And so it was, we had arrived in the city of Pest and Buda (what? More about that later…). A cold and magical city on the Danube River. Picture a perfect blue sky on the morning of this New Year’s Eve.
We started this journey on the 21st of December 2019 [here]. Travel is largely about the experience of places, people and food. Finding your way around in foreign places awakens the senses and as we keep discovering, inspires as much as it informs.
We opted for an AIRBNB as hotels are not that affordable in Budapest, certainly not during this most festive of seasons. Pro tip: hotels are overpriced during this time so rather get an authentic apartment for a few days at a fraction of the cost. Experience the charm of these original run-down Eastern European structures. Ours was on the banks of the Danube. Imagine.
Here’s another #ProTip: Budapest has many luggage stores and for 1 Euro per hour. You can drop your luggage off here and explore the city. Then you return to collect it and head to your Airbnb apartment later in the afternoon. Go [here]
No Uber here, they use Bolt (used to be called Taxify). Travellers with very large and heavy luggage will find using the BOLT app is an easy and convenient alternative to public transport.
Like much of Eastern Europe at this time of the year, Budapest has that Christmas movie feeling. The markets, especially at St Stephen’s Basilica, are lined with Christmas stalls offering traditional Hungarian street foods. The smell of mulled wine, the abundance of apple, cherry and poppy Strudels one cannot get enough of, plenty of sweets and cakes. Sausage stands, goulash soups, lentil soups, veggies and “paprika “. The list could go on.
Interestingly, paprika symbolic of Hungary’s cuisine. This plant was brought to the country by the Turks sometime in the 16-17th centuries.
Many say the Hungarian Parliament Building is the most beautiful in Europe. You won’t be able to miss it, situated on the Kossuth Square on the Pest side of the city and on the bank of the Danube. It was built in the Gothic Revival style with a symmetrical facade and central dome. It’s hard to decide whether it is more striking on a clear blue sky sunny day or at night when the lights reflect on the river.
The architecture is generally a unique mix of old and new and it’s well worth walking amongst the storied buildings. Countless people filled the streets of Budapest with open-air parties ready to greet a new decade. Pro tip: ahead of your visit you’ll be told and read about how the trips on the Danube end before the clock ticks over. Not true, the explosive noise of the fireworks from both sides of the city welcomed 2020 matched by the boats on the river blowing their horns.
There is an abundance of thermal water and Budapest is known as the city of baths. Over 120 hot springs were discovered since the first century AD when the Romans found “healing” water lay beneath the city.
Within a kilometer of our apartment, we headed straight for Király Baths on the first day of the year. Incidentally, we stayed in the Buda part of the city. One of the oldest baths in Budapest. Under Ottoman rule, Pashia Arsion of Buda commissioned construction of the king bath (the central bath of the complex) in 1565. His successor, one Sociola Mustafa, oversaw its completion. The city is full of stories of incomplete constructions, restorations, and interruptions. This one did not escape the ravages of the second world war.
It had all the signs of a Turkish bath. High domed ceilings with tiny glass octagonal openings for rays of light to find their way on the octagonal king pool. The initial atmosphere takes you back to a bygone era as you walk in. Think of old traditional change rooms which cannot be more recent than the 60s. Floor to ceiling old fashioned tiling. Exposed plumbing and heating. All this adds to the authenticity of the place. The staff dressed in white lab coats gave the impression that they would haul out the straitjackets anytime now and we’d be dragged off to the sanatorium. Instead, they were totally friendly and helpful without speaking our language and guided us to an amazing local experience. None of it dressed up to appear like a “Hungarian Budapest experience”. We loved it.
In the cupola-topped pool, we escaped the cold winter and participated in this traditional Hungarian lifestyle. We relaxed in the thermal baths The air filled with a sulfurous smell from the minerals while we soaked in the history of the place.
Thermal waters are rich in minerals including sodium, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, sulfate, chloride and significant amounts of fluoride ion. Therapeutic relaxation techniques make use of these minerals.
Sadly, they will renovate the facility at some point. The baths will look totally lavish (more expensive) and modern. I think the consolidated cities of Pest and Buda have been selling their soul in recent history. There’s a general feel of eclectic mismatched architecture in the same spirit across both sides of the Danube.