Oktogon is the bustling city centre of Pest, a major intersection filled with an array of coffeeshops, high-end stores, and restaurants. Nothing was too expensive, surprisingly, and everything we tried was delicious. My AirBnb was situated very closed by, so I visited the area almost everyday. They have some excellent coffee shops (I visited at least twenty myself), but for some strange reason everyone in Budapest makes their coffee lukewarm, never hot. This usually meant that by the time I was done taking pictures of the cafe, my coffee got cold, and since nobody there understood my English (or at least pretended not to), asking the barista to reheat was too much of a hassle, so I simply drank it cold. Still, it was good coffee, and sitting in sidewalk cafes with a cupful and a good novel made me feel like I was in an Audrey Hepburn movie.
Fisherman’s Bastion was probably the prettiest place I visited in Budapest. It’s an old terrace structure situated in the Castle area that overlooks the sparkling Danube river, and beyond that the sprawling expanse of Pest city. It’s a fairly vast area, sprinkled with coffeeshops and gelato stands and the occasional souvenir store from where I picked up a bunch of amazing postcards. The sky was a clear blue and and a nearby wedding reception provided us with soothing music that complimented the setting. There’s not much to do here except walk around and enjoy the scenery and take some pictures, maybe buy a bottle of wine and sit on one of the public benches with some friends. Their main restaurant was pretty pricey, thanks to the brilliant view, but it was well worth the long walk up.
On our first night in Budapest we went to Szimpla, and old, ruined, shabby pub in the Buda area. The concept is amazing- an entire two storey building decorated like a dilapidated hotel, each room complete with old oil paintings and elaborate chandeliers and (my favourite part) a bar. Mind you, there were at least thirty odd rooms in the entire building, which correlates to THIRTY different bars. Not once did I have to yell at the bartender amidst a seas of drunken college students, which seemed like a dream in itself. There was also no fretting to be done about finding a seat- most of the upstairs rooms were only partly full, so I could pick any table of my choosing. The only sorry sight to be found is the long line out front that snakes miles and miles down the road.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral Square
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a ridiculously tall structure dating back to 1160, the mother church (yes, that’s a real term) of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna. It’s absolutely staggering from the outside, but a little disappointing from within. Perhaps I only say this because I didn’t get to tour the entire building, but how could I when the view outside was so wonderful? The square behind the church is lined with more cafes and coffeeshops (do you see a recurring pattern here?) and is absolutely splendid to walk around. I got some delicious basil and plum gelato (pictures above) in one of the lining bistros, a combination I was equal parts amazed and appalled by. I can’t say it was a particularly memorable stop, but it was certainly pleasant.
Széchenyi Thermal Bath
Széchenyi is one of the biggest and best thermal spas in Budapest- and also the whole of Europe, in fact. To reach there I took an adorably tiny metro train from Oktagon that was relatively empty even during peak hours- a welcome change for someone who travels by the Mumbai railways every morning. The spa is surrounded by acres of garden areas, a tiny pond with ducklings and other assortment of pond-animals, and a castle. It’s the perfect place to have a picnic with wine and classic novels and friends; I enjoyed the walk around the area more than the spa itself, which was basically a large crowded pool with warmish water surrounded by a yellow baroque structure. It’s definitely worth the visit though, even if you don’t step into the spa itself.
The Sziget music festival, an annual affair that’s quite popular in Europe but was unknown to me until I looked it up, happened to fall on the same dates as my short stay in the city. The entirety of it takes places on a tiny island in the Danube river, and has various venues for different events like international music, rock, jazz, theatre, and even local folk music. Having never experienced a music festival before, I was expecting to be suffocated by a disorganised mess of drunk, slobbery, puking humans. I was wrong, except for the drunk part. Sziget was revoltingly well organised- they had more portable toilets than necessary, enough food stores and bars to keep everyone’s alcohol level well above the legal limit, and a large enough area to walk around without getting tackled. It was brilliant. I watched an old band called Hurtz who were quite nice, and the Chainsmokers, who were not, and The Pretty Reckless, who were better than I could’ve imagined possible. Unfortunately I had to leave too early, but the few hours I spent there have restored my faith in music festivals forever.
I enjoyed Budapest very much. It’s probably my favourite city I’ve visited so far, owing mostly to all the wonderful coffee it had to offer. Following this my journey continued in Vienna, of which I shall be writing a post very soon.