A look back on Budapest

It’s nearly the end of a very interesting and hopefully unusual year. From a completely personal perspective, ignoring all geopolitical ramifications, it’s been a pretty good one. I’ve made progress with some of my goals. Some of them cut significantly into my blogging time – in case you haven’t noticed. I’ve also visited new places and met some great new people.

As for the world as a whole, well that’s a different story. But we all know what 2016 has been like.

One of my goals for the year was to see more places, and I luckily had the chance and motivation to do it. With my EU passport in hand, I enjoyed the luxuries of seeing living, breathing cities and playing the ‘what if we moved here’ game.

Way back in May, we visited Budapest for the wedding of two lovely friends. Since we had a week there, we also snuck off to Vienna for a day. But there was plenty to see and eat in Hungary for one post, so you’ll just have to be patient.

Budapest is like two cities in one, the Buda side of the Danube is quieter, and full of the regal, stately buildings you’d expect in the co-capital of a former empire, while the Pest side is trendy and great for a night out.

We arrived at our beautiful Airbnb, right near Parliament on the Buda side of the river to the open-air musical tones of a street fair. Our bags safely dropped and our hunger calling us outside, it was time to explore.

First step: Get some pompos. It’s a Hungarian pizza, a bit like langos but not deep fried. Smothered in sour cream and smoked pork, it was great company for our wander through the market.

Pompos - Hungarian style pizza in Budapest

Next step: Get to know the neighborhood. The Hungarian Parliament Building has a prime spot alongside the Danube, and it’s made it through a lot of history, including the begrudgingly shared Austro-Hungarian empire and that whole First World War. Sure is pretty though.

The Parliament building in Budapest is pretty grand

Budapest Parliament at night

The Danube is huuuge! Because I live near the Thames, I just expect every city’s major river to be similar… but this river, which runs through 10 countries, is a whole other kettle of fish.

The big and beautiful Danube

Soon enough, it was time to visit Pest. To get a drink in one of the most unusual drinking spots in the world, you have to hit up one of Budapest’s famous Ruin Bars. Szimpla Kert is probably the best known and the most popular.

Time for a szimpla ruin bar selfie

On Sunday mornings, they also have a farmers’ market. You can get all sorts of locally-produced goodies, including Mangalica ham, fresh cheese (including the ultimate in romance – a heart shaped soft goat cheese), honey and plenty of fresh beautiful veg to stock your Airbnb minifridge.

Reflecting on the Szimpla Kert Farmers Market

Szimpla Kert Farmers Market

Paprika from the Szimpla Kert Farmers Market

Szimpla Kert Farmers Market

Obviously we also found our way to the brightly colored street food market. I think we might have better appreciated the beef goulash on a day that wasn’t 25C/77F, but an ice cold beer helped.

Found the street food market... obviously.

Street food goulash and a crisp Hungarian beer

The Great Market Hall is a mix of food stalls and tat shops, but if you need a £2 souvenir for someone, this is the place. There are also some good baked things to sample, and though we didn’t get any, the veggies looked fresh and tempting.

I love a good veg shot A tough choice at the meat counter. All the paprika - Hungary's most famous souvenir

I was truly not interested in the jostling queues and the irate people running the hot food stalls, so we escaped and grabbed a quick (and surprisingly really good) kebab from a spot. (It wasn’t nearly as fatty as my photo makes it look – I promise.)

When the market was too crowded, we tried a random kebab shop nearby... and it was actually pretty good!

One of my favorite places to visit was Margaret Island, an oasis in the middle of the river. Go for a peaceful walk along tree-lined paths, spot the well-manicured make out corner (seriously… it was really hot and heavy over there), and then stop off at the beer garden for some refreshment.

There’s a lot more to see, including a musical fountain and a small zoo, and on a hot day you can escape the heat at the swimming pool.

Beer that way, you say?

A good post-beer, pre-fountain show snack.

The right snack after visiting a beer garden

Obviously I had to buy a pastel plate when I saw this set up…

I paced myself and only bought one pastel plate

The city has some great vantage points, including Gellert Hill and Buda Castle. You could take a funicular up to the castle, but if you can face a walk, I would recommend it.

The grounds of Buda Castle

For some reason I really like this fountain, even if it's about a hunting party

Oh you know, just a pink bag with a cat on it

The views are pretty good – and a little less jarring than the Soviet era statues.

The Danube - still a good looking river

On Gellert Hill

After all that walking, scoops of fig and stracciatella ice cream were a must. Levendula has a few locations across Budapest, and I’d recommend a few scoops if you have the chance.

Fig on top, chocolate swirl on the bottom

A stop off at a craft beer bar was also essential, and Ganz Söröző was a nice place to rest our weary feet and cool off. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t seem to exist in many big cities – where every single beer is hand-picked by a proprietor who is enthusiastic to talk through their merits.

When every beer in the place is specifically chosen by the owner, you know you found a cool craft beer bar

For a special dinner out, we went to Mák Bisztro (in English, poppy seed bistro) just minutes away from Parliament. This modern Hungarian restaurant showcases seasonal Hungarian produce, in some non-traditional ways.

The friendly, relaxed atmosphere is just right after a sunny day of sightseeing. Plenty of whitewashed exposed brick and easy on the credit cards … especially if you’re used to New York or London prices.

Here are just a few of the dishes we had: A starter of trout with pickled green rhubarb.

A starter from Mak -

Another starter – scallops with green peas, green strawberries, clover and a bright, fresh green sauce. Budapest - A starter from Mak - scallops with pickled strawberries and sweet peas

The famous Hungarian mangalica pork in filet-form with breaded Jerusalem artichokes and fairy-ring mushrooms. (So savory!)Budapest - Mangalisa pork filet with chanterelles and Jerusalem artichoke at Mak

Chocolate and rhubarb a few ways. A great sweet, savory and fresh combo.

Dessert at Mak Bistro

A few blocks from City Park is the Goat Herder espresso bar. We had the absolute best coffee of the trip, coupled with a delicious homemade toffee and walnut cake.

Budapest - The Goat Herder had the absolute best coffee of the trip, coupled with a delicious homemade cake

Thank you to Budapest for the great week! While I didn’t take any photos for obvious reasons, we also visited some of the city’s famous baths. Even on a hot day, they’re worth a visit.

Eventually, we had to say goodbye to the view from our Airbnb balcony and leave Budapest behind.

The view from our Airbnb's balcony

But! That’s not all. We stayed at a quirky hotel for horse riders, stables and all, the night of the beautiful (and entirely in Hungarian) wedding.

I couldn’t share this post without documenting the stewed pork, potatoes and red cabbage lunch that cost a whopping £3.50.

Budapest - A hearty lunch of beef, potatoes and red cabbage

Bonus: Wedding photo, including Converse <3

Nora and Balint got married!

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