Budapest – culture, relaxation and festival
For my third and final holiday of my two month break from ships I took a trip to Budapest with my old uni house mate Andy. A few weeks before the trip a few of us met up at his parents house in Marlow for a BBQ. Andy spoke of his disappointment at not being able to join the boys on our trip to Barcelona. He joked that he was free the following week if anybody fancied going away. The more we drank the more appealing that idea sounded to me. A few rums later and we were researching cheap flights and eventually settled on Budapest.
There wasn’t a great deal of thought behind our decision but we ran into a whole lot of luck. The unheard of airline ‘WizzAir’ (with the monotone stewardess and old school safety demonstration) flew us event free from Luton airport, our apartment booked on Airbnb was amazing and it turned out that our trip would coincide with Sziget festival.
We arrived at our apartment, ‘happy homes blue’ via the taxi service booked through the company. We were greeted on arrival and showed around the awesome little apartment.
Everything had a blue colour scheme, not overpowering but enough to see why it got its name. The front door opened to a small kitchen area with a fully stocked espresso machine and a fridge with a few sodas, water and some beers. On the main table was a bottle of wine and the bathroom, just around the corner from the sofa bed was stocked with towels and toiletries. The main room had an old style pinball machine, a guitar, a keyboard as well as a TV with Netflix available. The welcome pack included plenty of recommendations for food, bars and activities in the area and had a bio of the founder of Happy Homes, Sven. We were in his original project which he bought after moving from Belgium and since then acquired a number of other properties each with their own unique colour scheme but same amenities.
Up the stairs were two rooms with very low ceilings, which, we were told is the typical style of Hungarian apartments. A Fred Flinstone sign warned you to watch your head but that was very apparent as you had to duck as soon as you got to the top of the small staircase. The two rooms were basically balconies. At the end of the comfortable double beds you could look down into the rest of the flat.
Our first evening when we arrived we took a walk around to gather our bearings. Our apartment was ideally placed within twenty minutes of the main centre and a minute or two from bars and restaurants. We chose to eat at a place from the welcoming pack left for us at Happy Home Blue. I chose a local dish, a pretty basic chicken and potato which was disguised under a Hungarian name that I forget. The food was well priced and the atmosphere was nice but local cuisine probably was the wrong choice. But you’ve got to try it right.
After the meal we made our way down through some of the ruin bars before heading back to the apartment (after attempting to get into a wrong apartment on an adjacent street).
We considered a city bus tour on our first full day but decided on the free walking tour being the fit young lads that we are. That and being relatively hangover free. I expected to turn up to the meeting point and see a few old grannies and some backpackers, so I was pretty surprised to find over a hundred people waiting for the tour. The tour leaders were very enthusiastic and knew their business and efficiently split us into English and Spanish speakers. The four English-speaking guides introduced themselves and we ended up in a small group with Lara: ‘like Lara Croft’ she said whilst posing with gun fingers in imitation of the fiction character.
The tour took around 3 hours, starting off in Pest before crossing the bridge to Buda. Lara provided us with many facts, most of which I’ve forgotten now but in a brief summary: Hungary has pretty much been on the losing side of most wars, was occupied by Russia under the pretence of them helping the country, after they sided with the Nazis in WW2 and lost land and their economy took a battering. The most remarkable person from their history was the guy who invented the rubix cube (which I think should be kept a secret rather than celebrated). But after such a stunted history they are finally trying to stand on their own feet.
From the local people I met in Budapest I got the sense that they are a proud nation but with not much to be proud of. Everyone was friendly and welcoming but the tour was full of boasts that weren’t particularly impressive. That being said the scenery was stunning and the cities had such a nice vibe going on.
We enjoyed the walking tour and decided to join the pub crawl that night, organised by the same tour group. Marcus was the tour leader and greeted us at the meeting point which was located a convenient five minutes from our apartment. The pub crawl was good fun, we met some cool people from all over the world. The first people we met were two American guys. One of them was a nice guy, or he seemed like a nice guy from what little he got to say as his mate was a talker. When I say talker, he was a ‘anything you can do I can do better’ kind of talker, a one-up-man. Basically he was a dick. Michael from Ireland was awesome, Sergio, who still had jet lag from the flight from his native Brazil was a good laugh, the Danish girls spoke better English than me and there were some Dutch girls, one of which was a nurse who may or may not have had a drinking problem judging from her stories.
The pub crawl was free but there was the opportunity to buy a 10Euro wristband to get free shots, a cocktail and entrance into the last club. Worth it. Sneaky Marcus asked for tips after the second bar (following the strong green cocktail called a Shrek) early enough that you were feeling intoxicated and generous but not too late that you forget to tip.
The following day we were feeling less than fresh so we went for a relaxing day at one of Budapest’s famed thermal baths. There were a lot of different choices from small male only local baths to the giant one that we finally chose, not only because we didn’t want to share with big hairy Hungarian men but because Irish Michael had recommended it the night before. It took us about 40 minutes in the sweltering heat to get to the Szechenyi baths which were a big building with 15 different sized pools at different temperatures surrounding three large outdoor pools. All the pools, with water sourced from natural hot springs under Budapest, helped us relax and the saunas and steam rooms helped sweat out the alcohol from the night before just so we were ready to go again that night as we went out and stumbled across a karaoke bar.
Our last full day in Budapest we had got tickets for the major European festival at Zsiget. We thought it would be easy to make our way to the island in the middle of the Dunabe river but we were mistaken. Four tourist information desks, that you can find all over the city centre, managed to give us four different sets of information but we finally made it to Zsiget (after being quoted extortionate tourist price by a taxi driver) via the underground system that has definitely seen better days.
On entering the festival Andy and myself were given the customary security pat down but Andy walked past the second set of security while a big gorilla in uniform spoke to me in Hungarian and gestured that I needed to return to the table and empty my pockets for him. After emptying my pockets he miraculously found some English words and asked ‘Are you sure that’s everything?’ I was very baffled by this experience which I’m sure had nothing to do with the fact that the headlining act Wiz Khalifa was one of the only other black men on the island.
We relaxed for a few hours, soaking up the atmosphere around the beach area which you had to walk through BO infested tents to get to. The smell walking through the camping area was horrific and that was only on day two of the five day festival. Day slowly turned to night and we got slightly more intoxicated and enjoyed the amazing, friendly atmosphere at the festival that had a real variety of music. It went from lovey ballads by Tom Odell to crowds creating mosh pits to heavy metal from Biffy Clyro ending with the rap music of Wiz Khalifa. Thousands of people singing along to ’till I see you again’ was pretty spectacular and was only topped by thousands of White guys rapping along to ‘Black and Yellow’.
Budapest rounded of my mini European tour nicely which included 3 amazing holidays, each one totally different from the last. After all that travelling it was time to get ready for the day job. Travelling around the world with Royal Caribbean.