The Adventures of an American in Budapest vol. 1
It was my first weekend back and Sam was in town. Being the considerate friend that I am I devoted absolutely no time at all to thinking about what to do once he got here. Luckily my girlfriend Alexa has lived in Budapest for 29 years. I sometimes joke that she is the ‘Local’ and I am the ‘LikeLocal’ – and then I stick two lit cigarettes in my eyes for thinking up such a terrible joke.
Weekend One – Visegrád, 3 Bath Houses, Georgian Food and the Philosophy Garden
Alexa was the one who suggested we go to Visegrád on the Sunday afternoon and that was an objectively great decision because Visegrád is god damn dope. Am I using this article as a way to curry favor from my girlfriend? Admirable or pathetic?
The castle perched town lies in the extreme north of Hungary, just a hair southeast of the Slovakian border and it is at Visegrád that the Danube twists like Nastia Liukin in Beijing. Hungarians call this part of the river ‘Dunakanyar’ (aka The Danube Bend). The most notable feature in Visegrád is the aptly named Visegrád castle. For centuries the castle served as a strategic stronghold. Its enormous importance for the region is reflected by its use as a sobriquet for the ‘Visegrád IV’ group, a diplomatic alliance between Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. And the scenic town is pitch perfect town for a little one-day excursion. I’d been to Visegrád before, but my spring trip was cut short by monsoon like conditions and we never made it to the peak.
On that first occassion we took the train along the Pest side of the Danube (Visegrád is on the Buda side) to the town of Nagymaros and caught a ferry across the river. If you end up taking this more cumbersome route make sure you catch a quick drink at Piknik Manufaktúra which is a phenomenal little bar right by the ferry terminal.
This time we drove up on the Buda side in Alexa’s faithful red Pugeot who we call Pezsi. We sped through the Pilis forest and finally made it to the parking lot of the castle. You can park down below in the town proper and take a tremendous walk up through a whispering wood, but it was a scalding hot day and their were views to see so we took the shortcut. Lazy, I know.
Wandering back down through the sleepy streets of town we came across a number of antique peddlers and traditional food shops. There were some Hungarian tourist town staples as well like supposedly authentic Magyar restaurants, a Pálinka museum and several ice cream peddling confectionaries.
We finally washed down to the river and made it over to Rév Büfé a bare bones little establishment / events venue / bar. They had done a commendable job of utilizing the otherwise ugly grey cement of the flood levees as a grass covered dance floor. There was a frenzy of construction going on along the immediate boundary of the bar which could be deemed ugly, but I found that the strewn bits and bobs added to the surreal aesthetic. The BeMassive party wasn’t packed by any means, and this was all for the better. I know not many things better than getting serenaded by the steady thump of melodic house tunes in the shadow of a centuries old castle along the banks of a Hungarian river town.
Great. Now let’s move on. I suppose was being a tad bit disingenuous when I said that I had nothing planned at all. I had a loose collection of things I wanted to do when Sam was here. One of these things was to check out one of my favourite restaurants in the whole city: Hachapuri. It was a trip to this Georgian resturaunt back in January that ended up inspiring my 10 day trek through the Caucasus in March. Georgian food is exquisite – not to mention their delicious wines – and Hachapuri serves it up with aplomb in their modern yet cozy dining room. They also have a refreshing outdoor terrace in the shadow of the back end of St. István’s Basilica. Two things set Hachapuri apart from the other spots near St. István’s: 1. The food is ridiculously good 2. Since it’s on the back end of the Basilica you don’t have to deal with any of the noisy annoying crowds while you eat. It won’t be the cheapest meal you have in BP but if you don’t mind forking out a bit then enjoy some insanely good Georgian cuisine.
I’d also obviously planned to take Sam to the bath houses. Over the course of his four day Sam went to three different bath houses. Which I was damn proud of him for. Three in four days is a terrific achievement. Well done Sam. You can read more about Rudas, Király and Széchenyi in my Budapest Bath House Guide.
Here’s Sam’s take:
Rudas hit me right in my sweet spot. right amount of fancy and grungy. Király was a low key spot for low key people with a delicious little backyard pool that felt like home. Széchenyi was like disneyworld and FULL OF HARDOS AND UNITS.”
Of course I showed him the Castle district and we had a lovely little time ambling uphill because the funicular was broken. Sam really, really wanted to take the funicular but sportingly relinquished these dreams upon realization that it was closed for maintenance that day. The gondor-like fascade of Fisherman’s bastion and the intricately idiosyncratic Zsolnay tiling of the Mattyás church will never cease to amaze. They are a must-see if you are a visitor in town. I know the castle district is crowded but if you head up early in the morning or just before sunset you’ll have more space to basque in all of the brilliance.
And there are so many new details of the Castle district that unveil themselves to me on each subsequent visit. Like the awesome reflection of Fisherman’s Bastion that can be seen in the windows of the otherwise monstrous hotel next door.
On Sam’s last night in town I took him to my local Pho joint: Lamanh Pho (I am saying this with zero exaggeration: I eat there at least 4 times per week…it’s only Wedensday and I’m about to head there for the third time this week alone.) It’s the best Pho in the city without a shadow of a doubt. Sam concurred that it was indeed excellent. He is a man with cosmopolitan tastes and limited patience. To win his approval means everything to me.
We ended the weekend with a guided group meditation concert at Erzébet Bridge side of Gellért Hill. This is the less visited end of Gellért Hill and the Philosopher’s Garden is a hidden gem that often gets over looked by tourists in favour of walking up to Citadella by the Liberty Bridge. Why not do both? The views at sunset from this end of the Bridge are awe inspiring. You get the roaring fireball view of the sun descending unobstructed behind the Buda Hills whilst simultaneously feasting upon the far reaches of Pest – awash, with the Danube, in whichever particular shade of technicolor marinade the gods have chosen on that night.
Weekend 2 – The Gay Pride Parade
It was the day before the Pride parade and I was shooting some photos for Laura B’s brand new ‘Slow down and enjoy the moments’ footprint on the LikeLocals app. I got a bottle of KÉSA Paripa (absolutely delicious – cab franc, cab sav, syrah blend) from Bortársaság wine shop at Kossuth square and Eddie happened to be walking his three dogs just around the corner. I went to go meet Eddie, Chewy and Fiona (twin chihuahuas) and Leroy (a Leroy). Chewy was viciously attacked by a pit bull the week before and still had to wear a little pink vest to cover the wound. Though you would never know he was in any pain given his energy and good natured disposition.
Eddie and I downed a bottle of the ruby red whilst basking in the shadow of the Soviet Liberation statue and he asked if I wanted to be part of the scene they were filming for the documentary about him and his wife at the BudapestPride parade the next day. I said certainly.
The next morning Alexa and I woke up to go meet Eddie for the Pride Parade. I’d never been to a Pride Parade for, nor had I ever been miked up for an upcoming HBO documentary about a cam model couple and their adventures opening up a studio in Europe. After Saturday I was able to check both items on a list I had no idea I was keeping until now.
The Pride parade itself was an ecstatic affair. Unfortunately about 1/3rd through Eddie lost his phone after jumping on my back like a rambunctious rhinoceros as I rode with him in front of the Parliament building. Buy some miracle someone had scooped up his phone and he was able to meet them by the Marriott hotel at the end of the parade route to achieve it. If there was ever a testament to the relative level of human goodness in a gay pride parade, well there you have it.
Protestors be damned. I walked by a handful of these homophobes on the way to the parade route – and let me just say quickly that I have never passed through such an non-intimidating collection of losers in my entire life. I’d trepidatiously been expecting roided out skinheads with menacing faces. Instead all you got were a collection of sniveling cowards hiding behind their “hetero pride signs” while the raucously peaceful rainbow parade went by around them.
Ok, got that off my chest. So as I was saying Eddie lost his phone jumping on his back and by some miracle was able to locate it. With his cellular device retrieved we stopped to escape the scalding heat at the Március 15 square at the foot of the Erzsébet bridge. We got some drinks at the terrace of KIOSK. They were overpriced and watery but the atmosphere was unbeatable. That’s the unfortunate reality of most bars near the Danube – you usually have to sacrifice affordability and quality in the name of environment. Nonetheless there’s a fair few of them that make for idyllic settings that are worth splurging out for on a given occasion and I would count KIOSK amongst them. It was at Kiosk that Eddie met the Korean youtubers.
We had some drinks with them, accompanied by Alexa and our Latvian friend Tania who we ran into while Eddie was searching for his phone. Tania took this unbelievable picture of myself and Alexa which I thank her for dearly.
It was slightly unusual to have these drinks with two Hungarian film makers pointing enormous cameras through the crowd and in our direction. I felt the small black microphone nestled against the barely existant lining of my pink mesh pennie and decided that I was very much loving the experience. After drinks we headed back to Eddie’s apartment on Nador Utca – film crew and Korean’s in tow – to fetch Maria so that we could all head to the Liberty bridge together. Eddie stopped at a costume/party shop on the way home to buy everyone in the gang some more eccentric apparel and so I arrived to the bridge kitted out in rainbow sparkled unicorn paraphernalia. I’d never felt so alive.
The Liberty bridge is the shortest crossing in the city and was originally built for the 1896 millennium exhibition to commemorate the 1,000 year anniversary of the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian basin. Its unique, powder green coloring is stunning and in my ever so humble opinion the double backed dragon is the most aesthetically interesting bridge in the whole city. The bridge was electrified. All summer long the Liberty bridge makes for an ideal evening drinks spot. This is particularly the case on weekends in July when they close the bridge to traffic and it turns into a pedestrianized party zone. There’s people reveling everywhere and you could forgiven for thinking you were on the streets of Portugal or Spain for a moment.
We relieved ourselves from the chaos and got a final drink at Esetleg, a lovely riverside bar, and finally farewell to Eddie, Marija, the youtube girls and the documentarians to make our way over to Dürer Kert on the other side of Pest. Our friend Homer was the outdoor stage at this multi-room party complex. It ended up being an incredibly late night of psychadelic goa trance and I spent all of Sunday like a plate of mashed potatoes.
Weekend 3 – Lumas Gallery, Pontoon, the Surrealist Exhibition and Gátőrház in Göd
This most recent weekend was a more subdued affair. On Friday I was planning on photographing the entirety of Dohány utca – my home street – but it began to rain like cats and dogs so I only managed to snap a few pics of the the Erzébet church on Rozsa tere. But oh what a church it is. Though the (literally its full name) is but a hop and a skip from our flat and I walk past it all the time, this was the first occasion that I’d ever properly scanned its surrounds and the interior as well.
Szent Erzébet was a 13th century Magyar princess who wed by 14, was widowed at 20 and died herself 24 years young. She was beatified (that’s the word for being turned into a saint) for charitable work and producing several miracles. The most famous of these miracles was actually known as the miracle of the roses and perhaps that is where the name of the square which surrounds the church originates. I don’t know just making educated guesses here people, don’t shoot the damn messenger.
I also came to the realization that Dohány utca is bookended by two wonderful religious temples on §either end. The more famous Dohány Utca Synagogue down at the start and the beautiful Szent Erzébet church over by my neck of the woods. Like I said it was beginning to rain bloody murder so my planned foray down the entirety of Dohány was foiled.
Instead I scuttled across town in a Bolt (Hungarian Uber – download if you are in town makes things so much easier) over to the Lumas Gallery. Lumas is a great little photo gallery featuring the work award winning artists. The shop is like a miniature art museum and the staff is incredibly helpful and friendly. I made this little music video for them while I was there, overcoming a near disastrous fountain accident in the process.
Saturday afternoon rolled around and I went to meet Tom and Alberto to play basketball in Városliget aka city park. I’ll walk you through this biggest Budapestian green space at a future date. After basketball I was walking along wistfully in the haze of a late Saturday summer afternoon and stopped by the unbeatable Kertem – a seasonal beer garden that seems to change its location more often like the Reeds of Greywater watch. And if you get that reference slide into my DMs immediately. It was on the way to the beer garden that I had a fascinating encounter with an English fashion executive who supplied me with some fantastic blogging inspiration (he was into the absurd obscurities as well).
Alexa and I then went to meet Marco down at Pontoon for a Tom Trago concert. I’m not going to lie Pontoon has been too crowded for my tastes this year – but with the weather in question the crowd was more manageable that usual and the beats were divine. It was Pontoon at its best and I stared out mesmerized by liquid jelly light dancing off the onyx Danube, reflecting Hungarian architectural marvels off of its face.
After the concert we stopped off at the unbeatable Kőleves. Not only do they have arguably the best drinking zone in the entire city at their outdoor beer garden, but I was reminded once again that the food at ‘Stone Soup’ restaurant does not fuck around when it comes to cuisine. Marco and Myself tucked into succulent duck breast and goose leg with Jewish style baked beans, while Alexa devoured her grilled goat cheese salad. We washed it all down with a bottle of Furmint from Tokaj and called it a night.
The next early afternoon we fetched Marco at his house on Akácfa along with his new Spanish roommate Luis and we made our way up to Buda Castle to see the new Dali and Magritte exhibit at the Hungarian National Gallery. The exhibit is active until October 20th and is an absolute must see. There are only about 3 large paintings each by the two surrealists, but the exhibit walks you through the entire breadth of the surrealist movement and features incredibly informational text throughout. It was a pleasure walking through the minds of these early 20th century legends of the bizarre.
After the museum Alexa and I made our way just outside of Budapest to chill out as the grand finale of the weekend. Our destination was Göd (pronounced Guhd), a little town just north of Budapest on the Pest side. Alexa loves Göd. We’d been there once before last summer to go to an island known as the Homoksziget. It’s walkable in the summer when the riverbed dries up and made for the greatest sunset spots I’ve ever been to.
This time around there was no time for the island. Instead we hastened over towards Gödi Termálfürdő, which is the bathhouse in Göd. Alexa told me that it was hardly even a real bath house – only having one outdoor pool in the whole facility – and that she wasn’t sure I would like it. I told her that as the preeminent bath house bandit in the entire Carpathian basin I was duty bound to try each and every thermal water refuge in Hungary no matter the shape, size, make or model. The bath house was incredibly small featuring a rectangular pool in the shade of a leafy canopy. I wouldn’t mark it down as a must see, but I hardly regretted going. It ended up being the perfect way to wind down Sunday evening.
After the baths Alexa had a little surprise in store in the form of the riverside shanty pub called Gátőrház which quickly became one of my favorite bars of all time. The small reggae infused lounge provides perfect view of the river at sunset with the Pilis Mountains in the horizon. Laid back vibes, chilled tunes, tasty food and ice cold craft beer (Balkan inspired Cevapi and a local pilsener – pictured below ). I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to the tremendous triumvirate of weekends I have had since returning back to Budapest. Long may it continue.
Hey there folks. I hope that you enjoyed this article. It is a narrative of my first three weekends back in Budapest. There are plenty of helpful tips in here to inspire you’re own explorations of this lovely city. All of the photography is my own unless otherwise noted.