Buda! Pest! (Part I)

54. Go to Budapest, Hungary

This weekend Mink and I took a three-hour bus ride to meet our friend Dave in Budapest, Hungary. This song by Bonobo, called “Black Sands,” has little relevance to this trip besides the fact that I’ve just discovered this band and I am really stoked on them, and I thus listened to this song a lot on the bus ride. The song is magic and hazy and seems to match the mood Budapest put me in:

1 April

Budapest is one of my favourite cities that I’ve visited so far – it’s beautiful and old and magical and this may be the corny tourist in me, but I just felt good to be in that place. It’s vague to describe an entire city in this way, but it had a very positive vibe. (The photos in these posts were taken by me, for the most part.)

On Friday, I met Mink at the Erdberg station at 2:30 to catch our 3:00 pm bus — complete with road snacks, naturally. The bus ride was pretty uneventful, except for the fact that every time I take a bus out of the city I get to see it from a different perspective than when I take public transportation – the obvious reason being that the U-Bahn is mostly underground and so sometimes it’s hard to connect all of the places I go in the imagined map of Vienna in my head. We drove by Gasometer, where I went to a few concerts in November, and it’s impressively huge from a distance. Once we were out of the city, there was a shocking amount of green.

We saw lots of windmills in the countryside, where the weather was somewhat dark and foreboding. Canada, take note of how awesome this source of energy is:

Budapest is actually the two cities of Buda and Pest that are divided by the Danube River. I still know very little about the capital of Hungary, or much about the complicated history of the entire country. It’s one of those names that continually cropped up in Mr. Olscamp’s modern history class in high school, but the myriad details of its history, like so many coloured file folders, have long since slipped into some dusty corner of my mind. I was thus very excited to “start from scratch,” so to speak, with my first impression of the city.

Our trip was uneventful until we hit the city limits, where traffic slowed to a crawl and the bus transformed itself into an oven. We discovered upon exiting at the bus station that there was a football match starting soon in the stadium nearby, and there were drunken hooligans yelling, drinking beer and peeing freely in the streets. As a group of about 30 drunken Hungarians clomped by us on a tiny sidewalk, my thoughts turned to, “Oh my God, we’re going to die in Budapest in the first 10 minutes we’re in this crazy city!”

The riot police were shooting tear gas as we (luckily) found a cab in a timely fashion and made our way from Pest across the river to Buda to meet Dave, who had already checked into our hotel. Hotel Budapest has a real Communist flavour, what with the roundness of the structure giving it maximum efficiency:

We were on the top floor, and it had an amazing view of all of Buda and then across the Danube River to the Parliament Buildings in Pest. My reflection shows a little in the window, but I still love the view in the photo:

It was great to reunite with Dave again, since he lives in Geneva and neither Mink nor I had seen him since being in Strasbourg almost three years ago (which is where Mink originally met him). Hurrah for short flights and bus trips to other countries! Yup, not going to get over how awesome that is. We caught up over some beer and pizza in our hotel room, and then around midnight we hit the town. We found a place called Instant in Pest that Dave had been to when he lived in in the city previously, and it was absolutely amazing. It wasn’t in any of the tour guides, although there were lots of English speakers thrown into the mix with the Budapest hipsters milling about and drinking beer (I guess they have hipsters in every city big enough to have young, pretentious people who know about more obscure bands than you ever will). The website for Instant sums up its overall awesomeness: tons of sculptures and art throughout the place; random rooms branching off into cozy café sitting areas or crazy Euro-trash techno dance rooms, depending on which way you turned; foosball tables and a grungy basement with a live band on stage. It was magical!

Instant!

Throughout the night we intermittently wandered, danced, played foosball, and chilled and caught up some more. At one point, we were sitting in a café by a piano and a small British man approached us and asked if we minded him playing for a bit. The piano was horribly out of tune, but the guy had a unique story – he is trying to finish a feature film screenplay, or something along those lines, and has been living in Budapest for 6 weeks and feels he is becoming too much like his main character. Writers are weird. Maybe I should invest more in developing my own quirks, and then writing will come more easily to me? I think I could deal with chilling in Budapest and talking to strangers, if that’s what it takes.

We got back to the hotel sometime after 3:00 a.m. and crashed, despite the room being a sauna because we were on the top floor and the windows were permanently sealed shut “for our safety.” Not so safe if your guests boil alive, is it, Hotel Budapest?! We survived the night, however, and woke up ready to explore the city in the sunshine…

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