Blown away by Buda one day, thinking Pest is Best the next.
That was the never-ending debate that plagued my thoughts during my time in what has come to be my favorite European city. I suppose I had it pretty good if that was the most difficult thing I was struggling with at the time.
I spent three nights in Budapest, the longest stop on our Spring Break European tour. We took a train from Vienna on the Saturday morning before Easter. I think we were both a little bit happy to leave Vienna, not because we were tired of the gorgeous buildings or the endless opportunities to try Schnitzel, but because we were exhausted. 24 hours in Vienna is quite a taxing undertaking and we needed a rest in our touring. We got on the train and sat ourselves down in 1st class. (Something to note is that on every train we got on, no one checked our tickets until we were well underway, sometimes even across an international border, and the tickets/seats were never clear as to where we were or were not permitted to sit.) We enjoyed 1st class for a total of about 20 minutes before we were told that we could continue sitting there if we paid the difference. We did a walk of shame to the back of the train, along with dozens of other travelers in the same position, and found ourselves sitting in coach, something we were not thrilled about.
Navigating over 20 miles from the train station through the Hungarian metro system and walking several blocks to our apartment was surprisingly easy and we found our destination without incident. Once we were let in, got the keys and a very thorough orientation to the city from the owner of our apartment, we were off again.
We had one agenda: to take as many pictures and see as much of the city as we possibly could until our inevitable departure.
Budapest is a large city, one of the largest within the European Union, and is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, that are separated by the Danube River and were officially united in 1873 following the connection of the first permanent bridge, the Chain Bridge, built in 1849. The entirety of both cities covers over 200 square miles and has over 3 million people. The city has an immense history, ranging from occupancy of the Celts before 1 AD to Roman settlements to Hungarian kingdoms in the 10th century, the Italian Renaissance, sieges and ruling by the Ottoman Empire, reclaiming of the city from the Ottomans by the Hungarians, the Russian Empire moving in, Nazi German occupation, Soviet Occupation, and many, many battles. The entire city is sprinkled with statues, monuments, and other dedications to the memories of this history, the lives that were lost, and the culture that continues.
Before embarking on this journey, I was absent-mindedly scrolling through Instagram while I had some free time in the Netherlands, and one of the many travel accounts that I follow featured a picture of a monument in a location that I knew I would be traveling to during my Spring Break trip. When the time actually came to leave, I could not remember where I had seen the picture, what the name of the monument was called, or where it was located. I tried and tried to find it and I was 95% sure that it was in Budapest but all of my Google searches for “monuments in Budapest” turned up short. It wasn’t until our very last night there when I happened to stumble across it on a random Budapest travel website. The monument I was looking for was located in City Park, a park that we had already taken the metro to and spent the day in on Easter Sunday. We hustled out of our apartment and metro-ed back to the park to find the monument. It was dark and hard to fully appreciate it, but I was so happy I had finally discovered where it was before we left. The monument in question was built in 2006 during the 50 year anniversary of the anti-Soviet revolt in which Hungary had declared it would leave the Warsaw Pact and become neutral. The monument is in the shape of a wedge and features many rusted iron columns that eventually become shiny at the tip of the wedge and end in an intersection, symbolizing the Hungarian forces that temporarily wiped out the Communist leadership. I can’t explain why I found this monument so fascinating, but I do know that when I make my way back to Budapest, my first stop will be to visit during the day.
The rest of City Park has a lot to offer, as many of the top destinations in Budapest are located within the park. The first time we went to visit was on Easter Sunday. We took the metro over to visit and found a huge outdoor festival taking place. It was a lot of fun to walk through the crowds and tents selling homemade wine and cheese and sausage and pastries.
We had fresh Kürtőskalács- chimney cakes- that are made from strips of dough spun around a cone and cooked over charcoal, then coated in sugar.
We followed that up with langos- fried dough topped with sour cream, garlic and cheese- basically the Hungarian take on pizza.
City Park is also home to Hősök tere or Heroes’ Square in English, one of the main squares in Budapest. This square hosts statues of important national leaders, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Museum of Fine Arts. A lot of political events are held here and it is crowded with tourists both night and day.
Vajdahunyad Castle (above) is also found in the middle of City Park and is surrounded by a lake. The castle was built in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition celebration recognizing 1000 years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest in 895. That’s a lot of history. The castle also holds the Hungarian Museum of Agriculture, the largest agricultural museum in Europe.
Another highlight of our trip was the opportunity to eat Mexican food. On Easter Monday we ate dinner at Iguana Bar and Grill and I had my first chimichangas in seven months, which is about 6 1/2 months too long. Considering how far away Hungary is from Mexico and how long it had been since I’d had such an opportunity, there was no complaining about the quality or the authenticity of the food- it was amazing.
Not to worry though as we did eat some authentic Hungarian food our first night in Budapest. We ate at a restaurant highly recommended by the owner of our apartment and it featured a buffet chock full of dishes such as trotter, shark, and tripe, all of which I would eat again.
What was really cool about that dinner was that an older American couple was sitting at the table next to us and started talking to us, seeing as we were the only other Americans in there. They used to live in Virginia and were in Budapest to go on a river boat cruise through Europe, something that I would love to do! It’s always fun finding new people to talk to while traveling because you never know what you’ll learn and who you’ll meet along the way!
We spent the rest of our time in Budapest walking back and forth between the two sides and up and down the river, finding statues, castles, and cathedrals to photograph. Budapest is an insanely beautiful city and the architecture is absolutely incredible. There was a new surprise around every corner and one thing I really loved was how most of the art was just incorporated so naturally into the environment. The entire city felt magical, with over-the-top ornate buildings, thousands of gold lights, art and music everywhere, and a peaceful river flowing right through the center of it all.
I never was able to come to a conclusion on the Buda vs. Pest case. It was a debate that returned to Malta with me and spread between all who traveled to the amazing city during our break. Even now, months later, I couldn’t pick. Some places just require a deep appreciation amidst the uncertainty. And a second, or third, trip back.