Budapest

Two days in Prague and I’m finally recovered from Budapest.
It’s not that Budapest is a party city, but, well, things happen.

First of all, Budapest; it’s like Paris, but better. I was actually debating whether or not to go to Paris for a day or two on this trip, and now I don’t have to, because it would just be a more expensive, French Budapest, and I love Paris, so it’s really that good. It’s like on the eighth day God said, “Let there be a city entirely filled with cafes and old book shops, where all the bars are cool, where there thrift stores abound with vintage scarves, the exchange rate is in favor of the American dollar, where all of the buildings look like they were moved here from Paris, oh, and where there are bicycles and bike lanes, and where someday Katie Cantwell can be a shameless hipster and spend all her money on coffee.”

I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. I mean, I’ll check the book of Genesis, but I remember Sunday school pretty well, and I think that’s an okay paraphrase.

Looking into all of the places in Budapest that look cool could be a lifetime endeavor. I am the biggest lover of cafes, and each one had an attached book shop, or exposed stone arches for the ceiling, or something equally pleasant; I probably could have spend the entire week, and a week was not enough time, in cafes. Every single street in the city was beautiful, even in the foggy chilly weather that persisted through my visit. I got lost at least once when walking around every day, but the good kind of lost. There were antique bookshops everywhere, an alarming amount of thrift stores with pipes, tobacco tins, scarves, books, typewriters, watches, and, alarmingly, vintage pins and cuff links from the Third Reich. I only ever found these on the back shelves, which I can understand, because no one really wants Nazi paraphernalia to be around, but you can’t just throw away things that old.

Speaking of Nazis, a group of Neo-Nazis played a show in town and they stayed at our hostel. I and everyone else were confused when an apparent biker gang showed up, until one of the he girls googled a phrase she had seen on one of their members’ t-shirts and discovered they were a Neo-Nazi band. They kept to themselves mostly, which everyone was thankful for. I wasn’t scared, but I would have had to bow out of any conversation they might have started by saying, “I don’t feel comfortable making small talk with you because you have a visible swastika tattoo.” Their’s was luckily a short stay.

As previously mentioned, a series of late nights did end up happening. Not every time, but thankfully many times, there are people at hostels with whom I get along really well. These are typically people who have been on the road a long time, and I think after the first few weeks of travel, everyone loosens up and starts talking to everyone they meet. I met several Australians, a few Americans, and a few other scattered countries, and we ended up all hitting it off in a hostel that sponsored a pub crawl every night. You can connect the dots from there. We went out twice on the crawl, only attending the first three bars each time (the fourth and last was always a club, and one does not tend to pack clubbing attire when backpacking), and then on our own one night to a ruin pub. A ruin pub is like a large somewhat impromptu bar entirely furnished with abandoned repurposed items, like bathtubs and cars, and most are big enough to have multiple bars to accommodate the space and people. Some go an extra stop on the random train and send a bowls of carrots around for anyone who wants a snack with their beer (this was the best one). We ended up staying out until 3:30 each time. Everyone had been places others hadn’t, everyone had stories, and everyone had long discussions on linguistic semantics, which happens quite a lot when you combine native English speakers from different sides of the world. I love making friends in hostels; aside from the fact that everyone has always heard of places to check out, and the combined brain power makes things a lot more fun, it’s more relaxing when you can ignore the get-up-early-to-adventure-NOW instinct and just sleep in and do it all on a later schedule.

I think Budapest has been my favorite city so far. It’s past Paris, and contending dangerously with Istanbul, which at this point is relying on nostalgia and superior food to stay at my #1 (Sorry, Budapest. Improve your döner, and get çiğköfte, and then we’ll talk).

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