Budapest was one of the cities I instantly fell in love with. It probably wasn’t as traditionally pretty as Prague, but it just had such a great vibe of fun and life, and felt simultaneously busy and chilled. It was the kind of city I could see myself living in, as opposed to just visiting. The streets are all so wide and the buildings have an old school feel to them, not in a crumbling dead way but in a hip and happening way. Yes I just said hip and happening. But one of the main reasons I loved it and need to go back, is that after 3 days I felt like I’d barely scraped the surface. We saw and did so much but I have the feeling Budapest has a lot more to offer…
Our arrival in Budapest felt like the hottest day yet, if that’s possible. Having checked in to our hippie hostel (we love them hippie places), we decided a trip to the spa was the most obvious choice of activity. The supposedly amazing Szechenyi baths were ridiculously busy with mile long queues, so we sacked that off and went to the Gellert baths. This turned out to be an indoor spa but we were so boiling that it was a blessing in disguise. We spent a luxurious amount of time going from heated pool to heated pool to OMG THIS IS COLDER THAN THE NORTH POLE plunge pool. It was very refreshing. Especially when Laura decided to throw ice at us. Such children. The whole experience of chilling in the spas was so nice and relaxing, that at one point I actually fell asleep. In the water. Napping in all of the places just went to a new level…
One of the great things about Budapest was the nightlife. However we made an initial error. Having had amazing bar crawl experiences in Prague and Vienna, we thought the same should apply here. So we tagged on to a bar crawl just off the main square, only to experience the worst vibes of all bar crawl vibes. No fun was being had, no music was being played, and when I asked where the night would be taking us not one of the places we had heard of was included. Lesson learnt: Budapest doesn’t need bar crawls. The bars are good enough themselves. We ran away from those boring people and went to find Szimpla Kert, which had been described as a Glastonbury bar. It did not disappoint. Lots of the great bars in Budapest are called ‘ruins bars’ because they are in old ruined buildings that have open skies. Szimpla was one of these, but also had a million different rooms and alcoves with quirky decor and great R&B music.
We didn’t even get to explore the upstairs sections because we got stuck showing our party tricks in the main courtyard and then wandered off for, guess what, tequila. Tequila was definitely the drink of choice this whole holiday. You just can’t beat it, plus the measures in Budapest are veryy over generous. Szimpla was not the be all and end all though, oh no. After the ruins bars was the ruins club, instant. This was like an actual maze, made all the more confusing by additional tequilas. We eventually found our way into a dance room with a heat that hits you like a ton of bricks as soon as you enter. I’m talking sauna heat. The music was so good we decided to tie up our hair and get over it. All of the sweats, hi attractive. We are life.
Our second day in Budapest we spent out of the city, on the island of Sziget. Isn’t that a festival I hear you say? Damn right it is. Everyone in Budapest and Prague and Europe had been talking about Sziget festival, so we decided we couldn’t not go. As if we weren’t squeezing enough into this interrailing trip, now we had a festival to add to our list. Of course we went full out glitter tattoos and flowery accessories, because all the yes. We were there by 2 and so had the whole day to wander and eat festival food and drink cheap wine (thank you Italian Sziget bar). Music-wise there wasn’t much going on before the main acts but we found a DJ area with sprinklers which was our idea of heaven so spent a good hour dancing and making fools of ourselves there.
They had a cool art zone with nifty crafty things and gorillas (why not), a ‘Sziget beach’ which sounded exciting but looked skanky, and a cultural folk stage with flower and mushroom statues that played wonderful Hungarian music. One thing we learnt from walking around the camp was, we could not have camped. Imagine the heat and sweat magnified a million times plus no sleep. No no no. But it’s so near the city you could definitely get a hostel/apartment for the whole festival, best of both worlds. Once the music properly started we decided it was tequila time (always). We then discovered that we do know songs by Awolnation, and Kasabian are great men to jump and dance to. The next couple of hours were a bit of a stressful blur, we met people (‘these girls are everywhere’.. Not stalkers promise), we lost people, we saw Avicii and sat on tall men’s shoulders (best) and we generally loved festival life.
But the best part of Sziget and my most happy discovery was the after hours DJ in the woods. Now I don’t expect any words I can give will do him justice, but I’m going to try. Imagine all your old school gangsta R&B dreams come true, so much getting low your legs hurt, every song teasing and surprising and better than the last, and The. Most. Addictive. Wiggle. Remix. You have ever heard. I want to wiggle right now just thinking about it. It was that kind of random situation where we stumbled across a good song and dancing in the woods and it ended up being better than all our expectations. Every song he played was a STOP IT moment. I sat on the floor it was too good. I was overwhelmed and drunk don’t judge me.
The weird thing was this area wasn’t even busy, and the people who were there seemed mainly weirdos.. One man tried to stroke Laura’s face, another guy had ripped shorts and a glittery hat and had the nerve to judge our bumbags (shh), and one man tried to feed us dodgy Mojitos. I was like DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THIS IS THE BEST DJ EVER LEAVE ME ALONE I JUST WANT TO DANCE. Such a dancing diva. We took a short interlude to have a shot of Palinka, a lethal Hungarian alcohol, and make a video record of this momentous moment. Camera says yes (video montage will be made soon, don’t worry.. Embarrassingly great things to come). At 5am we said a sad farewell to our DJ love and lost grace (again) so thought we would give the dance tent a try. By this time only the proper hardcore scary people were left and the boomboomboom-no-melody stuff just wasn’t cutting it for us. So we laid our knackered bodies to rest on the grass and waited until we could gather together at 7am to return to our hostel. Great, great day.
On the night of the infamous Sparty (spa-party in case you were wondering) I unfortunately got ill due to too much partying. Slash fortunately depending on if you believe the STI stories. So whilst I ran home from the station to be sick and die in bed, Grace and Laura went on an adventure. From what I gathered, the general vibe of the pool party was a slash between sausage fest / malia style party / amazing fun drinking and let’s get wet time. They gave you a card that you put money onto, and then the baths were your oyster. The main learning that was taken from this experience, was that all important proverb ‘Boys look good with wet hair’. This does not necessarily mean that they look good with dry hair. Having spent all evening with some supposedly ‘hot’ boys, wingmanning and having all the funs in the baths, they arranged to meet said boys outside afterwards. At first sight of the boys and their blow-dried hair, Laura and Grace could do nothing except collapse on the floor in fits of laughter for an unacceptable amount of time. One boy had curtains. CURTAINS. It is not 1990 and you are not in A1. The other boy didn’t have the most terrible of hairs, but he was wearing a button down beige T-shirt, three quarter length trousers and green converse. Yes green. All there was left to do was pretend father Julian was calling (at 3am, obvs) and run out of there…
Most of our days we just spent wandering. We stumbled across a few lovely squares and green areas and a water feature that we sat and dangled our legs in. Let me tell you, that is exactly what you need on a hungover day. None of this dominos in a dark room watching films, out in the sun with your legs in a cool pool and you’re dandy. We even managed to lay down and do a little sunbathing. Until it got too hot so we tried wading further into the pool, only to have scary Hungarian policemen shout at us. The sights and buildings that you would want to see are quite spread out over both sides of the river (Buda and Pest) so we decided the only way was to bike it. Bear in mind that I hadn’t cycled for about ten years, so I was basically bambi on a bike. I was almost run over multiple times. Grace took it upon herself to be the bike leader and ding the bell whenever people got in our way. Which was unfortunately on the pavements most of the time, when it was actually our fault, but hey ho.
We took our bikes along the river to see the Royal Palace and the old beautiful buildings, and then across to parliament. I loved the fact that you can see the sights up close and also have amazing views of the other sights from either side of the river. We stumbled across the Jewish shoe memorial which was pretty humbling. And then we had a tyre-defeating journey across many cobbled stones. That’s right, I got a flat tyre. Because why shouldn’t more challenges be added to my first-bike-ride-in-ten-years? At first I just tried to ride it anyway, but that resulted in squelchy bumbly unhealthy noises that scared me. Which meant I had to partake in the ‘I promise I can ride a bike I just like to walk alongside it in this awkward way’ look.
The day went from unlucky to unluckier, as we attempted to book our sleeper beds for the 15 hour journey to Croatia only to be told by the train lady that not only were there no beds left, there were no seats left. We had two options: stay another night in Budapest and risk missing our ferry the next day, or stand. For 15 hours. Of course we went for the sensible option. We chose to stand. We presumed that there would be something vaguely resembling a floor where we might be able to rest our bodies and use our backpacks for pillows, classy. Rough and ready… From there, we took the metro to the main train station only to be stopped by train officers who discovered that our 3 day passes were expired by one hour.
They had no mercy, they fined us 8000 HUF on the spot. The evil woman even followed Grace the whole way to the cashpoint to make sure she didn’t run away… I mean, seriously. And then the evil man had the cheek to give us back our train pass and say “you can keep the ticket as a souvenir.” PISS OFF TRAIN MAN. It was like they wanted to antagonise us because we are stupid British tourists. So yeah, you could say that wasn’t the best day of our entire trip. Entering Keleti station was nothing like it’s been in the news recently, but it was still a bit of a shock to the system to see so many refugees basically living there, playing football and hanging out. We weren’t expecting it at all, and it took us by surprise to be faced with real world problems having lived in our interrail bubble for so long.
We were actually massively lucky once we got on the train (and sneaky), we fought our way on first and took the only unreserved seats left so we wouldn’t die from 15 hours upright. Laura ended up having to pay for hers but some Italian men charmed the train operator for us so we got away with it, score. As much as we had been dreading the overnight train it ended up being quite fun. We played Italian card games called ‘shit’ where you collect shit and clean up the shit. Italian humour? Italians were replaced by blond Swedish men. We attempted to sleep for a few hours which ended in awkward shoulder leaning moments and legs entwined everywhere. Naughty. The only negative/hilarious part of the journey was when we reached the border and passport control came stomping onto the train in a very aggressive manner. Grace just so happened to be in the toilet at this time (of course), but they would not accept this. They banged her door down and shone a light in her face, demanding she get her passport out immediately. A crime to go to the toilet? Whoever knows. All of the eventfulness. And then the scenery changed and we saw hills and coasts and THE SEA. We have arrived. Croatia you beauty, oh how ready we are.