Our jaunt through Romania was to be our last long(ish) trip in the same country. As we were soon to head back to Australia for a friend’s wedding gone were the long winded driving adventures and along came a few “pack it all in” stops. We still kept our two night minimum rule in play but we’d booked a ticket home from London and needed to make our way there. So next stop came in the form of potentially my favourite city in the world – Budapest.
One of the smarter things we made a habit of doing through our travels was to rent peoples’ apartments through airbnb. Sometimes we’d have an entire place to ourselves, sometimes we’d be living with the person/family who owned the place and other times we’d be living with fellow travellers. No matter what the scenario they all provided a new experience. One of the big benefits of this type of accommodation has been the ability to shop for a few groceries and cook our own meals. When you’re travelling for a long time you need to make your money last and avoiding the need to eat out for every meal is without a doubt the best way to save money.
So we rented an apartment for a few nights smack bang in the middle of Pest and it was absolutely spot on. Unfortunately it was freezing cold and raining most of the time but that did little to dampen this sensational city (pun fully intended).
Three things in particular have stayed with me from Budapest:
1. The House of Terror – this is a museum containing bits and pieces from the communist and fascist regimes that Hungary endured. It was also the headquarters of the secret police and many people were locked up, tortured or killed here. It really is a terrifying place to be but it gives you an extremely vivid account of the nasty side of those regimes. One thing to remember is that communism was (and is, I suppose) welcomed by some people as it evened out the classes. Poor people were no longer poor and rich people were no longer rich, there was no ‘middle class’ because everybody got the same thing. One of the biggest criticisms of communism is that it leaves a society without the incentive to advance, so economies become stagnant and things start head down the gurgler as corruption and greed come into play. It’s a tricky one to understand but it certainly benefits some and not others, at least in the short term. Either way it was a big part of Hungary’s past and is certainly evident as you stroll around Budapest.
2. The Pianist – we went out to dinner to a little restaurant in the old Jewish quarter and were sat right next to the entertainment – an older gentleman dressed in tails playing pretty much anything on the piano. We got to chatting and it turned out he’d been travelling the world for 30 years doing exactly the same thing and had just returned home to Budapest permanently, he was also adamant in reminding us over and over that he was “a pianist, not communist”. On leaving the restaurant he played us out the door to the tune of Waltzing Matilda and it was bloody hilarious.
3. The Pub – so we’re again walking through the Jewish quarter and we stumble across a tiny pub and crammed inside like sardines were a billion people playing and dancing to some of the most fantastic folk music I’ve ever heard. Turns out these guys were a Jewish folk band and they were just chilling out (well kind of, in reality they were going off like a raw prawn on a summer’s day) at the pub, taking turns playing instruments, singing, dancing traditional tunes while drinking and just generally having a ball. One guy was playing a jug, as in an old metal milk jug and it sounded amazing. We sat there knocking back beers and a few cheeky local schnapps’ while the craziness ensued, I’ll dine on the memories of those few hours for a long time.
Apart from all that, Budapest is stunning and you should go there. Do it.