Hungary for More

If I had to pick one word to describe how I felt about Budapest, it would be AWESOME.

Now, I don’t mean the type of “awesome” used in sentences like “Dude, that motorcross trick was awesome!” or “Thomas Cheng is the most awesome person in the world” or “Did you have an awesome time? Did you drink awesome shooters, listen to awesome music, and then just sit around and soak up each other’s awesomeness?”

No, the “awesome” I’m referring to is more along the lines of the dictionary definition of the word–“characterized by [an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc. produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like]”. The fear part isn’t too relevant; the only time I felt scared was looking at the beds in the sketchy apartment building that had been haphazardly turned into a hostel. Everything else in the definition is relevant though. Budapest, my newfound obsession, contains jaw-dropping sights and attractions everywhere you go. Lots of cities have beautiful buildings and scenery; not only does Budapest rank highly in these categories, it also tops the list when it comes to some more unconventional things such as bars and bath houses. Here are a few reasons why Budapest became my favorite city of my trip:

1. The Sights

Budapest is a city of two halves. On the flat side, you have the more residential area of Pest, which contains many impressive locations, such as St. Stephan’s Basilica, Parliament, the Heroes Square, the last remaining Soviet Memorial, etc. Cross the Chain Bridge and you have the more hilly Buda side which is even more beautiful and gives you the most breathtaking views of the Pest side and the surrounding mountains. If I had to choose a favorite side, I’d go with Buda, but it’s honestly like picking your favorite child (assuming you actually like your children).

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St. Stephan's Basilica, pre-jumping picture photoshoot

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The only purple Parliament I've ever seen

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Heroes Square, one of my favorite climb-able monuments

What’s nice about Budapest is that for such a small city, everything is spread apart. This means that no one area is ever too crowded and that you actually have room to breathe. Even though Budapest is starting to attract more tourists, it doesn’t feel packed or congested at all. The city also contains lots of open spaces, trees, plants, parks, and playgrounds, which add to the laid-back environment I’m realizing I love.

2. The House of Terror

Although the name makes it sounds like a straight-to-DVD horror movie, the House of Terror is actually a museum and memorial to Hungarian citizens who lost their lives to communist and fascist regimes. It’s not an easy on the emotions; the first thing you see when you walk inside is a giant tank in front of a wall, covered in thousands (I counted at least 1,200) of victims’ faces. Walking through and reading about the atrocities committed, I felt a great sense of admiration and respect for the people brave enough to speak out against injustice, including my grandmother who spent ten years in a labor camp for rebelling against Mao during the Cultural Revolution. Makes me wonder, will I ever be able courageous to follow in her footsteps?

Once you make it to the basement, the museum gets even heavier. Since the House was used as the Nazi headquarters (who were not the nicest people), you can still see prisoners’ cells, interrogation rooms, and even torture instruments. The eerieness is amplified by the museum’s expert use of lighting and music; the House of Terror is one of the most effective museums I’ve seen when it comes to setting a mood/atmosphere. Since at this point I still had images of my grandmother covered in sweat, blisters, and blood in the hot Chinese sun, all I could think about here was how upsetting it is to think that horrifying things like this are happening around the world today.

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ImageOne of the most thought-provoking and well put-together museums I’ve been to. Plus, THEY HAVE WATER FOUNTAINS!!!

3. The Thermal Bath
Once upon a time, someone found natural hot springs in Budapest and decided to build a bath house around it. I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures here, but imagine both indoor and outdoor pools and saunas in an ornate building that couldn’t be more eastern European if it tried. Now imagine that the water is the perfect level of warm. I don’t believe the stories about the water’s magical healing powers since my eye was still black as night afterwards, but for the rest of the day, I had a smile as big as Carlton Banks’ during the Carlton dance.
4. The Food/Prices
You know that feeling you get when you’re eating a meal that’s either really cheap or free and no matter what you’re eating it tastes like a gourmet restaurant? I’m pretty sure that’s what happened for me in Budapest. The conversion between the Hungarian forint (Hungary’s currency) and the US dollar is about 226 to 1, which (a) is a really hard number to divide by and (b) makes everything ridiculously cheap. You know you’re starting to get spoiled when you start debating whether you want to shell out the equivalent of $2.50 for a beer.
But even if the prices were high, it would have been worth it for the delicious meals we stumbled across. Apparently, Hungary is not well known for their cuisine, but we must have gotten lucky with the restaurants we chose. While I was disappointed with the goulash in Prague, the Hungarian stew was a rave for my taste buds. The fact that I ordered the goulash, garlic bread, chicken, and multiple drinks (which confirmed our waitresses’ beliefs that Americans are gluttonous garbage disposals) for a little over $10 was enough reason for me to return to Budapest in the future.
On a completely unrelated note, we managed to find a Chipotle-style burrito joint (with free soda refills!) that was a nice taste of home. So much for not being a tourist.
5. The Ruin Pubs
I honestly can’t describe the ruin pubs in words in a way that can do them justice. Most of them are large abandoned buildings that have been turned into funky bars with vegetation, graffiti, bathtubs, bikes, cars, and everything in between. Most have an outdoor seating area, where you can enjoy a drink or slice of pizza (yes, they sell pizza in the actual bar) under the stars.
One of the ruin pubs we went to (whose name I don’t know) was near-empty, save for a handful of Hungarian hipsters whose “dancing” could be best described as rigid gyrations that even robots would consider awkward. We quickly moved beyond the robot corner to the back room to find a group of older Hungarian men playing ping-pong, which of course we had to join. I didn’t use my camera much at this pub, which is unfortunate because I would have loved to document some of the ping-pong and the hipster tribal dance.
I did take a ton of pictures at Szimpla Pub, which is undoubtedly the best of the best. Take a look for yourself (although I don’t even think my photos can do it justice):
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6. Sorozo Pub/The Green Beer
Continuing our streak of randomly finding awesome things in Hungary, we somehow ended up in a bar called Sorozo Pub next to our hostel that was all locals. The place had been packed all day and didn’t look like it was dying down anytime soon, so we decided to have a look and see what all the fuss was about. This was no normal bar; instead of normal tables, they had long cafeteria-style tables which made it much easier to meet and talk to new people. And while they had the usual drinks, we soon found out that they served green beer, fittingly called “Shrek Beer”.
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The beer was approximately $1.50, so you bet we returned to Sorozo a couple more times before we left. During the hours we spent there, we met an interesting group of individuals. You had your usual drunk guy ranting about politics and your usual drunk guy asking you for weed for ten straight minutes even after you’ve told him you don’t have anything. We finally met a normal guy though, and proceeded to have an absolutely abnormal conversation about Jewish day camps, prostitution, the exploitation of women, and relationships. Somehow, I, of all people, ended up consoling him about how it’s fine that he hasn’t settled down at 24. I’m going to tell myself that I changed his life and offered him a fresh outlook on life, but I’m not sure he remembers any of the conversation. Oh well.
No matter what definition you use, Budapest was unbelievably awesome. I will hopefully be back in the near future, because as the title of this post so eloquently states, I am desperately hungary for more.

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About teecheng
Teach for China fellow in a small town called Hepingzhen, located in Shantou Prefecture of Guangdong Province. My interests change as quickly as China has in the past few decades, but I'm using this time to learn about education and the Middle Kingdom, explore my cultural heritage, and travel as much as possible. People say I have characteristics of both a middle-aged father and an 8-year-old boy.

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