Playing Tourist in Budapest

After so much time spent either traveling or taking advantage of my down time since Greece, I was incredibly happy to arrive to Budapest. Now that is a city that I was eager to explore!! I was pleased to discover that the city was incredibly tourist-friendly and utilized clear, visible signs from public transportation to street signs. You never know just how truly wonderful such a small thing can be until you’re lugging around your bags in ridiculously hot temperatures!

From the train station, I made my way to the center of the city to find my hostel for the night. Zen Hostel was absolutely wonderful from moment one – I was able to kick back and relax as I was checking in, and was even given a glass of wine to sip on in the meantime! It’s as if the owner read my mind that I really wanted a drink after my long train ride! After settling in, I jumped straight into the shower before starting in on my laundry. You know your clothes are long overdue in being washed when you have been able to smell yourself for days, no matter how many showers you’ve taken. Ah, the joys of backpacking!

Not too long after I had finished up washing my clothes, I set out in search of Heroes’ Square, located about 30 minutes walking distance from my hostel. I absolutely loved how grand all of the buildings lining the main road were! Each one had a gorgeous facade, and no two looked exactly alike. The closer to Heroes’ Square that I got, the smaller the buildings became, and by the final stretch of the road the tall buildings became two story houses that were equally decorative in appearance. As I approached Heroes’ Square, I was very much reminded of the monuments of Madrid’s Retiro Park – the style was almost identical to the Monument to Alfonso XII overlooking the lake!

Heroes' Square
Heroes’ Square

Just beyond Heroes’ Square is a large park where the Turkish baths and Vajdahunyad Castle are located, and I took my time walking to both, preferring to enjoy the sweet taste of nature in the big city. After being cooped up for so long, it was a welcome experience indeed! Due to finances and poor planning, I wasn’t able to experience the Turkish baths, so I chose to explore the area surrounding to the castle instead.

Vajdahunyad Castle in the park behind Heroes' Square
Vajdahunyad Castle in the park behind Heroes’ Square

Now, I’m a complete sucker for castles no matter where I am, so despite never setting foot inside I spent a good hour or two exploring the grounds, taking photos, and enjoying the scenery. During my time wandering around, I was witness to a marriage proposal in front of the castle’s chapel, which a very simple, sweet and private moment, and obviously perfect for the pair. I also managed to find a bust of actor Bela Legosi outside of the castle as well – a fun little Easter egg for anyone visiting the castle to be sure.

Afterward, I returned to the hostel and was immediately invited to join some of my bunkmates to drink in the park. Eager for social interaction, I happily accepted, and the lot of us wandered into a nearby park and spent the majority of the time talking about our respective travels and life experiences while casually sipping our beverages. As the sun went down, one of the nearby balloon venders gave the ladies of our group balloon dogs, which I promptly turned into a crown for everyone’s wearing pleasure. We headed back to the hostel to enjoy some dinner and some homemade pálinka (the Hungarian national drink, it would seem) before spending the rest of the evening out and about.

I made a three-dog crown from our balloons!
I made a three-dog crown from our balloons!

The following morning, I woke up a tad hungover because I had mixed alcohols like an amateur, but no worse for ware. My train wasn’t scheduled to leave until that evening, so I decided to take part in a free walking tour of the two sides of the city: Buda and Pest (the side where my hostel was located). Our guide was a pleasant young Hungarian man who did his best to captivate his listeners while showing them the local sites. Walking tours are normally a hit or miss for me, and I generally prefer my guides to be captivating and concise; unfortunately, as captivating as our guide was, he was also quite the talker, and I would often catch myself wandering off to take photos as he would go off on a tangent about one thing or another. He did, however, share some fun facts about the city and was very knowledgeable, and my only issue with the tour was a matter of personal preference. Thus, I would highly recommend taking the walking tour led by HostelCulture!

The royal castle in Buda!
The royal castle in Buda – completely rebuilt after WWII

One of the most memorable parts of the tour was toward the end, when our guide took us to a statue famous for giving students good luck on their exams. But it wasn’t so much receiving luck that was memorable as it was how people receive luck – before your exam, you must climb the statue and rub the balls of the horse for good luck! Funny fact: the statue has oxidized with age, turning it a lovely green color; the balls, however, are beautifully polish from millions of hands rubbing them for good luck.

If you look closely, you can see the lucky balls!
If you look closely, you can see the lucky balls!

As soon as the tour ended, I raced off to collect my bags from the hostel as I had less than an hour to get to the train station before departure. Luckily, I made my train with time to spare and was ready to experience my next destination. Next stop: Zurich!

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