As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the past 2 weekends in Eastern Europe. After experiencing two of Eastern Europe’s most exciting capital cities, I must say that I’ve enjoyed traveling in this part of Europe more than in the other parts of the continent. Much of it probably has to do with the fact that it’s now November and there’s a prominent Christmas spirit in these chilly cities, but I also really appreciate the history and architecture of Prague and Budapest. If I were to recommend one trip in Europe that everyone must do, I’d say a trip to Prague and Budapest would be at the top of the list. I especially think doing the two cities together would be cool because they have a similar feel, but also very distinct traits.
Prague was an absolute dream. I’ve started to realize that my favorite cities – in both Europe and back in the U.S. – are the colder ones. Although it was 25-35 degrees Fahrenheit the entire time, I could not have been happier in the Czech Republic’s quaint capital.
As we were only in Prague for 36 hours, we really had to squeeze everything in. On Friday night, we took part in a pub crawl that ended at the famous 5 story club, “Karlovy Lazne.” Each floor played a different type of music and had a completely different atmosphere, making it basically 5 clubs within one building. As I was with 20 friends from Vanderbilt, it was really fun to just go out and be together. Once again, I realized that I am excited to be back at school with my friends next semester, even though I’m having the time of my life abroad.
On Saturday, those of us who arrived too late on Friday to sightsee packed in a full day of visiting tourist attractions. We started with one of the best brunches I’ve had in Europe at Café Louvre. After our quick meal, we headed straight to Old Town Square where we climbed the world’s oldest astronomical clock tower, which offered fabulous views of the city. I absolutely fell in love with Prague’s winding cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and medieval architecture. The city really breathed a holiday spirit with snow flurries in the air, street vendors selling holiday treats on most corners, and an overall charming village feel.
Upon descending, we grabbed hot chocolates and mulled wine and made our way to the St. Charles bridge. However, on the way, we were sure to stop and try the classic Czech trdelniks. Trdelniks are basically fried dough cylinders filled with something sweet or savory. I got one with spiced apples, but they also offered trdelniks filled with ice cream, strawberries, chocolate, sausage, cheese, and more. To be honest, it wasn’t my favorite snack in the world, but I always think it’s worth it to try some type of classic cuisine in each city (especially because we went to a Mexican restaurant one night and a Thai restaurant the other).
The Charles Bridge was as stunning as it looks from pictures. Although we didn’t take many because we were slightly pressed for time, I thought the river was beautiful and it added another great touch to the city. After crossing the bridge, we found ourselves at the Lennon Wall. Although the wall has become more of a spot for tourists to take pictures than anything, the history behind it is fascinating. In the 80s, the once normal wall became covered with John Lennon-inspired quotes and lyrics from Beatles songs. In 1988, students started to write grievances on the wall and it became a source of controversy for the communist regime of Gustáv Husák. Today, the wall continues to be filled with uplifting quotes (in fact, I accidentally brushed up against it and got some paint stuck on my coat).
In just one night and one full day, we managed to take part in a pub crawl, go to the famous 5-story club “Karlovy Lazne”, climb the astronomical clock tower, taste the famous trdelniks, walk the Charles bridge, snap a photo at the John Lennon wall, and walk through the Prague Castle. My time in Prague left me wishing for more Eastern European getaways, setting me up for a perfect following weekend in Budapest.
Budapest was equally as cool as Prague. This was one of the cities I was most excited to visit while abroad, and Knut and I decided on it back in August when we were in Norway. We wanted to go somewhere much different from the other places we’ve been together (Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain) and Budapest turned out to be the perfect choice.
We arrived during the late afternoon on Friday and were fortunately able to make it to the famous Chain Bridge that separates Buda and Pest before the 4:00pm sunset. From there, we crossed the bridge to Buda to take in the exquisite views of the Danube at night, then re-crossed it and headed toward some famous sights on the Pest side.
As we made our way toward the spectacular Parliament building, we stopped at the Shoes on the Danube Bank. This memorial pays tribute to the people of Budapest who were lined up on the Danube and killed during WWII. They were ordered to remove their shoes before being killed, hence the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial. Seeing the metallic shoes strewn across the ground in a manner far from neat and tidy was such a sobering experience. To think that just a few decades ago so many people’s lives were taken for simply believing in something is shocking. In all of my time in Europe, I don’t think I’ve really felt the shock of WWII as strongly as I did on the banks of the Danube.
After taking in the memorial, we continued past the Danube and toward the Parliament building. Budapest’s Parliament during the night is one of the most beautiful sights to see in Europe. None of my photos did it justice, so you’ll have to go see it for yourself!
After seeing the Parliament building and St. Stephen’s Basilica, we strolled through the quaint Christmas market and then made our way to our first night’s dinner reservation at Menza. The food at Menza was to die for. In fact, all of my meals in Budapest were the best I’ve had while abroad. At Menza I had roasted chicken breast with beetroot risotto. As fancy as it sounds, my meal – with two glasses of wine – came out to be less than €15. Budapest is seriously so cheap. That same meal would’ve been easily €30 in Barcelona. So if you’re a foodie on a budget, Budapest is definitely the place to go.
After dinner we walked around and then went back to the Airbnb to get some sleep before Saturday’s full day of sightseeing.
On Saturday, we walked 30,000 steps as we made our way throughout Budapest. We started the morning at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, which wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I have some OCDeTar in me, so I wasn’t so keen on sharing a warm bath with hundreds of strangers. However, at least I can say I’ve done it! It was also cool to be wearing a bikini in Budapest in November and not be shivering. (Well, I was shivering when I wasn’t physically in the baths. It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside…)
After that interesting experience, we went to Hummus Bar for lunch. As a hummus aficionado, I absolutely loved this cheap and delicious place. It was the perfect fuel for our next few hours of crossing the Chain Bridge, walking up to the Fisherman’s Bastion and exploring the surrounding streets, visiting the Buda Castle, making our way to the Central Market Hall (unfortunately it was closed!), and then back to the Christmas market.
We ended the night with dinner at Ket Szerecsen which was probably the best meal I’ve ever had. I know that sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I seriously made a TripAdvisor account just so I could write a review. We failed to make a reservation for the night and attempted calling over 10 places starting around 6pm. With no luck, we decided to start walking and we stumbled across this one (after sitting down and seeing the menu, we realized we had called earlier and they were full. If you come to Budapest, you MUST make dinner reservations. Seriously it’s so important). They had an opening because someone cancelled and we were seated at the perfect little table next to the front window. I had the roasted duck breast with pumpkin risotto and forest mushrooms and it was quite literally heaven. As someone who has never had duck, I must say it was amazing and just a more flavorful version of chicken. If you go to Budapest, definitely try it because it’s on most menus.
After dinner, Knut and I went to the famous Szimpla Kert ruin pub. After WWII, Budapest decided not to restore some of the rundown buildings and instead turned them into “ruin pubs.” Szimpla Kert is by far the most famous and regardless of your age, you must make it here during your trip. In fact, we saw the 65+ year-old couple that was seated next to us at dinner at Szimpla Kert. We also saw the people who took our photo on the Chain Bridge. Clearly, it’s the place to be. If you’re hungry afterward, Karaván, Budapest’s “street food court” (a group of permanent food trucks) is located right next door.
With a different bar for every type of drink (cocktail, beer, wine, etc.) a restaurant upstairs, countless different rooms filled with people from all over the world, and a cool terrace outside, it’s an experience in itself to just grab a drink and walk around. Oh, and if you fall for the tourist trap at the front, you can take some photo booth shots to savor the moment.
Overall, Prague and Budapest were definitely my favorite cities. Of everywhere I’ve been, I think these are the two that I really feel like I need to go back to. Eastern Europe proved to be just as interesting and cool as I thought it would be, and I’m definitely hoping to plan more trips to that part of the world after school.
Until next week,