What is it about sleeping on a train which makes it so exciting?
Having spent the last of our zloty on sampling various local tipples Luci and I were more than ready to get our heads down for a night of undisturbed sleep. Having travelled on sleeper trains before in Asia I was really excited by the prospect of bunk beds and whizzing across an entire country as I slept. Lesson 1. Europe is not Asia! Our trains in Thailand were so spacious, with two bunks (a high and a low) per side, so that you were head to toe with other passengers facing the direction of travel. Here bunks were in cabins, 3 to a side with a tiny walkway in between. Very luckily Luci and I had an entire cabin to ourselves…can you imagine fitting 6 people in here? Squashed!
Pj’s on, beds made, we spent some time watching the lights outside flyby before settling down to books and sleep. I really thought I’d wake up every time the train stopped, or at least be up and about when the sun rose to take photos of the countryside we’d originally planned to drive though but in truth I was out cold until just before we arrived!
In the morning, again remembering Asia, we folded our sheets and tucked the upper bunks away to create a 6 seat cabin…bad move. When the conductor came along he was most unimpressed that we had had a cabin to ourselves, and not at all happy that the beds were not as we had found them. At least, that’s what we think he said…either way there was a lot of Hungarian and gesticulating…and the last 10 minutes of the journey were spent sheepishly and speedily trying to return everything to the way we found it. Before long we ground to a final halt and disembarked onto a very soggy platform. Welcome to Hungary!
Oh man the rain. So much rain. Not having our full senses having just woken up, we started the 30 minute plod to Aventura Hostel, which was located on the other side of the city. About 10 minutes into the journey my brand new ‘cabin friendly’ roller suitcase decided it was no longer for this world and started to fall apart in my hands. Yay. Luckily Luci ‘map reader extraordinaire’ Lay got is to the hostel in double quick time and we were soon drying off in our home for the next two nights.
If you’re ever coming to Budapest, I really recommend the Aventura Hostel. Each room is dedicated to a different country, with some really cool results. For example the Africa room, which offers hammocks, rope ladders and beautiful Saharan colours…or the India room where we were, which was a stunning array of metallic paints, dark woods and embroidered fabrics. We had a mezzanine level to ourselves, with two cosy beds and two big travelling trunks surrounding a central coffee table. Very cosy!
Phones charged, selves dried and stomachs filled we headed out on our first adventure, to find Lotz Hall, and it’s stunning top floor book cafe, Parizsi Nagyaruhaz. Built to be a casino, but never used for this purpose it ended up as a book storage unit during the communist period before eventually opening to the public in the 90’s as a book shop and cafe…Have you ever supped an orange hot chocolate you could stand a spoon up in in such a grand setting as this? Wow!
From there (via an umbrella shop) we hurried to meet the Budapest walking tour at its meeting point near Elizabet Square, where we were greeted by Norbet, a super friendly Hungarian guy who spends most of his week teaching English and French, and the rest running tours. One thing I’ll say for Norbet, he knows all the dry places to stand! I feel like I was on a tour of Budapest’s overhangs. He maintained a really chirpy and warm attitude throughout though, and managed a really interesting mix of history, architecture, art, places to eat, and things to do. All along the river there are various statues installed at the end of the communist regime purely to celebrate everyday life and art, things which had no previously been celebrated. One of the favourites was this, A Little Princess…a statue of the artists daughter who would often like to dress up in various outfits just for fun. Well, who doesn’t?! With Norbet we heard the history of St Stephens Basilica (he converted the pagans to Christianity), had a food quiz (there were photos – excellent to know what to look out for!!) visited both the Pest (pronounced Pesht) and Buda sides of the city, crossing the chain bridge to one of the Buda sides ‘mountains’ (not a mountain) to visit the castle (not a castle!) on the top. All in all it was a really interesting way to spend a soggy 3 hours, and for extra bonus points the tour ended right next to Ruszwurm which was another place we’d been recommended to try! Stopping in for coffees and cake (and getting the last seats, phew!!) we rested tired feet and warmed cold limbs. When we came out the rain had stopped (yippee!! Proof that coffee is always a good idea), so we jumped on the opportunity to expel some of our new found energy by running around the Royal Palace and taking photos. Fun!
It was almost 8pm by the time we made it down from the mountains of Buda and back into the heart of the Jewish quarter to Norbets favourite restaurant, Blue Rose. A full plate of traditional goulash and a drink for £4! Yum! Honestly at this point we were both so tried, it was super tempting to be rock and roll losers and head back to bed. But, that is NOT what backpacking is about…so we compromised, we would head back in the general direction of bed, but stop at any interesting points along the way. As it was we ended up meandering via Budapests three most famous ruin bars, the best of which by far was Szimpla! The first time I’ve ever been given a map to a pub! A maze of graffiti’d walls, mismatched seats, snug hide aways and hipster decor which switched between outdoors and indoors with regular ease. They hold markets on Sunday’s, regular music nights, meetings and of course your normal night out. Signs everywhere offered the traditional Hungarian Palinka, a shot of something we’d been told was like vodka. Ha! Vodka is milkshake compared to this stuff!! Talk about hairs on your chest, woah.
So ended day 1 of Budapest…a wet, windy day of walking, eating and drinking! Not bad! Tomorrow is meant to be beautifully sunny so we’re making the most of it with a trip to Szchenyi baths. Rest, relaxation and massages! Yes please 🙂