Budapest is where my journey traveling solo began. After the bike trip, my mother stayed in Budapest for a few days to explore the city with me and then she left for Italy to meet up with my step dad, Tom.
My mom left the hotel at 3AM to get to the airport in time for her 5AM flight to Venice. I slept in until about 9AM to wake up in time for the complimentary breakfast. After grabbing a few muffins on the way out of the dining hall, I headed back up to the room to pack up my things and check out. Out of no where I started to feel worried and anxious. I felt like I was going to leave something important behind and that something was missing. After double, triple, and even quadruple checking the hotel room I put on my pack and headed downstairs.
As I exited the Hilton Hotel, I had a quick realization, “This will probably be the most and last fancy place I stay in for the next year! Now my adventure really begins.”
First things first I walked to a hostel that a girl had recommended to me on our first night out in Budapest, Carpe Noctem Vitae (CNV). She informed me that it is a “party” hostel, but not as crazy as all the other ones you hear about. What I really liked about CNV is that it had quiet hours from 10PM-8AM. So even though everyone staying there would be younger and ready to enjoy this wild city, one could still stay in and have a relatively calm and peaceful night to catch up on some rest.
The staff was awesome. When I first arrived to check in they sat me down to go over a few rules and then spent about 15 minutes going over all of the best restaurants, where the ATM are and money exchange locations were, showing me several of the famous ruin bars on the map, and several fun activities you can do while staying in Budapest. As he was explaining all of this to me there were a bunch of people hanging out in the common room area. I soon found out that most of the travelers were either Australian or Canadian. However, I did happen to meet a few people from the states as well, Taylor (from Washington), Brandon (from New York), and Diana (from Georgia). Apparently not many people from the states travel around for long periods of time so everyone is surprised when I say I am from there, especially the locals.
The first night out we went on a bar crawl and were able to checkout a few of the ruin bars. Before we left a bunch of us were hanging out at the hostel playing some drinking games and getting to know each other. Being my first experience socializing with random people from around the world in such a small place, I can say that it was something special. One second you are talking to a few mates from Australia about one topic and the next you are talking to two random guys from Poland and Finland about something completely different. Next thing you know a Canadian jumps into the conversation and so on.
Every night anyone who decides they want to go out and party has to be out of the hostel by 8:30, because of the quiet hours. While walking to the first bar I met two law students from the U.K., Charlotte and Harriet. They are two friends traveling together on their holiday, celebrating Harriet’s birthday. I really enjoyed talking with them and learning different slang words and phrases they would say. As we were talking and getting to know each other Oliver popped up out of nowhere. Oliver is from Waipukurau, New Zealand and has been traveling for a few months now. We instantly became friends and started joking around with each other as we walked form bar to bar. Oliver had a flight to catch at 5 in the morning so he decided it might be a good idea to go home around 1:30AM to figure out how to get to the airport and have a little nap… I ended up going home not too late after him to grab a late night munchy, a kabob. I don’t know how, but Charlotte and Harriet were still out partying until early morning and I knew they had no idea how to get back to the hostel… Don’t worry, they found their way home by 5AM.
So here is a list of some things I was able to experience and some things I unfortunately did not have enough time to try:
-First, the hostel told me about the free walking tour (by Hostel Culture) that happens everyday. It is free for anyone, but be sure to pay attention to what days and what time of day the tour is because it changes. Even though it is free, it is always nice to tip the tour guide especially if he or she did a great job.
=A side note: Taylor and Brandon invited me to join them one morning and even though my mother and I had spent a few days walking around, it was nice to walk around with a guide to learn more about the history. Not only that, going on a guided tour is a great way to meet other travelers. I met three other Americans from Cleveland (Allison, Dena, and Julia; it is always nice to meet people from your area, because you feel as if you instantly have a connection even though you just met), two Chileans (Chris and “heyyyyy Macarena!”, which is how she introduced herself haha), and a guy from New Zealand (Gary). After the tour all seven of us decided to continue walking around taking some group shots and even met up again that night to go on our own bar crawl.
=Alternative tour: there is also an “alternative tour” that you can pay for that will take you around the city to a lot of the various street art and graffiti sites. I did not make it on one, but my friends Charlotte and Harriet did and said it was pretty interesting and worth the forint.
-One morning I woke up after one of the bar crawls and met a girl checking into the hostel, Georgia. Georgia is from Sydney, Australia and has been traveling for the past few months. Even though I was hungover, I knew how it was on my first day arriving to the hostel (everyone else was hungover and I was thinking what the hell am I getting myself into), so I decided to be friendly and spark up a conversation. I asked her what she planned on doing today and she told me that Taylor, Kate (a girl from Ontario, Canada) and her were going to the oldest and most famous bath in Budapest, Széchenyi Thermal Bath. So I decided to tag along. The thermal baths are one of Budapest’s main attractions, which are located throughout the city. The tour guide and the hostel staff joked about how it is THE best place to go after a night of drinking to recover from a hangover. I think it was just a coincidence that I actually ended up going hungover…
For 4,500 Forint (about $16.50) we had all access to the thermal baths, saunas, and steam rooms until close (7PM). You are also able to pay a little extra to get a massage if you want. It was pretty cool to experience the thermal baths, but to be honest, they are pretty much just glorified public swimming pools (you could tell by all the grandmas and grandpas, just like the pools at the gyms back home). However, the baths and sauna did make my hangover feel better! My apologies to the people who had to sit next to me in the sauna sweating out all the booze. Anyway, I would recommend at least walking over to one and checking it out. The architecture inside of the pools was pretty amazing. I looked at some pictures of a different bath some friends from the hostel went to and they were awesome.
Another fun weekly activity every Saturday at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath is the “Sparty” (Spa-Party). I was not feeling good that night and had a bus ride planned for 6AM the next morning so I unfortunately had to sit that one out. Apparently every Saturday a different DJ performs and the spa turns into a late night dance party. It cost 10,000 forint (~$36.00), which was another reason I decided to bail. Maybe next time I’m in Budapest (yes I plan on coming back someday, because it was that much fun).
-The coolest thing I was able to do was go caving (cost 7,500 forint or about $28). I had never been caving before, so this was quiet the introduction. Georgia, Taylor, Alex (a guy we met from Canada) and I all decided to go together. We met at the daily meeting spot at 1:30PM and took two buses to get to the caving site. As we were arriving to the cave site, Georgia decides to inform us of her slight claustrophobia… Little did she know how many times she would have to conquer that fear and squeeze through several tunnels on her stomach. Before heading to the cave we got a brief introduction to our cave guide (I forgot her name, but she looked like an Olga). Olga spoke decent English with a very strong accent. Shortly after meeting her, we were given gear to suite up for the trek: a one piece jump suite, a helmet, and a headlamp.
Once everyone finished getting ready, we started to walk towards the cave. Olga informed us that the cave is a large labyrinth about seven kilometers long and that we were only going to do a section that was four kilometers. We arrived at the entrance and it already looked sketchy. There was an old rusty looking door covered with graffiti and with one hole.
Olga stopped us for a second to debrief us about the cave safety precautions and what not. Then she promptly stuck her hand in the door hole and unlocked the door. I turned on my GoPro and went in first. The beginning section of the cave had several metal beams arched across the ceiling and it was very low so I had to duck down that I wouldn’t hit my head. Next we had to climb down a long ladder to get to the real entrance to the cave. Things were already getting interesting. For the next three to four hours we walked, climbed, slid, crawled, inched, and squeezed our way through the labyrinth. At one point Olga had us stop and turn off our head lamps to experience the complete darkness. It was incredible. I could not tell the difference between closing my eyes and keeping them open no matter how long I waited for my eyes to adjust. We tried our best to remain in absolute silence, but its hard in a group of eight. Someone was also slightly moving and we could even hear another group of people who were elsewhere in he cave. Even if it was only for a few seconds, it was the first time I had two of my senses completely cut off (sight and hearing). It only makes me want to try a sensory deprivation tank even more. I will definitely pay for a session if I find one on my journeys or wait until I get back home to the states. Everyone made it through with no problems and no panic attacks. It was an experience I would love to do again. Olga told us about larger caves in Slovenia that you can explore as well. I sense a future adventure waiting for me. I put together a video of our cave adventures that you can check out here: Caving in Hungary
-A fun activity that I unfortunately did not get to try is “Escape Room”. “What is exit game or escape game? Exit games or room escape games are one of the most popular free time activities nowadays! These are played in a real world location such as a room, chamber or basement. You and your friends must find the way out of the game by solving logical puzzles: open locks, solve riddles, combine clues, and deactivate things. The average time to finish is about a half or one hour” (http://exitgames.eu/budapest/). There are different themed rooms where you have to use different skills to get out. Exit rooms are located all over the world now, but Budapest is known as the capital of exit games.
-Another awesome activity that I did not get to experience was the beer bike tour. You and 7-9 friends are given a tour on a large bike with 8 sets of pedals and a bench on the back. However, you are also challenged to finish 30 liters of beer before the tour ends. They also have speakers on the bike so you are encouraged to bring your own mp3 player and jam out while biking and enjoying some fresh draft beer. I may have to come back just to try this.
-A quick note about an amazing sandwich shop, Bors GasztroBár. A group of gourmet chefs quit their jobs at fancy restaurants, came together and decided to open their own little sandwich shop and it is unbelievable. They make fresh sandwiches to order and various types of soup depending on the week. Some of the combinations might sound weird, but I guarantee they are phenomenal. To top it off, everything is SOOOO cheap! Definitely make a pit stop here if you make it to Budapest. It just so happens to be located right next to Szimpla Kert ruin bar, which I will talk more about later.
=Another tasty restaurant my mom and I found was Hanoi Vietnam Etterem. We ordered 3 orders of their spring rolls (each order came with 2 small rolls), shrimp pho, sesame chicken, and my mom had a little bottle of champagne for a grand total of $20… The food was delicious. We were shocked by the cheap price. When you first walk in, the place looks very fancy with a lot of Vietnamese decor. We thought for sure we were going to spend at least double of what we paid. It was so cheap and tasty that I came back with Taylor, Georgia, and Kate after our spa day at the thermal baths.
-Our hostel, Carpe Noctem Vitae sometimes pairs up with other party hostels and host various weekly events such as:
1) Trivia Night. I was able to make it to one and it was pretty fun. Thankfully they chose a topic that I was fairly knowledgeable in: Roman and Greek Mythology. Unfortunately, I was not able to carry the team and we did not make it to the finals, oh well.
2) Ruin bar crawl. As I mentioned before, Budapest is known for having some unique ruin bars. My two favorite were definitely Szimpla kept and Instant. Szimlpa is known as being the first and one of the best ruins bars in Budapest. The atmosphere is really awesome, lots of random antiques and trinkets, cool lights with lots of different colors. It even has an old Trabant car that has been split in half with a table in the middle to sit and drink/eat. Also inside they had several places where you could order a quick meal that turned out to be pretty good bar food. Instant is more of a dance club. It used to be an old apartment complex so the place is like a giant maze with seven different dance floors and 26 rooms that you can hangout in, seven bars and two gardens. There were several other ruin bars, but those two were my favorite. Here is a link that shows all the ruin bars in Budapest (http://ruinpubs.com/)
3) Some other fun activities that I never went to are a boat party with one of the “sister” hostels, paint balling in an old abandoned school (and many other stages), and beer olympics at another party hostel.
My trip to Budapest was one I will never forget and only made me want to come back for more. I met some awesome people from around the world and it has only been a week into my trip. I now have a place to stay in Ontario, Sydney, London, and Santiago, Chile! There so much to do and see in this wonderful city and you cannot beat the low prices. I don’t know when, but I will definitely stop back by here to finish trying all of the sandwiches/soups from Bors and then follow up with a beer bike tour.