Our Prague trip ended with a beautiful meal at a café facing the famous and largely overrated tourist spot, the Astronomical Clock Tower. Vidhi and I collectively spent a whopping 28 euros which I questioned as I walked back to our hotel. Something you just cannot do in Europe, think about the cash outflow. Our next destination was Budapest and our train was early the next morning. Vidhi had practically carried her entire household in her luggage and while mine was smaller, it wasn’t exactly a backpack either. So, our real challenge begun when we reached the station, though well in advance, having realized that stairs were an unavoidable consequence of booking a euro rail ticket. Absolutely confused about the platforms and struggling intensely with the luggage, we finally made it. If there is one thing I have learnt is to pack light. Not taking a euro rail journey when in Europe is almost impossible as it saves time. But no person in their right minds travels with a 25 kg suitcase and a 9 kg brief case. Nope, never again. #Europe
We reached Budapest by lunch time and decided to step out immediately. Fear of missing out and having to cancel things off the checklist is real and daunting. We had booked this hostel called ‘Maverick’s’ which deserves a real shout-out here. The hostel was a 5 minute walk away from the Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe. Budapest is divided into two parts by the famous Danube river and the Chain bridge connects the hilly district of Buda and the flat Pest. We walked across the cafes that sit on the promenade of the river and checked out a bar on the way. The city is more relaxed and has a completely zen energy around it. Tired from the train journey, we decided to call it a night and just tucked ourselves in early.
St. Stephen's Basilica
Our second day in Budapest started with St. Stephen’s Basilica and a walking tour with a guy who was equal parts charming as he was funny (Read: had a degree in Hungarian History of the middle ages, I was swooning half the time he spoke). With the funniest anecdotes on Hungarian culture and its people, he led us through the city and atop the hill that has spectacular views of the Parliament building, the funicular that takes you to the top and the other side of the river. We walked and walked and walked and reached Mattthias Church which has gone from Romanesque style of architecture to Gothic to neo Gothic and is now the cultural and religious focal point where weddings and music concerts are held. After a long walk back home from the Fisherman’s Bastion to the Parliament building to our hotel, we stopped for a quick dinner on the way. Now for a quick snack or almost a mini-meal, having the Budapest snack 'Langos' is a must. We tried the savoury one which was topped with cheese and jalapenos and came with a base of crisp fried bread. It was hot and just what we needed after a rainy day in the city.
The Dohany Synagogue
The Cute Tour Guide
The whole attraction of Pest is the culture of ruin bars that can go unexplored if you aren’t really with a group. And while we did end up going to the most famous one, Szimpla Kert, we couldn't really explore the other ones. Falling short of time is a big struggle when you travel to a city for the first time. However, Szimpla is so famous that we spotted an Indian family entering the joint. Szimpla Kert is the mecca of all ruin bars and the culture started with these bars being built underground, in the ruins of abandoned buildings, stores or parking lots. Not so underground anymore and with a vast increase in number, these bars look like normal homes from outside. The vibe changes drastically as you enter and each ruin bar has its own personality and tone. There is usually a bustling crowd, people dancing, music is softer than in pubs or clubs and the vibe is eclectic, hip, artsy, chic. The place looks old and yet not unkempt, edgy and laid-back, Szimpla has a supremely relaxed energy floating around.
Another apparently important event in Budapest are their thermal baths. Just like the ruin bars, various baths have opened up but the one that I would recommend going to is the Szechenyi Spa. While the weather was really supporting us in Prague, it was raining a bit in Budapest. The walk to this bath was a good 1.5 hour long and we were skeptical. As we should have been. People usually take the hop on and hop off bus but Vidhi and I were extremely happy with how we had been diligently walking everywhere. There was a running joke that we could probably cross countries now on foot. With a lot of motivation and absolute naivety we woke up the next morning and started walking to the bath, in the rain. It was a task, almost as much as the euro rail situation. It was cold, windy and we lost our way. But we trudged along pacifying ourselves that we would eventually be entering a hot thermal bath. Ridiculous decisions, but offer a good laugh later in the day. We reach almost 1.45 hours later and entered the bath which was at 28 degrees when the outside temperature was a chilly 9. It was a relief. But the bath wasn’t as grand and exuberant as I had expected. There were some inside pools and a main area outside. The outside area was great, the inside springs seemed claustrophobic and didn’t have much space. But the price you pay is just 1k and that somehow matches the experience you get. So we didn’t complain much. But we were starving and couldn’t wait to head back.
Thermal Bath at Szechenyi
Our trip ended with the most phenomenal café that I visited probably on the entire trip. The New York Café in Budapest is an establishment that is a MUST VISIT. If you are going to complain about paying through your nose for one coffee, I suggest you still go. The most beloved coffee shop in Hungary, the cafe has been popular among writers and editors. Infact, the most influential newspapers were edited in the gallery upstairs at this café. Built in eclectic Italian-Renaissance style, this café looks like a normal baroque building from the outside but opens to majestic sparkle on the inside. I was drawn by the interiors the moment I stepped foot in this café and I could not put my phone down. I think my wide eyed wonder almost scared the waiters around, no kidding, I don’t think I have gaped as much ever. Another aspect of visiting such posh, sophisticated establishments is the fact that you can’t be fan girling. While people sat and sipped on fancy cups at high tea and chatted away in low tones, I couldn’t help but behave like I had seen a café this grand for the first time in my life. Heart on the sleeve. It’s impossible to tone down my facial expressions sometimes. We finally got a nice table for two and I still sneaked away with both our phones to shamelessly take a few more pictures of the other side. The vast expense of opulence was admirable. The ceilings were intricately detailed and there were carvings at places were cobwebs are found. Large windows with curtains prettily drawn aside, chandeliers and tables kept at equidistant spaces made me feel like I could move in here and wouldn’t miss out on much in life. I mean what does one even want at the end of the day? Some exceptional café setting around you with a history like this one, bottomless coffee and prettiness to gaze at all day. Right? Works for me.
There is no literature without a Café – stated Sándor Márai, a Hungarian writer from the 20th century, who himself frequently visited the historical building of New York Café to get inspiration.
P.S. – Vienna is a blog post away!