I have to admit, I don’t usually plan trips abroad too far in advance but with my boyfriend Tom’s 30th birthday coming up, I made an exception. I settled on the idea of Budapest after having had a few sunny beach holidays recently. Whilst I wish I could take credit for our fabulous itinerary, I will confess a colleague of mine had recently just come back from Budapest and had provided me with plenty of recommendations. And shamelessly we did everything she suggested, so I can’t say our trip was all that original on our part!
So, departure day finally rolled around and with it a stonking hangover (I blame Jas!). While the ‘Beast from the East’ continued to batter London and the South East, we sat in the BA Lounge and I nursed an extra-large coffee, forcing myself to finish a litre of water in the hope that it would revitalise me. I can’t say either helped all that much and I fell fast asleep before the plane had even taken off. I woke up to the announcement that we were making our final descent into Budapest Airport. Luckily, there didn’t seem to be as much snow there as London had, and frankly, I was relieved. I was done with slipping in the snow and being confined to the house as #Snowmageddon made it near impossible for me to drive, let alone take the train to work that week!
We arrived at Hotel Parliament, a charming little hotel on a side street just a few minutes from the main sights. I was instantly taken with the hotel which had recently been renovated, and its super friendly staff. Tom and I made a quick pit stop to drop off our bags before lunch. Our room had super high ceilings and four huge floor-to-ceiling windows with tonnes of natural light – something I often find lacking in city centre properties.
We headed out to Zeller Bistro. Apart from a small sign on the side of the building, you would never have guessed that Zeller Bistro existed. Dark windows and no obvious patrons in the dining room made us question if we were even at the right place, or if it had been shut down since I made the reservation months before. Eventually, someone exited, and we slipped in in their wake. We were greeted with a complimentary sweet sparkling wine drink each and shown through to the main dining room which had an enormous atrium style window, and amazing decor. The atmosphere was buzzy, and there was so much to look at including a wall made of painted doors and lots of hanging foliage that gave the dining room a bit of a garden conservatory vibe. Tom and I both had the mushroom soup and then a different pork main course. Tom picked the pork cheek, which I have to admit was the better choice; although my pork chop and baked apple wasn’t too shabby either! We each had a large glass of rosé and enjoyed our long relaxing lunch as I tried to kick the hangover. Neither of us fancied dessert, and so we settled up and were both pleasantly surprised at how cheap the whole meal was at just £36. Heading off to do some sightseeing, I’m pleased to say I was finally feeling much better.
First on our list was St. Stephen’s Basilica located just around the corner from the restaurant. St. Stephen’s is a grand Catholic church, named in honour of the first King of Hungary (Stephen), whose supposed “incorruptible” right hand is mummified and housed within the Church. The site of today’s basilica was a theatre in the 18th Century which once hosted animal fights. After a few photos and a quick wander around, we headed off to the Hungarian Parliament Building. Random fact: as we were walking there we overhead some fellow tourists saying that both the Basilica and the Parliament Building are exactly the same height at 96 metres tall. This apparently symbolises worldly and spiritual thinking have the same importance, and current regulations prohibit the construction of any building taller than 96 metres in Budapest.
On our way to the Hungarian Parliament Building, we wandered past a few interesting sights including the Memorial to the Victims of the German Invasion, situated at the far end of Liberty Square. Apparently, the monument was erected under the cover of darkness and it memorialises the German Occupation of Hungary in 1944. Many see this as an attempt by the government to rewrite history. The reason? Hungary was one of Nazi Germany’s first allies in the Second World War and German troops were welcomed and celebrated as they entered Hungary. Now a site of passive protest, locals have objected to the erection of the memorial. In protest, they have left Holocaust-related memorabilia opposite the monument to the 1944 German occupation, to show that the strongly oppose what the monument stands for.
As we drew closer to Parliament Square, we passed a slightly bizarre statue of Imre Nagy who was the Prime Minister of Hungary after the end of World War II. His second term in power ended during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, and he was executed in 1958 and buried in an unmarked grave. His name became a symbol of freedom and consequently a taboo word which was forbidden under Communist rule. In 1989, as the communist power dissipated he was reburied at Heroes’ Square and his statue now stands to face the Parliament building. The Parliament Building itself lies on the bank of the Pest side of the Danube and is most impressive with Buda Castle on the far banks of the river. Construction on the building started in 1885 and was finally completed in 1904. We didn’t go inside but opted for a long walk around the impressive building.
That evening we headed back out into the bitter cold (-2c at this point) and made our way back to St. Stephen’s Basilica Square. Tom George Italian was the most un-Hungarian restaurant that we visited, and we both found it to be quite generic and that we could have been anywhere in the world. It didn’t help that we were seated next to a table of four loud Americans, who were all in the film industry working on location in Budapest. We were both quite tired at this point, but the four creatives provided light entertainment. The name dropping that was happening was quite impressive, and we sneakily had a little check on IMDB to see who they were – I must say their resumes were quite impressive! Despite the lack of atmosphere and the unenticing pasta dishes on the menu, we did find a huge pizza menu that was exactly what we were after. Although I had planned for us to go out for cocktails after dinner, Tom suggested that we head back to the hotel and have an early night ready for more sightseeing the next day.
Upon arriving back in our room, I was delighted to find that the hotel had sent up a bottle of Hungarian sparkling wine and a tray of delicious looking truffles. I love a freebie and thought that it was such a lovely thing of the hotel to do for their guests, and instantly decided that I would write them the best review ever. “Little do you know…” Tom calmly started to explain, as he got down on one knee!!!! My voice suddenly became very high pitched, and I started jumping around the room shouting “YES, YES, YES!” We popped the cork on the bubbles it hit me…we were really engaged!
I must admit that I didn’t sleep much that night. I was still so excited – every few minutes I would find myself playing with the ring or being distracted by its constant sparkling, admiring it under different lights and trying to tone down my Cheshire cat grin. The next morning, we went for a walk to Buda Castle, which provided the perfect backdrop for a few ‘we just got engaged’ photos.
The walk across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge was a beautiful one, on one side of the Danube was the Parliament Building, and on the other side was Buda Castle. As we crossed the bridge we stopped to admire the view, before starting the short climb up to Buda Castle. We enjoyed a short walk around the Castle, taking in the views rippling river below, before heading over to Fisherman’s Bastion.
Fisherman’s Bastion is a neo-Gothic style terrace situated on the Buda bank of the Danube and surrounds Matthias Church. It was designed and built between 1895 and 1902 and was fully restored after its near destruction during World War II. We loved the detailed colourful tiling on the Church, which was originally built in Romanesque style in 1015. The current building was constructed in the florid late Gothic style in the second half of the 14th century and was extensively restored in the late 19th century.
We popped into Déryné Bistro for some brunch. I absolutely loved this restaurant with its high ceilings, lots of mirrors, chandeliers, foliage and gilt edges, with a huge central bar and lots of tucked away tables surrounding it. As we walked in, I spotted the largest meringue nests that I have ever seen. A jazz trio started up soon after we were seated. We were so impressed by the atmosphere and food, and the amazing value of the meals. I highly recommend the Caesar salad with a side of the mac and cheese – it was fantastic!
We then jumped in a taxi and headed over to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Be warned, these are a tourist trap! Don’t forget your swimsuits and I suggest taking your own flip-flops and towels and leaving all your valuables in your hotel safe. We got caught out and although we’d packed our swimming stuff, we had to rent towels and flip flops and they weren’t exactly cheap (about 4,000 HUF/ £10 each), plus the admission charge of 5,900 HUF each for access to the baths and use of a cabin to change in/ store our belongings in. Once outside the thermal bath is full of tourists and you end up packed like sardines in a giant 28-degree hot bath, with strangers on all sides and no one really observes the public decency of personal space. I have to say, this was one ‘must-see sight’ that I could have missed. I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and shower!
That night we had a reservation at Borssó Bistro. We were seated on the little mezzanine level of the intimate restaurant and enjoyed the atmosphere below and listened to a classical guitarist duo. The menu was very traditional, and I couldn’t resist ordering the paprika lamb stew that came with bread dumplings. It was amazing! Tom had a steak, and although pricey (about £35 for his main!) was totally worth it. It would easily have cost double if we had been in London. We decided against dessert and instead headed off to Vintage Garden for cocktails. I absolutely LOVED this place. Tucked away in the Jewish Quarter, it had lots of fresh flowers on the tables, white furniture, pink balloons. We ordered cocktails, and a delectable blueberry Oreo cheesecake to share. They didn’t disappoint and were delicious.
We had been told by quite a few people that we had to check out the Ruin Bars in the Jewish Quarter, so we headed to the most popular; Szimpla Kert. Ruin Bars are a phenomenon in Budapest – condemned buildings that have been transformed into cultural spaces/party zones. Set in the shell of a crumbling factory, Szimpla Kert was one of the originals. The interior is quirky and features old mismatched items such as electronic devices, prehistoric toys, old bikes, and even vintage Trabant car! The crowd was mainly made up offoreigners, and once inside we quickly decided it wasn’t our scene. Think techno club meets Drink, Shop & Do in London, with the added quirkiness of Shoreditch thrown in for good measure. We felt like the oldest people in there, and we are only in our late twenties! After doing a quick lap to admire the weirdness of the bar, we left without even ordering a drink! I think the Ruin Bars would be a great place to hang out if you were travelling solo or perhaps in your early twenties, but they weren’t for us and we headed back to the peacefulness of our hotel bar for a nightcap.
The next day we woke to the depressing thought that it was home time. As we packed up, we were both a little subdued as we knew we were leaving our little engaged bubble of Budapest. Exhausted by the heavy meals and sightseeing, we opted out of our scheduled sightseeing for that morning (boat cruise and tram ride to Margaret Island) and decided instead to hole up in a little French café around the corner from the hotel. After a light brunch of chocolate croissants, we headed back to the hotel and then onwards to the airport for our flight back to London.
Budapest was a magical city break for us and will always hold a special place in our hearts. Even if Tom hadn’t ‘popped the question’ I would have loved the city for its amazing food and fantastic value. We escaped the ‘Beast from the East’ and got lost in a place that has a huge amount of history and fantastic sights around every corner. The sparkling ring just made it all the better.
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**This is a guest blog for www.jetsetwithjas.com