The last trip I was able to go on was to Budapest, Hungary. This was an exciting trip with a bunch of my friends from the London program as we traveled for three days! Early Friday morning, we boarded our plane for the weekend journey ahead.
Before we left for the airport, we converted our British pounds for Hungarian forints. Due to a long and troubled history, Hungary’s economy is too poor to qualify for the euro, despite being in the EU. From the airport, we took Bolt, which is a taxi service that you order through an app since there is no Uber in Budapest! Luckily, Bolt was an extremely cheap option, especially since we had not yet explored Budapest’s public transportation system.
I stayed with two friends in an Airbnb in Pest. Budapest is divided in two sections by the Danube River: Buda and Pest. Our Bolt dropped us off in front of a very nondescript building where our Airbnb was located. Just a few streets away, our other friends had rented another Airbnb that was within walking distance. We were super eager to begin our day.
When we entered the apartment building, we were rather shocked. There was trash on the ground, broken windows, and a courtyard that seemed like it belonged in an abandoned building. Afterall, this AirBnb was an astonishing $27 each for three guests for two nights … We were beginning to think that maybe there was a reason as to why it was so cheap. However, once we managed to get through the manual elevator and walk to the opposite side of the building, we were pleasantly surprised with our cute little AirBnb that looked like an Ikea showroom! It wasn’t so bad afterall.
We got settled and headed to our friends’ other AirBnb, where we were presented with a similar building situation: intimidating exterior, lovely interior. I was extremely curious as to why the apartment buildings in Budapest seemed to be so ill maintained, but well kept inside. I did a quick Google search and read about the history of Hungarian apartment buildings.
Apparently, before the country was communist, these buildings were used as apartments for all social classes. The apartments that faced the street were for the wealthiest of society, while the back of the building hosted apartments for the workers and cleaners of the building. The common courtyard in the middle of the building, in which all apartments surround, was an area for all classes to mix and mingle with each other. This style of building was abandoned after the country became communist, and the upkeep of these buildings dissolved as convening for conversations was not encouraged by the regime.
As a sociology minor, I am extremely interested in the history of communism and Marxism. I was super eager to learn more about Hungary’s communist history during my time in Budapest because I had never travelled to a country that was once under Soviet dictatorship.
After exploring the buildings and reassuring ourselves that these apartment conditions were completely normal, we headed to get food at Mazel Tov, a restaurant that was not far from our Airbnbs in the Jewish Quarter. We all heard great things about the food at Mazel Tov, so we were willing to wait in a long line outside. It became a running trend in Budapest that nearly everywhere we went, we would wait in what seemed like a never-ending line.
The ambience and food at Mazel Tov was great. The restaurant served a combination of Jewish food and authentic Hungarian cuisine. But afterwards, I needed a nap to rest up before the night.
After eating and napping, it was time for more eating! We headed out on scooters to Divin Porcello, an Italian restaurant. As a charcuterie board fanatic, I made sure it was the first thing ordered for the table.
I would definitely recommend this restaurant if you’re ever in Budapest. It is right across from the river, so it’s also a perfect opportunity to check out the night views of Budapest after a great meal.
With our stomachs full, we went out to Szlimpa Kert, which is a ruin bar. We waited in line and walked into an experience like never before. Ruin bars are very popular in Budapest — they are abandoned buildings that are turned into pubs and nightlife destinations. Within the venue, there are several different rooms, levels, and an outdoor area, each of which feature a unique bar with different types of drinks. If you’re in the mood for wine, there’s a bar just for that, but if you’re in the mood for a mojito, there’s another bar for that too!
Each room was a little different than the next, but all of them included a mishmosh of items. Old TVs, a framed portrait of Jesus, graffiti, live music, disco balls … you never knew what you would get in the next room you entered.
The next morning, we set out on an ambitious day. We grabbed coffee at a local coffee shop that was filled with dogs. I saw a marshmallow latte on the menu and my sweet tooth HAD to have it.
Across the street from the coffee shop was a museum I had been looking forward to: The House of Terror. This museum has memorabilia from the two facist and communist terror regimes in Hungary during the 20th century. The displays and artifacts were very powerful, and those images will stay in my mind forever. While this museum covered difficult subjects and situations that many will probably never fully understand, I was glad I visited and gained a better impression of Hungary’s history and lifestyle in Eastern Europe after World War II.
To lighten the mood after our museum visit, I suggested that we get lunch with a view! We walked just a few blocks to Budpest’s 360-rooftop bar. Accompanied with heated igloos and a great view of the city, we enjoyed cheese and cocktails before heading to our next adventure.
Caption: No meal is complete without a cheese board!
After a quick pit stop back at the Airbnb to grab our bathing suits, we headed to the thermal baths. Our mission was to get there right before sunset to experience the bath in daylight, during sunset, and at night. The baths were incredibly crowded for February weather, but the heat of the water made it all worth it.
While there are a few thermal baths to visit around the city, we decided to go to one of the largest and most popular baths, Széchenyi Thermal Bath, which is located within a park. There are two main outdoor baths and then several smaller baths inside, as well as saunas and showers.
Just as we were about to leave, we saw a sign for a “Beer Bath.” We gave each other a look and realized that we all had the same idea: we really wanted to go!
We signed up for a personal room where we had unlimited beers on draft, received traditional Hungarian snacks, AND we were bathing in ingredients from beer, which are supposed to be good for your skin, nails, and hair!
To end the night, we ate dinner at a traditional Hungarian restaurant close to our Airbnb. We realized that most of our destinations on this trip were within walking distance from each other, which was very convenient. After our meal, we went to Instant-Fogas, which is two old houses converted into a nightclub. It includes 18 bars, seven dance floors, and two gardens, but even so, the place felt MUCH bigger than that. It also included a pizza place on the way out, which was the best way to end the night.
I personally enjoyed this venue much more than the ruin bar we went to the previous night. Each room at Instant-Fogas was different from the next in terms of music, layout, and style. I would love to go back one day!
To start our final day in Budapest, we grabbed some coffee and walked to the largest synagogue in Europe. While I am not Jewish myself, I have many friends who are and I grew up in an area that is heavily Jewish-populated, so I am also interested in Jewish culture.
Along our walk, we came across a market and decided to take a quick detour stop for some shopping. I bought some earrings and a ring from small vendors, and then we continued on to our original destination.
We arrived at the largest European synagogue, which came with a very long line. We decided to explore the grounds instead of the inside in order to better utilize our time on our last day.
We continued our walk and took some photos of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which connects Buda and Pest across the Danube River. This was the perfect place to take pictures as we headed to Buda for Memento Park.
Memento Park was by far the farther destination we traveled to within Budapest. It is located in Buda, but in a very rural area. We took Bolt to get there, and it took about 15 minutes. Once we arrived, we could hear communist music playing from the streets. The park includes statues and memorials that are leftover from the facist and communist regimes. Some of the statues include Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, and Fredrich Engels.
I explored the park in silence, walking around and taking in the history and significance of the sculptures. It was disturbing to think of them as propaganda that led to the genocide of thousands. It is incredible to think that these once stood in the main city, on display for all of the citizens.
Budapest remains to be a city that struggles to juxtapose history with modernity. Tourism definitely makes some areas more prosperous than others. While most of the buildings and architecture were reminiscent of the Soviet era, nearly every interior was modern and refurbished. It really makes you think about outer appearances and how there is often more than what meets the eye.
To end our trip in Budapest, we arrived at the airport to find our flight, once again, delayed. How fitting that the last trip I was able to take while abroad ended in a flight delay, as all my previous travels have also ended in some type of disruption as I returned to London. In retrospect, I’m not upset about any of these travel problems. Instead, they’re fond memories that make great stories, which I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Channing Capacchione, Study Abroad Correspondent
Channing Capacchione is a Junior at Boston University in the College of Communication
studying Advertising and minoring in Sociology. Currently, she is studying abroad in London as
she completes courses and an internship. She loves to try the best restaurants, shop around the city, explore the coolest neighborhoods, and find cheeky travel tips! Keep up with Channing as she takes on London and more during her semester abroad.