My college girlfriends and I are beginning to establish a rather wonderful tradition. Last year we spent the final week of August soaking up the sights and the sunshine in Lisbon, stuffing our faces with natas (a love that will never fade), wine and the Portuguese classic that is duck confit. The day after we came back I moved out to Amsterdam; a very stressful few days of whistling through various places in Europe, but all in all having such a wonderful week just before a scary move really helped me to get through those first few weeks and months. Knowing that I had a strong support network behind me kept me going in those dark moments when it seemed like I’d never find my foothold here.
Well, fast forward a year and the Lisbon effect was beginning to fade. Months had passed since I’d had a good old chat with my girls, and every time I logged on to Facebook I was confronted with yet more wonderful events that I’d missed out on. I wasn’t sure if I could just pick up the phone and reach out to them, given that it had been so long and they all seemed so busy getting on with their own lives and generally other things. I was beginning to feel a little out of the loop, a little lost and more than a little bit lonely.
Our little trip to Budapest then, came just at the right time.
Budapest is a place that it seems like everyone and their dog has been to; indeed, whenever I told people where I was heading, it seemed my announcement was always met with ‘Oh, you’ll just LOVE it! I have so many recommendations for you, if you’re interested?’ As such, it was a pretty easy trip to prepare for as I just had to sit through a couple of lectures from various friends, family members and people on the street about all the things I simply could not miss out on. My friends seemed to have a pretty similar experience, so when we came to collate our notes we were simply overwhelmed with ideas for our 3-day trip; wine tastings, spa trips, hikes, boat tours, escape rooms, banquets, nightclubs, art galleries… We soon realised we needed to prioritise.
So this wouldn’t really be a blog post written by me if I didn’t do some gushing about food. With a pretty weak currency in place (the fontina), Budapest is a pretty cheap place to go on holiday in general, and nowhere did we reap the benefits of this more than in the realm of food (alcohol being a close second). Indeed, for the 3 short days we spent over there, we ate like queens on a peasant’s salary.
We threw ourselves into trying the various national dishes recommend to us: Paprikás Csirke (chicken with sour cream and paprika), Goulash, Chimney Cake and Lángos (deep fried dough topped with sour cream and cheese). Of them all Paprikàs Csirke emerged the clear favourite and I’ve already tried recreating it back in Amsterdam, to moderate levels of success.
- Bistro Zeller. This was the recommendation of my friend’s dad as he’d visited this tiny bistro a few years back and had subsequently had his mind blown. I can see why. This place is clearly a hit with the locals – we had to book our table months in advance, and even then we only got a two-hour slot – but I would fully fully recommend a visit. The service here was simply impeccable as the waiters talked us through the wine list (with samples, how fancy), the menu and the city itself. To start we had the most delicious complementary glass of elderflower champagne; it was so good we soon ordered our own bottle… And then another. To follow I had a starter of whitebait, with a main of rabbit wrapped in bacon; probably the yummiest thing I’ve had in a long while. And I eat a lot.
- Vintage Garden. This adorable little cafe/restaurant/brunch spot was right next to our hostel and boy did we make good use of it, popping in every morning to sit on the sun-drenched terrace out back, sipping smoothies and pretending that we were on an episode of Made in Chelsea. Particular shout outs to the scrambled eggs, american-style pancakes and the raspberry smoothies, which were so good I could’ve bathed in them (now there’s an image for you). All in all, a good price, great breakfast and lunch options, gorgeous shabby-chic decor. What more could you want?
Baths & Spa
So you may know that Hungary is pretty famous for its baths and spa scene. One of my favourite skincare brands, Omorovicza, is Hungarian, its success built upon its claims to use rejuvenating hungarian spa waters and minerals in each of its products. Now whether that’s true or not I can’t say, but I can tell you this: Omorovicza rules, and I bloody love a good spa.
After much uhm-ing and ahh-ing about which baths to check out, we eventually settled on the Gellert baths, a rather ornate building that plays host to a selection of pools, saunas and baths. Described like ‘swimming in a cathedral’ this is an experience I am not likely to forget, even if just for the architecture alone. With a high roof, stained glass and bare stone floors, to say that the Gellert baths are breath-taking would be something of an understatement. We went on our last full day in Budapest and thus we were starting to run low on cash, so we didn’t rent out swimming caps which meant that we couldn’t use the pools indoors, but the outdoor pools kept us more than happy. They even had a wave pool, which made for a wonderful juxtaposition between beautiful architecture and people relaxing their worries away, and a group of girls in bikinis splashing about in waves and generally going ‘whee!’.
I’ve been meaning to an Escape Room for ages – the appeal of being like a real-life Benedict Cumberbatch is just too much – so visiting the hometown of the phenomenon currently sweeping the rest of Europe was the perfect time to do it. For our escape game debut, we selected Gozsdu Mission, a very respected establishment next door to our hotel that was highly recommended in all of the guidebooks. Here, they offered us 3 scenarios: escape from a prison cell, escape from an all-white room, escape from a mafioso’s office. We chose the latter, solving the puzzle in around about an hour. It was a pretty intense hour – we’re a very competitive bunch – but it was a lot of fun and I’m already looking out for some good escape rooms here in Amsterdam. Of course, I was little use throughout the whole thing with my most valuable contribution to the group being banging my head against a wooden box, but it’s a skill I am determined to master.
Next time? I’m plumping for the white room.
I’m not really what you would call a “party animal”… In fact, I’m probably more what you would call “old before my time,” but I think I let my hair down a little bit in ol’ Budapest. Budapest is pretty well known for it’s ruin bars, bars that have set up shop in the beautiful shells of old, dilapidated buildings. Ruin bars are not really bars in the traditional sense – one big room with a bar on one side and a mass of tables in front – but rather they are structured more like houses, with long corridors, random stairways and rooms upon rooms of mismatched furniture and unexpected decor. Oh, and fairy lights. Lots and lots of fairy lights.
- Szempla. This is the most famous of the ruin bars in Budapest and one which we accidentally stumbled into on our first night in the city. This is a huge bar, with a large open space for dancing on the ground floor and a bunch of smaller rooms and drinking areas around and on the first floor. Bars are dotted throughout, so you’re never too far from your next glass. The lighting is sufficiently moody yet flattering. Girls wander from table to table, smiling coquettishly and offering men their wares. And by wares, I of course mean carrots. Indeed, Szempla has a long-standing (8 year) tradition of selling carrots to punters. I have no idea why, but I like it.
- Morrison’s. Morrison’s was the second ruin bar we went to, but whereas Szempla was more of a bar, this is quite firmly in the realm of nightclub. Morrison’s uses the multi-room layout of the ruin bar to its advantage, with a series of rooms that are themed according to their music – we spent most of the night dashing between the R ‘n’ B room (I am Beyonce) and the Retro room (I am Las Ketchup). Highlight of the night was dancing to the macarena in a room of mystified Hungarians. We honestly could not tell if they were bemused by our feel good spirit, or if they were just downright furious.
- ELLÁTÓház. So this is a cheat one as we didn’t actually go per sé, but this outdoor bar was located in the courtyard of our hostel, so I think we got to know it pretty well. With a thin veil of fairy lights as the roof and live music in the early evening, entertainment soon slides into nightclub territory with music blaring out until at least 3am. And let me just tell you, the music here is BANGING – Grease, Bon Jovi, Mark Ronson, Rihanna… You name it, they played it (all except Mambo No. 5). A good choice for those who want to set up camp somewhere for the night.