Since St Andrews gives students 2 weeks off of classes to revise (study) for exams, I spent 6 days of those 2 weeks visiting Kenedy in Budapest. I’ve wanted to go to Hungary, since that’s where my great grandma was from, so this was a perfect combination of circumstances! I arrived on the last Thursday in April, which happened to coincide with some of the first times the temperature had gotten around 80˚. Needless to say, coming from mild 55˚ Scotland, I was kind of attacked by heat. We stopped for lunch at a street vendor and had langos, or fried bread, with sour cream, onions, and kielbasa. After dropping my stuff at his apartment, we went to Hero’s Square, where famous Hungarian leaders are immortalized in statue form. The central figures are the 7 Magyar princes who came from the east and founded Hungary, and the curving wall behind them has all the Hungarian kings. Then we walked through the park, seeing a beer bike that had stopped to allow the peddlers to refil from the keg and some topless sunbathers. It was certainly a “welcome to Europe” experience!
Friday we saw more of the city and brought Kenedy’s friend and roommate Brian with us. Lunch was falafal from a street vender, which was absolutely fantastic. Then starting on the Pest side, where Kenedy’s been living, we walked past parliament (which unfortunately was surrounded by scaffolding and construction) and saw the flag that had the communist symbols cut out of it. We also saw where the 1957 student revolution took place and the balls that have been affixed to the wall everywhere the bullets hit them. There were so many… After a brief ice cream stop, since it was just as hot as the previous day, we walked along the Danube and crossed it to get to the Buda side to see Buda castle. We didn’t go in the castle itself, but after wandering the grounds a bit and practicing our archery and spear throwing skills, we went to the museum and explored that. There were also the ruins of the medieval castle underneath, and we wandered that for a bit. The gardens of the medieval castle must have been spectacular! We ate at a vegan restaurant on our way back that night. The vegan goulash was fantastic, and so was the coffee – espresso with corn starch instead of milk.
Saturday the three of us headed back to the Buda side, this time in search of Roman ruins. After hunting within about a one mile radius and only finding an amphetheatre taken over by grass and sketchy Chinese food, we eventually got directions to the place. We didn’t spend much time in the inside museum part, instead wandering around the ruins. There was a replica of what a house might have looked like, but otherwise everything was just sitting there with grass and rocks, even a few trees, and no one to tell you where to walk and what pathways to stick to. We were literally walking on Roman walls. It was absolutely incredible.
Sunday, the three of us went on a day trip to Lake Balaton. We went to the tourist town of Balatonfüred on the north bank. When I say tourist town, I mean “tourist town for Hungarians and Germans.” No one we encountered spoke English; thankfully, Kenedy has enough rudimentary Hungarian and Brian has enough rudimentary German that we had no real issues. The town is known for its vineyard hikes (Hungary is famous for wine, apparently), but we couldn’t actually find any. Instead we just did a random hike through some neighborhoods and across a hill. After a bit more of a walk and a picnic lunch, we went to try and find a beach on the lake. This proved nearly impossible. Since it was Sunday, we could gain access to the beaches for free. But just about every sandy area was closed off for final preparations for the main tourist season, which hadn’t started yet. Also, our goal had been to swim, but no one was in the water unless they were on a boat. Finally, we asked a woman working one of the food stands where the swimming was, and after pointing at the place we’d come from we decided to hop the construction tape and go in. The water was pretty muddy, but not too cold. However, just when we were enjoying ourselves and swimming out a little, Brian made contact with what he thought was a jellyfish. Knowing that jellyfish could be bad and not knowing whether any were actually in the lake, I got out as fast as possible, and the others followed. The guys decided to see who could throw a rock in the farthest at this point, when suddenly we noticed movement near shore – we were being followed by a snake! Needless to say, we got out of the area completely and went to the food stand for a beer to recouperate. We headed back to Budapest soon after, and Kenedy and I went to a slightly touristy restaurant for dinner because they had chicken paprikas. It was good, partly because by the time we got there and got our food we were both starving, but it was touristy and wasn’t Novak’s.
Monday was the last full day I had, so Kenedy and I spent the day exploring on the Buda side again. We went to a church inside a cave, which was pretty cool. Hungary is a very Catholic country, despite the communists’ best attempts to close down the churches (including the cave church). I was wearing a tank top, since the weather was still hot, and I had to cover up with a shawl. I felt less bad about not coming properly attired when a group of middle aged women came in after us, also wearing the loaner shawls. The church itself was very pretty. There were also videos telling the history of the church, the most spectacular of which included a sombre choral version of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.” I don’t know if anyone’s tried to tell them the song isn’t sacred or spiritual at all. After that, Kenedy and I attempted to hold in our laughter and started exploring the hill the cave church is in. Budapest is a gorgeous city, particularly the Buda side, and there were lots of trees and lilac bushes, as well as some spectacular views of the city. The top of the hill has a liberty statue, built to commemorate Hungarian soldiers. Apparently, some want to tear it down because it was constructed under communism, so if/when we ever go back it might not be there. After that, we decided to walk to Buda castle and find food in that area, which proved to be a long, hot ordeal. By the time we got food, we were both pretty exhausted, so after seeing the outside of St Stephen’s Cathedral on the Pest side we headed back to the apartment.
All in all, Hungary was a fantastic place to visit. It’s got so much fascinating history! It was also an interesting contrast to St Andrews. I went from a posh place with medieval architecture, expensive cars, and more golf courses than anyone could possibly know what to do with to a place where the buses aren’t freshly painted, there’s cheap and delicious street food all over, even the nice apartments were obviously built under the communist regime, and numerous brightly colored playgrounds are scattered all over. I’m really glad I got the chance to explore the side streets, suburbs, and local tourists haunts instead of just seeing the super touristy downtown area. I’d love to go back and explore more of the country.