Budapest, Day 1: Meet the locals

A first-class train from Wien to Budapest. We each have window seats at the back of the cabin, which means there’s a large space between us and we have great leg room. Dee has a little nap while I finish Neal Stephenson’s Anathem — an excellent book, combining “fantasy” with science-fiction, philosophy and modern physics. If you like your books a little more cerebral, I can highly recommend it. (Thanks for the tip, Andrew R!)

We arrived at a hot — and flooded! — Budapest on Tuesday afternoon. After a little to-and-fro’ing to get some Hungarian forints to spend, we boarded a local bus and headed for our hostel: Maverick, an old but beautiful building in Fereciek Tere, Pest.

It’s a cool hostel, with manga playing on the screen in reception and Tarantino movie posters lining the walls. For the princely sum of 48,200 Ft (162€) we get the high-ceilinged “Vincent Room” on the Pulp Fiction-themed top floor, complete with a little kitchenette (shared by Mia, Jules and Honey Bunny), private bathroom and free wifi. We settle in, unpack a little, then go down in the rickety elevator to wait for Andy.

When he arrives (delayed by traffic, which has gone mental since the banks of the Danube flooded onto the nearby roads and walkways) we get lunch/dinner at an amazing little restaurant: ornate painted ceilings and walls, gilded fittings, big carved seats and embroidered cushions. The food is divine, our waiter is exceedingly nice and the price is right — this is a much more “posh” restaurant than we’d usually visit, but because of the time of day they are running a kind of “get you in for lunch” special, which immediately reminds me of London’s “crunch lunch” epidemic of a few months ago.

After lunch we settle into the pattern that will define our next three days here: a lot of walking around followed by a retreat to a cool pub/bar/restaurant to wait out the afternoon sun (37 degrees yesterday, yuk). With half the day already gone, we decide to explore the Pest side of the Danube, and are quickly overwhelmed with the glorious architecture (and ever-present decay-renewal cycle).

Eyeballs raw with wonderment, we head into the back-streets and alleyways behind the “tourist zone” in search of a bar we’d heard about from the Internet/travel guides/random strangers (I’m not sure which). It’s a mission to find, as reading Hungarian maps isn’t always the easiest — there is a Vaci Ut, a Vaci U and probably a Vaci Utca: all different streets, and all in entirely different areas of the city — but suddenly I notice a sign and point our way to a dodgy looking little gate in a brick fence. We push through in trepidation…

… and it’s an awesome little local bar! Cheap Hungarian “Dreher” and “Dreher Bok” (dark), a cool garden and sandy floors between our aching toes — shoes and sandals having been kicked off aching feet almost immediately upon arrival. We drink, laugh, talk. It is our first time in Hungary — Andy’s too — and we’re getting a feel for the city … and liking it! Sometime during the night it is Dee’s round, and she inadvertently picks not a beer but a shot (!!) of “Unicum”, a harsh liquor with a hint of liquorice and a wallop like a Clydesdale.

We decide it is time to go home, and so collect our shoes and stumble back to the hostel. It is almost midnight!

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