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Budapest, Hungary - Baths, Goulash, and Caving Oh My!
Fancy a trip behind the 'Iron Curtain'? Want some amazing German-esque food with a Hungarian funnel cake to top it off? Does caving in pitch black, claustrophobic spaces pique your interest? Well hey you should pay a visit to Budapest, Hungary! Many people I've spoken to have admitted that they've never been to Budapest. After having been there myself, I naturally ask them why not, to which they respond, "Well, why would I?" Ah, there's the kicker! Here's why: Budapest has so much to offer it would be crazy for anyone to pass up the chance to see it. With everything from boutique hotels to quaint hostels, goulash to cinnamon cakes, and hot springs to historical landmarks, Budapest is clearly an intriguing place to see! Let me explain...
Hungry for Hungarian Cuisine...
The day my group and I arrived in Budapest, the first thing we did was go out to eat (because if you're ever overwhelmed, you can't go wrong with some tasty food). We were initially confused with the currency, known as the Forint, but we quickly got the hang of it. After all, wouldn't you panic if a metro ticket cost you 1200 HUF? As a member of the EU, Hungary is attempting to transition to the euro currency so if you were to pay a visit to Hungary, do it soon while the exchange rate is still incredible! Walking around downtown with all the restaurants and shops, we began to realize how affordable everything actually was! Now as a guy, one of the most exciting things for me was feeding time. Hungarian food is very similar to German, Polish, and Austrian cuisine. That is to say, there are some serious carnivorous tendencies! Pork, goulash (beef stew), chicken, mutton, veal, and so on and so forth can be found in essentially every restaurant. One of the restaurants we ate at was little more than a hole in the wall, which is where you know you're getting the real deal! Another place was Ruben Restaurant, which was a little more expensive, but totally worth it! Cozy, little, upstairs room with a friendly waitress added to the excitement! Be sure to find the time to sit down and enjoy the meals since they are an experience in and of themselves!
After dinner one night, we wandered around town to find street vendors selling what you would imagine an actual 'funnel' cake would look like. They're called Hungarian Chimney Cakes and are considered one of the traditional, cultural experiences of Hungary. Sweet, fun to eat, and inexpensive, chimney cakes are the perfect follow-up to dinner (at least in my opinion). We clearly played with our food too often...
Plenty of History to Go Around...
Perhaps the most significant trait of Budapest is its historical brilliance. There were just too many things to do we were overwhelmed with the possibilities. I'm not going to dive into the background or significance of each landmark, but I will lay out a few I highly recommend! In retrospect, we should have spent more time at each destination in order to completely grasp the magnificence of each one.
Heroes Square, Buda Castle, and More
Heroes Square is one of the most obvious landmarks to pay a visit to. It includes the Millennium Memorial, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Palace of Arts. Seeing as how the University of Dallas took us to endless museums and art galleries during our semester, we were more interested in the memorial and then moving on rather than staying at the art gallery or museum. Nevertheless, if we had more time, we surely would have seen everything Heroes Square had to offer!
We then walked over to Vajdahunyad Castle and wandered around aimlessly for a bit. We saw the Hooded Man, Fisherman's Bastion, "Fashion Street", and oh my goodness too many other things! You surf around the Internet for awhile and you'll see everything Budapest has to offer.
Our group was only able to see one thermal bath out of several and that was at the Gellert Hotel & Spa. It had an extensive list of amenities, including massages, foot rubs, saunas, mud-packing, swimming pools, hot springs, and locker rooms. On a side note, yes, a friend and I actually got a massage and it was totally worth it, despite what my other friends thought! The natural springs dispensed both cool and warm water, so if you wanted to go for a relaxing swim in the outdoor/indoor pool or take a seat in the thermal bath, the choice is up to you! The best part is that you don't have to be staying at the Gellert to have access to the springs! Do what we did: stay at the Maverick Hostel and simply drop by the Gellert for a swim.
Where Do I Sleep?
As you can see from the video, the Maverick Hostel was a pretty awesome place to kick back at the end of each day. The service was great, with fresh sheets, clean bathrooms, heated floors, fun patrons, and grocery store right next door! One night we even cooked our own dinner in the kitchen so as to save some money. If you were to stay here, be sure to ask all about excursions and tours because the staff knows it all! (Incidentally, in the video the guy in the green hoodie was Tomas and he pretty much ran the place; fantastic guy!) This is where we first heard about caving...
Poking around in the Dark
I really don't know how I could possibly explain caving, but I do know it was the experience of a lifetime to go spelunking in a Hungarian mountainside with my group of friends. Not many people can say they've gone caving, let alone in Europe. Not many people can say they've had a private tour guide, but we did! Absolutely pitch black caves with no light means you can't see your hand right in front of your face. Literally the tightest spaces I have ever been forced in, and almost getting stuck a couple times but that's absolutely invigorating! If that is terrifying to you, then this is not for you! The caving agency provided the headlights and jumpsuits since things got muddy and wet right from the start! Again, there are no words...only pictures and my testimony. In summary, Budapest has an enormous amount of things to do and we can now check 'Caving in Budapest' off our bucket lists!