I always get stressed out when I travel to a country where I believe the people won’t speak much English. In most countries this hasn’t been a problem, although I definitely encountered a lot of people in France who either spoke very little English or none at all. Still, I have quite a few French friends who speak English at a reasonable level, so I knew I could get by.
I wasn’t so sure this would be the case when I travelled to Budapest, Hungary. I just don’t know what the English situation is in Hungary. I mean, I had a horseback riding instructor who was Hungarian and spoke nearly perfect English, but he had been living in the US for over fifteen years by that point.
Luckily for me, I didn’t run into any instances in Hungary where I needed to communicate with somebody who didn’t speak English. All my worries were for naught.
I should also mention that Hungarian is apparently one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. Good stuff.
The first thing I came across was St. Stephen’s Basilica, which was stunning. I walked around the building, took some pictures, ditched the odd man who was circling me on his bicycle, then started walking in the direction of the Danube. After coming across a few more churches, I made it to the river.
I walked on the bridge across the river and tried to take a picture of the view up the Danube, but unfortunately the wind was so strong that I was nearly blown off the bridge trying to do so. I gave up and focused my efforts on struggling against the wind. When I was almost to the end of the bridge, I had to walk past this pillar. Because the pillar was affecting the wind flow, it created some weird wind trap that nearly blew me over. The wind was blowing from the north but the pillar caused the wind to be pushed up from the south, so every time I would try to take a step, my foot would just fly all over the place. It reminded me of trying to walk through campus back home on a windy day.
After crossing to the Buda side of Budapest (the Buda side is the west side, while the Pest side is the east side, with the Danube splitting the two parts of the city), I walked up Gellért-hegy to reach the Liberty Statue. Let me tell you, it took a long time. The hill itself was quite steep, so rather than just building steps straight up the hill, somebody build a more gently-sloped path that wound around the hill.
After hiking back down the hill, I walked over to the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace is similarly situated on a hill, so up again I went. Much like Gellért-hegy, the path up to the Royal Palace was not just stairs but a gently sloping path, so again it took some time to reach the top.
The Royal Palace was worth the walk, however. It was absolutely beautiful. I’ve seen quite a few palaces while travelling around Europe and I have to say that this is one of my favorites. I would have loved to go inside and see how it was decorated, but unfortunately I did not.
As I walked around the palace, I started to smell fried dough. I honed in on the scent (honestly, who doesn’t love fried dough) and it eventually led me to a small vendor selling kürtőskalács (doesn’t Hungarian look like an insane language? I would love to learn it), which is basically a Transylvanian funnel cake. You can get it in a variety of flavors—cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla, original, and so on. I chose the vanilla kind, and it was SO GOOD. I was going to take a picture of the entire thing before I started chowing down on it, but I wasn’t able to resist. As you can see from the picture, it’s basically a strip of dough rolled into a funnel, with a large opening in the center.
Mmmm. Just talking about it makes me hungry.
After eating about half of the delicious treat, I headed back down the hill, across the Széchenyi chainbridge, and along the Danube towards the Parliament building. Near the Parliament building I came across these iron shoes. These shoes are known as the “Shoes on the Danube Promenade,” and honor the Jews killed by the fascist Arrow Cross Party during World War II. The Jews were taken to the edge of the Danube, ordered to step out of their shoes, and then shot so that their bodies fell into the river.
By this time it was getting late, so I took the metro back to where my hostel was located, and then went to a grocery store to buy food. It was a struggle to not buy everything in the store. It was so cheap, especially compared to the price of things Norway.
Oh, I should also mention the conversion rate between Hungarian forints (the currency of Hungary) and United States dollars. 1 USD equals about 250 HUF. I almost had a heart attack withdrawing money from the ATM because of this difference, because it meant that I withdrew thousands of HUF.
After stocking up on plenty of food, I headed back to the hostel, snacked, and then chatted with some of the people in my room. Hostels are really weird places. I’ve been to some where people will say “hi” to me, and that’s it. No asking where I’m from, no asking my name, nothing. Then at others, EVERYBODY will talk to you and you find yourself repeating the same speech over and over again. The hostel I stayed at was one of the latter. I met a Dutchman (mentioned earlier), a woman from Canada who very nicely let me use her adapter to charge my camera battery (good thing too, since it was close to dying), two Scotsmen who had such thick accents that I didn’t think they were speaking English, and a guy from Denmark. Denmark! We’re neighbors! He had quite a thick accent, but being Scandinavian, of course his English was perfect. Everybody was very friendly and nice to me, so that was good. I putzed on the internet for a bit then hit the hay, since I was dead exhausted.