Thermal Baths, Fancy Cafes & Oktoberfest? Budapest!

Continuing to take advantage of cheap access to Europe, we went on another trip in October.  A little late posting about this but I wanted to share what we did (and pictures.)  First up, Budapest!  Budapest was one of those cities that everyone seems to know of but we really didn’t know anything about.  We turned to our favorite travel source… Anthony Bourdain.  It can be a little frustrating watching his show because he gets to do things we never will be able to – I’m pretty sure legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond was not going to escort us around the city – but we did get some ideas to get started.  Here are a few of the best parts of Budapest.

New York Café was one of our first stops.  This place is probably the fanciest looking restaurant we’ve ever been to.  Like most of the tourists there we skipped the food since it’s pretty pricey and just had espressos and hot chocolates.  The hot chocolate tasted like they just melted an entire chocolate bar into a cup, it was incredible.  The history of the place is pretty interesting to.  Many super famous and important writers used to hang out there in the middle of the 20th century and it was a bit of a hangout for citizens who weren’t so happy with the political situation of the time.  It was bombed heavily during World War II and even rammed by a Soviet tank in 1956.

The Central Market Hall is Budapest’s largest indoor market.  It’s pretty touristy but as always when we leave Kyrgyzstan the sight of pork is pretty exciting and there’s tons of it for sale here.  We ate lunch at one of the vendors in the market which was pretty excellent food but the vendors dealing with tourists all day made them a little less than friendly.  Still, a pretty fun place to check out.

The coolest thing we did was to visit one of the world-famous Thermal Baths.  There’s quite a few of these in the city, they were popularized (and many built) during the centuries of Ottoman rule.  They’ve become a staple part of life for many residents of the city, most of whom have their same bath they visit every week.  We went to Széchenyi Spa, one of the most famous bath in the city.  It’s also a little more family-friendly, many of the thermal baths are segregated by gender.  Széchenyi Spa is mostly open to anyone and has several, huge outdoor baths.  When we were there, one of the large outdoor pools was closed but the other was open.  The outdoor pool was 28 degrees Celsius and had a lot of room to hang out and enjoy drinks and a miniature lazy river in the middle.  The inside had at least a dozen pools ranging from a little warm to super-hot.   In addition to the pools there were several saunas and steam rooms.  The hottest sauna was a crazy 170 degrees Fahrenheit (I know I’m changing units, I don’t want to do the math) and I can tell you, that is HOT!  Right outside the sauna is a very cold plunge pool, it was kind of fun to do the sauna and then the plunge pool as long as you could stand it.  It’s less than $20 to visit this bath and you can stay as long as you want.  If you’re in Budapest, it’s a must.

We had heard there was an Oktoberfest happening near Széchenyi Spa so we walked over there afterwards.  Beer really doesn’t have much tradition in Hungary but who doesn’t love an Oktoberfest?  Good beer, live music and the first BBQ brisket in nearly two years – it was a good idea.

One the oddest places we went to was Memento Park.  For several decades, Hungary was part of the Soviet Bloc.  Although it was always the slightly reluctant member, they still did what Soviets did (or forced them to do) which was build things.  Some of these things were really good, like subways, but mostly they built statues.  Those Russians love their statues!  The country was covered in Lenins, Stalins and symbols of the ‘working man.’ After the revolution of 1989, communism fell in Hungary which mean no one wanted these reminders of those days around.  I guess most of the statues were destroyed but in the years that followed many of these monuments were collected and placed at this outdoor museum.  The museum is cheap and easily accessible by city bus.  If you like history (especially Soviet/communist) or are just a fan of unusual museums, this place is pretty cool.  It only takes about an hour to see and appreciate every piece.

The Royal Palace is the biggest tourist destination in Budapest.  It’s really big and probably has a lot of fascinating history but we weren’t in the mood so we didn’t spend much time there or get a guide.  The nearby Citadella is a nice place to see the whole city, we watched a really nice sunset there.  One of the other things we really loved in Budapest are the ‘Ruin Pubs.’  These are bars that have been converted from old, dilapidated apartments, mostly in one section of Buda.  A lot of them had old courtyards that are now outdoor spaces for these bars.  We went to one called Szimpla Kert that was massive and really fun.  There were 7 or 8 bars with different themes and 3 places to get different types of food.  Really touristy (several people recognized my UW shirt) but for a good reason.

We had a pretty big snafu getting to Budapest since Pegasus Airlines is pretty terrible.  We had to spend an extra $400 so we wouldn’t lose much time getting to Budapest.  It was a great decision because Budapest was fantastic and we really didn’t want to leave!

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