Our top rated attractions of alluring Budapest

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Buda castle complex covers a vast area on a hill overlooking the Danube, offering great views of Pest (just as the nearby Gellert hill does). It used to be the residence of the Hungarian kings and you can admire their residence and the beautiful old buildings within its walls. As this was the heart of Hungary it’s a place of great significance to the country’s history and therefore it is enriched with many finely crafted works of art which you should enjoy wandering around the place.

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Fisherman’s bastion cam be found near Matthias church on the castle hill and it is a 19th century masterpiece, equipped with seven towers, each one representing one of the original seven Magyar tribes that first settled in Hungary. This place derives its name from the fisher-men’s guild, which was the one responsible for this area’s defense during Medieval time. Apart from the statues of the Magyar chieftains, you can view the statue of Stephen I of Hungary, but to us the Romanesque towers and the great view of the river and Pest are the greatest thing about this place.

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Matthias church is the Gothic styled church that stands next to the Fisherman’s bastion, at the heart of the castle. It’s an exquisite building and the roof tiles are colored in the lovely Hungarian colors which merge brilliantly with the coloring and architectural style of this great temple.

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Gellért Hill is our last suggestion on the Buda side of the city and apart from the view of the river and Pest, you can find lots of sights up there. On the hilltop you will catch sight of the Citadella, the old fortress of the city (there’s a display of Soviet weapons there), where you can have a closer look at the Liberty statue, that is a reminder of the victory over the Nazis. The hill is named after St Gerard of Csanád, who – according to an unverified fable, was thrown into a spiked barrel and rolled down this hill during a pagan uprising and you can also visit a church that is built in one of the hill’s caves.

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The Széchenyi Chain bridge was the first permanent crossing of the Danube in Hungary (there is a total of eight bridges nowadays) and it was constructed in the 19th century, when it was considered one of the world’s engineering wonders. George Sinas was among the main contributors and you will most certainly enjoy crossing the river, while admiring the artwork of this great sight.

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The Hungarian Parliament and the adjacent Lajos Kossuth square is the largest building in Hungary, established in the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a huge, beautiful construction that really stars on every photo taken from any of the Buda hills point of view. You do not have to limit yourself to outside views though as you can visit the interior and admire the works of art kept inside.

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Hősök tere (Heroes’ square) is a vast square that will please your eyes with its immensity. The statue complex will capture your view and will urge you to climb on some of the lower statues, try horse-riding with one of the Magyar chieftains of old if you wish and get some great shots. The image of Archangel Gabriel on top of a high column dominates the complex and seems as if ruling over those important figures of Hungarian myth and history featured on the column’s feet.

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Vajdahunyad Castle is next to the Heroes’ square and is a combination of various architectural styles from buildings all around Hungary. Although it was constructed by the end of 19th century, the building seems older and will make you think that you are living in a fairy tale (or a horror story if you encounter the bust of Bella Lugosi and see the statue of the anonymous writer of Gesta Hungarorum, it’s your choice). We visited the site after dark and it proved a great experience, but a day visit is probably a great – if not the better choice.

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The Great market hall. Ah! This wonderful place! An indoor market at the end of Vaci street that features a ground level and a smaller floor. On the ground level you can buy anything from souvenirs to local products, like paprika, meats, fruit, candy and other tasty stuff, while on the floor you can explore Hungarian taste in one of the many eateries and find even more souvenir shops.

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The God of commerce himself overlooking this commercial street

Vaci utka is a pedestrianized commercial street where you can shop, buy souvenirs or simply enjoy a drink, food, coffee, you get the idea. It is definitely a great place for a relaxed walk and although it seems to be more addressed to tourists, you ‘ll get the vibe of the city.

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The Hungarian National museum. A great place if you are curious about the history of the district as we were. I personally wanted to have a look at the Byzantine emperor’s crown, but the exhibition covers the history of the area from the ancient times to the 20th century. It is a great chance to view some prehistoric exhibits displayed, as well as some other from the Huns and the Avars that roamed these lands in the Middle ages. We mostly enjoyed the last rooms of the exhibition, which featured many rooms arranged by decades, that displayed the lifestyle of average Joes and Janes (or the Lászlós and Eszters if you wish) of Hungary at these times.

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The Danube promenade is a great place to have an enjoyable walk – especially if the sun shines bright in the sky and simply enjoy life. Would you believe that the site where you can enjoy your ice cream used to be the borderline of the civilized world? Barbaric tribes roamed the lands beyond Pest, while beyond Buda the Roman empire reigned supreme. Nothing to worry now though . Just take a sip of your coffee and enjoy the views and the art, these barbarians can no longer harm you.

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Andrássy ut is a fine boulevard, that will offer you some great views of the marvelous buildings Budapest awards its visitors. As in Vaci street, you will also find many places to shop, as well as many cafes and restaurants. An elegant avenue that will undoubtedly please you.

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St Stephen’s Basilica is a great 19th century temple, near the parliament, along with which are the tallest buildings in the city. You can enjoy the artwork and even view the catholic ritual for a while. If you are lucky enough you can probably enjoy one of the concerts held inside.

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Ruin pubs are a superb aspect of Budapest fun. We were constantly visiting Szimpla and up to this day we feel as if something is trying to draw us back to this place. These pubs are located in buildings that were abandoned, for instance Szimpla itself is located in a spot where an old factory and houses once stood. The facades of these pubs don’t look that special, yet what’s inside will surprise you. No seat is the same as the others and each table is unique, ranging from old cars, bathtubs, toys, old chairs, you name it. The atmosphere epitomizes relaxation and you can enjoy food and drink at great prices.  I could go on forever writing about these places. I will limit myself here and stop right… now.

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Nagymező street and statues in general are an attraction themselves. There are many statues in the city streets that were created during this century that give the place a modern look that mixes harmonically with the artistic styles of previous centuries found all around Budapest. Nagymező street is a place where you can find some of them, but our favorite is the round bellied policeman near the parliament, while you can also view the little princess, a great piece of art if you ask us, the girl with her dog, the statue of Ferenc Puskás, if you like football (I do and my club owes this man a lot), or even the Michael Jackson memorial tree. Another site is the one of shoes left on the Danube bank, a reminder of the murder committed by Nazi collaborators on the spot during WW2.

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Photo via ieger.com

These are the places we could visit on our time schedule. Apart from these sites you could visit the Széchenyi Baths (or any other thermal bath facility) or even relax on Margaret island, visit the Roman ruins of Aquincum or even Szentendre, an artistic town extremely close to Budapest. If you would like to escape the city, Siofok on the shores of lake Balaton seems like a party town, while close to Budapest you could have an excursion to the traditional Village of Hollókő. Before venturing on this trip, we also thought that a day visit to Szilvasvarad or Lillafured castle seemed like a good idea and I still maintain the notion that this place is a hidden gem of Central Europe. On our next visit to charming Hungary it will certainly feature first on our list.

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Lovely Budapest – A Farewell to her charms

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…It was decided that on our last day to this charming city, we would not follow any particular schedule but freely roam its streets instead. As we had being crossing Danube through the Széchenyi chain bridge over the past days, we opted for a different crossing over to the Pest side one closer to our first stop for the day, Gellért gill. The hill is named after St Gerard of Csanád, who – according to an unverified fable, was thrown into a spiked barrel and rolled down this hill during a pagan uprising.

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The hill offers great views of the city and we greatly took advantage of this aspect to get some great shots, until a funny thing startled us. As Catherine was posing for our camera, a girl shouted something like”@#$%!!!*   @&^E”? at as and we thought that we were blocking her view, preventing her from taking a photo. However she repeated her question more enthusiastically but slower and we realized that “@#$%!!!*   @&^E”? stood for “Are you Greek?” in a lovely Cypriot accent. We were still stunned but our slight scare immediately turned to laughter.

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We visited the citadel and the enormous statue of Liberty that stands in front of it, holding a palm tree branch. It’s a monument from Soviet era Hungary that can be seen from almost every part of Budapest, commemorating the city’s liberation from the Nazis.

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Apart from that, you can visit the cave church, or relax in a spa, as a couple of famous thermal baths can be found at the hill’s feet. After descenting the hill, we crossed a bridge to Pest and tried to find a cup of coffee the way we like it.708.JPG It has now turned into some sort of peculiar ritual, searching through various countries, instructing waiters on the proper way to prepare our favorite coffee and trying to guess what they ‘ll present to us (we never complain though, it’s become part of the fun). Well, our choice of a coffee house proved to be a great one, so just extremely good coffee on this one, nothing strange here. As a matter of fact it was even greater than the one we enjoy back home and our order didn’t seem strange at all as we were casually served our freddo cappuccino.  After enjoying our coffee under the bright Hungarian sky, we decided to walk a bit around town, before eventually heading to our beloved Szimpla.

 

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This place is definitely a safe bet, certainly one we were willing to take and never proved us wrong during our stay. We ate something and drove the heat away with some fine beer.

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Even when the world turns upside down Szimpla is a safe h(e)aven

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After appeasing our stomachs, we left Szimpla and walked around, till we found ourselves in Nagymező street, which we later found that is called Budapest’s Broadway due to the number of theaters and clubs. We came across a comedian’s statue and composer Emerich Kálmán ‘s statue as well as some other ones. Of course we joined the Hungarian composer on his bench, while he was enjoying his cigar before continuing our walk towards another ruin pub.718

 

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“To die or not to die?”

You see, we totally enjoyed Szimpla but we wished to check out another one of these places if not for the fun simply for seeing something else for a change. Well, that something else was Instant, which unexpectedly was extremely quiet when we got there and that allowed us to take some shots while enjoying our beer. We had got accustomed to a larger crowd though and we got bored after a while, but we guessed that this beautiful place, with its psychedelic design must be a place for great parties at a later hour since we had arrived there too early.

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So we walked to St Stephen’s basilica, which we had seen on our first day but postponed our visit. It’s a great church, not as imposing as the one in Vienna that bears the same name, but a spectacular building nonetheless. I guess that the main difference is that there’s more open space around the particular Hungarian church, I feel that the building allows the visitor more space to breathe, while the Viennese one is more dominant.

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We left this fantastic church and met the big bellied Hungarian policeman, who was kind enough to have a picture with me. Then we walked down Vaci street, all the way near the great market hall, buying gifts on our way while being part of the colorful crowd. As it was getting late though, we decided to sit for a beer and possibly dinner, but another funny thing happened on that place.

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All right, what’s all this, then?

We had failed to notice a drunk tourist sitting right on the table next to us. The guy was half asleep and had soiled himself a bit which seemed funny as he was mumbling something in (pardon his) French, but that put our desire for food on hold. Still, we had sat on the table and we decided to at least order a couple of drinks and leave after a while, so Catherine had a soda, while I ordered a small beer. To our astonishment the waiter complained that never in his thirty years of working as a waiter he had seen anyone ordering a small beer (why on earth are they selling them then?). Still I got my beer and we paid our bill so as not to waste more time there.

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So, we left the place and accidentally stumbled across a kiosk that sold street food, which looked a lot more prestigious than a simple street snack. There were even tables available and we sat on one, as Catherine ordered a burger (one of the best she had ever tasted as she claimed) and I had ghulash, which was amazingly tasty.

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We returned to our hostel on foot, after crossing another one of Budapest’s bridges and admired some night views of the city. That was our last day in Budapest before leaving the country in the morning, which we would spend on Bratislava, trying to make amends for our hasty visit of the city in the short amount of time in our disposal. Budapest proved to be a spectacular and charming city and we guess that most of Hungary is that way and we would definitely try to visit again in the future.

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Some random or accidental artwork on the river bank

Lovely Budapest part 2

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The next day was reserved for some serious sightseeing and we kicked off our city tour by visiting our neighborly Buda castle, the residence of the Hungarian kings. We are talking about a huge building complex that stands on a hill, overlooking the Danube, a hill full of artwork, beauty and travelers.

Check out our first day in Hungary here

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We took an elevator to ascent to the museum and admire some of the artifacts. Among the artworks that decorate this magnificent place stands the Matthias fountain, depicting a hunting scene starring King Matthias Corvinus himself. Apart from that, you can admire the mythical Turul and of course the elegant war and peace statues, ornamenting the museum’s entrance.

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After a while, we walked further up the hill among courtyards and gardens, looked around for some gifts and headed towards the Halászbástya (the fisherman’s bastion) and the Matthias church. This bastion is a 19th century masterpiece, equipped with seven towers, each one representing one of the original seven Magyar tribes that first settled in Hungary. The place is named after the guild responsible for this area’s defense during Medieval times.

We can only imagine…

“Hurry Miklós! I got a big one this time…”

“Don’t stand there man! Pull this fishing line harder!!”

“God be praised! We shall fill our bellies today! Hey! Just wait a minute…That’s not a Catfish…It’s an enemy soldier”

“I wonder If he’d make a good fish ghulash…”

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We also visited the site where Beethoven gave a concert at the end of the 18th century and the place where Greek sculptor Memos (Agamemnon) Makris lived.

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After admiring the view of the Parliament once more, we descended the hill and reached the Buda end of the Széchenyi chain bridge, which was the first permanent Danube crossing in the country. After seeing Charle’s bridge in Prague, we thought that we would not get the chance to view something of similar beauty, but we were happily proved wrong. Although there are vast differences between the two structures, artistry and charm are qualities they share in common. Greek merchant George Sinas was among its main financial supporters and four large stone lions guard the way to it on both sides.

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We passed in front of Gresham palace and walked to the commercial Vaci utka, the main pedestrian shopping street in the city, where we found many gift shops, as well as many restaurants, cafes and bars. We visited St Michael’s church on this attractive street and at its end, we reached the great market hall.

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Wow! what a great place! The ground floor was full of lovely smells and food (you should definitely at least buy some paprika to bring back home, that’s what we did) and the elevated floor was the place to shop some souvenirs and have a bite. We enjoyably spent lots of time inside this lovely place, taking quite a few photos. There was also a Thai promo week or something and Catherine decided to show off her suddenly acquired skills in Thai dancing, entertaining the visitors and herself. We also enjoyed local street food (or is it market food on this occasion?) and left the place to visit the National museum.

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On our way there, I got a couple of old books, thus firmly establishing my newly born tradition of acquiring a book from every country we visit. The Hungarian national museum is situated on a fine building and I was more interested in the exhibits regarding the prehistoric and Avar period, as well as a certain display, the crown of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachus (the gladiator). This medieval gigolo figure ascended to the throne by being pleasant to the eyes of the old empress, yet he also kept his mistress and ruined the empire by the choices he made. For all his efforts, he wore a crown depicting him and the old hag as saints. How funny is that?

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What was also amusing is the fact that we were informed with a significant delay that if we wanted to take photos we would have to pay a small special fare at the entrance. Since we had already taken photos of most of the stuff we were interested in and the entrance was a bit far we settled for what we had, forfeiting the chance to photo-shoot the most interesting part of the exhibition, the depiction of Hungarian city life in the 20th century arranged by decades. You can see the inside of apartments as they would be held by typical people of the time and that was really something inspired, giving of a scent of the continuation History entails.

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After a couple of short visits to churches, we looked for the train station, to book tickets for Bratislava, where our flight would depart and upon our arrival at the place, we were surprised to face a somewhat familiar image from back home. Many refugees waiting stoically all around the train station square, for a chance to cross the borders to Austria, Germany or further. We were saddened by the struggle these people (lots of babies and young ones among them) were facing, yet as things got worse over the next months, they were the lucky ones. We got our tickets and walked for a while around the city. The world is a gorgeous place, yet contains a lot of drama.

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After walking for a while, visiting some places we decided that we should catch a break, so, since Szimpla was near by we went there for some snacks and beer. Subsequently, we visited a small alley nearby, which was crowded and filled up with kiosks, serving street food from various cuisines. We couldn’t try anything though, as on our way there, while walking around for a while to take some shots, we noticed a small shop full of people. Sadly we do not remember the name, but we can assure you that we got to taste the best sandwiches and baguettes ever!

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After our nutritional needs were taken care of, we reached Andrássy avenue (Andrássy út), a lovely boulevard with large pavements and trees on each side and lots of great buildings. The place gives of a somewhat Parisian sense and we greatly enjoyed our stroll, before getting on the metro to reach Heroe’s square (Hősök tere) a vast plaza dominated by the monument which features a high column with archangel Gabriel on its top, surrounded by the statues of the seven Magyar chieftains.

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We kept taking photos, astonished by the place’s grandeur, before walking right into nearby Vajdahunyad castle. This early 20th century building is situated by the park’s lake and is not fashioned in any specific architectural style, rather it’s an amalgam of the different styles developed in the country over the centuries.

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Inside the park, you can find the mysterious looking statue of the anonymous chronicler who wrote Gesta Hungarorum and we enjoyed our evening walk there. We also had a rather annoying, yet funny encounter as a man holding a violin approached us and insisted on playing Zorba when we informed him of our origin. Now, that music can drive me mad. It’s fine at first, but after hearing it everywhere year after year, decade after decade it’s really irritating. We would gladly give the man some money to stop this Zorba nonsense but we were out of small change at the time. So we walked away, while the guy kept calling me idiot among other Hungarian stuff we could not translate. I guess a handbook would be useful…

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That ended a great day, as we got on a bus back to Buda. We had one more day to spend in Hungary and we decided that we had enough of our share of sightseeing on this trip, so we would simply let the wind blow and carry us anywhere around wonderful Budapest on the following day…

 

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Lovely Budapest – Back to our central European adventure

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Before venturing on our central European adventure, we were trying to determine our whereabouts for that Summer and – since our budget was limited at the time, we were looking for low  priced destinations. Budapest came up as an ideal stop in our itinerary and eventually we ended up building our whole trip around this magnificent city. Although it was our first choice, it was deemed to be our last stop on a great and wonderful voyage around central Europe.

View the previous part of this trip here

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So, we left Vienna on a bus and after a few hours we were crossing the Danube to arrive at Népliget bus station. Then we changed some Euros to Forints and crossed the Danube once more to get to our hostel. As it is widely known, Budapest consists of two cities merged in one. Hilly Buda, where our residence for the following days laid, on the west side of the river and flat Pest on the east. After settling in we got up on our favorite vehicle, feet and started walking eastwards to visit Pest, where most of the fun is to be found.

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Before crossing the river once more, we made a quick but necessary stop for refreshments on a cafe and we enjoyed the view of the opposite shore, where the massive parliament overshadowed every other building.

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After this short stop, we crossed the famous chain bridge, a marvelous construction indeed and stepped foot on Pest. We passed the Gresham palace (now four seasons hotel) and came across a funny statue of a mailman (?) or an elf student (?).

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Anyway the guy seemed to be in a hurry, but that was not the only funny statue we encountered as we came face to face with a rather thick fellow, the round bellied policeman who is a crowd favorite and legend has it that if you rub his belly, you are lucky in love (we were lucky anyway so we didn’t, except if one of us rubbed the guy’s belly without the other knowing it).

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Nothing to see here, move along

Near this charming police officer you can find St Stephen’s cathedral, but we postponed our visit for the next day, restricting ourselves to outside views of the building. We wanted to visit a ruin pub and had a good idea which one to check for a drink and on our way there we caught a glimpse of the Budapest eye and unexpectedly found the Michael Jackson memorial tree. We didn’t know what we were facing at the time, but now we know that MJ stayed at a hotel nearby when in Budapest and fans would gather at the spot to catch a glimpse of the pop star. So, when he died, they dedicated this tree to his memory, covering it with tokens of their love.

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Finally we reached our destination. We believe Szimpla Kert to be the best ruin pub in Budapest and as we discovered on the following days it is situated in a great neighborhood. The place was crowded but not overly so. Ruin pubs are built – as the name suggests, on ruins of abandoned buildings and if you look at them from the outside they do not seem much, they look like normal homes. Once inside there’s a courtyard filled with art and colors. No furniture matches, it may seem as if you are enjoying your drink on a dump, but your eyes will never get bored. You can grab a bite, enjoy coffee or drink and relish the laid back atmosphere. It took us some time to stop expressing our fondness for the place and shut our mouths which were still wide open in awe, before we were able to sit on a stool and enjoy our beers.

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This place was to become our hangout while in Hungary and even to this day we recall the fun we had. After a few hours we headed back to our hostel, but we had to make one last stop before calling it a day since we were getting a bit hungry. And obviously, you can’t stay in Hungary and not try the delicious ghulash. I have to admit that this was a stop mainly addressed towards myself, since Catherine doesn’t like spicy food, but I have no regrets when it comes to burning hot lava. We found a small restaurant, mostly occupied by locals and enjoyed my first Hungarian ghulash. We were now ready to rest, in order to further explore the city on the following day…

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We are rich I tell you! With payments made exclusively in Forinds we felt like millionaires as we were spending thousands of money

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