Once Upon a Time in Budapest

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is not my favourite Tarantino movie, nor is it my second, but it is the first thing that comes to mind when I reflect on my time in Budapest.  

Travel Budapest

To boost my online teaching hours and save money, I temporarily made Hungary’s capital my home in 2019. The cost of an Airbnb was relatively low at the time, and the abundance of gluten-free food made the city an ideal location to slow down and focus on non-travel related things. 

I set myself up with a place to stay that had a strong Wi-Fi connection (something I recommend all online travelling teachers do), in an area fairly central so I wouldn’t have to travel far to meander the city. The apartment was situated in a building with a variety of distinctive Hungarian architectural features. Although the interior was contemporary, cozy and snug, the outside was historic and dilapidated. I was in love – thank you Airbnb! 

Budapest is one of my favorite cities in Europe. It is well-travelled by budget backpackers as well as more affluent visitors and city breakers, so it has something for everyone. The city itself is divided into 2 parts, ‘Buda’ and ‘Pest’ (original I know), which have been linked by the Chain Bridge since 1849. Buda sits above Pest, boasting some of the best views of the city! It is home to the Matthias church, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Buda castle, and considered to be the quieter side. Pest is the larger area, hosting many of the main attractions such as the Parliament building and Hero’s Square.  This area also has many bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants and other social hotspots. 

Despite an increased workload, I made the most of my time, explored as much as I could, and tried to experience the city in its fullest. One of the benefits of spending more than a few days in one place is the non-urgency.  You don’t need to rush around cramming in as many tourist spots as possible before your flight home. You can take your time enjoying that coffee, having that extra hour in bed, oh, and working if you’re running low on cash.  

The Szechyeni Baths is arguably the most popular tourist attraction in the city. I tried it out even though I’m not a fan of spas!  At first, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. I was confused. A thermal spa, an activity pool and can someone please explain to me what an indoor immersion pool is.  

My brother-in law had promised a festival-like experience of foam parties and raves.  Turns out that those types of events only take place on certain days of the week, so I had to make do with stewing in water, sober, with people I didn’t know and their germs. YAY! Don’t get me wrong, the place is stunning, it’s as historic as the rest of the city, and it was a relaxing evening, floating around with the starry sky above. Nonetheless, it was a one off for me, I am still not a spa person.  

Szechyeni Baths

With fear of sounding like an alcoholic, the Ruins, is much more up my street.  Destroyed in World War 2, the old Jewish Quarter of the city has been transformed into a wonderland, and arguably the best nightlife in Europe.  

Numerous bars and pubs, each with their own personality, fill the ‘ruins’, creating a place that bursts with character, energy and contrasts.  Similarly, to my apartment, the outside didn’t reflect the inside at all.  Even if you’re not into drinking alcohol, I still highly recommend the Ruins, even if it just to order a soft drink and wander around.  

Yellow tram

During the daytime, I recommend soaking up the city, in all its cultural and historic glory by tram. 

There are over 40 tram lines in total that run through Budapest, covering a vast area of the city, so expect great views and convenient hop on and off points.  The tickets are also very affordable, and the network is connected to the larger mass transit system. 

Watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 blockbuster, is another fond memory I am drawn to when I think of Budapest.  Random, I know, but if you’ve ever been to the cinema in a foreign country, you’ll understand why. It’s a surreal experience, and something of a hobby I’ve developed over the years.   

There are 3 stages to it – buying the ticket and snacks, watching the advertisements, and exiting the building after the movie (thanks, Liam, for telling me how going to a cinema works), each offering a unique experience and varying from country to country.  Aside from the subtitles, the movies themselves are not part of what makes it so special.  

The concession stands at a movie theatre in Hungary are not too dissimilar to those back in the UK, nor are the advertisements before the film, so nothing to write home about there.  A world apart from the squid jerky or garlic popcorn in South Korea, and the skin whitening adverts in Thailand.  

However, exiting the movie was still as a profound experience as anywhere else.  After getting lost in the movie for a few hours, I genuinely forgot where I was when I left the cinema. It was like a drug.   

The bizarre ending of the movie didn’t help much, I was disorientated as I tried to remember where I was, gathering my bearings and figuring out how to navigate myself back to my apartment.  Luckily, the yellow trams acted like a northern star and brought me back to reality.   

About halfway through my time in Budapest, a friend, who was about to start a backpacking trip around Europe joined me.  From that moment, my time in Budapest turned from a quiet, money saving trip to something quite else…. 

Oh, and for the record, Kill Bill Vol I is my favourite Tarantino movie, followed by Django Unchained as a close second. 

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