As noted in my previous post, we arrived into Budapest on Tuesday evening. We are staying at an apartment that we are renting through Airbnb. And this one has worked out to be an absolute steal. We have a full apartment with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom with an amazing shower. There are also appliances such as a washing machine and dishwasher and everything you need in a kitchen. It’s also all decked out with some really cool features (such as various colored mood lighting).
And what’s even better? The location. We are a three-minute walk form the metro station and a two-minute walk in the other direction from the famous Vaca Utca (pronounced “ootza”) – a street lined with many shops, restaurants, and cafes. And just a few minute walk beyond that is the Danube River.
We are also about a 10-15 minute walk from all the places in the historic Jewish quarter, where we took in dinner and a few of the ruin bars on Tuesday evening. This morning, we walked back up to the Jewish quarter so that Marshall could get a haircut. He’s been out of the country a week longer than me and he didn’t find time to get a haircut before he left. We went to a local barber shop chain called “Budapest Barber Shop.”
From there, we stopped back into our apartment, grabbed a few things and then headed to lunch at Lucky 7 Burgers. I have especially been craving a good ol’ fashioned American cheeseburger. This place is a local Hungarian place, but they know how to make burgers here too! We sat outside at the café and enjoyed burgers, fries, and a coke.
Then, we walked down just a couple blocks over to the Danube River to catch our 3:15pm river cruise tour. This was a great idea. It was a beautiful day, warm in the low 70s. The tour was guided by headset which told us about the history and other facts about some of the amazing buildings we were seeing. Come to think of it, it reminds me a little of the architecture tour I did of Chicago earlier this summer. But, the history here goes back a little longer. And the architecture just a little bit different.
We did the river cruise that included the optional stop and tour of Margaret Island which is an island in the middle of the Danube River. Once there, we had 90 minutes to explore on our own. They provided us with a little map so we could see some of the ruins of old churches, a convent, and some of the other structures. There is a beautifully landscaped park in the middle, and there were many people just enjoying themselves in the sunshine, along with pedestrians and bikers.
We rented one of those two-pedal bikes that looks like a cool little old fashioned street car. And it was good because the island was large enough that we would not have likely been able to see it all in the 90 minutes we had. It was kind of fun riding around and getting off at various spots to explore more by foot and get some photos. Before we hopped back on the boat, I was able to get some my typical afternoon ice cream cone. The boat then cruised us back to the location we hopped on off the Danube River.
From there, we walked across the modern bridge that connects “Pest” (the side of the river we are staying on) and “Buda.” Budapest is actually the combination of two different cities, Buda and Pest. We had crossed over to Buda so that so we could climb the hill (or was it a small mountain?) to the Citadella, which features the best view of Budapest.
On top of that hill – Gellert Hill – is also a statue of liberty. It doesn’t look like the Statue of Liberty in New York, but it was first placed there in 1947 to remember what was then considered the Soviet liberation of Hungary from the Nazis. Following the fall of communism in 1989, the statue’s inscription was changed to read: “To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.” On the way up to the top of that hill, we also got a view of a very prominent statue of St. Gellert. That hill is named for him, St. Gerard, because he was thrown to his death from that hill. He was the first Bishop of Csnad in the Kingdom of Hunary (from about 1030 until his death in 1046).
Well, he has quite a hill with quite a view. We were fortunate to get up there about 30 minutes before sunset and take in the view and the sunset. The photos we were able to capture at that time was incredible and we were able to watch the shade come over the city and watch the sun go down behind other hills to the west.
We then walked down that hill, crossed the bridge back to Pest, and do dinner at the oldest restaurant in Budapest, Szazeves etterum. We had the goulash soup and I had chicken paprika. So delicious. And, such a great atmosphere. They had a band come around from table to table and play music while we ate. It was really great. The Hungarians we have met have been so friendly and welcoming and we have certainly been picking the right places to eat. From there, we were just a five minute walk back to our Airbnb apartment. We showered and changed up our clothes and then headed back out to the historic Jewish quarter.
We found a great place called Szimpla Kert. It was also one of the ruin bars, It was huge and it was also completely packed out when we walked in around 11pm. We had brought cigars there so we could smoke and we found a place near the back where we could do that. This place was more of a local spot, but still filled with people like us from all over the place. It was less touristy than the night before and had lots of different rooms with various vibes. In some places you could sit and chat. In other spots, there was loud music – and in the middle of the front, was a very crowded dance floor, which we joined a few times.
While we were smoking cigars, a group pulled up near us and we met a mix of guys and girls from the Netherlands, the UK, and Argentina. We ended up hanging out with them the rest of the night. And we shut the place down – at 4am. Quite a late night, which led to some sleeping in on Thursday.
We spent much of Thursday just relaxing and taking some walks around the pedestrian streets near us – the Vaca Utza area – while we got some laundry done at the apartment and packed up to prepare for our journey to Prague the next day. But before we would leave Budapest, we walked over to the beautiful and gigantic Parliament building that is on the Danube River banks. We took in some views there right at sunset again. This city is just so beautiful, especially at that time of evening.
Then we took in one more nice meal at a restaurant not from from there called Hungarikum Bistro. Once again, another amazing find a little off the tourist path. (By the way, when we weren’t looking up places friends recommended to us, we were relying a lot on the reviews on the TripAdvisor app, which has been pretty dead on accurate – it’s a lot like Yelp).
When we first walked in the hostess asked us if we had a reservation. We did not. She said let me see what I can do. I told her “we promise to be excellent guests.” She smiled and then found us a table that was previously reserved but those guests did not show up. For me, this was simply fate. We walked in at the right time and a table was provided for us. We had another excellent meal. Our last Hungarian meal in this beautiful city. Our waitress and the entire staff there were very welcoming and even generous with some complimentary food and drink samples in between our courses. They kept asking how we were enjoying everything. I feel like everyone here wants to make sure outsiders like us are welcomed and have a good time. They sure did succeed!
After dinner, we walked back down to the riverfront and sat outside at a café overlooking the Danube River. All the prominent historic buildings along the river light up in sort of a golden glow. I just loved it. But it also made me reflect that it was along this river bank and the surrounding neighborhoods we had been in that bombs once fell and fighting dominated during the last years of WWII. It was horrific. But on this night, it was a beautiful, peaceful scene. We ordered a couple of Hungarian beers and took in the cooler air (upper 60s/low 70s) as we engaged in good conversation. And once again, a band that was walking around came over to our table to play us a tune.
We headed back to our Airbnb which was just about a 5 to 10 minute walk away and prepared for our journey to Prague the next morning. So long, Budapest. So long, Hungary. I hope your welcoming spirit, your generosity, and your tranquil days and nights will continue to last for generations to come. This place is a must visit for anyone wanting to experience the charm of Europe – and you can do so for a really affordable price.