For the first time in six months, I’m ready to slow down with the travels. After my experiences in Bulgaria, I realized that I spread myself a little too thin. From visiting old family members, meeting family I didn’t know existed, going to a funeral, reconnecting with my parent’s friends, seeing my sisters old friends, and pretty much crossing the entire country from the mountains all the way to the beach… I was actually ready to go back to Madrid for a break. But, because I’m the crazy travel lady, I decided to go the cheaper route and book a ticket to Hungary from Bulgaria, then head back to Madrid 10 days later.
I’ve been looking forward to a trip to Hungary for awhile now. My closest cousin on my mom’s side lives in Budapest. The last time I saw him and his family was over 11 years ago… so it was time for a visit.
Upon my arrival, he surprised me with a birthday present – tickets to one of the biggest music festivals in Europe, Sziget. You can read about that here.
The rest of the time I’ve been here, I’ve been exploring the city mostly on my own and meeting family.
Buckets of blood and family stories
Although I only had a few hours with him, I got to see my grandpa’s brother, Chicho Stefcho (Uncle Stefcho.) He told me stories about my grandfather, our family, and much more. One that stands out is how the communists took everything from our family. Their father was a successful merchant, and when the communists took over, they put him in prison for being “bourgeouise” and being “too successful,” claiming that he was a thief. This was all a ploy to take everything they had. They then taunted him with buckets of blood, claiming that it was the blood of his wife, trying to force him to confess to his “crimes.” He never gave up. My grandfather went throughout the city and collected 22,000 signatures, finding a way to show them to the Minister, eventually getting his father released (8 months later) and some (very few) belongings restored. That’s communism for you.
How to spend one beer
Another good memory: one night, I order a beer before realizing that it was a cash-only bar. I head to the nearest ATM, whose minimum amount for withdrawal was 60,000 Forenti (Hungarian currency), approximately $232.00. There was also an “Other Amount” option, but that button was broken (of course.) When I returned to pay for my beer, the bartender was so surprised and delighted that I came back after being gone for so long, that she gave me the beer for free, leaving me with $232.00 that I retrieved for absolutely no reason. I was left with way too much cash for Hungary, and ended up trying to find the best Michelin-starred restaurants in Budapest, as well as some clothes (which were completely unnecessary). Lesson learned? Be prepared, always have money on you! Grrrrrr….
My overall impressions of Budapest
What a beautiful city! The city is divided by the Danube River, creating the “Buda” side, and the “Pest” side. The origin of the name is unknown, but there are several theories. One theory is that “Buda” came from the leader of it’s original Mongol settlers, Bleda. Buda can also be interpreted as “voda” or water in many Slavic languages. The “Pest” side also has a few theories – one being that “Pest” is very close to Slavic words “pesht” meaning oven, or “peshtera” meaning cave. The other theory is that back in the middle ages, there was a disease (pest) and the disease didn’t cross the Danube. Nobody knows the true meaning, but we can theorize all day.
I found out that Budapest also been deemed one of the “most livable cities” in Eastern Europe, cited as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, ranked as “the world’s second best city” by Condé Nast Traveler, and “Europe’s 7th most idyllic place to live” by Forbes. I can see why.
Here’s a list of my favorite places in Budapest, which are certainly worht a visit
This is a fancy-shmancy restaurant in the city center. Interesting dishes, very small portions, worth having one meal there. This was just one of the ways I spent that beer.
This is a beautiful area on “Castle Hill” on the Buda side of Budapest, where you can find noteworthy architecture, quaint (but touristy) colorful streets, and amazing views of the city.
District VII: The Hipster Neighborhood & Ruin Pubs
This has been my favorite place to hangout in Budapest. Here, you can find hipster cafes (probably too many), interesting gourmet experiences (like Koleves Vendeglo restaurant), awesome street art, and a raging nightlife.
Also, all of the “ruins pubs” you could ever ask for. What are ruin pubs you ask? Don’t be embarrassed, I didn’t know either (shhh.) As it turns out, District VII is the Jewish Quarter, and after WWII it was left in ruins. People took the opportunity to convert all of these left-behind buildings into an underground scene which is now poppin’.
Visiting the shoes on the Danube memorial was a bone-chilling experience. These metal sculptures signify how men, women, and children alike, were lined up on the river and executed. Not much more needs to be said.
Another Jewish memorial which I happened to stumble upon is in front of a large statue, dedicated to all of the Hungarian Jews which were murdered during WWII. The statue itself was far less interesting than the memorial constructed in protest by locals: family members of the victims. Their claims are that Hungarian politicians are trying to mask the fact that it wasn’t the Germans who were at fault here, but Hungarians themselves. Not because they only let this mass murder happen, but because many Hungarians held the same Nazi beliefs as Hitler’s party. I learned that the Hungarians were part of the third reicht – meaning that they were solely partnering with the Germans to provide them with housing, assistance with food, etc., not giving up their Jews. But history shows that it wasn’t the case. This new memorial constructed in protest tries to bring the truth to the surface. Here, you can find personal belongings of many of the victims, including suitcases, shoes, even pebbles.
Lunch in Slovakia
My cousin and I went for a drive towards the end of my stay to check out some views and take in some nature. We hiked up to an old castle on top of a hill with an amazing view of the Danube river, right where the river takes a sharp turn and divides Slovakia and Hungary. We then visited an enormous church which was built when Hungary became a Christian country. Finally, because we were so close to Slovakia, we thought… why not have lunch there?
All in all, I definitely had some unforgettable moments while in Hungary. I’ll be back again.