It’s Saturday morning and the white sky is bursting through my Airbnb’s curtainless windows. It’s all I can see while I lie on the bed in my third floor studio apartment.
I calculate what time it is at home in Boston while unwrapping myself, layer by layer, from the blankets. 2:24 am. Layer one. I unplug my phone. Layer two. I pull up my Google Doc titled “Adventure!” Last layer. I scroll to page 15 entitled, “Budapest.”
My partner and I have been traveling for almost three months now, and this is our last city in Europe before heading to Asia for three more. It’s cold and grey outside and we’re so tired, but so happy. The adrenaline rush of a new city is energizing and Budapest is no exception.
We’re on a budget, so we quickly prepare oatmeal and chat about our plans for the day. I’m excited to grab a coffee at the tiny stand we spotted outside of our apartment and head to the largest medicinal bath in Europe — the Szechenyi Thermal Baths — to warm up.
After floating through the cloudy blue waters, we quickly change back into our layers and decide on Juicy Bagel for lunch — a light and healthy option after indulging in Europe’s pastries for the past several weeks. We split the #3 bagel (hummus, avocado, and other assorted veggies), carrot soup, and a green smoothie.
My second coffee of the day is enjoyed at a cafe called “My Little Melbourne” across the street from Juicy Bagel before popping into a nearby shop I’ve had on our list for quite some time: Wild Flower Bar. The owner is in and she tells me about Hungary’s dreamy wildflower fields while local customers create centerpieces for their holiday gatherings. I have to force myself to leave as I could’ve stayed for hours.
Somehow I manage, and we hop on the #16 bus to Fisherman’s Bastion — a viewing terrace above the city located in front of Matthias Church on the Buda side of the river.
We find an unexpected quiet on this side of the city due in part, I’m sure, to the December chill. We explore the warm-toned architecture on the calm streets behind Matthias Church for as long as we can before eventually needing to stop indoors and warm up. We head over the Liberty Bridge to Butter Brothers — a bakery known for its chocolate csigas — a Hungarian pastry that mimics the shape of a snail. They are still warm while we jokingly rate them on our European pastry scale. They make the top five. During our walk to the metro, we pass Pizza Manufaktura and decide to bring one back to our apartment for dinner. We order the Crudo and strike luck again.
On Sunday morning, we quickly eat our oatmeal breakfasts so we can head out the door for a day of market hopping. We enjoy a drip coffee from Kontakt and then quickly walk to the weekend farmers market at Budapest’s first ruin bar, Szimpla Kert. The quirky interior is filled to the brim with both locals and visitors looking for Hungarian-grown produce, cured meats, and baked goods. It’s interesting to picture this space as one of the city’s most popular clubs at night.
Directly next door is permanent street food market, Karavan. We stop in to check out its brightly colored trucks before heading to Anker’t, another nearby ruin bar, for its Sunday vegan market. In addition to produce, there are locally-made snacks, small goods, and many holiday shoppers. The space is filled with warmth, our bags with beautiful veggies.
We see posters for the Christmas Fair and Winter Festival taking place not too far away and decide to walk over, veggies in tow. The air starts to warm with the added scent of mulled wine and my eyes land on toast-colored chimney cakes turning over hot coals. We order a cinnamon sugar and it’s almost too hot to hold. We share it while slowly making our way toward the Parliament Building, and I notice an orange reflection in one of its windows. Sunset. We clutch onto what’s left of the chimney cake and start running in the hopes of catching a glimpse.
We make it. And I can’t stop smiling — still squeezing my veggies and half-eaten treat — as I watch the white sky grow warm over Budapest.