It was with genuine horror that we realised it had been a month since we had ventured further afield than a few hours away on a day trip. The obvious solution to this grim state of affairs? Budapest.
Another long weekend in Austria meant that a mere three nights after I’d left Emma’s, I was back on her doorstep with my suitcase hoping for a place to sleep. As usual, Emma was bae and not only let me share her bed but also cooked me dinner. We were joking about how often I stay at hers these days but when I worked it out, of the 14 nights preceding our trip to Budapest, I spent seven of them at Emma’s. This strongly echoes the Original Year Abroad when I lived at Ruth’s and I’ll admit I’m thinking about starting to contribute to Emma’s rent (no eyebrows). In return for her kindness, I showed my affection by insulting her and telling her to shut up all weekend, and trying to buy her breakfast but not having enough cash so making her pay instead. Love you bae <3
Armed with my extensive Hungarian vocabulary of ‘hi’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘thank you’ and ‘popcorn’ (all of which I’ve been informed by reliable Hungarian friends are rendered incomprehensible by my accent and mispronunciation), Thursday morning saw Charlotte, Emma, Bryony and I boarding a direct train to Budapest at an ungodly hour and meeting Martha on the train who had boarded in Salzburg at an even more ungodly hour. The first hour of our four-hour journey was relatively productive and we managed to gossip and learn some German vocab, but after arriving in Vienna we were rudely turfed out of our seats by some Spaniards who had the audacity to reserve them and all five of us squished together around a table made for four people. The rest of the journey was spent with our arms pinned to our sides and getting the giggles more often than was appropriate.
We arrived at our Airbnb and the five minutes of silence that follows entering a wifi zone commenced while everyone caught up on everything we’d missed from the morning. After we had thawed out from the blistering -6 degrees outside, we re-wrapped up and headed out to the Christmas market. I was happy as Larry because I adore everything to do with Christmas. My excitement was such that I invested in another bobble hat, thereby increasing the number of bobble hats I own by 200% since arriving on the continent. I’ve got quite a collection by now.
It was also at about this point when my immaturity level reached an all-time high and I decided to look up our porn star names, resulting in a group chat that looks like this.
Thursday was the 8th of December, meaning we were well into my annual Bublé Christmas album lockdown which was extended to include all Christmas music, ‘Budapest’ by George Ezra and ‘Atemlos’ by Helen Fischer (and of course minus the abomination that is ‘Santa Buddy’ – what we you thinking Bubes!?). So it was to Christmassy tunes that we gave our Secret Santa gifts – incidentally the first Secret Santa I have ever taken part in where I genuinely had no idea who anyone else had! I was over the moon when Charlotte presented me with my gingerbread-themed gifts – Lebkuchen from Bad Ischl, Lebkuchen flavour liqueur (with my new bae Sissi on it!) and of course, a gingerbread heart with ‘Oma’ iced on top.
When the girls read this, they will be surprised to hear that I actually have been to Budapest before but I don’t like to talk about it too much because I don’t really think of myself as an expert. Having said that, I do know all top spots (ahem) so I led the sightseeing tour across the Danube to Buda to climb the hill and see the Castle. (Get it? Top spots? We climbed the hill? Never mind.) On arriving at the funicular railway and seeing the queue and the price, my inner thrifty student raised her head and said fuck that so we commenced the walk up the hill to Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion and to admire the view from the top of the hill.
We made our way to the Grand Market Hall for lunch. The hall itself was beautiful and we were so happy to find pogácsa, which are a bit like tiny cheesy scones and are delicious. This whet our appetites for lángos for lunch, which are basically deep fried pizzas with an assortment of toppings. So bad for you and so good.
In need of a beer (yes, I drink beer now), we stopped off at a pub across the road called the For Sale pub, where the beer was really good and super cheap (like everything else in Budapest), but where the bartender was horribly rude and tried to take a 40% tip for pouring 4 beers – we thought we were going to have another Precious situation on our hands but I let it go because I know all too well what it’s like to serve beer to tourists all day. The best thing about the pub was that the walls and ceiling were entirely covered with notes and doodles from customers from all over the world. It was so cosy inside away from the cold and we distracted ourselves for a full hour, reading everyone’s international notes of varying legibility, profundity and inappropriateness. I even spotted one from Northampton! We left our mark on the back of a British train ticket.
We slowly ambled home past the parliament building, which was gloriously lit up in the dark and looked so pretty with the fairy lights in the trees surrounding it.
We stopped to take photos which took longer than it should have done, firstly because our fingers were too cold to use our cameras properly and secondly because we spent far too long deliberately ruining each other photos. Luckily though, photobombs mean I end up with photos like this, so all’s well that ends well.
We gained all the basic white girl points by getting dinner from the hummus bar near our apartment (side note – can we all just take a moment to appreciate that hummus bars exist!?) and spent the evening consuming over 50 pieces of falafel between us. Yuuuuuuum.
On Saturday morning we visited St Steven’s Basilica where, to our delight, we discovered another Christmas market. Commence admiring the ceiling of the basilica, buying Christmas presents for our families (but mostly, it has to be said, for ourselves) and Glühwein.
We walked home along the Danube to see the Jewish memorial, which was one of the saddest and most moving memorials I’ve ever seen. The shoes along the edge of the river commemorate the 3500 victims (800 of whom were Jewish) who were made to remove their shoes and were shot into the Danube by the Arrow Cross in 1944 and 1945. The saddest one of all was the pair of little boy’s shoes; in Austria and Hungary (amongst other countries), it is tradition for children to leave their shoes out on the night before the 6th of December to be filled with goodies from St Nicholas. People had filled the child’s shoes with sweets and presents in honour of this tradition and it broke my heart a little bit.
We had to whack the Mariah Carey on as soon as we got home to lift our spirits and get us in the mood for what we’d all been waiting for – Széchenyi baths. It was perfect timing; the temperature had reached a positively tropical 7 degrees and we’d actually taken off our gloves and undone our coats. I was overjoyed to see the peeling yellow walls of the baths again, and climbing into the hot water was like walking into a big hug. We installed ourselves in a good spot on the steps and proceeded to chat about anything, everything and nothing for the next two hours whilst the sun went down and we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. By the time it was dark, we were so chilled out – but that all changed when we went for a wander and discovered the lazy river, where we had races and gave each other piggy-backs that our eight-year-old selves would be proud of.
Home again and we managed to almost burn down our apartment block by cooking some pizzas (don’t ask) before playing our favourite game, Consequences, and a new version of What The Fuck that we made up which involves confessions and nicknames and which I can’t wait to bring back to the UK.
A bottle of gin down and makeshift map in hand, we headed out to one of the ruin bars called Szimpla Kert, which used to be a factory and is (according the that infallible source of information, the internet) the main, best and original ruin bar. We were too preoccupied with looking around, buying drinks and trolling the group of guys who tried to chat us up (one of whom looked exactly like Gimli off Lord of the Rings) to take too many photos, which is a shame because it was such a cool and interesting place to be.
Sunday was miserable because we were so sad to be leaving. We tidied, packed and traipsed out to get our train, having all agreed that the only part of the day we were looking forward to was the Kürtőskalács (‘chimney cake’ for those of us who can’t speak Hungarian, aka me and probably you) we were planning on buying for breakfast, but to our utter despair we found the stall outside our flat closed. We’d left 45 minutes between arriving at the station and our train leaving, which was lucky because we encountered the worst ticket-buying system we have ever come across, throwing us into a mild panic. 40 of those minutes were taken up with queuing for a ticket and we managed to unintentionally book places for an extra 3€ each – but this turned out to be the best idea anyone has ever had when we arrived in Vienna and all hell broke loose as the train descended into complete chaos, all of which we smugly observed from the safety of our accidentally reserved seats.
Back at the station in Linz there were emotional goodbyes as most of us probably won’t see each other again until the New Year, and though it’s only been two and a half months, we’ve become close in that fast and intense way that only living abroad can make you. I’m going to have serious Squad withdrawal over Christmas.
To sum up: I had an absolutely wonderful weekend during which, as usual, I cried with laughter more than once. The final word I have on the matter is that I totally ship Squad weekends in Budapest.
Until next time, Wiederschauen!