Thursday, October 24, 2013

A quick post on why - much to our surprise - we didn't love Budapest.

We thought we would love Budapest. We had no reason to believe otherwise so we booked five nights to allow ample time to check it out.

We saw Buda and Pest (mostly Pest), we got around easily using public transit, we walked 4-5 hours a day, we visited almost every green space we could find on the map, we found known and lesser-known fruit markets, we even explored the outskirts near the train station where one can sometimes find quirky shops or locally made inexpensive delicious baked goods. We stayed at a place called the Goat Hostel (no goats, only pictures, but still!) before moving to a more spacious hostel where they played excellent music at reasonable volumes all day long. We visited a ruins bar and a cat cafe.


You can flip through our Flickr set for proof of all of this.

But we did not love Budapest. In fact, no matter how hard we tried, we didn't even really like Budapest all that much.

We thought it might have to do with our tired, weary (OK, downright cranky) traveling moods but after talking through it days later we came to the same conclusion:  it felt like any city - Buenos Aires and San Francisco came to immediate mind. For whatever (misinformed?) reasons, we expected something a little more historic, maybe a little more exotic.

There is definitely history to the city. They are proud of their heritage and their (44-character) language. They talk about times other than WWII but they lived through WWII just like everyone else in Central Europe and while they don't dwell on it, they have mostly kept the downtown buildings reconstruction-free.  Between the bullet holes and the memorials there are constant reminders of that period of history.

But we found the mingling of past and present difficult to appreciate.  And as far as exotic...  There is definitely culture to be found, but things like "Van Gogh in 3D!" did not really appeal to us.  On the green space, the park on the north end of town was pretty and the park on the island was nice, but neither felt very welcoming. None of the green spaces felt very welcoming, in fact. Part of this is by design (homeless have been banned from major tourist areas) but still, it would've been nice to have more benches to choose from in the city park.

The one redeeming factor to us naive tourists was the free communist walking tour. We learned a lot about life in Hungary in the mid- to late-20th century, a perspective we hadn't gotten while in Poland or Czech.

Food notes:
  • goulash!
  • and great rye bread rolls at Tesco (a supermarket chain that sells amazing rye bread rolls... yes, we are sad to admit this but it's true)
Lodging notes:
  • Goat Hostel: was perfect for two nights. Really nice staff, decent free breakfasts, great location. The second night, our dormmate slept in the common area so that his girlfriend could more easily take care of his drunk self. Jen wanted peace and quiet at 6am to write that morning and couldn't find it anywhere in this small hostel.
  • Bazar Hostel: was perfect for three nights, especially because we booked a private room our third night in anticipation of not sleeping on the overnight train from Budapest-Brasov.  No breakfast but great coffee, all rooms have a sink (quite the luxury!), and Craig the manager was awesome - he made sure we had everything we needed during our stay. Although his staff were of the High Fidelity variety ("I hired these guys for three days a week and they just started showing up, every day - that was four years ago") they were always friendly and accommodating. It was in a great location, there was a nice big cozy common area (with a book exchange!), and the music was always amazing. Except for the music at the club that opened downstairs the night we got there... but we'll take that over snoring people anyday.
Perhaps if we naive tourists had been willing to spend more money on museums or other food/cultural activities, or maybe if we'd gone caving or out to the Buda Hills, or possibly if we could've gotten past our discomfort with the idea of public baths, we would feel differently about this city. We're sure we'd feel differently if we'd had a personal connection in Hungary or Budapest.

We know people who rave about Budapest so we don't mean to discourage visiting. If you're one of those people, we'd love to hear your thoughts - what did we miss? Do you have to immerse yourself to really love Budapest?


  1. FACT: Adam Carolla LOVES goulash

    1. Not surprising but we don't really love him either.