On my first day in Budapest I woke up quite refreshed. Having not traveled internationally in over a year I was not sure how my body would react to jet lag but luckily I got 9 uninterrupted hours and woke feeling like a new person. For my first breakfast in Hungary I was excited to try some local delicacies but when you walk by a cute cafe filled with locals enjoying homemade pastries a beautiful Sunday morning you pull up a chair. As I ate at one of the outdoor tables I was surprised at the number of cute little dogs running around Szabadság tér / Liberty Square without leashes.
The day began with a tour of the Hungarian Parliament which was absolutely beautiful. Even though I had seen it from the river the night before I misjudgment the magnitude – I arrived 10 minutes early it took almost that long to get around the building and down to the visitor center. When I learned that there are 500 rooms it made sense!
My tour guide was local Hungarian and welcomed my English speaking group through the visitor center and into the building starting with the Golden Staircase. He announced that there would be 133 steps up and it baffled me how many young people took the lift. Sure it was 9am but when the guide asks if you want to walk up the golden stairs, let me help you out, the answer is always yes.
Something I would come to learn over the course of my whole trips was even though guides are very good at reciting their scripts in English they, for the most part, only knew a few adjectives and thus guide’s favorite was “nice”. For example, “now is the time you should take some nice pictures of our nice grand staircase.”
I really enjoyed the hour long tour and learning the symmetry which the building was based on – there were 96 stairs leading up to the dome is 96 meters tall representing 896, the year Hungary was founded. There was a competition to build the structure and the second and third place winners got to build their designs on a smaller scale across the street. The only item on the tour we were not allowed to photograph were the four Hungarian Crown Jewels – the Holy Crown, the sceptre, the orb, and the mantle which were displayed under the Inner dome spanning 27 meters above some of the country’s most prized possessions.
One of my favorite features were the intricate cone lights in the drawing room for the House of Lords with its’ blue carpet to represented the blue blood of the nobles. From there we were guided into the actual chamber room with 400 seats and computerized voting. I had to take a tour Sunday and was unsure why, well, Monday through Friday the parliament was actually going to be in session!
As I was left the Parliament Building I sat on a ledge to take this selfie and a man near me gestured to what I presume was his girl friend, pointed at me, and then they sat down a few feet away and took the same selfie. Glad I could be a trend setter.
From there I wandered through Pest heading to the subway to take a ride on the underground, the second oldest in the world after the London Underground, but first, the ferris wheel. Even though it was a total tourist trap I took a completely unplanned ride on the Budapest Eye and was able to see the whole city during the three trips around.
From there I headed to the uber-popular Széchenyi Thermal Bath. It is famous for its natural hot spring and thermal water so I bought a day ticket to enjoy a few hours at the bath. Having read reviews and after conversations with friends I made sure to take a walk through all of the baths, inside and out, when I arrived to ensure I would not miss any ones I would later want to try. As it was a beautiful day I changed into my bathing suit and read my book outside at the main pool while basking in the sun. When I got hot I joined the throngs of people in the main pool and even took a few spins around in the circular whirl pool.
I was actually a bit sad that I did not have a one piece, cap, and goggles as the dozen people swimming laps in the beautiful lap pool looked wonderful. I then headed inside and took a dip in a few of the pools ranging from 20°C to 40°C (68°F to 104°F). I was initially hesitant of the darkly green tinted pools but then realized that was the thermal water. After I getting into the warm ones I was surprised at how heavy and dense the water was, there is really no other way to describe it. Before I left I took one more dip in the outside pool and I think a majority of American girls need to take a cue from the local Hungarians – strutting their stuff in every manner of bathing suits regardless of body shape and they were oozing with confidence.
It was odd relaxing on my second of vacation but with only three days in Budapest I wanted to make sure I saw all of the top attractions and this was one of them. After a few hours I headed back to the center of the city and the banks of the Danube River where I quickly learned the word zárva. Maybe it’s just New York but in my experience things don’t shut on Sunday’s. Sure, most offices do but grocery stores, pharmacies, H&M and even tourism windows in prime spots were shut because it was Sunday. Heading back towards the river I saw Heros’ Square, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Hungarian State Opera House.
By 4pm I was back at the city center waiting on the steps of a famous church for my bike tour. And no one showed up. I was convinced I did not get the day wrong and had the printed confirmation in my hand to prove it. Luckily a local took pity on me, called the bike company, and got angry for me in Hungarian. It turned out they messed up the days and no one else had signed up for the tour that afternoon. I was quite upset and the nice local communicated this for me resulting in a full refund and an offer to do the tour the next day – okay then.
With three hours now free I consulted two very nice girls at a tourist booth and they gave me a few suggestions including a scenic walk to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Now I have been to a lot of churches, especially when I studied abroad in Rome, but I have never been to a church with no lights. The entire church was incredibly dark save for the candles near the entrance that were for offerings and one light illuminating the massive statue of Christ upon the alter. Per a local’s recommendation I paid the small fee and climbed the dome of the famous church.
Half way up the tower I regretted my decision. There were so. many. stairs. I looked it up afterwards and there were 364 each way. When I was almost to the panoramic lookout I stopped and gazed up as I entered the dome.Wait, this entire dome is held up by wood? It did not seem like it was reinforced enough to hold up the weight of the Church but I am sure it is solid enough for the thousands and thousands of visitors who come each week. The view from the top was gorgeous and made the climb worth it.
After more exploring I ended up at a beautiful restaurant on the banks of the Danube seated a little table outside watching pedestrians on one of the city’s most popular walkway. There were three restaurants all next to each other and as they all passed the people test I dined at the one with the highest rating onTripAdvisor, Dubarry Restaurant. I enjoyed the Goulash soup to start, a traditional pork wiener schnitzel, and a delicious raspberry tiramisu for dessert. It was the first time all day that I heard a great deal of English – there were Americans all around including one woman at a table next to me whose daughter lives in Brooklyn.
At the suggestion of one of my friends who did a solo trip last year, I signed up for a pub crawl. To my chagrin I was the only person who showed up – the ONLY person!!! I know it was a Sunday but still, people like free things and Budapest is well known for its’ nightlife. The guide reassured me this was very odd and after a swarm of 38 visitors on Friday there were actually two guides. She did however let me know that they are in the student lull – in the beginning of September all of the students who visit during the summer are back in school and those studying abroad have not started traveling yet.
Instead of throwing in the towel we agreed to one drink and so the guide and her British friend led me around the Jewish Quarter pointing out their favorite spots. They brought me to Szimpla Kert one of the most crowded tourist bars in the city and a place they never usually frequent but they thought it was important for me to see if it was going to be my only night out in Budapest. As I was with locals I refrained from taking photos but it was awesome and you can see pictures of it here.
After navigating the trolly cars like a true local I took a leisurely stroll along the Buda side of the river back to my hotel and collapsed exhausted into bed after walking 12 miles. It was quite a day exploring a beautiful city!