I’m still shocked I didn’t spend my weekend in Budapest consuming my body weight in marzipan. While the almond/sugar confection was certainly one highlight of my trip, the day and a half we spent there was so packed with activities and sight seeing that it’s certainly hard to choose the best part.
Christina and I took the night train from Prague to Budapest to meet our group around 8am on Saturday morning. We quickly changed and headed up to the Szechenyi bathhouse at the top of City Park in Buda.
(Note: Buda and Pest are the two halves of Budapest, similar to Minneapolis-Saint Paul)
The bathhouse was beautiful and featured multiple outdoor and indoor mineral baths. It is the largest medicinal bath in Europe, built in 1913. Each bath had a different quality and temperature, along with fountains and jets. There were also steam rooms, hot tubs, massages, and floating chessboards. We tried just about everything that didn’t cost extra money and by that time I was getting antsy to see more of the city.
After we changed, we headed to see Heroes’ Square and the striking Millennium Memorial commemorating Hungary’s thousandth year of history. The statues in the back of the square each represent the leader of the seven tribes that founded Hungary.
We then headed down Andrassy Avenue through a ‘go green’ festival featuring electric cars, new age bikes, and of course food. After tasting a ton of Hungarian pastries, we made our way to the House of Terror, an intimidating building that houses a museum and memorial to fascist and communist victims. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to tour it, but even the outside was eye-opening.
House of Terror, looking up
A little ways down the road, we stepped into the State Opera House, built in 1875 and adorned with sculptures of famous Hungarian composers. Inside, giant staircases wrapped around columns reaching up to painted ceilings laced with gold. It was breathtaking.
I would love to perform here
We finally made our way down to the River Danube and across the Chain Bridge to the castle district. We hiked our way up to the 13th century Buda Castle and found a chocolate – that’s right – chocolate festival. Inside the castle gates there were hundreds of stands selling chocolate everything, marzipan, cookies, ice cream, and wine. We scoped out every stand that had free samples and went back for seconds. It was a dream come true. We then walked in Old Town passing the enormous white, gothic Matthias Church and taking in the view at the Fisherman’s Bastille.
Looking back on Chain Bridge and River Danube
On the way back to the hostel, we stopped for dinner at a small pub covered from floor to ceiling with little notes that people had tacked over the years. There were layers and layers, and of course we added our own after eating some traditional goulash soup and Hungarian beer.
Back at the hostel Molly, Mason and I decided to hang out on the rooftop bar before heading out for the night. There we met a German, two Israeli’s, an Irish couple, an Australian, two Brits and two Swedes. The Swedes had guitars and played popular songs that everyone knew, like ‘Save Tonight’ and ‘Wonderwall’. We all got to know each other over beer and pretzels, singing and chatting about our various abroad experiences. Even though it wasn’t a uniquely Hungarian experience, it was certainly the most fun part of the trip. It was a throwback to camp, where you don’t really know anyone but you all bond over a guitar.
A few hours later we went to Szimpla Kert, the original ruin bar of Budapest. Ruin bars are housed in bombed out or abandoned buildings. A couple wooden frames stand holding up what can only be the entire building. Lights are wrapped around beams or hang from wires criss-crossing the open ceiling. Flags and plants hang in corners. It has a very urban-hippie-chic feel and a ton of young international travelers who just want to sit and meet their peers. It was an absolute blast.
Bad pic due to the dark and smoke, but you get the jist
The next morning Christina, Molly and I woke up early to go cram in some more sights before our 4pm train. We headed to the Jewish Quarter and I toured the Dohany Street Synagogue, or Great Synagogue. It was built in 1854 and is now the largest synagogue in Europe and second largest in the world. It was beautiful and detailed and had two floors. It felt odd to me though. I’m used to the majority of synagogues I’ve seen being small, intimate, and simple. The size and detail reminded me more of a church. However, as I walked along a hallway next to the cemetery and out to the courtyard, I was put in my place with the multitude of Holocaust memorials. Boxes with names of victims were stuffed with stones and candles. A rabbi’s name is engraved in the ground surrounded by a giant circle of stones. A large silver willow tree stands in the middle, each leaf carrying the name of a victim. It was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking sights I have ever seen.
Outside the Great Synagouge
Holocaust memorial tree
Next, we headed over to Parliament where we wandered the grounds looking at mystery statues described only in Hungarian. The Parliament building is huge and sits on the river and lights up with a glow at night. We went from there to attempt to find the Shoes on the Danube Promenade Holocaust memorial. The memorial is on the bank of the river, with bronze sculptures of men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes. The shoes commemorate the Jews who were ordered to take off their shoes, and then shot into the river.
Parliament from the Castle District. Only way to fit it in one shot.
After spending about an hour searching, we ended up finding only a local café with chocolate baklava and decided to take a break. It was delicious. Near there, we found a woman who spoke English and pointed us in the right direction. We ran into Hunter and finally found the memorial. Inside each shoe were candles and stones. It was very pretty in an eerie way.
Running out of time, we grabbed dinner (young rooster, calf’s cheek, goulash soup, and some mystery fish) and headed straight to the train station and boarded, crammed into a tiny compartment without lights, but lucky to get seats. The aisle on the train was packed so full of people and suitcases you could not even go to the bathroom. We made friends with two Slovak women and a Czech man and ended up drinking with them for the duration of the ride back to Prague.
I did everything I set out to do in Budapest, but since I was only there for a day and a half, I would love to go back and really relax and enjoy the city. And of course, I would eat more marzipan!
This is all Marzipan. I wanted to eat everything.