Awkward situations have odd physical tolls on the body.
Your shoulders tense up so high they’re almost touching your ears, and your breathing becomes shallow, or quick, or both, or neither (seriously what is happening with my breathing right now?). Time also just seems to stretch out in the worst possible way, bringing you back to your childhood when 30 minute drives in the car seemed to take HOURS.
All of this compresses into one unrelenting mound of stress. But the funny thing is, you don’t usually realize how bad it is until you leave the stressful situation and get to a place where you feel more at home. You reflect, thinking “Oh yeah, this is how you breathe,” and “You’re right, my shoulders are usually below my jawline.”
If Vienna was the mother of all awkward situations, Budapest was our little oasis of relief.
I’m not sure what exactly made Budapest the breath of fresh air that it was. It could have been the people, the sights, or the wonderful bachelor apartment we stayed in. I think all three caught us off guard in the best possible way. I’ve always been told that Eastern Europeans are hard, and unapproachable, and that Eastern Europe was run down and not worth visiting.
To everyone who gave me that information in the past, you were all kinds of wrong.
From our first interactions in Hungary, we realized how warm everyone here could be. The metro attendants didn’t speak a word of English but they patiently took time to show us how to buy a ticket, stamp it, and brought us to the appropriate train all with a smile. Our AirBnB host had a personalized book of all the top 10 things she suggested in the area (food, drinks, sightseeing) the list came directly from her and the feedback she got from her guests, and it was not just a list pulled from Google. To this date, it was probably one of our top two AirBnB stays.
The bachelor apartment was also a reminder that sometimes when you are worn down, irritable and constantly annoyed, all you need to recharge your batteries is a room with some privacy and quiet.
There are a lot of mantras that we keep trying to live by during this year-long trip:
It’s chaos, be kind
Listen to your body
You can’t see everything all at once, take time to appreciate what you can experience
Unfortunately there have been a lot of times where we forget those mantras, get stressed out and fall in to old habits. Thankfully, our time in Budapest allowed us to reflect and adjust, we were able to tell ourselves “relax, listen to your body, and whatever happens happens” and we actually listened.
In the past we kept trying to tell ourselves that we needed to slow down, because no matter how much you cram into a day, you’re going to miss something. You’re going to miss a monument, a traditional meal, or a place that “changed someone’s life” and that’s okay!
But, in the past we were either driven by FOMO (fear of missing out) or excitement and adrenaline, after all we have a lot of people back home who are “living vicariously through us!” Which in sentiment is nice, but in reality can feel like a lot of pressure having to tell everyone that you are “Having the best time, not wasting a minute of it, soaking everything in!”
The reality of anything in life is that you need balance, not every day can be epic, because if every day is epic, then no days are epic.
In Budapest, we intentionally slept in, took time to make some delicious breakfasts (we got a little sick of cornflakes and continental hostel breakfasts) and allowed our curiosity get the best of us.
We had planned on only one activity per day, and even with that goal in mind we completely missed the first walking tour we tried to do. We arrived in the general meeting area and an enormous Christmas market popped up overnight, coincidentally the main stage took over the tour’s usual meeting spot and we had no idea what the tour guides looked like (often on the tour websites they’ll tell you to look for a certain coloured umbrella or shirts etc).
In the past, we would have panicked and been upset that we missed the tour we had our hearts set on, but we took the more nonchalant approach. The thought: “Meh, we didn’t pay for it yet, we’re here for a few more days. We’ll catch it later”, made all the difference. With this attitude, we explored a wonderful, albeit premature Christmas market (seriously who sets up shop on November 10th?!), wandered down the river’s edge and found a craft beer place with amazing beers and a fun vibe (more about that place later).
Each of these unique spots rests as a fond memory to us, the Christmas market had some amazing, yet CRAZY expensive foods. We didn’t see any prices when we ordered our dinner, and unfortunately also didn’t see that the plate price was based on weight, oops! As we wandered down the Pest side of the Danube river, the sun was setting and we were able to see Shoes on the Danube Bank a Jewish memorial monument, and some beautiful buildings on the Buda side.
I guess I should have mentioned Budapest (which we learned is actually pronounced Buda-Pesht) is made up of two sides of the river: Buda and Pest. So when I say we were walking down the Pest side, I don’t mean we were taking a stroll through mice, bugs and younger siblings.
The evening was capped off by finding a local brewing company called Hedon Brewery that was around the corner from our AirBnB, it had bright colours and welcoming staff. As we walked in, we were quickly outed as first time patrons, since we had no idea what “card” we needed to get a beer.
It turned out that they have a set up where you charge a beer card with money, then go back to the taps on their back wall, load your card in to a machine and pour yourself a desired amount of beer. As you pour, depending on which beer you choose, the machine would deduct a payment from your card. It was a pretty ingenious way to make you get off your butt each time you wanted a refill.
This city was the start to our “we’ll get there when we get there” attitude for the rest of our time in Europe. We continued this trend by showing up to a late afternoon walking tour the next day instead of first thing in the morning. We also meandered to one of the ruin bars named Szimpla to soak up its interesting atmosphere, and trust me there is a lot of atmosphere to soak in.
The ruin bars were part of the Jewish quarter that got bombed in WWII. A lot of the buildings still look like they are in ruins. We were told they were structurally sound, but I think that is up for debate. The trend of these bars started when a few friends bought one of the buildings for fun, and filled it with mismatched furniture and odds and ends that everyone in the community provided.
The original intent was to turn the building in to a summer hang out spot, and from there these spaces have become some of the more eclectic areas in Budapest. To give you an idea of what it was like, imagine Tim Burton and Mother Goose started an architecture company, and halfway through their construction project the building got bombed, and instead of starting from scratch or even fixing all of the bomb damage, they just kept building as planned.
Then they decided to throw in gadgets and marketing materials from the 60's-90's, added a few bar areas and kept their mismatched table and “chairs” (I think we were sitting on tractor seats and oil barrels at one point) and they had their bar!
All in all, I wouldn’t recommend getting too intoxicated in there, one misstep could lead to your peril, and getting "the spins" with all of that visual stimulation would be horrific! If you can handle your booze, I would definitely recommend an evening here enjoying a few beverages and a truly unique atmosphere.
So Greg, you found that you could relax in Budapest, what would be a symbolically peaceful activity to do on your last day?
Thanks for asking anonymous reader!
That’s actually a perfect segue to let you know that we went for a soak in the Gellert Thermal Baths! The Thermal Baths are a fairly traditional way to let the body loosen up in a hot tub-like atmosphere. This was an appropriate ending to a relaxing stay in Budapest, and a nice way to loosen our bodies up before we took a 14 hour bus to our next destination.
Travel Lessons Learned for Hungary:
Listen to your body and yourself. Are you tired, do you need a break? It's challenging to enjoy a place you're visiting if you're over-exhausted!
Take time for what is important to you, your journey is your own and as long as you enjoy what you are doing it doesn’t matter if it aligns with someone else’s expectations
Spontaneity doesn’t have to be extreme, it can be as simple as a minor adjustment to your daily schedule
Sleep and solidarity are sacred, a few days away from others and uninterrupted sleep can make a world of difference in your attitude and energy levels
Recommendations for Budapest:
Check out Hedon Brewery, it had so many delicious beers and was a very relaxing atmosphere
Wander through the ruin bar district. It is so eclectic, I don’t think words or pictures quite capture it’s magic. We really enjoyed Szimpla but there are others too, and go before 9 PM to avoid waiting in line to get in (especially on the weekends)
Buy a chimney cake and eat it while walking down by the Danube river (see photo below)
Visit the river during the day and the evening, the skyline can look very different depending on whether some buildings are lit up or not
If you have the time check out some of the thermal baths, we did a basic package and it was a relaxing way to spend a morning (go as early as you can to avoid large crowds). We chose Gellert, but there are other popular ones like Széchenyi that also have great reviews
Cost Breakdown for 5 nights in Budapest, Hungary (in CDN$):
Transportation: $33.83 = 28.15 (Flixbus from Vienna) + 5.68 Metro passes
Accommodations: $269.54/ 5 Nights in AirBnB
Food: $167.13 =15.77 (Groceries) + 151.36 (5 meals dining out for two)
Entertainment: $130.53 = 53.73 (Thermal Baths with locker) +10 (Walking tour) + 66.80 (Bars)
Miscellaneous “walking around cash”: $38.23
TOTAL MONEY SPENT FOR TWO PEOPLE: $639.26 or $127.85/day
As I said, you don’t often realize how much stress you are feeling until you are removed from the stressors in your life. When you have the time to reflect, acknowledge and appreciate how you were able to relax and try to bring that forward with you.
Budapest really was a turning point for us, and I’m happy to say we’ve taken a lot of time to reflect as we move, and prioritize activities that make us happy.
As they say in the Hungarian bars: Egészségére! (Cheers!)