It didn’t take long before I was completely charmed with Budapest.
I found everything enchanting about a place I hardly knew much about.
Cutting down random streets and admiring the buildings that had so much character to them.
People saying “hello” not only when I walked into a place but when I left as well (the word “szia” in Hungarian means both hello and goodbye, so some people use it in English the same way).
The way people called me “lady” instead of “ma’am” or “miss.” As in “Did you enjoy your meal, lady?” or “Thanks lady!” All I could think of was Jerry Lewis saying “Hey LADY!” and I loved every second of it.
I didn’t know what exactly to expect when I booked my ticket to Budapest, but even the city’s flaws, like the constant chain smoking, seemed bearable with all of its hidden surprises.
The food and wine are some of the best I’ve had in Europe.
Budapest, formerly two cities, Buda and Pest, split down the middle by the Danube was so much larger than I had anticipated as well.
I lost hours wandering from one place to the next. One minute I was at the Hungarian Parliament and then I had wandered miles up the Adrássy út (a main street for shopping) to the city park and the Széchenyi Baths. 14 miles of walking in poor but fashionable shoes in one day, and I still wasn’t tired.
There was so much that existed in Budapest, that I wasn’t worried about filling a week’s worth of time there.
I visited my fair share of churches and museums, one of my favorites being the apartment that Franz Liszt spent the last few years of his life in.
Growing up playing classical piano, it was incredibly cool to be in his actual apartment and near the pianos that Liszt had played. Even though he spent most of his life in Austria, he was half Hungarian, and Hungarians convinced him to come back to start the Franz Liszt academy where he taught students and so the country could claim him as their own (the airport and a town square are named after him as well).
I ventured one morning to the Széchenyi Baths. I was peer pressured into it by the Rick Steves books that I swear to like a Bible in my European travels, as well from the advice a friend who told me it was a must-do.
I was skeptical, particularly as I ventured up to the Baths on the metro, which was fine once I figured it out, but took me a few minutes to realize if I was going the right way or not when the map in the car was ripped in half, and I only knew the one stop that I needed—nothing else along the way that might let me know if I was headed in the right direction or the complete opposite way into God knows where.
I ended up at the right place and wondered why everyone was giving such accolades to what I only saw as a gigantic public pool.
I paid for my changing cabin and my rubber wristwatch that gave me entry to everything and wandered around looking for a towel rental and getting the lay of the land. Once I changed into my swimsuit, I sat by the pool, mustering the courage to fight off whatever germs were floating around and convince myself to go in.
It’s not a pool, per se, so I don’t want to give the wrong idea. It’s a thermal bath, so it is all natural and doctors there actually prescribe that people go there for their health. I convinced myself it wasn’t germy, but rather medicinal and hopped right on in next to the old men who were playing chess in their Speedos.
It is like a giant hot tub but with jets and whirlpools. And it actually felt fantastic.
I wished I had more time so that I could have made it back again during the trip, but figured it was an excellent excuse to make it back to Hungary in the future.
One of my other favorite random activities also went against everything I typically would have expected I would have enjoyed, which was grabbing a drink at ruin bars.
These are old buildings that look like they should probably be torn down or condemned and have been turned into cool “dive” bars, except everybody goes there and knows about them.
I walked into a ruin bar called Szimpla Kert, grabbed a glass of wine, and finagled my way through the maze of rooms, each one different from the last with a love seat made of a tree stump or a couch made from an old bathtub.
It’s hard not to be entranced by something that has so much character and is so different from something I would see in my day to day life.
Overall the vast amount of varying things to do in Budapest was almost overwhelming, and in seven days, I felt I had made a dent in it, but it left me wanting to do a lot more as well.
So while I could check one place off of my bucket list, I also knew it was a place I would have to return to in the future.