I've made it! Three months completed in Europe and I've finally hit my 14th country and 25th overall. Following my epic ride share from Ljubljana, I reached the capital of Hungary and quickly began my final three days in Europe before departing for Asia for the next five months.
Once arriving in Budapest I settled in to my hostel and relaxed for the remainder of the night. My plan for the next three days was to absolutely crush both sides of the city as I'd heard that it is an amazing one that I could easily spend an entire week in, so I knew I'd have a busy few days if I wanted to try and see it all.
I began my first full day by tackling a walking tour of the city. I learned loads on this particular tour about the history of Hungary (first settled by the Mongol Huns several hundred years ago and later Christianized by western Europe). We explored both sides of Budapest, which is actually the combination of two separate cities Buda and Pest (Sidenote: Pest is actually pronounced Pesht, so don't call Hungarians pests anymore :) ). During the tour we walked by many of of the famous buildings in the city, crossed the Danube, and explored the Fisherman's Bastion, possibly one of the most famous and visited parts of town.
I gathered some recommendations from my tour guide on good, local Hungarian food for lunch and made my way there following the tour. Generally I tend to meet up with people on tours and join them for lunch, but seeing as I'd been with people for the last three straight weeks, I decided that I'd enjoy Hungary on my own for a few days rather than overexerting myself to make some new friends. Often it goes unnoticed by family and friends at home, but there are certainly times while traveling where I much prefer to just be alone and enjoy my own company. Hungary seemed like one of those countries, and enjoying some Hungarian goulash was exactly what I wanted on this particular afternoon, just for me, all by my lonesome.
The rest of the day I walked around the city a bit more and explored some of the shops. Budapest is extremely touristy so most things are fake and overpriced in the shops along the main walking streets littered with tour group after tour group. I eventually made my way back to the hostel and made a bit of dinner before settling in for the night.
The following day I planned to tackle all of Pest, the part of Budapest on the east side of the Danube. There are loads of places to see in Pest including many of the political buildings and several churches. I began the day by walking north along the river toward the Parliament building, the 3rd largest in the world. It's a beautiful structure right along the river and has really great views of the Bastion and Budapest Castle behind it in Buda.
After that I continued on to St. Stephen's Basilica, the 2nd largest basilica in the world, and walked around inside of it for a while taking in the last church I'll see for quite some time (honestly, though, I'm getting quite tired of seeing cathedrals and stuff...sorry, Europe, but I get it. You like big, grandiose churches).
My main motivation for the day was making it to the House of Terror (which is not a haunted house, unfortunately). I'd heard amazing reviews about this museum regarding the Nazi and Soviet regimes occupation of Hungary for nearly 70 years. The museum itself is actually quite cheap, but unfortunately I was a bit disappointed. My big things on museums is that it must have good ebb and flow to it, following a storyline or chronological timeline in some way. The House of Terror had neither of these things, and along with it's eclectic collection of random pictures in each room, it required drastic amounts of reading along the way, all of which was printed on computer paper rather than on a sign or wall for everyone to see easily and observe. Not only did my environmental brain kick in here (so many trees...), but my efficiency mind kicked in as well and I realized how ridiculous it seemed that dozens of people were crammed into every room with their head buried into a white sheet of paper rather than watching videos and commentary from survivors of the horrific times. To cap it all off, when I left, the line to get in was two hours long and all I wanted to do was tell people they'd be disappointed.
My final full day in Europe I decided to explore the Buda side of the city and ended up walking around 20 km over a six hour timespan. I began by heading across one of the many bridges in town and hiked to the top of the park that has an Citadel on top and one of the most famous monuments in Budapest on it, the Liberty Statue.
Once visiting Hungary's version of the Statue of Liberty, I made my way down the hill toward the Buda Castle and the President of Hungary's home. Coincidentally they are right next to each other and equally as impressive and unimpressive as you'd imagine (their president's White House isn't exactly 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to say the least).
I continued along the river back toward the Fisherman's Bastion to get a better sense of what else was around it. One of the bad things about walking tours is you rarely get to see the inside of some things, so I usually like to revisit my favorite sites from the tour and see them the following day. I visited the Bastion and the Matthias Church in the area, though unfortunately wasn't able to enter the church due to it being Sunday and visiting while mass was taking place. After this I crossed back into Pest and made my back to my hostel for another night of relaxation to prepare for my long journey to Asia the following day. My last day in the city I hope to take in one last event in Budapest and enjoy what everyone who comes to the city must enjoy at least once: a thermal bath.
Budapest is known for their thermal baths dating all the way back to the 1500s when the Turks ruled the city. The natural baths are quite something to see in real life (unfortunately no pictures of them due to cameras being banned inside, but you can look here) but because it was Monday when I went there were loads of old people relaxing in the hot pools rather than anyone even close to my age. All of the baths contain naturally warmed water from the thermal vents around the city and the buildings smell like sulfur. Once inside the buildings there are a number of different things you can do to relax including a bath, steam room, sauna, ice room, hot/cold shower, massage, or outdoor pool. It's really quite something to see how many people were enjoying them on a Monday, and though I didn't stay for very long, I still took long enough to get my money's worth.
Following my relaxing morning I walked back toward my hostel and visited the Central Market on the way. I'd heard a lot about it during my trip and had been recommended to visit by many people. The market itself is absolute chaos with the first floor being dominated by meats, cheeses, and produce, and the second floor focusing on clothing and other items and pre-made Hungarian food. I didn't feel the need to buy any souvenirs here so I just capitalized on some Hungarian food before making my out and back to my hostel to pack my things and head to the airport.
With that, though, my trip and time in Europe was complete. Three months and fourteen countries later and I was MORE than ready to get off the European continent. In hindsight, I'd do my trip here a bit differently, spending more time in eastern and southern Europe and less time in the pricier north. Though I saw a number of amazing cities along the way, I definitely think my favorites were the more nature-based destinations and the south and eastern countries. Fewer tourists, cheaper, and all around more unique that anything else I'd seen before this trip. I love Europe, but my next trip to this continent will most definitely be done a bit slower (fewer places in the same amount of time) and in regions that I've not been to yet (the Mediterranean and the southeastern countries like Greece, Turkey, Serbia, etc.). I'm looking forward to that trip in the future, but for now that's a wrap on Europe. Asia, here I come!