Budapest in a Weekend

Hero's Square, Budapest

After I arrived at my hostel in Budapest after a freezing cold, sleepless night on the train from Belgrade, I dropped off my backpack in the luggage closet and was out on the streets beginning my day of sightseeing. I discovered a free city walking tour and soon found myself among like-minded foreigners exploring the city. The Danube river flows through the city separating Buda, the hilly, greener, more expensive residential area, from Pest, pronounced “Pesht” by the locals, which is the downtown, traffic filled city center. I stayed in Pest in a perfect location for walking the city. We crossed the Danube on the famous Chain Bridge, which was the only bridge rebuilt to its original Grandeur after destruction. We climbed up the many steps to the Castle, the former royal palace, now empty, to take in the picturesque view, the massive parliament building dominating the landscape. We also saw the gorgeous Mathias church and the FIsherman’s Bastion “castle” before returning to Pesht to learn about the city parks, monuments, and our guides very honest opinion about Hungarian politics and life in a post-communist society. A few of my favorite lines from the guide include: “The government pretends to take care of us, and we pretend to work for the government.” And also, “Tax evasion is a national sport”. At one point we saw a park fence covered in locks with lovers initials written on them, locked on as a symbol of their commitment to each other. During the tour, I quickly made a few friends from Australia that were working in London and taking a weekend break to Budapest. After a much-needed hot chocolate, we all headed to the Jewish Quarter for some traditional Hungarian Goulash, which was probably the best meal I’ve had since coming to Eastern Europe. The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling Andrasy Avenue, the Champs Elysees of Budapest, and also visiting the Opera House, Hero’s Square, The Museum of Fine Arts, and finally, the most famed Turkish Thermal Bath in the City: “Szechenyi”, by the Vajdahunyad CAstle. The bath was an open air complex of warm steaming pools surrounded by ancient domed architecture. Old men were playing chess in the water. This certainly gives the impression of experiencing a foreign city, however if you’re a borderline germaphob such as myself, I’d advise you to arrive prepared. I’d recommend bringing flip-flops, a towel, and perhaps a bar of soap for the shower, and oh yeah, a bathing suit comes in handy as well. Seeing as though I had none of these items, I had to improvise, but still enjoyed myself nonetheless.

I returned to my hostel to see the owner giving the guests a sampling of Palinka, which is sort of a Hungarian version of Slivovitza. I passed on this in favor of his homemade beer which was fantastic. A nice end to the day.
The next day I attended a church service at the Magnificent Istvan Basillica Church. This was probably the most interesting part of my cold, wet, weekend in Budapest. The intricately carved candle holders, the ornate paintings depicting biblical scenes, the gorgeous domed ceilings, the ancient stained glass, the marble statues of saints, the incense, the “Holy” water, the lit candles….and the Choir! Wow.
The choir was angelic, and perfectly completed the service, which was full of tradition, ritual, history, and art. Whatever your faith or lack thereof, I highly recommend taking a peek inside Basillica if you’re ever in Budapest, especially on a Sunday morning. It’s a spiritual experience.
On Sunday, I decided to forgo the night train, not being able to bear another cold sleepless night in an empty compartment. The trip back, though 2 hours later, was a completely different ride, the train was warm, cozy, with time tables on each seat and even a dining car. This train was light years ahead of the night train I had taken the day before. I spent the 8 hour journey napping, reviewing my Serbian vocabulary, and finishing this piece. Overall, Budapest was what I expected from a European City: basically a living museum with numerous Cathedrals, Monuments, Castles, and beautiful ancient architecture. Budapest is bigger than Belgrade, had a better organized city transport system, less graffiti and less smoking, but for some reason, I just couldn’t wait to get back “home” to Belgrade.
Thanks for Reading!
Cao!

Szechenyi Thermal Bath, Budapest

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3 thoughts on “Budapest in a Weekend

  1. Hungarians are extremely obsessed with Americans, opposite to Serbs hating USA Hungarians love, adore, and worship America & Americans. Every hungarians dream is to goto America and anything American is the best thing.

  2. Hi Juliet!

    I am spanish guy living in Berlin going on a trip this sommer through Hungary and Serbia, as you tell in this post, you travelled to Budapest straight from belgrade at night, could you please tell me briefly about that train (where to get it, price, etc…).
    i saw on your links page the reference to the serbian railways website, thanks for that!!, i saw there are 3 trains a day between both cities, thats cool….

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences, i think i will have a really nice time in Belgrade.

    P.S: Have you been to Timisoara (Romania)???

    • Hi Alex!

      The Central Belgrade Railway Station is at the very end of the street called Nemanjina. You can get there by taking a bus to Slavija square and then walking down Nemanjina Street, or, you can take the Red Trolley (number 2) from pretty much anywhere in the city and it will eventually stop right outside the station. You can’t miss the station; it’s a giant, yellow building with arches in front. Once you go inside the arches, go to the right and outside of the building, then turn left, and you will be in a corridor with lots of ticket windows (these are for bus tickets). For a train ticket from Belgrade to Budapest, you need to go to the international window nearby there, which I think has its own small building, and its blue. It’s only open limited hours, so try to go during the day on a week day. They only speak limited to English, but you can make it work with some patience. There are 3 trains a day, you’re right. There’s one in the morning, one around 3 PM or so, and then the night train. You can also take a bus; I believe the bus is a little more expensive, and a little faster of a trip. (the bus tickets are outside the station in the corridor, domestic train tickets are inside the yellow building) My train ticket was 26 Euros, but that was for 2 ways, if you’re only going 1 way, it may be cheaper. So buy the ticket, and then make a reservation with them for the train time you want. They will give you a token and make sure you ask what platform the train leaves from. Then, bring your token and ticket with you to the train platform a few minutes before the train leaves, and give your token to the person that lets you onto the train area. You will need your ticket and passport on you because they will check it several times during the night. I’ve been told the trains can get quite hot in the summer, so I’d bring water with you, there is nothing sold on the night train.

      Good Luck, and I hope you have lots of fun! I haven’t been to Timisoara, but would love to go someday.
      Thanks for reading my blog! 🙂

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