Delighted that we’d be ringing in the New Year with Trev’s lifetime friend & groomsman, Kevin, and his lovely better-half, Megan, we were eager to take full advantage of their visit to London and start 2016 with an adventure. The Rogers gave us the reigns, happy to travel for a few days pretty much anywhere in Europe with us. In the depths of winter, our criteria were the following:
1) Unique Character; given that weather conditions would likely be quite cold, we’d find a city that has a lot to see and do within itself, where we wouldn’t be relying on the outdoors.
2) City of Adventure; Kev and Meg are two of our most active friends, so we hoped to capitalize on the opportunity to pack a lot of goodness into a couple of days, with friends that would be up for the adventure
3) Somewhere New (for all 4 of us); Trev and I find that when we travel with others, we prefer to explore new territory so that our memories of that place are shaped by what we’ve discovered and experienced together.
After two weeks of research and a couple of late night Skype sessions with the Rogers, we’d landed on Budapest, Hungary. None of us had yet visited Easter Europe, and Budapest was on several lists we’d found for up-and-coming places to visit. We’d spend 3 days, 2 nights in Budapest, January 3-5.
After an incredible New Year’s Eve masquerade celebration in London, the four of us packed up our weekend bags and jet-setted for Budapest on an early Sunday morning flight. An easy 2hr 20min flight later, we had crossed the country and were officially in Eastern Europe! Things started out very well, when the cab dropped us off at our Airbnb apartment; for an equivalent of about 25 dollars per couple, per night, our 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom crashpad was AWESOME. Spacious, well-decorated, and a beautiful patio view looking out to the city. (For those of you contemplating using Airbnb yourselves, this was about the 7th time Trev and I had used the site, with incredible success.)
After settling into our new digs, we headed out to scope a good lunch spot. We didn’t travel far, before coming across a festive, cobble-stone street adorned with hanging lights and several eateries all lined up in a row. We picked one at random, and enjoyed a tasty and filling meal, accompanied by $1-2 bottles of beer.
We spent the afternoon exploring the city by foot – and GEEZ was it CHILLY. Being the middle of winter, the sunset was quite early as well, and the wind and weather grew more bitter by the hour. But that didn’t take away our will to explore and have a good time! Being one of the largest cities in the EU, there is SO much to see in Budapest, over a widespread area. The Danube river creates a wide gap between the two sides of “Buda” and “Pest”, and as it is in many European cities, all of the important buildings were built along the riverbank. The views from the river at night were absolutely stunning – parliament, and other great architecture all lit up like Christmas, twinkling along the river.
Not far from our hotel, were the remains of a Christmas market food stall in the center of the town square. Sensory overload hit us all as we approached the stalls; the incredible aromas of grilled meats & cooked pastries, along with the warmth that the cookers let off amidst the freezing temperatures, we were hypnotized into enjoying our first dinner in Budapest right then and there. We all shared a plate of full-flavored meats, stuffed cabbage, and other popular eastern European cuisine, and topped it off with a warm glass of hot, spiced wine.
Sunday night, we ventured out for an experience of a lifetime with the little secret of Budapest nightlife; Ruin Pubs. To explain this genius venture, I’ll quote ruinpubs.com, in which they describe the ruin pubs scene as follows: ‘In the 21st century…in the central area of the city new places were opened one after another in tenement houses and factory buildings doomed to destruction. These were equipped with rejected furniture of old community centres, cinemas, and grandmothers´ flats, bringing a retro feeling into these places.’ To add a bit more history for the WW2 fans tuned in, these tenement houses were those left over from the Jewish ghetto’s in the 1940’s, when Nazi Germany ruled the city. They had literally been untouched all of this time.
A ruin pub experience involves picking up a cocktail from one of the MANY bar areas scattered throughout the building you are roaming, and walking from room to room exploring the different antiques and unique atmosphere encompassing each space. Our ruin pub of choice was Szimpla Kert, one of the largest ruin pubs in Budapest. That evening we met some of the most friendly strangers from all walks of life, played in a round of foosball, modeled in several photos along bizarre, inanimate objects, and partied our little hearts out.
The following morning, Trev arrived back to our apartment with coffees and croissants in hand, urging the rest of us lazy-bones to roll out of bed and get the day started. Once we were all properly caffeinated, we tossed our swimsuits into a bag and headed out into the freezing, snowy weather for our second, completely unique experience; the Budapest Thermal Spas. Although there are a couple, we chose to spend the day at Szechenyi Spa.
As described on the homepage of the spa’s website: ‘Szechenyi Baths (built in 1913) is the most visited and much praised attraction in Budapest: relaxing, fun, affordable and, at night, romantic. In addition to the marvelous medicinal natural hot spring waters in the 18 pools, there are 10 saunas / steam cabins, several massage therapies, facial treatments, and more.‘
I would recommend a trip to Budapest in the winter, just to take part in this experience alone. Running from pool to pool in a bikini, in absolutely freezing weather, into a steaming warm, natural hot spring was a moment so unique that I can still play it back exactly as it was 6 months ago. After splashing around like children for the better part of 2 hours, Kev and Meg opted for a massage while Trev and I further enjoyed the relaxing baths. Take a peak at the video below for a glimpse of the thermal bath experience, showcasing Kevin’s inability to run in the snow…
We spent the remainder of the next 1.5 days in Budapest further exploring the beautiful, intricate architecture of the old buildings in the city, doing a bit of shopping (delighted to find that retail shopping was equally as inexpensive as it was to eat and rent a hotel), and indulging in more delicious cuisine. At one point, we even attempted a free walking tour, but due to the unbearable cold while standing still outside, Kev, Meg and I bailed early and left Trev to capture the rest of the tour footage on the GoPro. 😉 MVP of the day.
Top sightings over the rest of our time in Budapest included St. Stephen’s Basilica, where the beautiful interior of the church left us in a 20 minute stooper in front of the alter -the Budapest Great Market Hall, where we enjoyed incredible street food, and stocked up on packs of Paprika and delicious smelling soaps to bring back home – and the cat café. Yes, they have a café where you can enjoy a nice cappuccino, surrounded by your furry friends. Trev was skeptical. I loved it. Overall, we had the most amazing 3-day adventure in Budapest with our friends, and it has inspired it to seek out further Eastern European adventure this year! Stay tuned… 🙂