Still feeling full from the night before, Jennie and I woke and travelled to Margaret Island as planned. Thus far, the weather had been pretty mild and cloudy. But we were woken by the sun shining through the curtains.
As we left the hotel the receptionist stopped us with a look of horror.
“You’re not going out like that are you?”
The look she gave us was as if we were walking out the door in our pants. I was wearing a shirt and Jennie was wearing a top. We didn’t have jackets with us, but the sun was shining. That’s the first thing British people do when the sun comes out, wear less layers. It’s a good thing I didn’t pack my speedos or some sun cream, she would have had a stroke.
“I think you’d ought to take a jacket”
“Thanks for your concern, but I think we’ll be alright”.
“Alright then” She said, with a face that said you don’t know what you’re doing you foreign prick.
We hopped on the tram and stepped off midway across Margit Hid (Margaret Bridge) which crosses the Danube river. There is a road coming off this bridge that slopes down onto Margaret Island. The Danube cuts through the middle of Budapest, and in the centre of this river is a huge green island. Very odd, but very cool. A lot like the rest of Budapest.
The island is lusciously verdant, with countless pathways each leading to a different elusive adventure (one of which, believe it or not, was a football stadium). We were almost the only people on the entire island, bearing in mind it was the end of March and tourists were to be kept in their holding pen until Easter in a few weeks time. We wandered aimlessly around the island, and stumbled upon the ‘mini zoo’. And my god it was depressing.
There were some impressive birds, eagles and owls and such, chained to the floor in a claustrophobic cage. As we walked over to the eagle’s cage, it flew at us, as if trying to escape from its cage, its chained pulled it back to its sad reality.
We journeyed on through the island, hoping to see something less demoralising. Dark clouds loomed over us, (fuck you receptionist!) and our faces grew even longer. Our stomachs rumbled, due to the lack of tourists, there was a lack of well anything really. All cafes and restaurants on the island were derelict, and looked as if they had been for a very long time.
Our spirits lowered further until we found a Hungarian man in a van. I ordered a burger and Jennie ordered a hot dog, both of which were microwaved and served to us in kitchen roll. We’re not overly fussy eaters but it was really poor. Just really dry, it took a lot of effort to chew the food and force it down our throats. But we were that hungry. How we were feeling then in comparison to when we first stepped onto the island couldn’t be more different.
We came across a man standing in front of a row of bicycles, all of which were available to rent. We immediately knew this would be a great way to navigate around and see the entire island. It cost us 690 HUF (about £1.65) for half an hour. We each climbed onto a bike. We raced through the island, the sun broke through the clouds (the British know best you smug bitch!), the island looked greener, and our mood changed drastically. We rang our bells, laughed, raced one another and marveled at the beauty of the place.
We cycled down each and every path, including the one that runs around the exterior of the island, giving us tremendous views of the river and the city on our left and the alluring green island on the right. Jennie glanced at her watch and informed me it was time to return the bikes. Half-an hour? It felt like only five minutes had passed! I can’t remember having that much fun cycling since I was a child. It was great and one of the best things we did that whole week.
The sun shone onto our necks and balance was returned to Budapest after a strange morning. We even bought a couple of ice-creams from an old lady with a Walls’ cart. We walked back onto mainland and crossed to Buda, the opposite side to the one we came from earlier. We strolled beside the glistening river and revelled at Parliament.
We sighed and reflected on our week and for the first time it felt like we were going home. We rested at our hotel and prepared for our last night in this wondrous city. We decided to visit one of the top attractions of Pest, the ruin bars. Szimpla Kert, to be exact, the district’s most notorious ruin bar.
You wouldn’t know it was there but for the imposing bouncers and drunken Englishmen outside. I’ve been to some big clubs in my brief period of adulthood, but this place actually has maps everywhere to help you get around. It’s huge! We walked into the main courtyard and I’ve never been to a place like it. There were crowds of people, some pointing at the peculiar furniture, others were desperately trying to grab the barmen’s attention and others were simply socialising over a tea or coffee.
The idea of a ruin bar is that someone takes a desolate building, an old hotel or factory, puts a bar in the middle and starts selling drinks. This makes for a really unique atmosphere. The entire place is filled with eclectic objects that were either here before the bar, or accumulated after the bar opened, or the more probable combination of the two.
The only downside of this was that it was a tourist hot-spot, or more specifically, a British stag-do hot-spot. Just stay away from the main bars like we did, and you’ll be fine. We explored for a long time and the place just seemed to go on forever, the cool things we found were endless. We sat down for a bit, had a couple of pricey drinks (probably thanks to the stag-do’s) and left to get some food.
We returned to the tapas restaurant we visited on our second day, Pata Negra. It was far and away the best food we had eaten in Budapest, and all week we spoke about how we’d like to go once more before leaving. We ordered an excessive amount of special food, drunk our weight in cocktails and quite simply had yet another fantastic night. When on a trip, you pin your enjoyment down to things such as the landmarks, the weather, the locals, the food, but what really made this trip for me above anything, was the company.
Despite that rather mawkish statement, the city wasn’t half bad either. We were unsure after our first day, but by the second day we fell in love with it. And by the end of the fifth day, we were bloody infatuated with the place. I would strongly encourage anyone to go – especially if you’re a student on a budget.
I was sad that the week had ended, but what an experience I had! Checked two cities off the list, and can contently say I’m so pleased I saw both. Budapest is a city that will remain dear to me because it was the first trip Jennie and I took together, but also because the place is just so enchanting.
I mean if you don’t like beautiful buildings, friendly people, delicious and reasonably-priced food, generous alcohol portions and fascinating history then it’s probably not for you. But if you don’t mind those things, then Budapest has it in abundance!