Loading Map...

Are you feeling Hungary?

Written on: Tuesday June 16th, 2009

In the past, certain images had come to my mind when I thought of Budapest.  Mostly, they were basic: an eastern European city divided by a river with a difficult language and a history I vaguely knew.  In my mind, it somehow seemed like a tough city.  Upon arrival it appeared normal enough, but it was 11:30pm and I wasn't about to take any chances.  Fortunately, I had a place lined up at which to stay via CS.  I had an address and a phone number, but was lacking a city map and a phone.  So when the first rough-looking hostel tout approached me at the train station, I cautiously followed him to the place he represented.  After all, if my CS guy fell through, I would need a place to stay.  The hostel was adequate and the operators of it friendly enough.  They even gave me a map and showed me where I needed to go to get to my 'friend's' house.  With that I breathed a sigh of relief and started off on the 1.25 mile hike to Aubrey's place.
A self-diagnosed night owl, Aubrey didn't mind in the least that I arrived at his front door after midnight.  He welcomed me in, offered me a glass of water and we started chatting.  He was American, originally from Boston.  He had lived here a few years and had a local girlfriend.  It didn't take long for both of us to warm up to this new friendship and decide to go for a late night stroll though town. 
With a local knowledge well beyond his actual three years here, he showed me places all around Pest, thoroughly describing the architecture, history or popularity of each of the structures we examined.  We brought back some drinks and food to his place, after which time he introduced me to one of his favorite shows: 30 Rock.  During the ninety minutes that followed we watched four episodes, an occurrence that would soon become our evening ritual.
Awaking late the next morning, I quickly dressed and set off to explore.  Heading up the Andrassy, Hero's Square was my first stop.  Beautiful statues complimented the vast, open plaza, which later gave way to an extensive park system.  The temperature today was blazing and as I passed the public spa, I hoped for enough time to visit it later in my trip.  Returning back toward the center of Pest, I revisited a few of the sights that Aubrey had showed just a few hours before.  The neo-Renaissance Opera House was a spectacular structure!  Upon touring the interior, I noted that there was nothing playing that particular evening.  Maybe I can catch a show later in the week.  Moving on I came across the massive Cathedral.  Although slightly 'churched out' over the past few weeks, I took a gander inside and thoroughly enjoyed what I saw.  Moving on through the Vaci utca, I toured the shopping (read as: tourist) section of Pest.  Both local and chain stores abounded to the point where I was ready to find something quieter.
That's where Buda came in to play.  On the opposite side of the Danube River lied the other, older, half of the city.  Buda displayed what little was left of the medieval city it once was.  Temples and churches rose high above the banks of the river, and modern museums took up much of the remaining space.  But I didn't get the peace I had hoped for, as dozens of tour buses apparently had the same itinerary as me. So I strolled back down the hill and once again crossed the Chain Bridge en route for Aubrey's place.
After a quick dinner we headed out to meet some of Aubrey's friends at one of the local haunts.  And 'haunts' they were: huge open structures that wound around, up, over and through an unidentifiable series of rooms and corridors.  Some rooms had their owns diverse themes, such as a random graffiti room or a dentist's office.  Others bore the more traditional ambiance of an open air courtroom where a band could play.  All were fun!  It was also here that I was introduced to palinka, a local brandy liquor that was a staple beverage for all Hungarians.  We had a good albeit mellow evening before returning to Aubrey's to catch a few more episodes of Liz Lemon and company.
The following day was highlighted by dinner in the Jewish Quarter.  I tried fruit soup, which, despite its name, was superb!  The grilled lamb wasn't so bad either.  From the restaurant we met up with Aubrey's girlfriend and a few others.  He wanted to show me the diversity of local nightspots, so we hopped from a neighborhood joint to a reggae club to a surprisingly quiet Irish bar to a hard rock hole-in-the-wall, all the while chatting and laughing the night away.
My last day in town I once again explored solo.  This time it was more of a 'check people out' sort of thing, where I chilled at the park and read or window-shopped in the city center.  As Aubrey was planning to go on holiday the next day, we both agreed to chill this evening, ordering dinner from a local delivery place and watching a couple movies.  The downtime was nice.  Not only that, but it prepped me for another upcoming reunion in Austria.