When I'm in a foreign city, there's nothing I like better than to just wander around the streets with just a map to work out where I am at every other junction. Discovering the little things - gives me the feel of what it's like to live like a local. As I walked out of the hostel I noticed two things: despite the strong sun, the wind was biting and chilling to the bone; and the streets were well...pretty deserted.
This was Easter Sunday, so I did have a hunch that some things would be closed, but it seemed like everything except the most tourist-pandering outlets had closed their doors. It was 10am, but still I did expect more things to be open and bustling.
And it wasn't the closed-just-for-the-weekend kind of feeling either - mostly places looked boarded up; closed down rather than just closed. I'm not sure whether it was the effect of the copious amounts of graffiti everywhere or the dusty metal grills; but the smaller, tucked away streets felt as dead as they looked.
Unfazed but slightly disappointed at the atmosphere, I decided to look for a place for breakfast. Hungary is one of those coffee-and-cake places, so I was hoping to be greeted by an array of coffeehouses (kafehaz) along Vaci Utca, but somehow I didn't see that many around. I did see the Centrale and even went in, but the menu didn't appeal to me much and did appear quite pricey by Budapest's standards, so I left. There were a few convenience stores with pastries and the like for morning office workers to grab and go, but I resisted the temptation to just get breakfast there to find a proper coffee house.
After walking around quite a bit I finally found a little shop selling coffee and cakes - I didn't get the name of the place, but it was right opposite Vaci Utca and Erszebet Bridge.
There was a funny system of ordering - you needed to pay for your pastry before you were given a slip of paper with your order on it, which you would then proceed to pick up at the cake counter.
I barely knew what everything was called, but after a bit of pointing and sign language with a lady with limited english, I managed to place an order.
It was a long, hard decision, choosing which pastry/cake, but in the end I settled with two pastries - one rather long stick of the flakiest puff pastry I'd ever seen with cheese bits on top, and another sweet, again super-flaky pastry with some sort of cinnamon filling and dusted with lots of icing sugar.
It was still warm as I received it, and I munched gratefully at the outward-facing bar where customers stood and had their coffee and cakes - just watching people pass by. It was about 11am at that point, and there were slightly more people milling about.
My plan was to check out Gellert Hill and then Andrassy Utca, depending on how I did for time. From Erszebet Bridge area I walked down south and crossed the Danube and Szabadsag Bridge (yes Hungarian or Magyar is a notoriously difficult language to speak and learn), intending to start off at the Gellert Hotel and Baths and work my way up to the statue of St Gellert.
On the way I noticed a street with more people on it, and turned into it only to find a charming little easter market.
It had the works - trinkets, bags and belts, easter specialty items and of course - food. It was mostly huge wursts with a sort of pancake, but there was chicken, stews and heapings of potatoes and grilled vegetables.
I was still feeling peckish after the pastries, so I went for a bowl of goulash - after all, if I were to sample Hungary's national dish, where better to do it than at a seasonal market?
I was freezing at that point, so I quickly snapped a photo before siting down to devour the lovely soup-stew. (ok maybe I was a little more than peckish.) Goulash is commonly described as a stew but it's more like soup - beef is used, as well as vegetables of your choice and the ingredient that sets it apart from other beef stew/soup dishes - paprika.
A group of Spanish children soon huddled at the table I was at, and though my eyes were firmly planted on my food, I could feel their stares and gapes. I don't know what was so intriguing about a random lone female asian having soup in a market. Kids.
The goulash was good - light and beefy with a decent amount of beef hunks in it. I wanted to try some wurst and pancake, but I knew I simply wouldn't be able to finish an entire plate of it. That's just one of the downsides of traveling alone - you have to be very selective of what you try out to eat.
There was a surprising number of chinese/asian tourists around the market. Mostly mainland Chinese, I gathered from the accents.
These roasted bread 'rolls' were very popular - I saw them everywhere. I initially thought there were pork scratchings or something because of the way they looked, but it was just the coarse granulated sugar coating. I didn't try and of the market ones because they were too big, worth a few portions.
After the market I headed down to the bridge connecting to Gellert Hill. The Danube river separates Buda and Pest - the former being the cultural and historical part and the later, the administrative and modern part. The Buda side is where the Castle District is at - a large collection of where the main museums are.
Single park benches - not for the horizontally challenged.
Some tram tracks lining the Danube. They have a pretty reliable public transport system - despite the trams, trains and buses being old and rusty at least they show up on time. Which is more than what I can say for KL's public transport system. Or Kuching's non-existent one for that matter.
As I said earlier about the wind - it was bitingly cold, and so strong it made my eyes tear and my toes sting. I'm not sure why it was so windy - minus the windchill it would've been a balmy 14C or so, but with the gale trying sweep me off my feet every other minute, I found the weather very trying despite the sun.
The view of the hills from the bridge were pretty amazing though. But I froze my fingers trying to take pictures whilst crossing the bridge.
Apart from castles and goulash, Budapest is also known for its baths and spas, where one could simply soak in and relax the entire day. I didn't have time for go to one, but even if I did I don't think I would've tried it out - just not my thing.
On the southern slope of Gellert Hill is the Rock Church - as its name implies, is a church in a rock. Or rather a cave.
There was no service going on so I went in.
It's actually pretty cool having a church in a cave. In fact anything in a cave is cool.
That's me gesturing 'one more photo please!' to the girl helping me take a pic.
The paths that led up - I'm not sure which direction they went, as there were no maps of the pathways around, but just go up - can't go wrong there.
And the view just got better and better.
At each lookout point I'd be all 'oo this view is great' only to climb up a few more meters and be greeted with an even better sight.
The western side of Buda.
Just keep walking, walking, walking.
At the top there was the Liberation Monument, which was set to commemorate the liberation of Budapest by the Russians (which also signified the start of the Soviet rule).
Breathtaking views all round. It was definitely worth the climb.
Up at the top, where tourists had the option of taking one of the buses up. I appreciated the hike much more. And it wasn't particularly strenuous or anything.
One of the many souvenir stands adorning the pavements on the summit.
This reminded me of that Form 1 story we had to read - The Pencil. About a boy with a huge pencil. Can't remember what happened in the end though. His friend stole it or something.
Playing around with some decommissioned artillery.
I'd planned to see the Gellert Monument on the way down, but must have missed it. The paths were twisted and multiple and there weren't many signs saying 'you are here'. It was fine, I just wanted to check out the hills.
Graffiti is everywhere in Budapest. I think this was supposed to be some proper street art but it's been drawn over by other scribbles.
A little down the street was the Castle District, where all the main museums are. It's also a bit of a climb to the entrance of all the museums and such, but there's always the easy option for those who can't/won't make it. For a price of course. In the background is the Szechenyi chainbridge.
This is as far as I got. Entrance isn't that expensive, about 1600HUF I think? (~5 pounds) but I'd planned to get to the Heroes Square (at the opposite end of town) by the day and there wasn't enough time for both (I only had effectively one and a half days in Budapest). Maybe if I had another day...
There was a magnificent of the chain bridge from where I stood though.
Passed by the grand Parliment building, but didn't go inside. To be honest I wasn't even sure if you could - it looked pretty deserted from the outside.
Outside the Parliment building is a flag with a hole shot through it, with a plaque below explaining what it's all about.
My knowledge of the Russian Revolution and Soviet Communism all came from this great book called Animal Farm.
Communism was never destined to work (but when it did, they called it socialism). But anyway.
Wandering around more empty streets.
Somehow they felt the need to cage up some noticeboards/advertisements.
The Hungarian State Opera House, where I watched a ballet later that night for an amazingly cheap price of 500HUF.
Down Andrassy Utca, one of the main streets, also where the Hungarian State Opera House is.
Heroes Square, dedicated to people who died fighting for the country.
Bumped into a girl from New York while looking for the Dohany Synagogue. We found it a last but it was closed for Easter. I'd heard it had a great interior.
Including the Central Market Hall, down the Southern end of Vaci Utca. I love visiting markets and I'd been looking forward to it so I was pretty disappointed.
Church-goers on Easter Sunday. Taken mid-morning when Vaci Utca was still quiet.
The metro was good and relatively cheap, but I walked everywhere.
Snapping away in a convenience store, where our humble Maggi brand has made an appearance.
Caught a ballet - Don Quixote - on my second night there. The Hungarian State Opera House was supposed to be smaller than its counterpart in Vienna because some ruler had an inferiority complex, but nothing was said about quality, so the inside boasted a magnificent interior that was no less shabby than that of Vienna's.
The opera house was packed that night.
We were 'forced' to use the cloakroom - and pay 180HUF for it. It's only like 50p but there was a large crowd of confused people who'd been denied entry into the hall until they'd hung up their coats, including yours truly.
The next day, also my last morning in Budapest, I planned to check out a few cheap eating places I'd found online and maybe have a good brunch to last me till I got to Vienna. Unfortunately and coincidentally most of these places were closed, much to my dismay.
Just as I was about to give up and dine in the next available restaurant I saw, I noticed a flurry of activity on Deak Square, just across the road. I followed the stalls down Deak Ferenc Utca and ended up in the same market on Vaci Utca where I had the goulash yesterday.
What the heck. I love markets and market food, so why not.
I had half a serving each of pork chop and some spiced sausage. The pork chop was good, and went well with the onions and mustard. The sausage however, while quite nicely spiced, became gritty and dry when it got cold, which was very quickly.
Btw that's stewed rooster testicles. I was quite tempted to try it, but I'd be over-budget with potentially lots of leftover rooster balls.
I also treated myself to a wonderful cherry pie - cherry-picking the one that had the largest filling to pastry ratio. The cherries were thick and hunky, and it wasn't overly sweet, making it quite a delectable dessert.
Somehow I still wasn't settled - after the disappointing food-search in the morning I just wanted to treat myself to more. I got this pancake-like dish (though written as 'crepe' on the menu, but it definitely doesn't look like a crepe) with heaps of melted cheese and sour cream. Absolutely freaking delicious.
At the Metro station I spotted this stall selling those tree trunk dough snacks - only these were much smaller and priced accordingly. There was a variety of flavours you could choose from. I ordered a small one immediately, requesting half chocolate half cinnamon.
The way it's made is quite interesting - dough is rolled and pulled then twirled around a wooden cylinder, flattened, and grill-baked.
Unfortunately when my tree-dough (I seem to give it a different name everytime haha) was halfway being baked I was quite wary of the time and didn't want to risk missing the bus, so I regretfully had to pick one of the premade on-display cinnamon rolls and make do. At least it was still slightly warm, but I came to regret not waiting another five minutes when I arrived at the bus terminal with ten to spare. I suppose it would have been far more disastrous if I'd ended up missing the bus. Oh well.
Budapest was a mix of hits and misses. I'd been told that it was a lovely, cheap and rapidly industrializing city, but maybe that made me raise my expectations a bar too high. Things weren't nearly as cheap as I'd hoped (though still relatively cheap, as I realized when I continued the second leg of the journey in Vienna) and I'd expected the place to be a bit more well....vibrant. But perhaps that was just the timing of things. It's true I did end up spending some time just walking around streets - time I could have spent seeing some of the sights - but I didn't know it would be so empty.
I did enjoy the market though (and all the food I had there!), and the view atop Gellert Hill was nothing short of spectacular. The ballet was great value for money and I also had a great stay at the hostel.
It was a good trip.
It was a good trip.