Hitting a High in Hungary

It was 11 o’clock on a Wednesday night.  I had been up since 7am for an early morning class and then spent the rest of the day running around doing errands.  My body was putting itself into power-saving mode, and sleep was all I wanted in that moment.  A simple request, right? Wrong.  I was flying on a particularly turbulent flight to Budapest, surrounded by a Danish soccer team who were all slightly intoxicated and screaming to each other from different sections on the plane.

The guys I was sitting beside were very friendly – so friendly that they kept offering me their beers every five minutes, even though I repeatedly declined.  After going through the typical travel questions (where are you from, why are you going to Budapest), I THOUGHT our interaction was over and I could finally close my eyes.  I pulled out my iPod and began scrolling through Spotify, trying to find the perfect playlist to serenade me to sleep.

“Are you going to listen to Justin Bieber or Drake?” The guy seated next to me asked, naming the only two Canadian artists he knew.

“No, I don’t really listen to their music. I’m more of a country fan,” I responded, putting in my earphones and hoping he would get my subtle hints. *Spoilers* he didn’t.

“Country music? Let me hear your favorite songs,” He said, taking one of my earphones before I could say anything.  For the next hour and a half we listened to a collection of my favorite artists because I didn’t know how to politely take my earphone back.

This is how my trip to Budapest started.  My roommate and I always joke about how we’ve hit our highs and lows in Europe, and – despite this strange start – Budapest was hands-down my high.  One might even say that Budapest was the buda-best.

It was 2am by the time I checked into my hostel, but there were so many people hanging out and laughing over some drinks that you would have thought it was happy hour.  Although I did stay in a party hostel – yes, me: the girl who likes being in bed by 10:30 with a cup of tea and a good book – so happy hour happened more than once a day.  Remember how I was dying of exhaustion on the flight? The energy from the people in the common room was so dynamic that it reinvigorated me and I somehow stayed up another two hours.

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Honestly, the main selling point for me was that the hostel had really cool nightly events, one of them being a night cruise down the Danube river.  The only thing more beautiful than Budapest by day is Budapest at night.  The parliament building was lit up in chrome and gold, the chain bridge’s row of lights stretched 200 meters from one bank to the other.  Little yellow trams, their windows lit by an orange glow, scurry to and fro up the river’s promenade.  Another bonus was that we all got a bottle of champagne, so Budapest wasn’t the only thing getting lit that night.

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As the boat cruised slowly down the wide river, I got this insanely beautiful shot of the Parliament lit up in shades of gold. It’s the highest building in Budapest; local restrictions prohibit any other building to be taller than it or the nearby St Stephen’s Basilica.

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When the Chain Bridge, or Széchenyi Lanchid as it’s known to the locals, was built, it signified much more than a link between Buda and Pest. It was the joining of East and West; the advancement and unification of Europe as a whole.

BUT the highlight of the boat cruise was definitely meeting another person from Vancouver.  After finding out we were both a Filipino-Canadian hybrid, this guy whipped out a full-sized Canadian flag from his jacket pocket and threw it at me.  This got the attention of a couple other Canadians on the boat, so obviously we had to take a picture together.

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The next morning, a fellow solo-traveller and I wandered around Castle Hill, taking in the rays of sun and trying to take cute pictures in the windows.

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Ruin bars are all the rage in Budapest, so for my last night a group of us went to check out Szimpla Kert, the mecca of all ruin bars.  These bars were built in Budapest’s old District VII neighborhood (the old Jewish quarter) in the ruins of buildings that were bombed in World War II.  From outside the bars look like normal homes: there aren’t any large signs pointing the way and you don’t hear any loud noises.  But the minute I stepped foot and entered the inner courtyard, I found myself in the midst of a hip and funky bar bustling with crowds talking, dancing, and enjoying the unique atmosphere.

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When you’re in these bars, you feel like you’re tripping out.  None of the furniture matches.  The ceilings are all designed differently. There’s furniture on the walls and ceiling, as well as a room with old screens flashing optical illusions.  The places haven’t been repaired or fixed up, and there are still holes in the walls and visible pipes everywhere. I could have stayed there for hours.

During my trip, I met a girl who had graduated high school in June and backpacked around Europe for four months in September.  During her trip, she stayed in the same hostel in Budapest and had loved the staff and city so much, that after returning to the USA in December, she immediately booked a trip back to Budapest. I relate to her story so much.  I had such a hard time boarding my flight because I didn’t want to leave.  It’s only been a few weeks since my trip to Budapest, but I already want to go back.  I absolutely adored the city and all its history, and could easily have stayed another week.

Alas, I watched the city grow smaller and smaller as the airplane climbed into the sky.  Onto the next destination tomorrow.

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