So you know those movies, where the main characters are somewhere in Europe and decide to just hop on a train and somehow end up having this grand adventure. I know that I have had this grand scheme in my head that one day, somehow I would have this magical trip and it would be magnificent.
Well… I got my wish.
Since I was 15, I had been wanting to go to Budapest. I can’t tell you a particular reason. I knew that Buda and Pest were two places; a city cut by a river, the Danube. I didn’t know what a long history they had, or just how effected a country that existed behind the Iron curtain was. The city for some reason just always called to me. I also happened to have a family friend from Hungary who went to school in Budapest. As an exchange student in high school with one of my best college friends, Adam. He had offered to be our tour guide if we made it to his city.
Up until our last three weeks abroad, any trips to Budapest had either not worked out, or fallen to the side due to previous travel commitments or school work. But finally there was a weekend that was free for me and a friend. A poor lack of planning and time management, it was suddenly the day that we were supposed to leave and we had made no official plans to leave. I had looked up train schedules and that was about it.
Fun travel fact 1: To get to Budapest from Italy via train, take Trenitalia from Florence (or any major city) to Vienna’s Wien Meidling, than train from Vienna to Budapest. If you take the overnight train, you can be there by 11a.m. the next day.
As we sat in our school’s library that afternoon trying to officially go to Budapest, and three of our other friends decided this sounded like a pretty cool idea. So there we were, eight hours until we had to leave and we all decided to jump a train and go to Budapest for the weekend. This is what studying abroad was made for.
Fun travel fact 2: If you don’t book your ticket 24 hours or more in advance for the Trenitalia, you have to go to the conductor on the platform when the train arrives at the station and ask if they have room. Thankfully, they did for us.
We ended up in a Harry Potter-esque train cabin, in shock that what we were doing was actually happening. I had to laugh at the ridiculous impressiveness of our pack a bag and take off sense of adventure. Call it awesome or immature, we even started reenacting scenes and lines from all the years of Hogwarts train rides that we could think of from the movie. We even got something from the trolly man.
Eventually we settled down and the logistics and lack of sleep started catching up to us all.
Fun travel facts 3 & 4: You pay three times on the train when you don’t already have a ticket: Once when you cross over into the Austria, and then another two times at points that I am still unclear about. And when traveling with people, make sure you keep your patience. Everyone is running on a lack of sleep and is uncomfortable, so cut everyone a little slack.
Catching sleep all through out the night wasn’t easy but it was doable.
And I will never forget waking up to the Austrian countryside streaking across our window. It was bright, luscious , and hilly. The houses that we saw were brightly painted, happy looking homes that you couldn’t help but smile at.
Upon arriving in Wien Meidling, ordering good (by the way, yes in German, is “yah”), buying tickets and finding our platform (thank you kind ticket people), we were off to our final destination.
We had booked a hostel using Hostelworld (great app or website to use as a point of reference). That was one thing that couldn’t really be left to the last minute. After dropping stuff off, freshening up, and heading out for some food, we were in much better spirits and ready to see the city.
My friend Adam took us on a tour.
Travel tip 4: Wear sneakers or flat boots when walking around a new city. You really don’t know what surfaces you will be walking on, or where you will end up…
We ended up on top of Gellért Hill, which was quite the climb, staring at Hungary’s statue of liberty. The sun was just going down and the whole city began to light up. We had seen the view all the way up, but there was something about watching the lights go down, and the lamps start to silhouette the life below that is special.
The rest of the evening was passed meeting some of Adam’s friends from college and experiencing some of the Hungarian night life. Something I found out that a person has to try while in Hungary: Pálinka. It is a drink, and it is a local thing. I will leave it at that.
The next morning we had decided to spend exploring the city. We wanted to make it to at least one museum so we found our way to the Hungarian National Museum. It gave us a brief but well rounded overview of the countries history. How it was ruled by the Turks and the Swiss, all the way up to how it was invaded in World War Two. Through out the museum, there were costumes of the times, and pairings of the ruling royals. The country has such a rich and rather sad history. It was constantly under foreign regimes yet they maintained an identity and a culture all their own that only portrayed hints of how the outside jurisdiction influenced them.
We managed to see the museum, the opera house, one of the many castles, and finished up at the parliament building at night, seeing the buttresses and archways lit with a soft yellow glow. The whole city had done nothing but make me fall in love all day. The streets were clean, there were sights that made me laugh, the food was good, and the people were all very kind. I wanted to spend another four days just exploring the city.
But alas, we couldn’t. We had to fly home on Sunday morning. With finals coming, and classes to attend, there were miles ahead that required far too many hours of travel.
But I can at least give you an idea of places that must be seen if you ever get the chance to exit reality and enter my magical land of Budapest.
The parliament building at night.
A bar that is looks to be dug out of an old cavern-a ruin pub. I can only vouch for Simpla Ker.
Make sure to get a good look at all of the bridges.
Take a walk in the park with your drink of choice.
See a castle. It is just as breathtaking as you imagine it to be.
Make sure to get a pictures of yourself from the top of Gellért Hill. Be that tourist for five seconds. You will kick yourself when you get home if you aren’t.
But most of all, take a moment here and there to just stop, take a look around. Take in the atmosphere.
You are in Hungary.
You are in Europe.