Now for the main bit: two nights in Budapest, Hungary.
A few hours from Vienna, we arrive just as darkness is falling. Already with bar crawl and boat party tickets from the bus, we get checked into the hostel (GoodMo House in Józsefváros). But we’ve less than an hour to get ready and meet back downstairs.
And the first other British people in a while – the two guides are from Manchester. Chatting a bit in the first bar, I remember one brief visit about four years ago. But I’ve never been there properly.
Later on, I get to know a few others on the trip. Naturally, we end in a club and no idea where we are. No-one really knows where to go, but I remember the main reasons I’m doing this. It feels like some team-building exercise as most of us have only just met (along with not all speaking great English)(and are fairly intoxicated). I had no Internet on my phone, but at least had loaded maps back at the hostel. It’s great to help finally find the way back, something I might not have done a couple of years ago. The sun’s up by the time we make it, but we get there.
Budapest is a big place. It’s a sleepy following morning as we take a city bus tour. This is well over an hour, with the still-many reminders of Communism throughout. We’d passed several Soviet-style apartment blocks on the journey but there are more signs here: the Liberty Statue on Gellért Hill, Vienna Gate Square and Fisherman’s Bastion.
After the Gellért Hill photo opportunity, we’re left on our own. Again we visit all the attractions suggested. We even walk all the way out to Heroes’ Square. With several hours of walking again (remember yesterday in Vienna and partying last night) we’re worn out that afternoon. With so much trekking, our legs are killing us and we take the subway back to the hostel.
Many sleep, but I remember: this is my last big trip for a while. I’m not here to sleep. So I resist and force myself to explore. There’s no official baths visit on this trip, but it’s one of the most popular and how many fall in love with the city. In the few hours we have before the boat party, I look nearby. Remember what these short trips are about? Squeezing as much as you can into the limited time. Making great life experiences and memories despite the brevity.
For the first time on this trip, I’m on my own. And finding my way OK…until a thunderstorm kicks in out of nowhere. Some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen in my life hammers down, and luckily I’m near a subway where I shelter for at least 10 minutes. Aptly, the famous song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is still fresh in my head (favourite of Borussia Dortmund and many other football/soccer sides). As I am indeed alone, and it opens with “When you walk through the storm…”. It’s stuck in my head as I jog the rest of the way, trying to stay as dry as possible.
It’s more than worth it when I make it across to Rudas Baths. In the jacuzzis, saunas and ice baths I fall into serious reverie again. On life priorities and values, on pressing issues in today’s world. Reflecting on my time abroad. I’d say it was the most introspective and contemplative experience since the floatation tank in Amsterdam over a year ago.
Walking back to the hostel, I’m almost euphoric. We’ve to meet for the boat party in 15 minutes so I step up the pace…but I don’t feel any form of stress. Instead, there is a sense of lightness. The weather’s cleared up. All the tension that was there before seems to be gone.
Needless to say, the boat party’s a blast. Everything was built up towards this, so everyone goes for it. Along the Danube, we also catch some great night views of Hungary’s House of Parliament and Chain Bridge. Maybe the beer or the refreshed muscles from the baths play a part, but it’s the first serious adrenalin in a few weeks.
Summed up by the Brazilian telling me “you’re a different person man”. Without sounding too pretentious, I guess I am. I’d had some trip, and got everything I’d wanted from it: the adventure, the friendships, the places I’d really wanted to visit. At least at that moment, my life was just about perfect. I had more great memories and experiences, just as I’d set out for.
There’s a slight comedown the next morning but it’s OK. We’ve got to know each other better now. And it’s time for the bus to Bratislava, where no-one plans anything other than sleeping.
Tools & Tips
Thermal Baths – one of the most famous & popular draws of Budapest. Local Hungarians generally go about once a year, mainly at New Year, but they’re of course popular with tourists all year round.
It’s also very affordable, using the currency of Hungarian Forint (HUF). With roughly 300 to 1 Euro, and 350 to £1, many items (e.g. snacks, bottle of water) can be found for only about 250 Forint, and meals at most 2500 HUF. Many places also accept Euros, but it’s probably best value to use Forint.
Hungarian is an unusual language, even by European standards. Its only modern relation is Finnish, and that’s a distant one. Some basic phrases:
- Hello = Szervusz
- Goodbye = Viszontlátásra
- How are you? = Hogy vagy?
- Thank you = Köszönöm
- Cheers! = Egészségédre!