Bono-giorno! and #hellohungary
CAUTION: this post was written at the beginning of February as I patiently waited for a camera cord to be delivered to import pictures from a different camera.
A quick synopsis of getting yelled at by an angry Hungarian security guard for posing on this trendy #hellohungary sign:
So, I found myself in Budapest, Hungary this weekend. It was an abrupt trip – I only booked it 2 days prior to departure after getting a 25% discount with Bus2Alps (an awesome travel company that plans trips all over Europe – it provides a stressless trip with transportation, lodging, breakfast, tours, and activities planned for you). Thursday night we departed via bus (precisely a 12 hour ride – yikes).
Friday morning I found myself in a foreign-ass country (literally, Hungarian is the craziest language – our tour guide told us that often in sci-fi movies, aliens or other creatures speak Hungarian because no one understands what they’re saying except for 10 million Hungarians). We posted up in Wombats City Hostel for the weekend. It was a perfect location right in the Jewish Quarter and in walking distance to shops, bars and food. Most importantly, it was very clean, and it had a super trendy first floor with a bar and hang out areas. Would definitely recommend this hostel to anyone traveling to Budapest! It has many awards from TripAdvisor.
Our tour took us through the Jewish Quarter where our tour guide gave us a brief overlook of Hungary’s depressing history. On the losing side of both world wars, always under the control of an empire or another country, losing territory, economic depressions, etc. It was sad to hear the struggle Hungarians have faced for hundreds of years. Hungary only joined the European Union in 2004, but their economy still isn’t strong enough to be on the Euro currency. The Hungarian forint itself was an adventure – $1 is 290.01 Ft. I felt like a millionaire carrying 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 bills.
Parliament on the river
Anyway, after a pleasant stroll through the sloshy streets of Budapest with my soaked sneakers, my two roommates and I parted ways from the large Bus2Alps group and divided into a smaller group with a Bus2Alps guide (s/o Molly) for an AMAZING adventure through the multi-level cave labyrinth under residential Budapest. Fully equipped with a jumpsuit, helmet and headlamp, we set off for un unforgettable experience.
We approached a big, concrete door with Hungarian graffiti all over it. Our tour guide wrenched the door open and I strolled in first, not knowing what I was getting myself into. We navigated through the low ceiling and flat ground, on both feet, and I thought, “oh wow, this is nothing.” Then our tour guide led us to the longest ladder I ever laid my eyes on. I held on for dear life as I climbed down into the pits of earth. Once on the ground, I realized that THIS was what caving was: tight spaces, jutting rocks everywhere, dust, gaping holes in the ground. It was an underground maze – one wrong turn and who knows where you would end up.
I slid, crawled, climbed, fell, wiggled, jumped, scaled walls, and slammed my head into low ceilings (s/o to that helmet). Our professional caving tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about the caves and caving in general, and funny, too! He lifted us (physically and figuratively) through tough parts when we needed that extra push.
This was an unforgettable experience. Even after thinking I was going to slip and die on several occasions, I left with a smile on my face and dust up my nose. The best moment from this excursion was when we sat in an alcove of the cave, all lights off in the pitch black. In unison, we sang “Hallelujah.” The acoustics gave me goosebumps; it was one of the most beautiful moments I ever experienced; I wished I could relive it.
Later that night, we went to the 3rd most famous bar in the world. And for good reason. Szimpla Kert is the biggest pub I’ve ever been in, and by far the coolest. Converted from old ruins, it’s decorated with mismatched items like chairs dangling from the ceiling, mermaids made of recycled material on bathroom doors, creepy characters, mirrors, lamps and tables, outside patios and movie screens. There was a bar in almost every room of the huge 2-story building. It made for a great night out filled with encounters with people from all over the world curious about the American culture.
The next morning, we want to the famous Budapest thermal baths. The naturally hot water, like an outdoor hot tub, felt amazing against the cold air. Steam bounced in my face as hot met cold. I have never been so relaxed in my life. Despite the creepy men lingering around, I’ve never felt so comfortable being in a bathing suit outside in the dead of winter. Everyone needs to put this on their bucket-list.
After the baths, we explored shops and markets in the city, and ended the brilliant weekend with a dinner cruise on the Danube River. With a live orchestra and a delicious buffet of traditional Hungarian food, it was a classy, well-spent evening, and a great wrap up to an amazing trip.
Before booking my trip spontaneously 2 days before leaving, I knew nothing about Budapest. This was one of the best trips I’ve had yet, filled with new experiences and new friends. Thanks for the memories, Eastern Europe.
Ciao for now!