Traveler’s Takeaways: Budapest

Sadly, my time  posting from the road was short-lived. I managed to catch the flu while I was in Budapest, so by the time I would sit down to try and write — I found myself pretty low on energy. I am currently back home in the U.S. fighting jet lag.  But, I am happy to finally be able to pen some of my biggest takeaways from the great city of Budapest.

Big city

First off, Budapest is big! At 203 square miles — it is nearly five times the size of Paris! This is helped by the fact that Budapest was originally three different cities. Buda and Pest were the larger of the two and while they remain unified in name, they are still split by the Danube river, which runs between the two. Thankfully, Budapest has an efficient public transport system that includes a metro, overground trams and buses.

Budapest’s Golden Age

Budapest has some incredible, yet deceptive buildings. The Hungarian Parliament Building for example, is probably the most intriguing structure in Budapest. It looks a bit medieval in its style and is the tallest building in the whole country. It’s also only a hundred years old. Many of Budapest’s most visited sites such as the Grand Market Building, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Opera House were all built in the late 1800s or early 1900s. This was when Budapest was at it’s peak culturally and academically. Most of the buildings however were built in a gothic or renaissance style so they look much older than they truly are.

Speaking Hungarian in Hungary

In a former post, I advised that if you’re in a foreign country — the first words you speak should be the local language. I am amazed to report that this is actually NOT advised in Hungary. There were several instances where I greeted someone with “Szia” (hello in Hungarian) and they assumed I was Hungarian. Then when they proceeded to converse with me in Hungarian — I had to awkwardly state that I couldn’t speak the language. I would then receive a confused look — almost as if to ask why I didn’t start in English.

Overall, the Hungarians I met in Budapest spoke perfect English and seemed perfectly un-offended if you began a conversation sans Hungarian. Additionally, every Hungarian I met was polite and extremely helpful. I don’t think I have ever been in such a tourist friendly city.

Lack of local color

The biggest thing that disappointed me about Hungary was that they don’t actually have a thriving local underbelly. You won’t find too many bars or shops where only the locals go.

Most places in Budapest seem to be a mix of both locals and tourists. This would usually be ideal for me because it means you’re not as likely to get funneled into over-priced places where the only people you meet are other tourists and the restaurant you’re in is some exaggerated caricature of local cuisine and atmosphere.

However, it was a down-side when I wanted to find some good souvenirs or keep sakes. The only areas there seemed to go for “Hungarian souvenirs” were the tacky shops that carry t-shirts that say “I Love Budapest” and carry Russian Babushka dolls (which have nothing to do with Hungary). So, if I wanted a nice scarf or a cool piece of jewelry made by a local artist — I was out of luck. Unfortunately, Budapest (like most former Eastern-block areas) are still in catch-up mode and it might be conjectured that there hasn’t been the time or luxury to cultivate the type of local color that you find in other major European cities.

The trip to Budapest was incredible and the five days spent there were easily filled up. I’ve already made a list of things to do for a future return trip. In the mean time — I look forward to writing more on this excursion to the Hungarian capital.

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