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Budapest, Hungary

BUDAPEST

I was in Budapest for 2 nights from 15-17 July 2016. After the frantic run from the centre of Krakow’s old town and through the confusing signs at the central station + shopping mall, I finally reached the bus stop. There was already a big crowd waiting for the bus. It was supposed to have arrived by now (around 11 pm). The crowd was getting restless. Rumours were swirling around that the bus will be an hour late as they’ve received notifications on their local numbers or email but I checked my email and I didn’t get the news ( the email came in late ). I killed time talking to a Singaporean girl and a Ukrainian girl over some biscuits that they happily shared with me.

The Singaporean girl was having a different set of problem. A few hours ago, there was a military coup in Istanbul, Turkey ( 15 July 2016 ) and she was supposed to fly there in a few days after her trip to Budapest. She was now thinking if she should go or if her flight will even fly there now. The bus was 2 hours late and arrived around 1am.  Even then, there were more passengers for one bus. So we squeezed through to get into the first bus or else we’d have to wait for the second bus to arrive. The second bus arrived as we were leaving the terminal. The night was a bit chilly since it was windy and looked like it was going to rain soon. I just wanted to board the bus asap.

The bus drove all night for around 7 hours driving through the the Polish, Slovakian and Hungarian countryside. Not the best way to spend a Saturday night. I was half awake and dozing off throughout the journey so I wasn’t sure where we were but it started raining a few hours before we arrived in Budapest.

We finally arrived at the Budapest bus terminal which is a few metro stops away from the city centre at around 7 am. It was raining heavily and the bus dropped everyone at the roadside near the metro station (Budapeszt Kelenföld vasutallomas M) in the pouring rain. The station is a few kilometres from the city centre. Everyone might be tempted to queue and buy tickets from the first vending machine they find near the entrance. Hence, the queue at the first few machines were long. Walk a bit further down and there will be more ticketing machines.

Ticket types and prices. Click to see more clearly. Wet screen due to me getting wet from the rain outside

The machine only accepts Hungarian Florints ( HUF ) so I used my credit card to buy my ticket. I bought a single ticket to get to the hostel ( HUF 350 ). Looking at the map, it didn’t look like I would need to use public transportation that much especially when it was raining and it kept on raining until the afternoon of the next day ( which was also my last day so I couldn’t really explore the city properly). The next day the weather was a bit better so I bought a 24 hour transport ticket ( HUF 1650 ) and as it turned out, I didn’t feel like walking too much.

After taking a shower and dropping my stuff at the hostel, I walked around my hostel which was located close to the old part of town. Not the best place to stay if you are not a fan of bunk beds as it had a triple bunk bed ( more than the usual double ). The first thing I need to do was to was to get some local currency. I changed €20 and got HUF 6170. As I walked around, the soviet feel is in the air as evidenced by the building designs and old trains and trams used in the network.

Trivia fact : Budapest is actually the combination of 2 cities that lie on opposite banks of the Danube River.

The city to west of the river is Buda and the east is Pest hence the name Budapest. The main places to go in Budapest lies near the Danube River. I joined the free city tour but due to the Red Bull Air Race, there were detours and some places had restricted access. So the free tour route had to be adjusted accordingly and we skipped some places.


Places To Go

The major sights and things you can do in Budapest includes :

1. St Marks Basilica

Can get very crowded. Try to get there early.

St Mark’s Basilica

2. Hungarian Parliament

Unfortunately, it was closed when I arrived maybe because it was a Sunday. It has a large square in front of it which can be a good spot for that tourist photo. The area of town surrounding the parliament is also surrounded by a lot of architecturally beautiful buildings housing government, cultural institutions as well as dwellings. There’s a metro station near the parliament building.

Hungarian Parliament Building

3. Buda Castle

You need to cross the river to Buda part of town to get to Buda Castle but the castle itself is on top of a steep hill. You can pay to take the funicular train or like me, walk up the stairs to the castle. On top of the hill, there are loads of nice looking buildings as well as observation areas where you can get a stunning view of the city. This spot is also crowded with tourists.

The castle complex is quite big so I would recommend allocating at least 1.5 – 2 hours if you want to see everything. Initially, I walked up the stairs to get to the castle but I took the bus to go back down. The metro station at the northern end of the complex was closed because of the Red Bull Air Race but the view you get along the bus journey is not bad either.

4. Chain Bridge

Didn’t know it was a famous city landmark initially but it looked beautiful.

5. Walk along the Danube River

You can get a very nice view of the city from the walking paths along the river. You will pass through some of the main city attractions such as the Hungarian Parliament and the Chain Bridge.

6. Synagogues

You can visit the Grand Synagogue which is one of the largest in Europe. Look at the opening times as it was closed when I came. I tried to go again the next day but the queues for tickets was very long. Instead, I visited another rather hidden synagogue and no tourists were inside. I showed my international student card and the person decided that I don’t need to pay.

7. Museum

I went to the Hungarian National Museum which was free to enter.

8. Communism Free Tour

I would recommend joining this free tour as the tour explains the history of communism and the significance of some of the buildings and statues that you will find along the way. Leaves from the same place as the free tour which is at the column in the square near to Vörösmarty tér metro station.

9. Other Stuff

Another attraction in Budapest are the thermal baths which I did not go due to lack of time and the famous ones were a bit pricey for me.

As for dining in restaurants, I went to some local restaurant where if I understand correctly, tips are expected or a tip is included in the final bill (around 10% ).


Leaving Budapest

The first day I arrived, I knew I was headed to Zurich, Switzerland the next day. I had earlier looked at online prices for a night train. I asked at the train station in case it was cheaper but it turns out the online prices are cheaper by a lot  ( around €20-30 difference ). So I bought the ticket online and went to Nyugati station which is one of the major train stations to get my real ticket. I keyed in my reference number that I got when I purchased online and the machine will dispense your boarding ticket.

Make sure you take note of the station where your train will leave from because Budapest has a few major stations located not  so close to each other and in different directions. My train left from Budapest Keleti station. I met 2 Dutch guys who booked on their ticket using the Rail Europe Pass with a sleeper bed but they went to the wrong station so they missed their train. They ended taking my train but with no seats. They only got seats when some passengers disembarked. Other people were sleeping in the side corridor walkway because they booked last minute and there were no more seats available.

My overnight train from Budapest took almost 14 hours leaving at 8.40pm and arrived in Zurich the next morning at 10.20am. It was not the comfiest ride even though I got a seat. I think it was run by the Hungarian railway network since the trains looked quite outdated. In one compartment, 2 rows of 3 seats each faced each other. Hence, everyone has to fight for leg space especially if you are tall and have long legs. There were no space in the middle in case you need to go out for the toilet. The air conditioning was not working properly making the train hot and stuffy.


Expenses ( 2 days 1 night)

Hostel ( LOL Boutique Hostel – 1 night )   = €20.60

24 hour transport ticket   = HUF 1650

3 x 1 way transport tickets HUF 350 x 3   = HUF 1050

Lunch at restaurant   = HUF 2190 (Includes 10% tip)

Other meals (kebabs, McDonalds, groceries)   = HUF 2500

Personal expenses ( toiletries, tour guide tip etc )   = HUF 2000

Train to Zurich Switzerland   = HUF 22648/ €71.90

TOTAL   : HUF 9390 + €92.50 

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