Buda and Pest

Somehow I rose at 9:30 for the free breakfast (bread, juice, jam) and a shower. I braved the bright sunshine and walked round to meet Nik who was waiting for a girl called Heidi. They’d met on another train somewhere and she lives in Budapest, working for a school somewhere. She’d given the usual traveller’s promise of “turn up and I’ll show you round” which she proceeded to do.

She showed us a lot of the sights in Pest, putting her three-year stint in Budapest to full use. The Opera House with its grand interior, 2nd largest synagogue in the world (apparently, the largest is in New York) [EDIT – I checked on Wikipedia and the largest is in Jerusalem, second in New York and third here] with it’s lovely memorial garden, the millenium monument, Basilica with mummified hand (which lights up when you put money in a box) and the statute to Anonymous – nice but I’m not sure if it’s a good likeness or not.

We caught a Metro (lovely wood-decorated stations) down to the riverside where Heidi left us to find our way over to Buda on the other side. The castle looks more like a palace – imagine Buck House rather than Balmoral. It houses some museums and galleries, none of which we went in, and the view from the top is rather nice. The one building we did see from up there that really impressed me was the Parliament. A shame we didn’t have the time to get closer, but it’s certainly a lovely structure with huge spires and a maroon roof which almost looks like velvet.

Through the baking heat, we walked back down to my hostel where I sorted out some hostels and we wandered around to find the bar we’d been in the night before. The lovely barmaid was there… armed with a Hungaro-English dictionary! We spent an hour finding a bookshop where Nik bought an English-Hungarian one so they could try to communicate.

I don’t know where the time went as we stood around swallowing cheap beer. When I left Nik at closing time, he and the barmaid were at the “holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes” stage. I was at the “which way is up and am I walking in a straight line” stage.

Hungry for Hungary

Early doors, I checked out and went to a bagel place for a filling and rather tasty breakfast. While I was sat there, a young French guy from the hostel came in and we got talking before hopping in a tram to the station. Just before we left, we had a giggle at a cute little baby in a pram who’s mother was being served. She was sat there, banging hear head and playing air drums to music on the radio – obviously her parents have good taste!

At the station, I bumped into a Finnish guy called Nikolas who was also heading to Budapest and we shared a carriage with a Hungarian guy on his way home from working in the UK for 6 months.

As we neared Budapest, some tourist information person knocked on the door. “Uh, oh”, I thought, “People here trying to fleece us.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. Once he ascertained that I already had a hostel (“It is good place, in good location”) he made sure I was loaded up with maps and directions on how to get there. Nikolas chose another hostel, one recommended elsewhere and which I had considered, and we agreed a time for me to walk down and catch him for a couple of beers.

Nikolas jumped in a free bus, while I chose to walk. Budapest struck me as “just a big city” as I hiked down one of the main roads and this is true for the majority of it. As I was to discover, there are some hidden gems but much of the city is fairly modern.

The hostel I picked (the Astoria) was pretty decent with nice staff. I made full use of the shower and internet before walking down to catch up with Nikolas. The kind staff at his place looked up the location of the only KFC in Budapest for us and we went there (via the station) for dinner. This was a huge treat for Nikolas as he loves the stuff but there aren’t any branches in Finland.

Now it was time to enjoy more eastern European beer! The first bar we found was typical of many in Budapest – down a flight of steps and very small, but crammed with atmosphere and friendly locals. We had a couple of large beers for what amounted to maybe 55p each while watching some of the U21s football on the telly. Time to move on and we scoured the streets for another watering hole, aiming for somewhere off the beaten track.

We located one and, again, descended the steps. As could be expected, the barmaid was beautiful (I mean beautiful) and the locals friendly, especially the chap we sat with who was in his 50s and had studied English for three months. He chatted to us and translated Nikolas’ flirtatious comments to the barmaid for several hours as we downed beer and just enjoyed ourselves.

As the bar neared closing time a bunch of backpackers came over and we made plans to meet them elsewhere. We walked off, dropped things at our hostel and found the place they had been talking about… only they didn’t show. It was late and the beer was really expensive, so we had one each and then walked back to our hostels. 3:30am on my first night in Budapest. And a promise that I’d catch Nikolas around 11:00 the next day.