Sometimes you can plan and plan and plan your trip, but some of the best things are last minute, snap decisions, like my 2 night stopover in Budapest. It was going to be super expensive to fly from Greece straight to Croatia, but taking a detour through Budapest was actually a pretty cheap option. I can't remember if it was much cheaper, but the fact that it came close was enough for me to decide to see a new city.
From memory, flights from Athens to Croatia were a couple hundred dollars, rather than the flight from Athens to Budapest which was under NZ100, and then the bus from Budapest to Croatia was about NZ50. Obviously, there was the accommodation to pay for as well but I found a really decent, cheap place called Fifth Hostel which wasn't too far from the city centre. Even if it was more expensive in the end, I'm so glad I didn't just fly straight to Croatia.
I had no idea what there was to see and do in Budapest, but the hostel owner drew a rough route for me on a map so I could see all the highlights, and that's basically what I did!
I headed out from the hostel around 9am and already it had gotten hot. I did a clockwise circuit around the city, starting at the Dohany Street Synagogue, which was so beautiful in the morning light. Then I headed to the Produce Market which was fascinating, they love their peppers in Hungary apparently! From there I headed across the river on the Szabadsag Bridge which offered a beautiful view of the city on either side of the Danube, including my next destination, the Liberty Statue on the Buda side. Near the base are the Gellert Baths, which the hostel owner recommended to me because they are less touristy than the main ones, the Széchenyi baths. Sadly though, I had no time for either.
The walk up to the statue was quite taxing on a hot summer's day, even though it was only early still, it felt like it was getting to the mid 20's and the sun was relentless. And on top of that, the walk was very steep. There were plenty of paths and the one I took (couldn't tell you the route sorry, I just winged it) had some beautiful views of the city on the way up. On the top of the hill I had just beaten the crowds, but by the time I got my drone ready, the tour groups were swarming the citadel. Nevertheless, I got some great shots and was grateful to finally get calm enough weather to fly in.
I didn't realise that a lot of the attractions of the city are actually really close together, up on the hill near the statue. It took about 20 minutes to walk back down the one hill towards the palace. I passed the Gerard of Csanad Monument on the side of the hill looking out towards Pest. The bushes around it were quite overgrown but I kinda like that, and down below it was a lovely waterfall in between where some of the paths ended in mirroring flights of stairs. The first part of the palace I encountered was some beautiful gardens up more stairs, so I flew the drone there again and the headed up. At the top I had a look around at the courtyards and fountains and that was when I saw a map and noticed that most of the things I had wanted to see in Buda were up there on the hill; aptly named Castle Hill.
I headed north and visited the Fisherman's Bastion and Mattias Church, which is now my favourite church in Europe. I paid to go inside, it wasn't very expensive at all, and it was spectacular. I don't know if all the churches in Hungary are like that but it wasn't like any other church interiors I've seen. Such cool patterns everywhere! A bit further along I went to the Labyrinth but didn't go in because it was a bit out of my budget. It looks incredible and I would recommend it if you have time/money, it's a vast system of tunnels that run under the castle area and have been there for hundreds of years. I then had "lunch" at Ruszwurm Confectionery because the hostel owner said they have the best cream cake in Hungary, where you'll find the best cream cake in the world. I'll take his word for it; I've never had cream cake before, or since, but it was pretty delicious!
After that I headed down the hill and back over a different bridge to the Pest side where I went to check out Parliament. It's a pretty spectacular building! Then I went along the river to see the statues of the shoes that are lined haphazardly along the river to commemorate the hundreds of Hungarian Jews who were shot by the Arrow Cross party during the second World War. It's so humbling, and made me feel so grateful that I lead the life I live. Nowadays most people stand on the Danube and admire all the wonderful things on either side, but less than a century ago, people were forced to remove their shoes etc before being shot in the back, and their last view was Pest.
The last stop on my journey was the Hero's Square, which is a bit of a trek in the opposite direction to where I had been, but not far from the Széchenyi baths. I didn't have time for the baths but I went into the entrance and took a photo through the window! The Hero's Square was cool, I loved the statues and the floor was pretty unique, looked wonderful from the drone's point of view. The sun was setting as I left and I stopped at Frici Papa on the way back for dinner, once again it was a recommendation from the hostel owner. I ordered some goulash which wasn't half bad, seeing as it was one of the few things on the traditional menu that I recognised and knew I would like. Good choice, I left with a happy belly and it was easy on the wallet.