Budapest; not so charming.

Budapest exhausted me. Not exactly from the sightseeing and playing tourist but more emotionally. While it’s a beautiful city, no doubt, the travel brochures and guides skilfully hide what a sad, depleting city it is.

Inside Nyugati train station.
Ticket booths at Nyugati train station.

If you are planning to visit Budapest sometime in the near future, may I suggest skipping this post, as I don’t want to bias your trip. Buda & Pest were actually two different cities on either side of the Danube River till in their merger in the recent past hence the compound name. I got in at the Keleti station from Vienna around 3.00pm in the afternoon. I had spent hours specifically booking hostels in close proximity of international train stations in the countries I’d be staying in Europe so that I didn’t have to lug my bag around. Good thing the train from Vienna-Budapest had wi-fi because as we approached the station, I got a mail from the owner of the hostel ‘reminding’ me that I had booked an apartment (it was cheaper than rooms!) and that the apartments were at a different location from the hostel and that there was no reception there so I had to arrange a meeting time to collect the keys. He also gave me directions how to get there. Anyway it all worked out and the apartment was fabulous loft-style, very European and in the centre however a bit far from Keleti station.

My very local apartment block!

As per the owner’s instructions, I took trolley train no.73 to Nyguati Station from where I had to walk about 5 minutes to get there. Firstly trolley train no.73 is rat train. If you know the Bankstown line in Sydney, then imagine 20 times worse than that. The corner you had to take the trolley from stank as if a thousand men pissed there every night. Of course, I got off at the wrong stop and all that jazz but as every minute passed Budapest looked more and more gloomy and doomsday-rish. After dropping off my bags, I took a walk to pickup my bearings and get some food. I watched the sunset on Danube river near the Parliament house which had some construction work happening and there was a late concrete pour just finishing off which I spent some time observing. Next day I took my time getting up and just lounged around in my apartment! Planned my next itinerary and decided to buy the next day’s ticket to Slovakia after visiting the Castle on the Buda side.

Construction works at the Parliament House.
Construction works at the Parliament House.

Took tram 4-6 that took me across the river to Széll Kálmán tér station from where you have to catch bus no.16 that takes you into the castle. I met a lovely newly married Indian couple from Prague and joined them on a guided tour of an old hospital/nuclear bunker in the caves underneath the castle. It was an amazing tour and I am slightly miffed that my Lonely Planet didn’t mention anything about it and had I not met this couple, I would have missed it. After the tour, the couple wanted to visit Gellért Hill. To be honest, I probably would have given this a miss but they were really insistent so I gave in. I hadn’t bought my tickets for the next day and I wanted to relax etc. so I was getting a bit edgy.

Mathias Church, Budapest

Something I haven’t mentioned on this blog before and if my internet diagnosis is correct that I have developed a very severe case of Plantar fasciitis, in other words my feet are always in constant tear-jerking pain. It is really bad in the morning when I first get up. I should get it checked out. I wasn’t game enough to go to a Turkish doctor and I’m not paying in Euros for a doctor so it’ll just have to wait till I get somewhere else.Anyway so I was also in a lot of pain climbing up and down the Gellért Hill. I had to say my goodbyes to them and leave them there, as watching Budapest turn on its lights…was miss-able. Getting back to Nyugati was a drag and by the time I got back, the international sales office had closed. The train I was supposed to catch left at 6.30am in the morning so I thought I’d rock up and just buy the tickets at the station. So I thought. I didn’t wake up. Another issue there. Which meant I had to spend another day in Budapest.  Anyway the next day, first thing I did was buy my tickets and then spent a leisurely day walking and eating ice cream and exploring the Pest side.

Budapest at sunset from Gellért Hill

You know it’s a Saturday afternoon by the way a city empties up like it does on no other day. The streets suddenly become quiet and people are just finishing up on the last minute things to go home and a quiet descends upon the entire city in anticipation for Sunday. So on this Saturday afternoon, as I strolled along (and somehow ended up at Keleti again and had to take no.73 back!) I couldn’t help but wallow in my disappointment of Budapest.

Granted – I had only spent a few days here and most of it eating and drinking wine but there wasn’t much happiness in this city. The few locals that I observed in this tourist-infested town were not always in the cleanest of health and always seemed to be drinking. Alcohol is sold in shops like they are soft drinks. Locals and tourists alike can stroll up, buy the drinks and drink them anywhere they bloody like. It’s nothing unusual if you see people drinking beer on train stations. Now if I saw this back in our part of the world – I’d think what a hobo! Call me a prude but this causal treatment of alcohol doesn’t sit with me well. I’m not sure whether it was because of the alcohol but I found people generally not smelling good and the sidewalks constantly stinking of piss. And I am no fashion-guru but the women here dressed…cheap. The city was swarmed by teenagers from Australia, UK and America who in turn probably added more piss and filth to the city with their partying. (okay that’s probably just too cynical! :P)

Maybe to understand this city, I need to understand its history but the last couple of days I was here, all I feel for this glorious place is pity. People sleeping on the streets, the old looking dirty, worn and uncared for, the roads unclean, buildings slowly depleting away…I apologize but I did not see the charm and romance of what this city is being sold for. And as tourists, I am not exactly sure if we’re helping it. We seem to rock up, dance with it, suck up whatever happy vibes its got left and then pee all over it on our way out.

Budapest drained me out. It so drained me out that I have done nothing but stare out of the window for the past 6 hours on this 8-hour train ride.

Travel Tip 

  • If you buy an international train ticket at Nyugati which I did, you will not be able to make changes or get a refund at any other station. I learnt it the hard way!
  • Keleti Station is not the most customer-friendly place. My train was delayed by an hour and the signage was not in English and all waiting passengers were just frantically racing from one platform to another and none of the platform staff could help.
  • I also found locals were just as clueless about their intercity transportation because I asked one lady where the metro was and she gave me completely wrong information and the metro was actually behind us at a 10-meter distance!
  • Most restaurants will automatically add a gratuity sum to your bill. Too bad if you didn’t like the service!
Széchenyi Chain Bridge connecting Buda to Pest.

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