An Anecdote on Lessons Learned in Budapest

I took a 10-hour overnight train from Prague to Budapest three years ago this week. I was alone, save for a family of four Southeast Asians who were from the Netherlands. At first on the train, my phone almost wouldn't charge. When traveling alone, communication with friends and family is all the more essential. So you can imagine my momentary of panic as I texted my mom to let her know that I might only be able to message her from my iPod wherever I could find Wifi. iPods are definitely not as popular as they once were, but it quickly became a comforting safety net in case anything happened to my phone. First lesson.

My bunk was rock-hard, but for 75 bucks, can't beat it. I woke up somewhere in Slovakia, according to my now fully-charged phone. Once in Budapest, I emerged from the gorgeous train station to snow flurries. I located an ATM, but forgot about the fact that decimals and commas are switched in Europe. I thought I was taking out 100 forints, but I actually took out 100,000. Which is about 325 US dollars. If you have read any of my previous posts on this blog, you'll know that I prefer to travel on much less than that and I was only spending 3 days in Hungary. Needless to say I was mad at myself because even though there are currency conversion kiosks in all major cities, they rarely use the correct exchange value. Tourists are easy scam targets in that way. Second lesson.

After my ATM mishap, I hopped on a bus. After a couple of stops, I realized that I had no idea where this bus was going. So I got off and eventually found a metro stop. In all cities I've visited, metros are exponentially easier to navigate than bus routes. After finding my hostel, I was off. After setting my boundaries on the Danube River's landmarks, I headed out to the Vajdahunyad Castle. It was an easy metro ride to a large park complex that also included the city's most famous thermal spas. More on that later. I got to the castle and took my glasses off to take a picture. They promptly fell to the ground and broke right in half. Thankfully I had my contacts in my bag with me. My initial thought was that I had three more months until I would be going back stateside. Next, I remembered how my grandma advised me to take a copy of my prescription with me on my trip. I explained to her that I had owned those glasses for 7 years without anything happening to them. Grandma was right. Third lesson. 

A photo taken seconds before disaster

My professor told us that Fisherman's Bastion offers a spectacular view of the entire "pest" side of the city, especially lit up at night. I took his advice and grabbed a bus to Fisherman's Bastion, right next to the iconic Matthias Church and the Buda Castle. The view was indeed gorgeous, but my hands got so cold that I could barely take photos. It was late February, and I hoped that since Budapest is further south than Prague, it would be a bit warmer. But as I mentioned, it was snowing when I arrived. The snow was heavenly, but not when the temperature continued to drop once the sun went down. Fourth lesson.

Budapest is an up and coming trendy tourist destination. It is easy to see why. It is not so much of a mainstream place to visit, like Paris and London. This is its newfound appeal. Though it is a major European city, it feels off the beaten path and not so "Americanized." Of course there is a McDonalds near the train station, but other brands of familiarity are scarce. This should do the exact opposite of discouraging anyone from visiting. So if you want something different, something rarely seen in American pop culture, Budapest is one of Europe's better kept secrets. Fifth lesson.

For my other post on Budapest, including more information on each of the landmarks mentioned in this post, click here.