Budapest was the final stop on my whirlwind tour of Eastern Europe before I had to fly back to the UK. I was excited, because I had heard so much about Budapest and how magical it was.
I think it’s worth mentioning that by now, I was feeling pretty tired, and a little lonely. I think what got me most was the amount of superficial conversations I seemed to be forced to have on a daily basis. “Where are you from? How long have you been travelling? Where are you coming from/going to? Oh, yeah I was just there. Did you see this? What’s your favourite city been?” It does get exhausting having to reintroduce yourself every couple of days to brand new people. That’s not to say I didn’t like meeting new people, I loved it. I met so many cool, interesting travelers that had great stories and even better personalities. I think what was getting me down was not being able to just shoot the breeze casually with someone I knew well and could just chat to without it meaning anything. I had been very lucky so far, having picked really social hostels that made it easy to meet people.
Unfortunately, I hit a bit of a snag in Budapest. My hostel was very nice, in a good location, and very clean. Unfortunately, when it came to meeting people, it was terrible. There was a common area, but no one was ever in it. Same with the kitchen. There were a few nice women in my room (I went with a female only room in the hopes of dealing with less snoring), but they were not very friendly past a quick hello, where are you from. In retrospect, maybe I should have gone with a mixed-gender room, as I’ve found mixed gender rooms with 10+ beds are usually way more social, and perhaps worth putting up with some snoring in the night.
I kind of resigned myself to seeing Budapest minus a temporary city buddy, which so far, I’d had in all the cities I’d visited. I decided not to let it get me down though, because I felt like this was the true test of solo travel. I’d already discovered I could make friends in all of the cities I’d been in so far, so what happens when I do a city actually alone?
Turns out, it can be pretty great once you stop worrying about meeting people, and just let yourself be open to all the city has to offer.
Looking back, I crammed so much stuff into those two days in Budapest, probably because I was by myself and calling the shots entirely. Here we go:
Ruin Bar Market – Everyone’s heard of the ruin bars of Budapest, but there was one right around the corner from my hostel that turned into an incredible market on Sundays. I wandered around, trying various samples before grabbing some amazing roasted pepper dip, fresh baked bread rolls, and some plums. I took my lunch to a park and sat in the sunshine. It was probably one of the best meals I’d had the entire trip
The park I was in had a grandstand on the edge that was also transformed on the weekends into a MASSIVE flea market. I was overwhelmed, and wandered around for ages looking at all the various trinkets, clothes, books, music, decorations and knick-knacks. I think I showed a great deal of self control by ONLY looking, which was mostly made necessary by the fact that my backpack was pretty much packed to maximum capacity
Budapest has the MOST beautiful waterfront of any place I’d been to. That night I I grabbed a book, and I wandered down to the river. I sat reading until the sun went down, and when it was too dark to read I sat and watched the boats going by. The first night I was there, there was some sort of night-marathon going on, so I crossed the bridge and spent some time watching the runners going by. My favourite discovery was a steel drum band playing underneath the bridge on the waterfront path the runners were using. They were so upbeat, cheering the runners on, and I sat listening and watching the runners go by for about a half hour before heading home
I headed down to Heroes Square, to see the very impressive monument, but what was even more exciting was that the Szépművészeti Múzeum (Museum of Fine Art) just happened to have a Henri Tolouse-Latrec special exhibit on. I was BEYOND THRILLED. Even if you don’t know the name, I guarantee that you have seen some of his work before. Moulin Rouge, anyone? He is one of my favourite artists, and I actually couldn’t believe my luck. Moments like that always stand out to me, much like catching the Warhol exhibit in Prague, when you stumble across something you had no idea was happening but you’re eternally grateful you found it. Needless to say,the exhibit was amazing
I looped around to go past St Stephen’s Basilica on my way back to the river, and had a quick gelato break. I was just sitting on a bench to rest my feet (my poor, poor, blistered feet) and watched a gelato shop across the way churn out tons of these amazing looking flower shaped treats, so obviously I had to get one. Passionfruit, mango, and melon gelato. Yes it was as good as it looks
The big one! Budapest Castle. Amazing views (I had to climb up about a million steps, but it was worth it) of the Pest from across the river, and also a UNESCO Heritage Site. Unfortunately, a lot of the exhibits and museum sections weren’t open, because it turns out all of that stuff is closed on Monday. So that was a bit disappointing, but it was still a fantastic view, and very cool to wander around the external grounds of the castle.
My second night in Budapest (and last night in Europe) might have been one of my favourite moments from the entire trip. As I mentioned, I hadn’t really met anyone yet, and I was debating joining a pub crawl or going to one of the ruin bars. It was one of those weird debates in my head where I was thinking, I don’t really want to, I’m not in the mood, and then another voice going, “But it’s your last night, and you’re in Budapest, don’t you think you SHOULD?”
That’s when I realized, this trip is about me, and what I want to do and see. Who cares if I didn’t go on a pub crawl? Forcing myself to go when I wasn’t in the mood probably wasn’t going to ensure that I had a good time, and the only reason I would go was out of some sort of weird obligation to be a ‘good’ traveler. It was this weird moment of clarity. I stepped back and thought, what do I want to do tonight?
The only thing I wanted to do was go back to the river. So I bought a few beers (including a very amazing grapefruit ale), and retraced my steps back to the waterfront. I sat on the edge, shoes off, my bare feet dangling off of the stone river wall, listening to the water splash against the sides. I watched the people, I watched the boats, I watched the sun go down and the entire city light up bit by bit. I remember sitting there and thinking to myself that in that moment, everything was perfect. I was so happy, I felt like my heart could burst. I was happy with my decision to travel solo, I was happy that I was lucky enough to see a little bit more of what this amazing world has to offer.
I made myself take a mental picture, so that hopefully, in 50 years, I’m still able to recall that moment of perfect ecstasy: barefoot in Budapest on the side of the Danube, slightly buzzed off cheap Hungarian beer, watching the world go by.
Read about the rest of my trip through Europe here: