Travel in Hungary: Grand Bargains in Budapest

Am I in Buda or Pest?

IMG_0478One of the first things I learned coming to Budapest was that Buda and Pest used to be two distinct cities, separated by the Danube River. They only recently united and became Budapest in the late 19th century, and were first connected by this iconic Chain Bridge.DSC_5785DSC_5630DSC_5638Although united, each one still maintains a unique vibe, and they both are certainly well-worth visiting. 😀

The Highlights of Buda

I would describe Buda as hilly and historic.

DSC_5705Because of its hills, one of the highlights of Buda is its sweeping panoramas over the city. Here’s the lookout from Fisherman’s Bastion, a terrace with stunning white-stone towers.DSC_5754Another viewpoint can be found at Citadella, a military fortress used by the Hapsburg Monarchy. DSC_5717You have the option of taking a tram uphill, but as always, I don’t mind walking. 🙂DSC_5746DSC_5708My favorite view was in Batthyány tér at night, with the bright lights of the Hungarian Parliament shining along the river bank.IMG_20161022_231002Let’s face it though, the whole city looks stunning at night. ❤DSC_5687DSC_5688Anyway, aside from being hilly, Buda is also historic for it’s home to the Buda Castle complex.

Buda Castle is a royal palace that can be traced back to the 13th century. 
DSC_5749The Buda Castle complex is now home to the National Art Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. DSC_5774The complex is also home to Matthias Catholic Church, as well as, a statue dedicated to Matthias Corvinus, a 15th century Hungarian king.DSC_5772The church was named for Matthias, since he was the last king married here, and the church’s history is quite unique, since it was also used by Ottoman Turks as a mosque, for almost 150 years.
DSC_5780After the Turks were defeated, the church was revamped, with the most impressive addition being colorful Zsolnay ceramic tiles that create a stunning pattern along its roof.
DSC_5778Lastly, there is a historic statue in Buda called Liberty Statue, which was originally built by the Communists, to show freedom from Nazism, but has since been changed to represent freedom from Communism.
DSC_5736They even have a statue alongside the Liberty Statue, of a man fighting a mythological dragon, to symbolize defeat over the Fascist state. DSC_5721

The Highlights of Pest

In contrast to Buda, I would describe Pest as progressive and posh.

The Hungarian Parliament Building in Pest is the epitome of progression, since it stands for both the union of Budapest, and also a newly democratic country.DSC_5619 DSC_5624Pest also displays progressive religious freedom, since it’s home to both St. Stephens Catholic Basilica and Dohány Street Jewish Synagogue.
DSC_5608DSC_5597DSC_5603This synagogue is the second largest in the world, and is also thought to be the most beautiful. DSC_5702You’ll even find a Jewish memorial here, to the victims killed during the Holocaust. DSC_5627Shoes on the Danube memorial remembers the lives taken by the Arrow Cross Party. During the Holocaust, in a mere six weeks, this party killed over 10,000 Jews in Budapest. DSC_5625Now one of my favorite finds in this area is a ‘ruin pub.’ Ruin pubs are formerly abandoned buildings that have been renovated into trendy nighttime hot spots. The most iconic ruin pub is Szimpla Kert.DSC_5793DSC_5800DSC_5788This pub looks like the inside of an antique shop. The main bar room has everything from vintage chachkies to a retro disco ball, and in the central patio, there’s a Communist-era Trabant car, now being used for seating. The pub is so packed with bizarre trinkets and covered in eclectic graffiti, you don’t know where to turn next. DSC_5795DSC_5797DSC_5798The pub also promotes sustainable agriculture by hosting a local farmer’s market, and as well, they’re trying to improve the community, by raising funds for non-profit organizations. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is. 🙂PicsArt_10-24-12.26.29Lastly, they have free live music. Here’s a taste of the band that was playing on the night that I visited. 😀

Aside from progressive, Pest also feels very posh. It’s a combination of both NYC glam, and the elegant rues de Paris.DSC_5645DSC_5651The boulevards are grand, the shops are designer label, and this leaves my backpacker budget feeling a little wary. :/DSC_5609

Grand Bargains in Budapest  

During my stay in Budapest, I was still able to experience the royal treatment, all thanks to a few grand bargains. Here are my top finds! 😀

Feel fancy at the Hungarian State Opera 

DSC_5664DSC_5668 I was amazed to discover that balcony seat opera tickets can be found for as little as 2 USD!20161022_193508With the option of either a ballet, musical or orchestra performance, I chose to hear the brilliant Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra.IMG_0473Their concert was in remembrance of György Cziffra, a famous pianist and composer, and included pieces by Beethoven, Brahms, and Bartók.IMG_0471No photos or videos were allowed during the performance, so I found a short YouTube video to give you an idea of their incredible talent.

Enjoy a cappuccino at the world’s most beautiful cafe

DSC_5949Inside the sophisticated Boscolo Hotel in Budapest, is the New York Café, an ultra lavish venue given the well-deserved title of, “the most beautiful cafe in the world.”
DSC_5942DSC_5959I marveled at the stunning frescoes painted across the ceilings, and the golden stuccoes dancing along the walls.DSC_5939DSC_5946DSC_5953Venetian chandeliers added soft lighting, while I sipped my coffee in style, listening to musicians play a classical melody in the background.DSC_5943Although seemingly not in my budget, a New York cappuccino or latte here cost only 7 USD.  DSC_5947DSC_5951You can guarantee I didn’t let a drop go to waste! 😉20161025_120904I’d say the price is definitely worth it for the incredible atmosphere, plus numerous celebrities have dined here, and it was also featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain. Love! ❤DSC_5938

Visit on a public holiday 

Without planning, I visited Budapest on October 23rd, which is the anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. This meant plenty of free outdoor celebrations, and free entry to many museums. I was able to visit the Hungarian National Gallery, which had traditional 19th century paintings, and more modern 20th century art pieces.30476793436_163b909a50_oHere were a few of my favorites. 🙂DSC_5765DSC_5766DSC_5767To find out more about this historic day, when the Hungarians rose up against the Communist party, I decided to take a Free Communism Walking TourOur tour guide, Ursula, was born in Communist Hungary, and spent many years living in Soviet Russia as well. She told us how Communism had ruled Hungary since the end of WWII, and they have only been a democracy since 1992. Soviet times were quite brutal, with plenty of spies, and people living in constant fear of being perceived as a traitor.DSC_5933

To learn more, she recommended a visit to House of Terror, a museum that was originally used by Nazis and Soviets to detain and torture suspected enemies.
DSC_5961
Because of this, I was surprised to hear her say that the establishment of democracy has been a disappointment. Although people now have more freedoms, they now have major problems like homelessness and political corruption. At least in the former Communist system, there was no unemployment, free healthcare and free education. That being said, she knows the people would not want to go back to how things were, and they are hopeful for a more prosperous future.
Indulge in local cuisine

On a more positive note, let’s talk about food. 🙂DSC_5662The food in Hungary takes the word hearty to a whole other level.DSC_5654DSC_5660I can’t imagine anyone hungry in Hungary. 😉DSC_5725DSC_5728For starters, one of the local specialties is lángos, a deep-fried dough that is covered in various toppings, like cured meat and hard cheese.DSC_5657Placki or potato pancakes are another favorite, topped with smoked sausage and grilled vegetables.
DSC_5727DSC_5726These heavy meals have food coma written all over them! I’m just waiting for these pigeons to start falling from the sky squawking, “Can’t fly! Must nap!” Hah! 😂😂DSC_5730Anyway, I knew I’d regret not trying at least one of these indulgences, so I decided to check out Retro Làngos Büfé.20161025_143425They had a variety of langos to choose from, but I opted for the local favorite, and the most traditional.20161025_143507On top of this fried dough, they smeared a garlic rub, spooned on tangy sour cream, and covered it all in salty cheese. It was the perfect combination for only 2 USD. I might even rank it a close second to deep dish pizza. 😮

Definitely a must try in Budapest!
foodAnyway, October is finally coming to an end, and Halloween is right around the corner.

DSC_5644
‘Godfather’ pumpkin found outside an Italian restaurant in Budapest

I can see Budapest is getting in the spirit, with loads of costume shops, carved pumpkins, and even flowers reminiscent of those found during Dia de los Muertos.DSC_5643For me, the end of October means my next destination- Transylvania, Romania. I’m ready for a most epic Halloween in this land of Dracula. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then. 🙂

Accommodation
I stayed at B My Bed Budapest, which was super cute and cozy, with plenty of security. 9227614343The hostel was located in an artsy district of Pest, which had loads of great street art too. 😀IMG_20161025_145751I also learned from my hostel that the mustache is quite famous in Budapest. The city guidebook even taught me how to say, “Can I touch your mustache?” Hah! 😂😂DSC_5611I also met a cool traveler here from Portugal. She’s currently a ski instructor in Norway, and speaks ten different languages! Overall, a very relaxing place, with lots of like-minded people.

Cost: 7 USD per night, including free WiFi, plus complimentary tea and coffee.

Transportation

From Krakow, I rode PolskiBus on a six-hour overnight journey, for only 8 USD. 

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