“…coffee and cake can become a habit…”
– A random Trip Advisor review
I’m not what you’d call…cinematic-ally adventurous. Nothing too violent, but if it’s true to, or based on history (Narcos, Vikings, war movies,) I’ll watch it. I don’t like violence for the sake of violence. I hate romance movies and even worse romantic comedies, that genre feels like it’s made for people who don’t like thinking. I don’t like anything that’s going to make me cry or feel emotions deeply, I already do too much of that in my time as it stands. And for fuck’s sake I will never watch a movie of ANY type with my parents again. The number of times we’ve been surprised by a random sex scene that I’ve had to endure watching in their company has created more trauma than can even scratch the surface in my therapy sessions. I’ll not be burned by those moments ever again.
No – I like films which transport me to places. I’m incredibly appreciative of a director and writer who can capture an entire era, destination, and zeitgeist in words and film – that type of genius is not lost on me. Therefore, when I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel, for one in a handful of times in my life, I fell in love.
The film captured the magical, whimsical – yet hearty and stern essence of Budapest – if not central Europe entirely. Thus, a new item crept onto my bucket list WAY before the hype over Budapest took off. Despite my desire to visit simmering long before the Buda-movement, I was only able to get around to going last summer. I was on the hunt for the Budapest of my dreams, the Budapest of one of my favorite films, that Budapest. I imagined eating pastries and goulash, riding the funicular, lounging in the baths which haven’t changed since the World Wars, and strolling around art museums. I wanted quirky. I wanted artsy. I wanted historical. But, would I get it?
Well, here’s a photograph from day one.
Some people can jump right into the vibe of a city – I can’t. I am always thrilled the first day, but also terrifyingly aware that I am a small fish in a big pond. In every aspect of my life, it’s usually the opposite, well not when visiting a new destination – cities in-particular. In this case, as my readers will know, my type A, over thinking, over anticipating mind got the best of me. I looked forward to seeing the version of Budapest I had fallen in love with from a fictional film instead of seeing Budapest for what it was – a city which wound up being even better than I hoped once I let it show me who it was.
Day One Disaster:
My best friend and I allow each other each a “cranky day.” We are each allowed one day to be cranky, annoyed, frustrated, tired, but that is it. Today was my day. I’ll chalk some of this up to the heat wave sweeping central Europe, some up to my impending period, but mostly, my aforementioned impossible expectations. Much like an ungrateful spouse or parent, I wanted my version of Budapest, and while I enjoyed what I saw, it didn’t match the movie in my mind. Oh yeah, and all of this happened:
Another city, another day of having no idea how their public transportation works and using precious time trying to understand it. A heat wave blasted through central Europe at this time and we were drenched with sweat before accomplishing anything for the day. To make matters worse, we functioned on the littlest bit of sleep imaginable. When we finally DID figure the tram out, we took it in the opposite direction of where we intended to go. We wanted to take it to see the highly rated Buda castle, and eventually, we did make it there, only to find out that it was closed as it was a Monday. This was after waiting ridiculously long to ride the funicular, to the castle. I threw myself into the grass and declared my utter frustration before re-grouping and taking some selfies which underscore that I should never be considered petite.
The trek was not a total waste, as the universe aligned to bring me something up my alley, an exhibit on Frida Khalo. Frida and I are kindred spirits I like to think. We both, at times, walk the line between creative genius and utterly insane. We both feel things deeply and are drawn to chaos and madness. We both see ourselves in everything we produce, creatively and otherwise. We both don’t wax our eyebrows ever (screw the haters.) Amanda is not such a huge fan of Frida, but patiently waited on the bench while I read every little description of each of her work and uttered, “oh wow” after each one.
After, we decided to head over to Fisherman’s Bastion. A mecca for selfies and photograph taking with little else to do, as I saw it anyway. It was beautiful, picturesque, but overall a tic on an Instagram driven to-do list. While we were able to snap some pretty decent photos, let’s be real. It was a bajillion degrees out and besides taking photos, the only other option is to look out over the water and stare, wishing you were submerged into it. It was getting to be that time, booze o’clock, when I remembered the underground wine labyrinth suggested to me by a friend. We agreed that would hit the spot and as I goggled the location, I could not believe my luck, the place was within walking distance! We walked in the heat searching feverishly, yearning for the cool darkness of a wine cave and the lighthearted conversation and relaxation that polishing off a bottle of vino brings. Our GPS told us we had arrived, but the cave was nowhere to be found. We wandered up and down the street for a solid 45 minutes before realizing the cave was inside of a hotel. After searching the entire hotel for an additional 45 minutes, we were told the wine cave was closed for the season. Enter, two incredibly frustrated, annoyed, and worst of all, sober travelers.
We headed back to the hotel and decided to “nap it out.” We agreed that we would wake up refreshed and laugh about all of this over a delicious Hungarian dinner and cold drinks.
Except later on that night, everything was closed. We couldn’t find a single place near us to enjoy dinner. If you know me, you know I deal with frustration and disappointment extremely well. Except I’m obviously fucking kidding. I’m a miserable beast when faced with even the slightest, minor, inconvenience or deviation from my plans or dreams. And as you can see, this was way more than a minor deviation. We’re talking about not eating dinner for fuck’s sake!
Then, like a shining beacon of hope, the bridge shone and stood out. We decided to head that-a-way. On reaching the bridge, tons of young people were hanging out ON the bridge itself. It looked edgy, it looked fun, it looked like I’d never be able to haul my ass up there as per my complete lack of arm strength. That is where my love affair with Budapest begins.
Young people apparently hang out on the bridge and drink, chat, and just relax as traffic whizzes by. A group of women we met there suggested crossing over it and we would find a wealth of restaurants and bars. Before departing in search of sustenance, I vowed I would return and I would too chill upon the bridge at some point.
Finally. Budapest delivered. We enjoyed one of my most memorable meals to date – the infamous chicken paprikash. A perfectly cooked piece of chicken smothered in a creamy paprika sauce and served with Hungarian gnocchi. As if that weren’t enough, a cream sauce is served on top to even out the spice. This definitely makes its way into the top five meals I’ve ever had while traveling. Sheer perfection.
New York Palace Cafe: Bougie in Budapest. Frequented in days ago by writers well known and never known, the cafe as of 2006 has been fully restored to its original splendor. Some call it, “the most beautiful cafe in the world” and I’d be hard pressed to find a counter argument. I had an incredible experience here soaking in the decadence and opulence of a Budapest stuck in time. A string quarter serenades diners as they sip coffee, enjoy a delicious lunch, and of course nosh on renowned pastries and cakes. Of course we ordered Hungarian goulash (no better place to try it!) and finished with an assortment of desserts to satisfy the devil which was what my impending menstruation.
Nightlife: Budapest’s nightlife scene is insane. To start, the ruin bars/pubs are unique to Budapest and a must hit. Ruin pubs/bars are so called seemingly due to their appearance. Usually housed in some form of shanty building with random decor and lawn ornaments which give it a look of an elevated trailer park meets garage sale, yet aesthetically somehow works marvelously as each one gives an outdoor art museum vibe. We didn’t want to wait on line for hours, so we hit a random one and had several beers while musing over how good life could be. The beer was cold, the people were interesting, the decor was unique. What wasn’t to love?
With every intention of heading home afterwards, we stopped in a more typical pub after for one last beer of the night. Sitting next to a window which opened up to the street, we met a group of travelers (who themselves had just met) from Scotland and Ireland. They were incredibly friendly, fun, and suggested coming with them to a nightclub, and so we did.
Woah. Instant-Fogas was PACKED. Laying in a tin can with sardines would have felt more spacious. One of our new Scottish friends was able to get us in the door quickly where we immediately proceeded to the nearest bar. In fact, this night club mega club has several bars, all themed. All difficult to get to because again…PACKED. Due to the spontaneity that drinking a lot brings, Amanda and I found a bar, ordered some red-bull and vodkas, and found our way onto the dance floor practicing our coolest (not cool) new moves. The crowd definitely felt like it had a college/just graduated college vibe and so we kept each other entertained and tuned all the children around us out. Possibly one of the greatest moments was getting asked to dance/hit on by someone who had to be no older than 21. When I flashed my wedding ring at him, he stumbled back as though shocked. “You’re married and everything? That’s crazy.” Yeah, bro, trust me, I know. I sent him on his way and realized that the friends who were our own age and older, well, we’d probably never see again. We enjoyed each other’s company and complete ridiculous-ness as we continued to tear up the dance floor, sip red-bull and vodkas, and disappoint an unusually high number of frat bros that we were in fact married and off the market.
Upon leaving the club sometime in the early morning, we passed a restaurant which serves fried chicken in a waffle cone. Genius. Alas, it was closed, and so I practiced my incredible dance moves right there in front of the storefront for no apparent reason at all.
Hotel Gellert and Baths: At this point, I should mention that we were staying at the famed Hotel Gellert and Baths. It was truly, the closest imaginable place to the hotel in my favorite movie. I found it. A scene out of the Budapest of my dreams. Old worldly and yet refined, Hotel Gellert stands luxuriously and is in itself, a sight to behold. Although it lacked air conditioning, it was a welcomed stay after roughing it in hostels in the cities prior. There is no greater amenity than a private bathroom.
The day after our evening of dancing til dawn, we decided to relax in the Gellert baths located within the hotel. To start, we ventured outside and cooled off in the giant pool. Luckily, every hour the giant pool becomes a wave pool and you get to participate in trying not to drown and the collective whooping of, “WoooAAAhhhh” that people from all places and backgrounds all manage to scream unanimously. When the waves were at their highest, it literally looked like a scene out of the Titanic. A small girl clinging to the side of the pool was ripped out to sea (her dad laughed), strangers were thrown about and smashed into each other, people tumbled up on “shore.” I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. I’d worked my abs out enough from giggling and we bathed in the outdoor hot tubs.
After the fun of watching humanity in peril at the wave pool, we “sampled” each and every bath indoors. The indoor baths look exactly as though they could easily fit right into The Grand Budapest hotel. The baths have done a great job of preserving the beautiful look of antiquity made up from the tile and stone work. It feels exactly as though one has been transported to another era, perhaps the second World War.
Wine River Cruise: How do I even begin to describe the amazing-ness of this experience? It was one of the greatest nights of my travels.
As the heading suggests, we embarked on the classic wine river cruise around Budapest at night. Included was live string instrument music performance, some snacks, and 8-10 tastings (pretty much full glasses) of wine. Luckily, we were sat with the most incredible group of fun loving travelers ever who became our friends for the night.
We had entirely too much fun getting to know each other, feeling good from the wine, singing, dancing, and sneaking glasses of champagne from the floor above us. The sites were a wonder to see from the boat, and we were able to get some pretty memorable photographs.
Our tickets included transportation back to our hotel, which we said “hell no” to and asked the driver to drop us off at another location. Two of our new friends wanted to come, but didn’t pay for round trip transportation. So, in solidarity, we each took a piece of our yellow wrist band (which indicates we paid for transport) and made two full size bracelets for our friends to board the van with us to…
Street Food Karavan I’m not a food truck fanatic. I hate standing and eating. Eating is synonymous with relaxation and therefore needs to be done sitting. HOWEVER, run, don’t walk to Street Food Karavan. Seemingly endless amount of choices of food trucks serving many of the Hungarian treats on our “eat it list” including:
Langos – deep fried dough with cheese, sour cream, and an endless possibility of choices of toppings on top, probably much bigger than your head (not mine, I have the biggest one in the known universe)
Kolbice – The ULTIMATE drunk or comfort snack. I’m rolling my eyes in this pic because I didn’t want to stop eating it to take the picture. A bread cone filled with mini sausages or hot dogs topped with roasted onion and tons of cheese sauce. This is not a drill…it’s everything girls like me dream about.
After we met some random girl who invited us back to her hostel to use the toilet (I think she even came into the bathroom with me???) We headed to the…
Erzsebet Square – Prior to arriving our new friends and us stopped at a late night convenience store for more snacks and even more drinks. I will never…NEVER forget sitting with our feet in the water on the edge of the giant pool which overlooks the Budapest eye. We shared snacks, jokes, and personal stories about our lives back home as though we had always been friends. One of the guys and I jumped into the pool (it’s ankle deep) and raced from one end to the other which we found hysterical, but the police guarding the area did not. (We go off with a warning, naturally I’m pretty sure I did it again anyway…damn heatwave)
After Party on the Bridge – Wrapping up the night in proper fashion, what better way to say goodbye to such an amazing city other than drinking champagne and sitting on the bridge overlooking the gorgeous view in our pajamas? We hung out for hours.
A little over 48 hours was up, and it was time to move onto Berlin. I wish so desperately that we stayed longer as Budapest is one of my favorite places in the world to have visited.
My Little Melbourne: I have to give a shout-out to this adorable breakfast and coffee spot. Not only for the epic and random street fight I witnessed on the way there at 8:00 in the morning, but because their iced latte was literally perfection. Sweet (not too much so), creamy, and energizing. It was quite possibly, the perfect iced coffee!
What I Learned: I learned that Rome wasn’t conquered in an instant…so neither would be Budapest. I was so desperate for the city to stand at attention and reveal itself to me from the moment I landed, and I had to accept that the city is not that way, most places outside of London and New York City are not that way. The treasures are hidden within and take some time to discover, but once I found them, I finally found the Budapest of my dreams. Budapest was not an instantaneous love for me, but it became a genuine, deep, love nonetheless. It is a work of beautiful sculpture left over from days gone by. In so many ways it does embody the opulence of the past while surprisingly modern in areas. The nightclub I visited could rival any of that in New York City. It doesn’t serve me to have a grand expectation of what a city will “be like.” Rather, I would like to work on visiting a new place and enjoying it for what is truly is. Our next stop is Montreal and Quebec City. As much as images of maple syrup shacks, moose, and French speaking folks carrying baguettes laden my mind…I’m inclined to reserve my expectations.