For the uninitiated, Budapest actually refers to two cities separated by the Danube- Buda (pronounced Boodha) and Pest(pronounced Pessht). There is no way I could have even hit the major spots in 5 hours. Nevertheless, I had about 8 hours to kill in Budapest before boarding my night train to Warsaw. Jet lag be damned, I decided to check out Budapest with my heavy 40L backpack.
Public transportation from the airport into the city seemed complicated with three changes including buses and metro. Quite uncharacteristically, I decided to spring for a taxi. The good Samaritans on tripadvisor warned me : ‘beware of the taxi mafia at the airport, only consider Fo Taxi’. I looked up and found Uber was operational in Budapest and was cheaper, in theory.
When I arrived outside Budapest airport, there was a long line for the ‘Fo Taxi’ counter and Uber could not find cars nearby. The Taxi mafia harassment was getting on my nerves. I headed to the public transportation booth impulsively and bought a day pass. Apparently, the Budapest ticket checkers are ruthless and if you don’t validate your ticket, you could be in for a hefty fine. Day pass seemed the least stressful way to go. Armed with a pretty helpful map, I boarded bus 200E right outside the airport. The transit was pretty straightforward.I am not sure why almost everyone on online forums advised people against it. Of course, I should mention that I struck up a conversation with a helpful local who helped me figure out the right platform to catch the metro to the city.
Budapest metro is a sight by itself. If I am not mistaken, it is one of the oldest in the world and was a showcase of the Communist Govt. The railcars seem rickety but the journey is pretty smooth. I got down at Deak Ter, the confluence point of the metro lines in Budapest and starting walking towards the tallest building which happened to be the St. Stephen’s Church. This was on the Pest side of the city and it is a hodgepodge. Modern and gothic buildings shared the same walls! I think it is possible to find all European architecture styles in Pest.
I wandered along the streets and finally reached the impressive St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It is tall and imposing- a 18mm lens cannot capture the whole church unless you move back a significant distance! To get a good low angle shot, I lay down prostrate on the cobblestone pedestrian street in front of the church. Not sure how long I spent taking shots; but I was brought to my senses by a group of young girls who were laughing hysterically pointing in my direction. Apparently, the sight of an Indian guy lying down on the cobblestone streets with a huge backpack on his back is really funny.
I realized that my aimless strolls weren’t helping much. The best way to get a feel for the city in such a short time would be to join a tour: the Budapest Free Walking tour. Our guide was a lovely Hungarian lady who seemed totally incompetent. Her modus operandi was stopping every five minutes in front of some statue and reading out Budapest’s Wikipedia article in a modulated voice, while sporting a Monalisa smile. I was bored and was contemplating pulling out. Accidentally, I met one of juniors from my alma-mater IIT KGP on the tour and starting chewing the cud on those glorious 4 years. Small world!
Frankly, our guide made the Pest side of Budapest appear underwhelming. It is a mishmash of numerous architectural styles reflecting the plethora of ruling families that this area has had to tolerate. In my opinion, one building with multiple architectures is like mashed potato with every seasoning in the fridge- tasteless.
The Pest riverfront, with a view of the Buda castle, however, is amazing. I sat there gaping at the view; my first tryst with such a European view. Strolling along the river, we passed a small statue of a little girl whose knees seemed be shining whereas the rest of it was blackish. Apparently, there is a superstition that touching the knees of The Little Princess brings good luck. Touching statues seems to be the favorite past of most Europeans. I found blackish statues with shining ankles, foreheads, palms or knees everywhere I went. Basic human beliefs and folly transcends geographical boundaries; similar superstitions are found even in Indian subcontinent.
Strolling along the river, we soon found ourselves near the famous Chain Bridge with 4 lion sculptures guarding it. It took me more than 15 minutes to cross this small bridge. The view of the Hungarian Parliament by Danube, the Buda Castle and the stupendous view from the Chain bridge mesmerized me. Budapest started to grow on me and I realized why most people love Budapest. A month later, I still vividly remember the view!
At the end of the bridge, there was a steep path to climb up the Buda Hill. For those who do not want to climb, there is a Communism-era funicular. However, it did seem dilapidated and I wouldn’t trust my life to it. The view from Chain bridge was good but the best part of my short trip was the view from Buda Hill. I stood there for a while absorbing the view, completely oblivious of our guide’s operatic performance. Buda fascinated me. The view, the beautiful facades, churches and other architecture, especially in the area around Fisherman’s Bastion were the highlight of my short stay.
After dropping off my tip for the guide, we asked her recommendations for a good but cheap authentic Hungarian restaurant. The restaurant she mentioned was a bit far; but we decided to head there. It took us about 30 mins to reach there. Unfortunately, it was closed. I later learnt that most Hungarian restaurants and stores are closed on Sundays in Budapest. My stomach was croaking with hunger, so I reluctantly bought chicken goulash from a small shady stand at Keleti railway station. Surprisingly, it was delicious. Makes me wonder how good the highly rated restaurants would have been!
It was short and memorable trip to one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I would definitely be back to check out the rest of Budapest.
All photos on this page are taken by me and I own the copyright. If you would like to use the images, please ask for me first.
Some more photos of Budapest