It soon transpires we have not been so lucky with the sleeping arrangements this time round and we’ll be spending our 14 hour overnight trip in close confines with two Hungarian ladies. One talks at us in Hungarian for a while, which we clearly don’t understand, before the other breaks her silence with an English translation. What becomes very clear, despite the language barrier, is that they are in charge as made evident by the fact they get ready for bed at 9:30pm, confine us to our top bunks with no head room at 9:45 and turn the lights off submerging the entire cabin into darkness at 9:55pm. It’s going to be a long 11 hours.
Having survived the night, we arrive into Budapest which we are thrilled to see has actual signs on the platform and a fully functioning (and impressively decorated) train station. The excitement only increases when we hear announcements translated in English. Somewhere between Croatia and Hungary Europe appears to have transformed. As per our plan and pre booked tickets, we decide to spend the morning making use of the infamous baths the city has to offer as a way of relieving the night train. We walk through the city before finally finding the Széchenyi building which is absolutely incredible.
Geared for tourists and locals alike, we change in cabins before heading outside to the ordinarily blissful 34 degree water. I say ordinarily because by this point the result of the Tanning Oil Experiment is prominent and after a night of stinging amongst the sheets, submerging my already burnt self into hot water under the sun doesn’t make for the most comfortable initial experience. However this sensation soon passes (/numbs) and the whole bath/spa experience is a blissful one; not to mention a great way to wash off the contents of Split’s Bacvice beach that I’ve been carrying around with me. The locals play chess in the water while we watch the world go by. It’s the perfect Sunday morning if ever there was one.
We opt for a taxi from the baths to the hostel which turns out to be a sharp wake up call in terms of price inflation as you make your way north through Europe. The Bosnian £1 taxis are very distant memory. We struggle to find the hostel as every building on the street has the same address. “Official Tourist Info” (scattered on every street corner) are lying about at least one aspect of their name and offer us nothing more than a chance to earn them commission on a boat trip we have no interest in taking. Finally we arrive into the grandest of entrances- The Maverick is a hostel set in a building that wouldn’t look out of place on the Streets of Paris. It’s truly charming.
After some quick exploration we get ready to head out and see Budapest come to life after dark. Following some snacks at Black Cab Burger (delicious) we had to Szimpla ruin bar. It’s vast and very East London with bicycles hanging from the ceiling and dissected cars acting as seats. From a buzzing cocktail bar downstairs to more of a lounge over looking the courtyard up top, the place is very, very cool. And they sell whole carrots as bar snacks. So there’s that.
There’s no shortage of places to drink in Budapest and we end up in a wine bar before heading home via a corner falafel shop which is so much better than the UK late night chicken equivalent. So far so good in Budapest and the “hidden treasure chest” line made famous by George Ezra starts to ring true.
The hostel has free tea which is joyously abused in the morning before setting off for a long day of sightseeing. We take in the views from (another) bell tower and admire parliament and the surrounding areas. The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a particularly poignant memorial of less serene times and as we cross the river into Buda, it’s clear to see Pest got the better side of the city renovation deal.
What Buda does boast, however, is the most amazing Castle District. We find an opportune tree swing to have a picnic lunch on under Fisherman’s Bastion overlooking the other side of the city below. The no doubt over-priced fine dining restaurant situated above us even puts on their finest classical concert for us to enjoy for free; pre made sandwiches have never tasted so good. The entire district is pristine and manicured for all those who come to admire the vistas to enjoy.
Because we like to allude to backpacking in style, months before we had made reservations at Michelin Starred restaurant Borkonyka for dinner. It was going to be the cheapest Michelin experience we’re likely to ever have and we weren’t about to pass on that opportunity. Not hungry in Hungary and All That Jazz. Sticking with the classy theme we head to Blue Fox The Bar where they serve amazingly innovative cocktails. I don’t know how you even make wine foam but for future reference it makes for a perfect topping to a raspberry cosmopolitan-esque concoction.
Dinner is, as expected, incredible. I enjoy garlic pasta to start which is every bit light as it is decadent followed by variations of goats cheese on a pea and watercress puree for the main course. The food was so rich I couldn’t finish any of mine but that of course made for one happy travel buddy who was more than willing to help me out. Award winning food aside, Borkonyka also wins the award for best bathrooms discovered on this trip. Just look at the wall paper.
Feeling oh so full we walked home under the Budapest Eye and rounded off the evening with a game of Hungarian Scrabble which, with the absence of the many vowels we know and love so well, is every bit as difficult as it sounds.
Breakfast in bed is proceeded by a trip to the Market Hall to buy some token nectarines before wandering along a fancy street to a fancy bookshop which houses an even fancier cafe. The interior inside the Lotz Hall is incredible with a grand piano and murals that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Vatican. We ordered two varying iced coffees and cake to share while closing the chapter on our final Hungarian hours.
Back to the hostel we go when we realise the walk to the station is considerably longer than thought and we won’t be able to make it on time to catch a train. Resentfully it’s back into a taxi which luckily is much more pleasing pricewise second time round. At the station we spot our “RailJet” and delight in the fact that our days of train travel with no lights or running water seem to well and truly be a thing of the past. It’s all aboard to Vienna and oh we can’t wait to arrive.