Budapest: City of Friends
January 1, 1970
by Anastasia Towers
“Budapest is the world’s melting pot of Architectural styles. From Roman amphitheaters and Gothic-styled cathedrals to traditional Turkish baths, Budapest has it all.”
-Lust for the World
Budapest is arguably one of the most varied cities I have visited, along with Hungary as a country itself. It beckons you from afar as you enter the city with neon lights reflecting off the buildings to captivate approaching travelers, new to the cities aurora, like a glowing beacon. It may at first seem intimidating as a city from the central station, yet after a few minutes walk towards the center the city reveals itself as a not so hidden gem of Eastern Europe. Having never visited this area of Europe before at first I was unsure on what was seen as normal and what was not, yet after 24 hours in the city I realized it had a warming anything goes attitude.
The first night was spent sampling Mexican food next to one of the famous ruin bars of Budapest. This was due to an unexpected huge queue forming outside Szimpla Nightclub and after 6 hours travelling from Zagreb, there was a mutual agreement that we would wait until the next night to sample the nightlife. However the Mexican food proved promising, much to everyone’s expectations.
Széchenyi thermal bath and Historical Monuments
The following day was spent at the parliament buildings and famous spa baths. The thermal baths are one of the highlights of Budapest and a must see for the city even if you are only spending a few days there. Make sure to check out all the different rooms at the baths including the 100 degree Celsius sauna that is followed by the 18 degree Celsius bath as prescribed by the locals. However those not used to these sort of temperatures from regular visits to saunas may find the temperature difference quite extreme!
A must see for the city is located on the east bank of the river Danube in the form of copper shoes put together from director Can Togay. This shows how during World War 2 those of Jewish faith were lined up at the river asked to remove their shoes and shot by Arrow Cross Militiamen so when their bodies fell into the river the only thing left would be the shoes. A chilling reminder of the capabilities of dictatorship from the past that we need to make sure are not probabilities for our future.
One of the most unique things about Budapest is the acceptance of variation and difference, this can be seen through from the buildings to the attitudes of the people including the famous ruin bars. Ruin bars as the name suggest give a good vibe on what to expect on arrival, the whole trend began in the early 2000’s when in the Jewish quarter of the city bars began to open in half ruined buildings, hence the name. Szimpla is recognized as the pioneer for this trend which has continued on for a decade. Partially destroyed building? Check. Dirt cheap furniture? Check. Top DJ’s? Check. Let the people flock in their numbers. Instant is another hugely popular ruin bar, and my personal favorite. The rooms are all completely different sizes and styles, nothing is the same in any of the rooms, none of the decor matches, and there are cars hanging from the ceiling. Yet it feels like the most open and expressive nightclub I’ve visited to date. Everyone wants to get to know everyone; and is more than friendly enough to do so. These bars continue to be the most popular for nightlife in Budapest. On the downfall the prices in these bars especially Instant represent the popularity and hence charge higher prices than most smaller bars even in the immediate area. However Instant due to the more club like feel than the other ruin bars had the steepest prices, so watch out for that especially after a few Pálinka’s! The word Pálinka derives most probably from Slovak origin and means ‘to burn’ or ‘to distill’. Burn it certainly does so make sure to accompany the shot with water or a group of adventurous friends.
The second oldest metro link in the world
No visit to Budapest is complete without the use of the metro; this being the second oldest metro link in the world. All attractions are easily accessible through the metro and it provides an invaluable experience for anyone wanting to see how the locals go about their daily as the hop on hop off tour bus does not capture any of this.
Things to remember when visiting Budapest
It’s easy to get carried away when visiting a new city but make sure if you have a budget stick to it. Even though many things in Budapest will seem a lot cheaper in comparison when coming from somewhere in England or anywhere else where 4 pounds for one pint doesn’t seem unreasonable, you can still spend a lot simply by being in ‘the heat of the moment.’
After a night in the ruin bars I was informed by a local on the yellow taxi’s and how to spot a ‘fake’ taxi. As of September 2013 all taxi’s were to adhere to the same structure and design, that being the traditional yellow taxi. This was to make taxi’s more recognizable. However taxi fares from this all had the same base rate and price per minute/kilometer, meaning taxi fares from this point on increased. Some taxi’s are clearly painted yellow just to adhere to the structure and design yet may not seem like official taxi’s. This is because they aren’t. So make sure to look carefully at taxi’s before entering them and make sure they share the universal basic fare rate in Budapest with the acknowledged price per minute/kilometer for all taxi’s.
I don’t think there is anything like meeting new people and spending time together realizing how much you have in common except the fact that you may be thousands of miles apart, when you leave. This brings travelers closer together to enjoy experiences and new places together, and Budapest is no exception to this. Except this is a place which even though it feels like no other, helps everybody to feel like themselves.