The Budapest Review: Buda

Ah, Budapest. I’ve finally got round to sorting and sifting through the many many photos I took of you there. The winter hasn’t left us yet here in England, as much as I’ve willed on Spring and a reason to not wear a very long scarf looped five and six times around my neck. Budapest, in contrast, is one of those places that seems to suit the weather; whatever it is. It fits the cold, it fits the rain, it fits crisp sunshine and I’ve heard it fits the scorching heat of summer too.

After lots of people seemed to enjoy my post about ‘Why YouShould Plan Your Next Trip to Budapest’, I’d thought I’d take you through what I got up to whilst I was there. Luckily, I did a loooooot of research before I headed out so was pretty clued up about things I wanted to see in the three days we stayed for. A few friends loaded my desk at work with recommendations scribbled over post-it notes as well, so I had plenty of restaurant, spas and bars to check out. There were some delightful surprises and moments that will always stick out in my mind as trip highlights. For instance, the lights going out in Dracula’s underground labyrinth. Ensue panicked breathing..!

This here is the ‘Buda’ part of the post. Did you know that Budapest is actually two places; Buda and Pest? You did? Oh great. WELL I DIDN’T. I felt such a fool when I found out. Also, it’s pronounced ‘Buda-Pesch’, which we, being horribly English, refused to adopt into our newfound vocabulary. Much like saying ‘Kwa-sont’ and ‘chor-it-zo’. I hang my head in shame. Anyway, on to Buda!

Gellert Spa and the Liberty Bridge

I heard tales of the wondrous spas in Budapest. There are loads. Like, you could go to a different one every day and still have more to visit at the end of the week. Just across the river from our Air BNB on the Buda side was the Gellert Spa, situated underneath the Gellert hotel. It was close enough to walk to in 15 minutes and I heard someone describe it as ‘like swimming in a cathedral’ so I was like, ‘yes please!’ Saying it’s within walking distance isn’t really a big deal though, as everywhere in Budapest is within walking distance if you’ve got a pair of good shoes and a belly full of goulash.

The building itself is stupidly grand; it really is like a temple for bathers. Take some flip flops with you and a swimming hat if you want to go into the large swimming pool bit in the middle. Interestingly, the thermal baths and steam rooms appear twice on each side of the pool, which we were told was due to the Ottoman roots of the spa and the necessity for ladies and men to bathe separately. There’s a real art deco/neo classicist vibe to the place and I felt SO fancy walking around, despite wearing disposable flip flops that very much resembled two large sanitary pads strapped to my feet. 

If you fancy going, it’s around £15 and you can spend as long as you like there. My advice is to go in the morning, as that’s when it’s least busy and the water is at its cleanest too.

Buda Castle & The Fisherman’s Bastion

Follow the tram line along the Danube River to the Chain Bridge and cross over to Buda, where you’ll find little cobbled lanes, mosaic tiled churches and a pretty awesome view. You could easily just wander up the hill, around the streets and in and out of beautiful churches without having to spend a penny as it’s just all so consistently beautiful!

If you fancy an intimidatingly large collection of art to look at, head to the National gallery. If you, like me, saw the Fisherman’s Bastion and immediately thought ‘FINALLY, MY TIME AT HOGWARTS HAS ARRIVED’, then head over to the west side of Buda for a walk between the turrets and passages of the Bastion. Seriously, when I was stood there pretending to be ‘pensive Harry’ from Prisoner of Azkaban, an Asian tourist starting whistling ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ and I felt like the world just made sense for a second.

The view from the hill is outstanding. The folks over at Parliament really know how to make a building look like a glorious golden fortress. If you’re feeling peckish, there are some super traditional restaurants near the Batthyany Ter metro station. For instance, I had a fish platter that included ‘fish crackling’, which tasted like actual pork. You can see it over here. How to you make fish taste like delicious pork?! I don’t think I want to know...

If you have a couple of hours spare, head to the Hospital in the Rock Museum. You book a slot and are taken around a complicated network of tunnels and bunkers, which were used as a hospital during WWII. I promise, if you head here and weren’t war experts before, you will be afterwards. The tour guide was hugely knowledgeable and as there was only four of us on the last tour, the whole place felt just a bit creepier - especially the section of bunkers which has been left untouched since the end of the Cold War. I got the chills. Also, the gift shop is insanely good. We may have brought back a genuine cold war soviet helmet. For £8! Bargain.

The Labyrinth

Staying underground, the Labrintus is tucked down a side street and lit by torches that greet you down into a series of caves, tunnels and cells that used to form the secret passages and torture chambers of Dracula in the Middle Ages. This, however, was not something we were aware of before we went in. It’s a strange place, for sure. After 6pm the electric lights are replaced with oil torches, which adds to the general creepiness of the place and is, I imagine, authentic to how the chambers looked many moons ago. Here’s what I noted:

Firstly, there was only a handful of people wandering around the mass of tunnels, adding to the sense of IMPENDING DEATH. Secondly, there is a strange rolling mist that clings and swirls around the cavern floor. Thirdly, there is simultaneously a strange opera exhibit in part of the cave network, so you’ll randomly be confronted by echo-ey opera music whilst you’re scrabbling through the dark trying to find your way around. In short, it definitely had an ‘about to get murdered in Pretty Little Liars’ vibe and it was AWESOME. If you want a super scare, go through the section that blacks out. I have never clutched a stranger’s coat so tightly in my life!

So, this is where I’ll leave you. If you’d like me to tell you any extra snippets of information, let me know in the comments and I’ll bombard you with lots more recommendations. 

Next time we’ll head back over the river to Pest, of ‘Pescht’ as the locals say. I can’t help it, it still sounds hilarious to me…

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What would you go and see in Buda?

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