I am Hungarian. Ok, mostly Hungarian. Now that I've visited Budapest, the capital of the motherland, I am more absolutely proud to say I'm Hungarian. Let me explain.
First of all, you should know that the Hungarians do not half-ass anything. Their statues are intense, their pálinka is strong, and they drive fast. When we first arrived in Budapest Airport, our driver picked us up and sped off toward the hostel. We were there in no time, excited to see the hostel and get started on our traveling the next day. We checked in and befriended a girl from our flight, Ellie, who was staying at our hostel as well. Gabby, Ellie, and I went to a traditional Hungarian restaurant for dinner since our flight covered all normal dinner times. We each got something different and ordered the best dessert ever: "dumps with nuts". The restaurant we went to did not translate their menu very well, so what they meant was doughy dumplings with nuts and vanilla pudding. Regardless, it was delicious.
The next morning, the three of us set out for the wonderful city of Budapest! Our first stop was Buda Castle. The castle is situated on the west bank of the Danube River in the Buda side of Budapest. Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest (pronounced 'pesht), that came together to create the capital city. There wasn't much left of Buda Castle since the city has been destroyed so many times, but there were some buildings left. One of which housed the Budapest Historical Museum. We spent the afternoon looking at all the cool Budapest artifacts and reading about Budapest history before setting out to St. Mattias Cathedral and the Fishermen's Bastion. Both were very close to the castle, but had very different architectural styles. St. Mattias Cathedral had a very colourful roof, whereas the Fishermen's Bastion looked like it came straight out of 'The Little Mermaid'. Regardless, it was all super cool up by the castle. Beautiful views of the city as well.
One of Ellie's goals was to walk on Margit Island. It's a recreational island located in the middle of the Danube. It's said to be beautiful in the summer, but for those of us who find beauty in chilly near-winter weather, it was wonderful. The island has always been a leisure island for the Hungarians, so we weren't surprised when there were restaurants, running paths, and even a church on the island. It was nice to be able to walk around in a not-so populated area even for just half an hour.
From Margit Island, we went to Ellie's other destination: Heroes Square. Hungarian epicness really shines through at Heroes Square. There are statures of historical figures who help shape Hungary, as well as the angel Gabriel looking epic, and the four ethics. It was amazing. We also found a building nearby that looked like it belonged in Harry Potter so of course we went for a little inspection. Very cool.
By that time, it was pretty dark, so we went in search of dinner and landed at Kiodá, a small restaurant/pub where we tried pálinka. To the people on Budapest tourist websites who recommended trying pálinka: you people are assholes. If you want your chest to burn or if you enjoy drinking rubbing alcohol, then pálinka is the drink for you. Luckily, we were smart enough to get the smallest shots of the drink because I think we would have died if we had more. It is strong, let me tell you.
Alas, we did not find the Christmas Market that was advertised either of the nights we looked, but there were plenty of little shop-towns set up all over the city. They were selling all sorts of trinkets and food. Adorable.
That night, we bid ado to Ellie as she was leaving the next morning before we would be awake. It was nice to have someone else to hang out with who was just excited about this fabulous little city. She was off to Salzburg, which is a wonderful city in Austria. I was there in 2007, so I know she'll love it.
The next day, Gabby and I went out to St. Stephen's Basilica. It was the first thing on my list of things to do in Budapest. I'm not religious, but I have a thing for cathedrals. They're so beautiful and ornate. Hardly any other buildings match the intricate details like cathedrals do. St. Stephen's Basilica was no different. The interior has gold and marble everywhere, portraits and statues of saints, and holy water basins near every pillar. The organ was playing which totally set the mood. We eventually got chased out of the non-tourist area and took that as our leave.
We walked down the Hungarian National Museum which, to me, would have been better had more than the first room been written in English. There were tons of Hungarian artifacts, but for me, I enjoy knowing what the thing is and what it was used for. Unfortunately, it was all guesswork and we breezed through the exhibits. Hungarian is an interesting language that doesn't match English or German, despite their numerous German invasions. We're guessing it's Celtic mashed with Turkish mashed with Russian. Hungary has a history of being invaded constantly, only regaining their freedom from the communist hold of Russia about 15-20 years ago. After World War II, 80% of Budapest's buildings were destroyed. They haven't had the best or most positive history, but Budapest is still holding its head high.
Gabby and I went on our first Hop On, Hop Off bus tour that took us around the city. Surprisingly, we had seen 90% of the sights on the tour, but we didn't mind. One of the stops was the Gellert Citadel, located high up on Gellert Hill. We weren't going to walk up there ourselves. The bus tour had a 10 minute stop at the Citadel, so we frantically took tons of pictures and got back on the bus. It took us all the way back to the Oktogon, an eight-sided intersection near our hostel. We ate dinner at a place called 'Pizza EATaliano', which had delicious pizza. Om nom nom.
We departed from there and walked to the Nyugati Train Station. The Nyugati was beautiful—from the outside. Inside, it's a bleak train station. The adjacent McDonald's was more beautiful inside than the train station. Ridiculous, right?
We went back to the hostel and settled in for the night. This morning we got up early to catch our 9:25am train to Prague… that we are still currently on as I write this. We're getting closer to Prague and as we do, we're getting more excited. Tonight, we're attending an Advent Vigil at the Church of Our Lady before Tŷn and going on a ghost tour! We've only got a day and a half in Prague, so we're making the most of it!