Hidden Treasures of Budapest
The city of Budapest has many nicknames in Europe. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Paris of East or to my surprise, even the city of Spas. It’s one of those cities in which only when you visit, you are able to put into words the general vibe and atmosphere.
It’s mysterious, multicultural and magnificent. Everywhere I went in the city, I came across thermal spas, and even if it was cold, this didn’t stop the locals from visiting. The city has been home to thermal spas for centuries, and this is one of the few things I found unique about the city. Locals tend to visit the hot spas when they are feeling hungover. I thought “I should remember this”.
As a walked through the city, I was greeted by beauty. Neoclassical and art nouveau buildings that were only built in the 19th century, reminiscent of a scene from a Disney movie.
Exploring the city further
I took a trip to the famous For Sale pub (advertised in the magazine on the flight). I arrived just in time as after an hour, it got busy very quickly. The walls and ceilings were decorated with paper table mats which had drawings and messages on them from past customers. There was also a huge basket full of monkey nuts, and you could throw the shells on the floor, lovely! It wasn’t the cleanest place I’ve been too but it hard character and I enjoyed that. I left a message and placed it on the ceiling. I won’t say what I wrote, but if you ever visit, I’d be impressed if you can find it.
I consumed a huge Goulash soup, giving me enough energy to work on my to-do list of the city. The Semmelweis museum was first on my agenda. I enjoy shock-value and interesting exhibits, especially if they are about medical history. This place blew my fragile mind. Semmelweis is famous for encouraging doctors to wash their hands after touching bodies, but there was only a replica of his study and a few other various items. What really enchanting was the photos, primitive x-rays and surgical instruments on display. You might see these things in a horror movie, spooky!
Feeling as though I wasn’t shocked enough, I headed to the House of Terror, the headquarters of Hungarians secret police. This museum heavily focused on crimes and atrocities carried out by the country’s fascist and Stalinist regimes. The museum featured reconstructed prison cells in the basement (why are they always in basements?), perpetrators gallery of spies and torturers. Outside in the courtyard is a large tank accompanied with metallic photos of victims. Walls were extra-thick to muffle the screams of victims tortured there.
Hungarians are flexible with other nationalities
The French love their sarcasm, the Irish enjoy stories with a punchline and Germans are too serious to get a joke (sometimes). Hungarians are easy-going, approachable and witty too. Most Hungarians speak two languages and are aware of social trends and international politics.
I met a local girl on Tinder who taught me a few things that made Hungarians different to other Europeans:
- Don’t be mistaken of Budapest for Bucharest (the capital of Romania).
- Claim that Hungarian wine isn’t good.
- Say no when offered a shot of Pálinka (fruity brandy). Hungarians love this drink and so should you.
- Don’t pronounce Budapest like Boo-Da-Pest. Say Buddah-pesht instead.
- Don’t mix the Hungarian flag with the Italian one.
- Avoid talking about politics or football unless an expert.
She was self-assured, stoic and pragmatic in how she talked. As she lit a cigarette and faced to look out the window, she smiled from the side, “and now you know how not to be a tourist.”
From my initial observations, I found that Hungarians preferred sour cream to ketchup. Paprika is more important than salt and pepper. They are sick of people asking if “they are hungry?” when they say they are Hungarian. Another crucial part of a Hungarian’s lifestyle is bathing and visiting thermal spas, they see it as healing and rejuvenating.
Hungarian Culture is nothing that you could expect
If I could think of one thing that stood out in regards to Budapest’s culture, its ruin bars. Ruin bars are Budapest’s social hubs, old dilapidated and forgotten buildings turned into watering holes, sometimes furniture is picked off the street for the bars, and local artists contribute their work.
Usually, when you see a dodgy bar in a city you know nothing about, you avoid it like mosquitos. But I was with my Hungarian friend and she physically trying to drag me inside. No chairs matched, there was graffiti on the walls and some of the furniture was broken. I had stumbled into Szimpla, voted the third best bar in the world. The relaxed and easygoing vibe of the bar was a foundation for the city’s artists, actors, comedians and tourists to socialise.
Hungarian fashion was astonishing too. No embroidered folk costumes in sight (though I’m sure the same goes for Germans and lederhosen). Vintage wears mixed with high-street brands such as H&M and Zara. Some of the residents reminded me of 90s skate-wear with their taste in style.
Budapest is a lot cheaper than other European cities, so much that pre-drinks from a convenience store weren’t necessary. Shots were given out like candy canes on Christmas.
I had to go to the Sziget festival while I was in Budapest because
• It’s Europe’s alternative to burning man
• Ranked one of the best festivals in Europe
• All my favourite bands were performing
Check out the official website of Sziget festival here.
The week-long festival has a dedicated party train service that takes festivalgoers from all over Europe, its serious business. The festival was founded in 1993 based on an idea for a “dream nation”. The festival had a diverse range of programs for its “szitizens” such as improvised dance, yoga, ceramics, fun fairs, juggling lessons, independent movies and talks on social issues.
You won’t go Hungry in Hungary
Hungary is most notable for Goulash, a soup heavy on meat, paprika and other spices. It’s usually served with various side dishes. The portions are massive, and I spent 30 minutes eating it. Of course, there is more to Hungarian cuisine to soups (thankfully).
Lángos is deep-fried flatbread topped with cheese, garlic sauce, and sausages. This dish is served down side streets. The recipe is thought to have originated from Turkish influence, but some think it comes from ancient Romans. Regardless of where Lángos is from, it’s tasty and worth trying.
Other dishes I was fortunate to try include:
- Cherry soup
- Hortobágyi palacsinta, pancakes with meat filling in a spicy paprika sauce
- Chicken pakrikas
- Hungarian pickled vegetables
- Kürtőskalács, a chimney cake prepared over an open fire, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon
- Somlói Galuska, sponge cake generously layered with chocolate cream, walnut kernel, rum and whipped cream
- Töltött Káposzta, pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with pork mince, rice and paprika.
Budapest is a city that feels like it’s full of secrets with countless side streets to explore. You can’t prepare yourself for the city until you have been there. However, with cheap food and booze, innumerable monuments and museums to explore, and health spas everywhere, it’s not worth missing if you have the opportunity.
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