When we arrived at the campsite we’d selected for Budapest, we were told that it was their last day open for the season. Whoops! It goes to show how time escapes you when you’re travelling. Luckily there was another one not too far away that was open all year. On the way, we went past the local football stadium where there was a match in full flow. It was obviously a grudge match as we have never seen so many police at a sporting event before. It was incredible: especially for a pretty small football ground. It didn’t look as though there was any trouble kicking off, just the usual spirited chanting, but with police numbers nearing what seemed like nearly as many as there were attending the match, we’d defy anyone to try anything on!
Marcello was given a full briefing from the very friendly, but somewhat toothless campsite manager on arrival, so we felt ready to take on our next city after a night’s sleep. Having said that, we did still employ our other tactic of just wandering and seeing what we come across.
Our first main port of call was the Great Market Hall. This is a vast indoor market, where downstairs there’s an array of fruit, veg, meat, Hungarian foie gras, pastries and, of course, the famous Hungarian export, paprika on sale. When you venture to the hustle and bustle of the first floor, in-between the crafts on sale (not much different to other countries we’ve visited recently) are food stalls – a bit like bigger versions of the kind you’d find at football/rugby matches or funfairs. We’d timed our arrival pretty well: after a pretty long walk to get there and right at the start of lunch. Having walked along checking out what was on offer we picked our stall of choice and began perusing the local offerings. We finally narrowed it down to goulash (had to be done) and stuffed cabbage and aubergine. Perhaps an odd combination but it was nice to try a few different things.
From here we waddled back out onto the streets and decided we needed to walk off a few calories. So we set off back to the other end of town and visited St Stephen’s Basilica on the way to the Parliament building. We did however decline to stop in to see St Stephen’s mummified right hand which is kept in the church!
After walking up and down the city for what must have been about the third time, we decided it was high time to check out one of the local hostelries. We’d read about “ruin pubs” in a guide (pubs that have been opened in formerly deserted buildings destined for destruction), so thought it only fair to visit the first one that had come into existence, Szimpla kert. It was a really cool spot – large interior and courtyard at the back. The entire place was eclectically decorated, with monitors that changed screens at the touch of buttons, Medusa’s hair that comes to life on the press of a nipple, disco balls and many other random items. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in Shoreditch in London.
The next day we crossed the river and took in the views from Matyas Church, an impressive gothic structure itself. However it was the views of Parliament and the rest of the Pest side of the river that particularly caught our attention. The Budapest Parliament building was modelled on the Houses of Parliament in London – something you can’t fail to notice on seeing it.
From here we walked back over the river and back to the Old Market Hall for a second tasting session. This time we tried sausage and bean casserole and a Hortobagy pancake: chicken baked in a pancake with a sauce of paprika and sour cream. We’d been told not to miss this dish by our guidebook but the goulash from the previous day was definitely the winner in our books.
Another meal, another long walk needed, so we set off along the Andrassy Avenue … although we were both kind of wishing we’d got the Metro by the end! However after a quick look around Heroes’ Square, we treated ourselves to a couple of hours in one of Budapest’s thermal spas. The information on where things were and how it all worked was pretty non-existent on arrival, so we felt a little self-conscious when we first walked through the doors and faced the other bathers. We soon got into the swing of it though and were hopping from 34 degree to 38 degree baths and then 60 degree saunas to 20 degree dipping pools (yup, a bit of a shock to the system, but you could really feel your blood pumping!). We also ventured to the outdoor pools and took a dip in the increasingly heavy rain. Not quite the same as a jacuzzi in the snow, but a similarly cosy effect.
Limbs and muscles relaxed, we headed back into town for dinner and then “home” to the campsite and Charlie. By this time the heavens had not only opened but were putting on a spectacular light show, the sky being cut in half with clear, bright lightening. It was incredible to witness, however we were meant to be packing up when we got back, ready for a long drive the next day. We just kept reminding ourselves that it would be good practice for Africa …