By Gabrielle Linnett
As I set out from Vienna, I felt somewhat apprehensive about my stay in Hungary’s capital. I knew little about the city and even less about the unique language there. The Cold War had interested me at school and now I was going to a country behind the infamous iron curtain. My suspicion was correct that it would be different to other cities I have visited, but in no way was I left disappointed.
A fantastic start to my stay in Budapest was a free walking tour of the city. We were lucky to stumble across this when wandering around the city ourselves. People do pay the tour guide, but it is an amount of their choosing at the end. Budapest is divided by the Danube River, on one side there is Buda and Pest is on the other. Our tour started by walking along the river, where we came across various statues and looked across at Liberty Hill and the Parliament.
Much of the architecture in Budapest maintains its original style and we came across buildings with beautifully and colourfully tiled roofs. There was a marzipan museum (which nearly caused us to leave the tour!), but we were sure there was more to see. The tour eventually led us to Budapest’s largest indoor market, called the Central Market Hall. Amongst other things, the market sellers were particularly keen to sell their Hungarian specialties to tourists, particularly Rubik cubes and paprika which you will often see throughout the city.
Evening entertainment took a classical turn during our stay in Budapest, with a trip to the theatre. Tickets for the ballet were affordable, probably due to the exchange rate between British pounds and Hungarian forint at £1=375HUF. Sat up in a private box, I hoped that the other seats would remain vacant – and they did! It was a wonderful evening, I would really recommend it.
A cultural insight into the former Eastern-bloc country came from the ‘House of Terror’ museum. It’s a large building, yet it felt even bigger once inside. Each room gave in-depth coverage of the Hungarian history, with an accompanying sheet of information. Hungary is a country which is overlooked in school history books, but its past is dramatic and at times tragic. Unfortunately there is a ‘but’. The overly helpful sheets seemed to get longer as we walked through each room of the museum and we eventually found ourselves collecting the information sheets to read later. Needless to say the sheets are sat amongst my other souvenirs, waiting to be read.
If the city’s history is something that appeals to you, a visit to the Memento Park is a must. It is a collection of statues from Hungary’s communist period, including pieces based on Lenin and Marx. It is advisable to wear a coat as Memento Park is an open-air museum. The park’s designer, Fővárosi Közgyűlés, said “This park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship” which serves as food for thought as you walk amongst statues of historically infamous characters.
The last item on our itinerary was the Széchenyi Bath. Set on hot springs, these baths are naturally heated. The pools of varying temperatures were great fun for us to sample. No one rested in the cold pool, but we were silly enough to dip in- that’s what holidays are for! Eventually we settled for an outdoor pool, which was not too cold considering the weather.
Before we departed the city there was time to stroll around the Danube’s Margitsziget or ‘Margret Island’; as said by English speakers. Many people rented bikes or carriages to roam through the vast green spaces. Whilst walking around we came across a small food vendor that sold Langos, one of Hungary’s specialities. The deep-fried snack tastes particularly authentic when painted with a garlic sauce. Warning- you’ll need plenty of napkins at hand to clean after this greasy snack!
Budapest is an old city, which means it lacks some of the modern features you would see in cities such as London or Frankfurt. Its dated appearance gives an air of charm as you watch the trams crossing over bridges from Buda to Pest. There is much to learn in Hungary’s capital but you can also just relax in thermal springs or experience highbrow culture at a portion of the normal price.
I would definitely recommend visiting Budapest!