So, as I previously mentioned this is, just as I myself was – being expected on Christmas day and eventually arriving into this world on Jan the 6th 1994 – an overdue post.
From the 7th to the 11th of last month myself and my boyfriend, Jordan, went on a little trip to Budapest, Hungary. The main event was on the 10th (the night before his birthday), as I had booked tickets to go see Glass Animals at the Millenáris Teátrum for the birthday boy… I say for him, I really wanted to see them live too. However, under the highest of recommendations from someone I work with I knew Budapest would not disappoint us as a place to explore before and after the gig itself. And boy, did it not disappoint.
Jordan and I had decided from the very beginning that we were going to stay in an Airbnb as both of us have had less than satisfactory experiences in hotels whilst abroad and are trying to save some much needed money, so Airbnb seemed like the perfect way to go. Don’t be put off by bad reviews it was so so easy and smooth getting a place. In fact, in a city like Budapest the only difficulty was deciding on somewhere. From the moment we met our hosts and they had a laugh with us about the escape rooms in Budapest I felt at ease, the apartment was airy, clean and stylish and more than accommodating (plus we had a bath).
Under instruction the instruction of Cookie and Lila (our hosts) we ventured out on our first night in search of an Italian wine bar and bistro called Oinos for some grub. We barely sat down before getting our coats on and heading to the street as we were ravenous. We both had pizza and it was INCREDIBLE. I’ve been to Italy and let me tell you, that pizza was on par with any I have had whilst in Sorrento, Naples and Rome. With a belly full of pizza and feeling a bit more settled thanks to a glass of wine, we decided to go search for the Jewish Quarter of Budapest and to see if we came across our first Ruin Pub.
A lil bit of info:
Budapest has a rich but turbulent history with its Jewish population, but today the Jewish Quarter in Budapest is one of the most visited areas of the city. Within this district is the synagogue (the largest in Europe) and intermingled with many other bars and restaurants down the many criss-crossed side streets are the Ruin Pubs. Ruin Pubs are basically a bunch of buildings that, going into the 21st century when a lot of Budapest was being built up, were left derelict and people saw an opportunity to make something of it – cue a hell of a lot of second hand furniture, curiosities, artist installations, funky lighting and voila, there are your ingredients for a ruin pub.
Fade in: Jordan and I on our first night, wandering around the streets of Budapest at night (or as we were soon to find out, more specifically, Pest) using an offline map app he had downloaded, in search of a Ruin Pub. Along the way we managed to help a lost student find her way and when I say we I mean Jordan did; whenever we go anywhere he is basically my walking and slightly more patient GPS. Eventually, on one of the back streets behind the synagogue we found Kuplung. Kuplung is like many of the Ruin Pubs in Pest a pub split between an outside bar area and an inside bar area. The outside, where we set up shop was decorated with jellyfish light fixtures that gave the whole outside area a gloomy yet cosy jewel-lit feel.
We happened to go on one of the best nights to be there, ‘Happy Mondays’ which meant all the drinks were two-for-one, so we dug into some cocktails. The whole atmosphere was entirely different to a bar set up in England. Living in York means you are affronted with a lot of drunk, loud English people outside bars and pubs on a daily/nightly basis. But there, everyone was chilled, entirely focused on their own bubble of conversation and we just observed and settled into to our own little bubble by the bar. As it was outside we had a smoke, in fact everyone was smoking – Hungarians, at least the Pest Hungarians, love to smoke. It was a great way to experience what Pest was about as a city on the first night but we were pretty tired so headed off back to the apartment reasonably early.
The first full day, the second and the gig:
On our first full day we headed out pretty early and revisited the Jewish Quarter, something that became instantly noticeable during the day was that the city has been scrawled all over by the pen of creatives, of all kinds. On every other building face, wall, street corner there was art, graffiti or memorials. We also found out, from a very kind tour bus guide that Budapest is in fact split into two, the Pest side, which we were on and the Buda side, which is where the Castle district is.
After taking in the synagogue under a new light and having another explore around the Jewish quarter we headed down one of the high streets out towards the river to cross the the Széchenyi Chain Bridge over to the Buda side of the city, where there waited the Castle District, an art gallery, the Royal Palace and Matthias Church (somewhere I really wanted to go). On our walk down the river and by the tram lines we glimpsed at some more of Pests incredible array of statues and art.
The Szechenyi Chain Bridge itself makes for a wonderful way to view the edge of Pest that almost spills over into the Danube river, though on our first day it was pretty cloudy so the light wasn’t as brilliant as it could have been. The walk up to the Castle District is pretty easy going, just a steady incline with plenty of places to stop and view the city from on the way up. Once up on the castle walls the views of the city really were amazing, the Chain bridge looked tiny and just a little further down the river we could see the Hungarian Parliament buildings.
Whilst up in the Castle District Jordan and I ventured into the quite frankly huge Hungarian National Gallery, which we also got discounted tickets to for being a member of the EU (make the most of it while you can citizens of the UK). The gallery, as I said is massive. We spent an easy two hours there, most of which I will admit was taken up by laughing at the medieval paintings (taking in that side-eye). However, the real highlight, rather surprisingly to me at least, was the contemporary/modern art section. Unlike contemporary art exhibitions in the UK which consistently seem to make me say ‘Oh, come on!’ the Hungarian take on conceptual art has much more of an air of grace and thought to it.
After spending (too much) time in the gallery we headed off into old Buda to hunt down the Matthias Church. In no time at all (and with a coffee in hand) we found the church but decided to leave going in to the next day as the light wasn’t great. We did spend a bit of time on the Fisherman’s Bastion outside the church however, and Jordan got some great photos of the city by night and just a couple of (desperately) candid ones of me. We ate in that night – hap-hazard pasta – and got an early night in preparation for another day of exploring and for the gig (eep).
Our second full day in Budapest was a glorious one. The sky was clear and blue and outside had that fresh winter feel. So after having a morning pastry, a smoke and a cuppa in the courtyard of our apartment building we headed out once again. We decided we wanted to fit in as much as possible so set out to find the Grand Opera House, the Basilica and the Parliament Buildings. It was one hell of a trek but totally worth it, even if our feet were tired after it all. I always think the best way to experience a city is by walking around in it, not just always taking the quick and easy option of jumping on public transport. The highlight of the morning had to be walking around the Parliament buildings, even though the Basilica and the area around it was vast, beautiful and impressive, the grandness and lavishness of its architecture isn’t quite my thing. The Parliament buildings, however and the park around it was magical, it was early afternoon so a lot of city workers were sat around munching on their lunch and of course smoking, but the whole vibe of the place was so chilled. Around the Parliament buildings themselves it is pretty open and empty but it doesn’t feel too big or intimidating, instead they felt magical, extremely precious and important to the city and its people. After walking back down the river to the Chain Bridge to head over to old Buda again, we came across the famous statue ‘Shoes on the Danube’ a memorial for the Hungarian Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust.
During our second visit to the Buda side of the city we had a bit more of an explore, found Budapest’s oldest bakery, got a little lost in the idyllic painted houses and quiet streets and made our way once again to the Matthias church. We decided to pay the fee to get inside and Jordan, the jammy git, managed to sneak in on a student ticket but my word, was it worth the three English pounds it cost to get in. The church itself had to be pretty much entirely restored in the latter half of the 19th century after many bombardments, so it looks perfect. If its outside didn’t look like any church I had ever seen before, the inside was even more surprising. I always make sure I visit every church I come across when I go somewhere new so I have been into my fair share of them, with all kinds of architecture and styles but Matthias church is by far the most striking and beautiful. Even though it is relatively new it still manages to retain the old world, slightly more magical eastern European take on religious buildings.
After taking our time in the church and having a last look at the Castle District and old Buda we made our way down a small tree lined path that seemed more for locals than tourists. The path wound its way round the cliff side til we were back down to the Chain Bridge. On our way back to the apartment we stopped for Sushi on Rákóczi út and gathered some much deserved alcoholic drinks in preparation for the night of the gig.
Getting to the gig itself, which was in a park on the Buda side of the bridge was pretty easy, we took the tram over after we had ingested a suitable amount of alcohol (a whole bottle of very cheap 13% Hungarian wine for me), and after a slight panic (probably an understatement) on my part we got to the venue. The atmosphere was excitable and everyone was chatting, drinking and smoking outside. We joined the crowd in the smoking area for a quick one before heading back in with our drinks. Within a couple of minutes Glass Animals were on the gig began.
Seeing a band in another country was one of the best experiences I’ve had at a gig, especially if you’re standing. Everyone was just happy to be there, no one was too drunk or rowdy or making unnecessary efforts to start a mosh pit (ugh). The band themselves clearly felt this and the energy was symbiotic, flowing between the band, the crowd and back again. This was only made more enjoyable when during their encore, the lead singer Dave Bayley waded out into the crowd, a security guard begrudgingly holding the lead for the mic over his head and everyone else’s. I managed to touch Dave’s shoulder and a very happy Jordan managed to steal a hug and touched his face (haha). One more short tram ride, a stop at McDonalds and we were back at home in a rather drunk post-gig haze.
Our final day was spent having a bit of a lie in and doing a lot of walking but also seeing a lot. We found a really cute café in the University area of Pest on our way to the City Park and stopped for a good coffee. We came across the Keleti Railway station, which I took a few photos of especially for Hannah (the owner of this blog) who loves of architecture in train stations.
The one teenie tiny downside to the trip:
What I had read of the City Park and of Heroes square in Pest gave me pretty high expectations and though yes, the park itself was huge and full of trees and very beautiful, especially for a city as big and built up as Budapest, it was not made clear at all in any guidebook or website that a road ran through the middle of it, nor was it made clear from any photos that Heroes square was surrounded by a ring road. On top of this we just seemed to visit at the wrong time of year for the City Park, the lake had been drained in prep for the ice rink, so there was just a huge concrete mass in the middle of the park also there was a lot of restoration going on in the galleries around Heroes square and the park so we only managed to visit two very small exhibits in one of the galleries. We also decided to give the Baths in the City Park a miss after seeing the prices, how busy it was and considering it wasn’t the best day weather wise – which ended up being the right decision, as we left a party of about 20 students turned up to the baths.
We made up for the slight disappointment of the City Park and the Baths by eating a lot of good food at the Hard Rock Café for Jordan’s birthday and then spending the evening at Szimpla Kert, by far the most impressive Ruin Pub we found. There was honestly too much to take in and describe. It was as if someone read Alice in Wonderland, made a pub based on it and then blew that pub up. From a room where the ceiling was covered in branches, green lights and old computer monitors to the outside area which is lit with a hundred different kind of lights, where there is a car that has been turned into a seating area and where there is a screen playing a silent movie; there is more than enough for everyone (including a spirits bar, wine bar, beer bar and cocktail bar).
The whole trip was genuinely amazing and unique, totally different to anywhere else I had been and even though we did so much, there are things I still want to go back and see such the Gellert baths, Gellert Hill and Margaret Island, which I think says a lot about the city. In the typically annoying holiday fashion, on our last morning we decided to try a tiny local shop to get some food for the journey home and found everything and more that we had been walking for at least 15 minutes to get throughout the week.
By Bryony E.P.S.
Thank you Bryony for writing this piece for me and making me want to visit Budapest even more! You can check out more of Bryony’s fantastic writing on her wordpress.