1. I window-shopped shamelessly.
My hotel was located quite close to Andrássy út, one of the most famous streets in Budapest. Andrassy is about a mile and a half in length, and at its end is a cluster of sites: the Heroes’ Square, the Szechenyi thermal baths, a real castle, and several other interesting bits of historical and cultural importance.
It’s also littered with high-fashion, unbelievably high-price boutiques. Everything was closed, since it was Monday and I set out from my hotel at about 8 PM (having landed in Budapest at 6ish). But as I chugged along through the freezing cold in my ski hat and Solomon boots, I stopped occasionally to bask in the glow of the glitzy necklaces, quintessential European boots, and whatever oddities are apparently the latest fashion. When I wasn’t gawking at who would possibly pay thousands for something I couldn’t identify as either a top or a skirt, I imagined myself as some kind of Very Very Fancy Lady who would absolutely stop and go inside to throw down mass amounts of cash, but keeps moving just because–puh-leese, dahlink–everything in the window is so passé.
2. I tried without success to make heads or tails of the Hungarian language.
Looking at words written in Hungarian (Magyar) put Greek into perspective for me. It can be frustrating at times to live in Greece as an English speaker because, though many of our words have Greek roots, many Greek words aren’t even close to their English counterparts.
But Hungarian? Looking at a word in Hungarian, I not only had no idea what it might mean, but I didn’t even know how it was supposed to sound; and it’s written with the Roman alphabet! Hungarian is without a doubt the strangest-looking language I have ever seen. Don’t believe me? Here’s that sentence again in Hungarian (from an online translator): Magyar van nélkül egy kétség a a legfurcsább – látszó nyelv Nekem van valaha látott.
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Luckily for me, everyone I encountered spoke English. And to my delight, I found a couple instances of my favorite kind of English: that which is used by non-native speakers for the sole purpose of seeming exotic!
3. I took a bath in a building that looks like a castle!
Trekking those miles across Budapest in the freezing cold, in a mad dash to get to the Szechenyi thermal baths before it closed, is undoubtedly one of my very favorite travel memories ever. The baths close at 10, and they don’t admit anyone after 9. I set out at about 8, and I had no idea how long Andrassy was; I only knew that the baths were at the end of it.
When I finally got to the baths at around 8:45, this is what I saw.
I finally found the back entrance (after a short panic over the locked front doors), and was rewarded with one of the most simply lovely and relaxing experiences I’ve had in a long, long time. The Szechenyi bathhouse is a must for anyone traveling to Budapest. It’s one of those elusive affordable luxuries, and it was hands-down the highlight of my night.
All around the outside, the bathhouse looks similar to the picture above. Inside the walls, in the center of the building, is a massive open-air set of pools and baths. The walls are yellow, and especially at night, the combination of the blue water, the yellow walls, and the steam rising from the baths is beautiful! The water ranges from cool to warm to hot, there are old men playing chess in the pools, and the whole experience feels oh-so luxurious and fancy because of the setting.
I’m not a girl who thinks about this sort of thing often, but as I sat soaking in a blissful daze in the hottest pool, I found myself thinking that I’d like to come here with my future husband one day, whoever he may be. The whole experience had such an air of romance, whether that was between couples or, in my case, with myself, basking in the glow of my self-date on my solo adventure in Budapest.
4. I froze my euphemisms off.
After three and a half months in Greece, the freezing cold of Budapest in late December was quite a shock! It was a welcome shock until I got out of the baths. I had been so cozy in that warm water, and as it was about 10 when I got out, it had gotten quite cold by the time I left. But it was good practice for Christmastime in Montana, and I definitely had fun walking in the snow!!
5. I failed once again at the whole trying-to-take-a-picture-of-self thing.
If I were a superhero, I would have two weaknesses: trying to get the attention of a waiter or waitress, and having pictures I attempt to take of myself be a perpetual FAIL. Some people seem to be inherently good at it. You can’t even see the telltale arm half on the side of the photo. I am not one of those people.
But I wanted some photographic evidence that I was, indeed, in Budapest. So I attempted. And then I attempted again. And again. And then my mittenless hand was chilled to the bone, so I gave up.
Self-portrait fail aside, the Heroes’ Square was really neat. I’m no history buff, but it’s a monument that is impressive even to those of us who have at best a cursory understanding of European history.
6. I washed down an entire pizza with a Hungarian beer.
I tried my darnedest to find a Hungarian restaurant that was still open and even moderately affordable, but no such luck. So I resorted to looking for places that had signs for Dreher, the predominant Hungarian beer, outside. I found an Italian place with said sign, and ducked inside.
I know this will be a shocker, but I was STARVING by the time I ate. I had prioritized getting to the baths before they closed, so it was 10:30 by the time I sat down in the restaurant.
That’s when I ate an entire pizza by myself.
The beer was good! I’m not a huge lager fan, but it was just what I would expect for a classic, good lager. It also went down great with the pizza.
By the time I got back to my hotel, it was 12:30, and I had to get up at four to go to the airport. At that time, I had no idea what a total and complete catastrophe my five flights home would be. But it was all worth it in order to have this lovely little Budapest adventure. I definitely recommend the city to anyone with an interest in eastern Europe, and plan to go back someday and get to know the city a little bit better!