Slowly, we arose from death. The day before had been an extremely long one, and the one before us seemed even longer. We were both high-spirited though, as we’d heard nothing but glowing reviews about the night-time boat cruise we had booked for the night ahead.
In no real hurry, we left the hotel in search of food. We settled for a small sushi place at the end of the street. It didn’t look like much from the outside and it didn’t really look like much from the inside either. But we are helplessly indecisive and if we hadn’t had settled there, it could have been hours before we ate.
I’m a sushi novice. I like it, but I have no idea what I’m eating. We ordered your day-to-day, run of the mill sushi, you know what I mean? Just some raw fish in some rice with some soy sauce, ginger and wasabi – that I’m too scared to try…again. This is a true story – in Primary School, I had a teacher who had lived in Japan for five years. He never shut up about it. Anyway one day he tried to introduce us to some oriental culture. He brought in a bottle of wasabi. No delicious sushi, not even a bit of seaweed, just a bottle of deadly green mush. He gave a class full of ten year olds a large amount each, and we all ate it and instantly ran to the bathroom, trying to drink water from the taps. He couldn’t stop laughing. Sick fuck.
Anyway we had this with a side of chicken and prawn pad thai, and it was all delicious. We got out a large map and tried to decide which was the best way to reach the summit of castle hill. The waitress interrupted us and gave us her two-cents. That made it sound like it was unwanted, but she was actually really helpful and we got on a bus to the Buda side of the city and the castle which sits upon it.
On a long bus climbing the meandering slope, another helpful lady told us to get off at the next stop for the easiest route to the castle. We were loving Budapest locals that day. She was right. The castle district was very agreeable, it was the eldest part of the city and it certainly looked it. Unfortunately the streets were teeming with rats. Oh wait no, my memory fails me, they were foreign school students.
The castle itself didn’t really look like a castle. More of a big museum. In fact it has a number of museums inside it, that all cost a fair bit of money (for Budapest anyway) and so we declined. The views from the castle were beautiful. Similar to the ones we had from the citadel on our first day, but vaster. For the first time we could see what the country looked like beyond the Buda side of the city. The suburbs. And it all looked very handsome from up there.
We walked through the district to Matthias Church, which I was really taken with. I loved these patterned roofs, and this was probably the nicest one I had seen in Budapest. It’s a majestic building with a majestic entrance fee to match. With an expensive evening probable, we convinced ourselves the interior would be disgusting, and worse still, full of foreign students.
Next to the Matthias Church is the Fisherman’s Bastion. Which we also didn’t pay to see. We were a bit disappointed, pretty much all the touristy things we had seen so far were either free or incredibly reasonable. In the castle district, everything cost money, and cost a fair bit too. As far as I could work out, the bastion is a little ledge that offers more expansive views of the city. But to be honest, the views were already pretty spectacular.
On the bus back to our hotel, we realised something strange and frustrating. Nobody, and I swear it’s nobody, pays for public transport. We paid and rode the metro a few times and noticed we probably needn’t pay. There are no guards and no gates. On the bus, everyone except for us, got on without paying. Why? They didn’t scan a card or anything. Hopped on and hopped off. I still don’t know why and would really appreciate anyone that can enlighten me. Anyway, we stopped paying for public transport after that journey – and I’m not writing this from a Hungarian jail with the help of my serial killer-turned-friend Nagy, whilst spooning potato goulash into my mouth. So either it’s legal (doubtful) or stupidly lenient.
We rested and headed out to our “boat-trip meeting spot”. It was a street corner. A crowd of couples formed. After a while some guy stuck his hand up, told us to follow him and strictly not to walk ahead of him. Challenge accepted, we thought. We will not walk in front of you, but on the brink of, in the hope of securing the best spot on the boat.
I’ve never walked so fast, we looked like those speed-walkers (a couple of wankers basically). Other couples had the same idea, American, German, Japanese, it was like a shit Olympics.
We took an unsportsmanlike approach, we befriended the guy who was leading the group with some small-talk. Sabotage. I’m not proud of it, but would I do it again? Probably not, because it didn’t work. He was too busy trying to chat to some young French girl. Really France? After we saved you from the Germans?
We walked along the river, trying not to stray offside and upset the leader. Eventually we reached the boat and we did it, we nabbed the gold, first place! We were the Torvell and Dean of speed-walking to the nighttime river boat in Budapest. Unfortunately, we then squinted at the boat and saw through the windows couples were already sat down, we weren’t the first group of people here. Shit.
It didn’t really matter, the boat was enormous! We stepped inside and were taken back by it’s luxury interior. A snooty man with a tray full of sparkling flutes took our ticket and informed us we weren’t entitled to a free drink and that our place was on the upper-deck. What was this – some sort of reversed Downton Abbey? We stepped upstairs and the place was still lovely, not quite as sumptuous as downstairs, but still incredible for the price we paid. We sat down by the window and marveled at nighttime Budapest for the first time that evening and certainly not the last.
A waitress came over and asked if we’d like any drinks. I inquired how much a bottle of champagne was and she informed it was about 3000 Hungarian Forint. That’s about seven pounds (or at least was at the time – cheers Boris and Farage). Bargain. She brought it out on a bucket of ice and I’d never felt so wealthy. And I was (and still am) a broke student.
We toasted to an amazing and eventful week, sipped our sweet champagne, and looked at the startling Budapesti skyline. As the boat started to move, a string quartet began to play behind us. It was one of those moments where everything aligns perfectly and it leaves your jaw agape. The whole scenario was a lot to take in, and we were so grateful for where we were on Earth in that moment. I don’t like to get all soppy. But I think at that exact moment, the same thought popped into both of our heads. We were so lucky to have met one another, and if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here, on this boat, more happy than either of us had ever been.
And the more champagne I had, the happier I was. We drank more champagne, and then some cocktails, and then some more champagne, and a little bit more, and then some more cocktails and then some shots, because when has that ever been a bad idea? Bare in mind we hadn’t eaten anything since our sushi earlier that morning. The string quartet walked over to a young couple and played for them, obviously in the hope of receiving a tip. The couple didn’t give them anything except a red-faced smile. They walked over to us, and because we had drunk more than everyone on this boat put together, I wasn’t embarrassed. I even requested they play me some Sinatra. Cocky bastard. I put a Hungarian note in the pocket of the violinist. I became so drunk and friendly, I decided that every single person on the boat deserved a tip. I gave one to the waitress, and one to a waiter who hadn’t spoke to us all night. I’m pretty sure I gave one to the German couple for thinking that thing about the war earlier.
The boat-trip was two hours long, enough time to get well and truly smashed. It went up and down the Danube river. We climbed to the open-top deck, which in retrospect was probably a dangerous thing to do. We looked at the city at night and agreed it looked beautiful, but not as beautiful as some food would be. We had booked a Mexican restaurant, just around the corner from parliament.
If anyone is going to Budapest, this boat-trip is the second thing, along with the Basilica that you absolutely MUST do. It was so worth the money, you don’t even need to get as drunk as we did to enjoy it.
We stumbled off the boat, and into the Mexican restaurant. We were told our table wasn’t ready, so we sat in the bar and ordered MORE cocktails. The place was packed, at 10pm on a Wednesday night, it had to be good. We eventually sat down and ordered an unholy amount of food. Nachos and jalapeno poppers to start, which were to die for. Literally so good! For mains we shared one dish that had a burrito, a quesadilla and tacos. It was good but not quite as good as the startes. And then we also had a portion of chicken fajitas. This sounds like a lot but we ate it all. Along with three or four mouth-watering cocktails, it was the perfect meal. And all for about £30, which is the most mind-blowing thing about it.
We left the place and Jennie was now more drunk than me. The amount of food had sobered me up. Sadly, the same could not be said for her. She walked home leaning on me. We walked through the city and became disheartened at the fact that we would only have one more night here.
We arrived upon an unexpected memorial where people were lighting candles and laying flowers. It was modest, someone had just printed a photo out of the Belgian flag and laid it out on the street. The rest of the city had laid tributes next to it. When I look back to our first day in Budapest, and how I was wary of the locals I had met – and how my opinion had changed. The people were as welcoming and thoughtful as anyone I could remember meeting.
We slept well that night, more than content with the evening we had, and sad that we only had one full day left in this weird and wonderful city.