Budapest – adventures in Eastern Europe

I just got back from Budapest.

This was my second time there.

The first was just after I quit my day job – a present to myself for finally defeating the Spanish labor market.

I had a great time, wandering around and enjoying the sense of freedom. I was young, the weather was beautiful, and it was my first time in the East of Europe.

This time I was with Morena, and we ate good food, drank some palinka, and played with llamas.

It was Holy Week, so the llamas were part of the spring festival.

llama budapest
Hungary? Have some alfalfa!

Hard to get a good photo of a llama, incidentally.

Favorite restaurants in Budapest

I’m a fan of Hungarian food – at least what I’ve tried so far.

My favorite restaurant from the first trip was Tukory Etterem, and after we managed to find it this time, we had a couple of meals there.

The chicken with sour cream and cheese is definitely worth a visit.

buda castle stairs
Stairs leading up to Buda Castle.

Apart from that, we had a few meals at Börze, which has great design, a long wine list, and some modern takes on hearty European cuisine. My favorite thing there, actually, was the eggs benedict breakfast – or perhaps brunch, as the kids are calling it these days.

And the usual sausages and pork shoulder were great – although about the same as what I’ve had in Prague or Berlin.

Also worth mentioning is the raspberry soup. It’s about what you’d expect raspberry soup to be – creamy and pink and cold. Pretty good, actually.

If you want to pay WAY too much for bad sushi, head to Tokio, right next to the Four Seasons Hotel. I won’t be linking to them, because I don’t want to give my hot, hot SEO juice to businesses that suck.

The only interesting thing about the place is the fact that it’s the only place where I’ve looked at the wines and decided to get something cheaper.

I know: Mr Chorizo, refusing wine. But 7€ for a glass of some watery Hungarian red isn’t doing it for me.

Generally, though, the food was good everywhere else – and the prices are better than most places I’ve been in Europe.

More about that later.

But first…

Budapest’s Fabulous Architecture

I hardly know anything about architecture, but I really like the historical buildings in the center of Budapest.

The Parliament building, and Buda Castle on the other side of the river, are spectacular.

(Perhaps I should note that Budapest was originally two cities: Buda, on the hill, and Pest, across the river on the flatter land. You can cross the river on foot using one of the bridges, or you can take the municipal ferry for 750 forint – about 2 euros and change.)

Here’s a little video I made showing some of the architecture, as well as some vies of the Danube…

Other than that, the area around Szent Istvan Basilica is really nice, and the neighborhood on the other side of the Synagogue.

I assume there are better and worse places if you get out of the touristy areas. I’m no expert.

Changing Money in Budapest

Let’s just start with this little bit of advice I got a day too late: don’t change money at the airport!

There are a ton of places changing money in the center of Budapest, and your bank will probably let you use an ATM (with a currency exchange markup).

If you’re going to be changing money at a shop, you want to look for the spread between the “buy” and “sell” price for your currency. The smaller the spread, the better.

For example, if you’re looking at a place that buys euros for 250 and sells for 350, run!

Right down the street there’s probably a place where the spread is more like 310 to 330.

parliament building budapest
The Hungarian Parliament building. It’s even cooler than this photo suggests. And massive.

After that, just get used to dividing numbers by 300 or so. It can be a bit disorienting looking at menus or going shopping: Morena and I spent some time looking at clothes, and wondering if 80,000 forint was “cheap” or “expensive”. (Turns out, it’s expensive.)

I also didn’t have any trouble using my credit cards to pay for meals, taxis to the airport, etc.

Anyway…

One thing I’ve been contemplating recently – in these days of the debate about mass tourism – is whether you really see a country by visiting its capital.

In Berlin I had the same feeling as I did in Budapest: the rest of the country is probably nothing like this, and I’ll most likely never see any of it.

castle district budapest
That’s Morena, in the “Castle District” of Budapest.

It’s one of the side-effects, I guess, of cheap air travel and people trying to collect stamps in their passports – you spend a long weekend in some faraway place and then declare, “Yeah, I’ve seen it! Been there, done that…”

But have you?

Or have you just checked the boxes of the most-visited monuments: places that “the locals” probably visit once a year – or never.

(Ask a “real madrileño” how often he goes to see the big Velazquez paintings at the Prado if you want to test my theory. Or, uh, a “real Parisian” how often she went to visit Notre Dame Cathedral before it burned. Just sayin.)

Anyway, what do you think? Is hopping from capital to capital the best way to travel? Should I buy a Eurail pass and try backpacking across the whole peninsula?

Let me know, right here in the comments…

Yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.S. You might also like my article about tourists vs travellers. Or Madrid vs Barcelona. Or any one of a dozen other articles you’ll find on here. Enjoy!

Daniel
 

How did I end up in Madrid? Why am I still here 12 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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