion of Budapest had completely changed and there was only one more thing left to do.
I cleared my throat, hesitating; opening my mouth before shutting it tightly again.
Could I finally say the words out loud? Could I finally tell Dave what I’d spent the past few days thinking?
It was time for me to swallow my pride and come clean.
“Dave, I… I really, really like Budapest… I don’t want to leave.”
My trip through Central and Eastern Europe was made possible by the lovely people at Interrailnet.com.
[Image via: webmoof/Flickr]