Day 1: St. Stephen’s Basilica. Invisible Exhibition. Chain Bridge. Shoes on the Danube. Parliament Building. Dinner at Budapest Bisztro.
My first day in Budapest was my busiest by far! I started my sightseeing by going to one of the most famous attractions in the city: St. Stephen’s Basilica. For a 1 Euro donation, you can head into the cathedral and take in all the beautiful architecture and stained glass windows. Basically every big European city has a must-see cathedral and I try to go and see them all. I found this cafe called “California Coffee Company” after leaving the Basilica and had to try it out. I wondered what Hungarians thought Californian coffee should taste like. My latte was delicious but my bagel left something to be desired. The barista toasted it with the cream cheese already on the bagel, and its consistency just didn’t measure up to NJ bagels.
The Invisible Exhibition was actually one of the only things I planned in advance for my trip, and I’m so glad I reserved myself a spot. The exhibit takes place in a number of totally dark rooms, and a blind tour guide takes you through them. You get to experience what it would be like to be blind, and you have to put all your trust into your guide. My group and I felt our way through an apartment, busy intersection at rush hour, log cabin, a park (with a bridge!), and finally a bar where our guide made espresso in the dark. It was very impressive. The tour was like nothing I’ve ever done before, except for maybe the Touch Tunnel at Liberty Science Center, but even then I was too chicken to actually finish the tunnel. I was hoping we might get to see the rooms after with the lights on, out of sheer curiosity, but I realized that would be against the point. The experience really impresses upon you what it’s like to be visually impaired, and makes you appreciate your sight. Our tour guide, Julia, was so kind and ready and willing to answer any questions we had.
Before grabbing dinner, I took advantage of “Golden Hour,” right before the sun set upon the Danube River, to visit Hungary’s Parliament Building and see the Shoes on the Danube. The shoes are hard metal and attached to the cement on the edge of the river, and are meant to honor the Hungarian Jews who were marched down to the Danube and shot by fascist militiamen during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot point-blank at the edge so that they’d fall right into the river and be swept away by the current. The single pair of baby’s shoes in the sea of women’s high heels and men’s loafers will be with me forever.
Day 2: The Goat Herder Espresso Bar. Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Pozsonyi Kisvendéglo for a late lunch. Budapest Jazz Club.
Why aren’t thermal baths a tradition back in the USA? Because let me tell you, they are one of mankind’s greatest achievements. This day was probably the most relaxing one I spent in Budapest: I stewed in mineral-rich waters for an hour and even treated myself to an aroma-therapy massage. I went to the baths on Wednesday at around 12 noon, and the best part of the experience was just people-watching. There was a young Russian man in my pool teaching his daughter how to swim, some overly touchy-feely couples, and a lot of retirees who chatted into the late afternoon. (Heads up: You’ll be hit with an overwhelming eggy smell the further into the bathing complex you go. Some baths contain more sulfur than others, but apparently, the healing benefits are unparalleled).
Since I decided to visit one of the city’s most famous Roman baths, the architecture followed suit. There were huge white pillars supporting the inner structure and carvings hidden in the walls. As you can see from the picture below, it’s kind of hard to believe there’s an entire spa inside. It looks like a museum from the outside! I enjoyed both the indoor and outdoor baths, and since it was a whopping 7 degrees Celsius, there was tons of eerie steam rising from the water. On my way to my massage appointment, I got totally lost in the sea of locker rooms and shower stations, but relaxed as soon as I was on the table and breathing in lavender essential oils. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the sanitarium from A Cure for Wellness as I tried navigating through the maze-like rooms. The changing cabins were like something out of the 19th century, and everything in the bathhouse was a startlingly bright white. But a visit to the thermal baths is something you must try during your time in Budapest, and Széchenyi is one of the highest-rated spas in the city.
After heading back to my AirBnB to unwind and shower, I met up with my two Prague friends, Alex and Dan, to see a live jazz show and go (unintentionally) bar-hopping. I told myself I’d head back after one beer, but three bars later, we were having the time of our lives. They were so kind and walked me home safely after the night was over.
Day 3: WARMCUP Cafe. Vintage shopping on Don Utca. Blitz Koyha Cafe. Dinner at Belvárosi Disznótoros.
Since I was a tad hungover from the night before, my day started later than I expected. I changed out of my pajamas and into jeans, then went right back to bed for another two hours (whoops!) before finally heading out for coffee and a croissant. Vintage shopping is one of my favorite hobbies, and on Dob Utca (which means ‘street’ in Hungarian) there are TONS of cute little stores. My favorites had to be Ludovika, POSTR Store, and JUDAS. But I had a great time exploring Retrock and Szputnyik as well. I found an adorable Levi’s black denim skirt and a pair of paisley-print Vans…they’ll go nicely with the vintage jean jacket I bought back in Vienna.
I took a break from all my shopping to enjoy a latte at Blitz Koyha Cafe and then met my friends at a delicious grab-and-go Hungarian restaurant. I had seasoned pork with baked potato chips and rice. All I could think of while eating the chips was how similar they were to the ones served at Traditions, a restaurant at TCNJ of all places. It’s amazing how the smallest of things can bring you back to a certain time in your life.
Day 4: Jewish Synagogue. Margaret Island.
The weather during my last two days in Budapest was just perfect, and I used it as an excuse to get outside and visit Margaret Island. The piece of land is in the middle of the Danube Island and easy to access via the city’s buses. I can’t imagine how beautiful it must be during the summer, but I had a nice time strolling around regardless. I didn’t stay for as long as I intended, because there wasn’t much to do, but I did end up finding one of island’s famed ruins (pictured below).
I also got to see the Jewish Synagogue from the comfort of a cafe across the street, where I enjoyed an iced latte. And believe it or not, I loved the place I went to dinner the night before so much that I went back for lunch! I ordered the same meal of course. Why fix it if it ain’t broke? All in all, it was a great finale to my time in Budapest.