Date: First week of December 2019
Weather: I arrived on the day of first snow, and it stayed on the ground the whole time. Beautiful, but it did prevent me climbing Gellért hill. -1 to 1C.
I travelled by: Plane. Ryanair. *Shudder*
I stayed at: A sweet studio apartment near Lehel Tér metro station, via AirBnB
1) Bélszíngulyás galuskával (beef goulash) at Paprika. I walked an hour in the snow to get to this place (I could have taken public transport, just being dramatic), and it was worth it. I had to wait about 30 minutes to be seated, as I hadn't made reservations and they were really busy, even on a random Monday evening in December. The food was delicious, inexpensive, and filling in a gorgeous, comforting way.
I decided to go for a walk afterwards and on my stroll, my phone suddenly died, leaving me to find my way home late at night, in a new city, using only my wits, street signs, and vaguely-remembered landmarks from when I made the journey to the restaurant. This would not be the last time my phone would leave me stranded (keep reading).
Samsung Galaxy S9, I do not miss you.
Walking along, about an hour from home, belly full, blissfully unaware that these would be my last minutes with a functioning phone :)
2) Grilled goose liver with garlic, steamed apple and mashed potatoes, and chestnut purée for dessert, at Kéhli Vendéglő - one of the bes- Wait. One of the mos- Hmm... Alright, honestly, JUST GO. I'm begging you.
Founded in 1899, this is simply an extraordinary place to eat traditional Hungarian food. I don't think I could love a restaurant more. Two years later and I still think about it often. The food was superb, as was the decor, staff, and the live band!
Gulyásleves (goulash soup) and lively live music from Sárközi Sándor
There were delightful stories with the menu items. I love a story with a menu item. It was one of the best solo dining experiences I've ever had. Yes, introvert that I am, I had a fantastic time. Staff were attentive and helpful, but not pushy. Arnie (yes that Arnie) himself loves it here! Just go go go 🏃♀️
3) Kürtőskalács - aka 'chimney cake' - several times. A sweet-but-not-too-sweet pastry, dusted in cinnamon (or other powdered flavourings and/or coatings of your choosing) and filled with cream or ice cream (or not filled at all. I went for decadence, as usual, with banana-flavoured ice cream, chocolate sauce, and a chewy banana+chocolate bar).
I drank: A thimble of Hungarian sparkling wine at this little wine bar whose name I can't remember. It was nice. The wine was nice. Don't worry about it.
I saw: Maybe a ghost? Hear me out.
After taking the Zugliget Chairlift up to János-hegy (János Hill), the highest point of Budapest, I was too cheap to pay for a return ticket back down (I can't even remember how much tickets were, but I guess they were enough to annoy me), so I decided to hike downhill through the woods. My well-charged phone suddenly died again, barely 10 minutes into the 1hr 45min-ish journey. I didn't know where the heck I was going, just kept going down down down. I didn't see a soul for about 45 minutes and then suddenly a young lady appeared, speaking to me first in Hungarian, then English, to ask if she was heading in the direction of the Erzsébet Lookout Tower. I confirmed, and she carried on walking uphill, but not before warning me to watch for wild pigs in the woods(!?). A ghost!
I did not see any wild pigs, but I did continue to get super-duper lost, slid down an incline for 20 seconds, flat on my back, because I thought it would be quicker and more fun than the winding walk in that particular section. It was quicker, not as fun as I had hoped, and it also hurt a lot. I had to pee in plain view of anything that might have been watching, because there was no cover, and later had to scoop up handfuls of fresh snow to drink because I got so thirsty and just hadn't expected to be out there this long.
I kept walking until I reached a busy-ish road, and tried to figure my way back to Lehel Tér from there. Strangely, not being able to read Hungarian makes being lost in a Hungarian forest area quite tricky. I eventually found some sort of official-looking building with armed guards, who would not let me any further into the compound, but very kindly drew a route to the bus stop to get to the metro station, and I'm here to tell the tale. Lessons learned include: powerbanks, pen and paper, bottled water, the possible existence of wild pigs.
And now onto what was probably my favourite part of the trip, although truthfully I loved it all: BATHS.
Over three days, I spent about 15 hours in baths, and I have but one regret: I should have spent more. On Tuesday morning, I went to ladies-only day at Rudas Gyogyfurdoi. Loved it. Loved it so much, I went back on Friday before my flight home.
Out of respect for other guests, I didn't take pictures in the bathing area itself, but this gives you an idea. It's one large room with the main pool in the centre, about 32C, and four other mini pools of temperatures ranging from 27C or so, to 46C. There's also a nice sauna, with buckets of ice water you can torture yourself with, I mean tip over you to cool down. And down an adjoining corridor is an ice pool, and a few treatment rooms, which I did not investigate.
I booked online and paid 3400 Ft (call it £8) for a 'Turkish Baths' ticket, which gives you access to the pools, saunas, and a cabin in the changing rooms (as opposed to a locker).
Bring with you: a water bottle, a towel, shower gel/soap, bathing suit, slippers, swim cap (I didn't have one but my hair was braided back, and I wore a black headscarf). Be sure to check the timetable too, as some days are men or women-only. Actually, taking a look again now, nearly all weekdays are men-only. Grrr.
The next, and most visually breathtaking, was Szechenyi, a beautiful, sprawling complex, whose entrance I had some difficulty in finding. I eventually found the men's entrance first, which was far lovelier than the women's. Anyway, I announced myself at reception, and was given a token/wristband for my changing cabin. Memory's a little fuzzy now, but I spent a good few hours here, and though it looked wonderful, none of the pools, be they outdoor or indoor, thrilled me like the ones at Rudas. After the variety in heat of Rudas's baths, Szechenyi's didn't quite feel warm enough. I suppose not much can compare to being near-boiled alive in 46C water. I wanted to be near-boiled alive again.
Also, it's just such a large place, I can't help feeling I didn't see everything there, though I did try to explore. So I'd go again to satisfy this curiosity, but Rudas was definitely my favourite of the two.
I booked online and paid 6200 Ft (£14.30-ish) for access to the many pools, sauna(s), and a changing cabin. Again, bring a towel, shower gel/soap, bathing suit, slippers, swim cap and water bottle.
I did only visit two baths, and recommend both of them, but Budapest has many. You can take a look at others via the Spas Budapest website.
I heard: The gentle, glittering magic of first snow covering the city like the icing sugar on a chimney cake. The effortless complexity of traditional Hungarian music, played by Sárközi Sándor at Kéhli Vendéglő restaurant. And the surreal, calming, near total-sensory deprivation of holding my head underwater during the hours spent at the public baths.
I walked: A lot. It's a really walkable city, and I'm sure it's even better without the treachery of old snow, slurry, and black ice.
Worth getting out of bed? I can't wait to visit again, and I would LOVE for you to visit Budapest. If you go in the Spring or Summer, I'm coming with you.
A few more Budapest views.
Honorary mention to the pilgrimage I made to the Peter Falk statue because I love Columbo.