Last week we jumped aboard an EasyJet flight to Budapest. It was one of the places we knew least about before leaving, so we arrived with no expectations and open minds. Six days later we left having enjoyed every minute of our time and wondering when we’ll come back.
For those of you who revel monthly in the adventures of Chryss, Budapest and its ruin bars will be familiar. Dotted around Budapest, these bars are funky and relaxed places to grab a drink. They come to life in the shells of old (and in some cases earmarked for demolition) buildings, hence the ‘ruin’ part.
We ended up at Szimpla Kert, the one that started the trend back in 2001. Although the bars really fire up later in the evening, going earlier in the day was a family-friendly alternative. We found stopping in for a refreshing lemonade was a great way to cool down after a long, hot day exploring.
Langos. You must eat langos.
Another gem discovered via Chryss’s blog was Retro Bufe Langos. Langos is the delicious Hungarian answer to pizza. The bready base shares similarities with pizza dough, shallow fried rather than baked. On top, sour cream replaces a pizza’s tomato paste. Then comes sausage, chillies, or whatever else takes your fancy. Then cheese.
You can’t be told how good langos is. You will read these words but still not grasp the absolute waist-destroying tastiness of this simple meal.
Retro Bufe Langos is a dodgy looking hole-in-the-wall selling langos and crepes from the side of a metro station. If there is a better place to get this stuff, I need to know immediately. It was great.
When Svet and I arrived at Retro Bufe, we saw the size of the fried monsters on offer and decided to split one for lunch. When we finished, we admitted that sharing was a huge mistake. A few hours later we returned for dinner. This time, though, there was no sharing. Both times we opted for the “full house”. Go large or go home!
Water, water everywhere
For the week we were there, Budapest was hot. So, so hot. It was hot in the morning when we left the house for a day’s exploring. By midday, it was very, very hot. In the evening it stayed hot.
This was delightful. Better than the alternative of being in Melbourne where (by all accounts, I wouldn’t actually know) it is very, very cold at the moment.
But the result was we were often hot. Budapest had two answers for us. One was refreshing Hungarian lemonades sold basically everywhere. The other was fountains.
There were big fountains and small fountains. Fountains to sit by and fountains to run through. Fountains to stick your feet in. Lovely!
A couple of times, the kids went mental in a fountain and got soaked head to toe. The same heat that drove them into the water then quickly dried their clothes. Except for their shoes, which stayed soggy for the rest of the day.
Almost on the doorstep of our apartment was a large water feature. It was above and to one side of Akvarium Klub, an underground bar. It was a very cool place, which you already know because Klub is spelt with a K instead of a C. At all times of the day and well into the night, people sat around dangling their legs in the cool water. A few times we joined them, and enjoyed an ice cream while soaking our weary feet.
As an aside, the ice cream we most enjoyed from near the Klub was ‘Hungarian spit cake’ flavoured. A spit cake, or kürtőskalács as I like to call it, is a hollow tube of cinnamon pastry filled with cream, nutella or vanilla ice cream. So we had an ice cream that tasted like a cake that is filled with ice cream. How meta. And how tasty!
Out and about
Budapest is very pretty. What I found most interesting is the relative youth of the city. Between floods and wars, much of the city was built or rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries. Monumental buildings that on first glance seem several hundred years old turn out to be finished in the late 1800s. When we were reading the history of places, a common thread was “this building was first built in 834, rebuilt in 1326, pulled down and replaced in 1593, then rebuilt after the devastating flood of 1838 and restored to its current state after WWII”.
This has allowed Budapest to mix beautiful “old” buildings with modern planning, including a well integrated tram system and metro. You can also see the changing influences over time, from the Holy Roman Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Soviet era. The place we stayed in was classic communist Eastern bloc – a stark no-frills facade, although updated inside to be a luxurious and modern apartment. In this way it really did reflect Budapest – retaining and celebrating its roots but moving with the times.
We also saw some of these wonderful buildings writ small at Miniversum, a place we stumbled on as we walked up the tree-lined Andrássy boulevard.
Another throwback to communist times is the children’s railway. Run and staffed by (supervised) children, this railway winds through the forests above Buda. It was originally created as part of the ‘pioneer’ camps to indoctrinate Hungarian youth into the communist party. Now it is a lovely way to spend a morning.
Langos deserved its own section, but Budapest has plenty of other great food on offer. Budapest is very much like Melbourne when it comes to eating out. The restaurant scene is extremely cosmopolitan and always evolving. Great quality restaurants across any cuisine are there for the taking. We did though try to stay on the Hungarian side of things when eating (apart from one moment of weakness for a French breakfast). When in Rome, et cetera.
A couple of the highlights were street food style eateries. The first was upstairs in Central Market. We picked a food stall that looked inviting and grabbed a rare spare table. The pork knuckle, goulash and Hungarian sausage were all great.
The next day we stumbled across a small outdoor kitchen, up Buda Hill near Fisherman’s Bastion. It was run by three super grumpy women who didn’t mind giving rude people a bit of a serve. We won them over with our charming smiles and terrible pronunciation of ‘kozonom’ (thank you). After a long hot morning of walking Buda Hill, it was great to sit with an oversized wurst and a cold lemonade under the shady trees.
If and when we return to Budapest, it will be because of the food. Not that Budapest wasn’t a very interesting city to visit. We saw a lot, and enjoyed every moment. But Budapest seems to be a real foodie paradise. Maybe next time we take a 6 month holiday…