My friend Joe told me I could tag along with him and his buddies on their trip to Budapest. I wasn’t expecting a typical travel-book holiday; after all, this is a man who once taped a sign to his friend’s door which read, “I am a frog molester”—in Japanese.
Due to series of misjudgments on my part I managed to put myself in a situation in which I spent two nights at Atlas City Hotel—whose low ceilings, poor lighting, and paper-thin walls will drive you slowly and inevitably mad—one night at Joe’s Airbnb, and a final four at a little hole-in-the-wall called Marco Polo Top Hostel. Trouble with accommodation took up a concerningly large amount of time and effort on my trip.
We had our fair share of touristy things. If this were a typical travel diary I’d mention our visit to the imperial palace, Buda Castle, the majestic Fisherman’s Bastion, parliament, the ruin pub Szimpla Kert, and a small museum of modern art.
I’d neglect to mention the time Eamon blindly walked into the flat next to his Airbnb and nearly killed the tenant, a terrified middle-aged woman who was just coming out of a shower, the towel still wrapped around her head, with fright. Neither would I include the time Dain flew into a rage and pummelled Eamon with his fists, shattering a bed frame and possibly giving him a bloody nose.
And as much as I enjoyed watching them fumble around on the rickety bed like a pair of lobotomised pro-wrestlers (“Kick him in the balls!” I remember shouting at nobody in particular at one point), I have to admit that the bloody nose came back to bite me. The blood got all over Joe’s bedsheets—don’t ask me how—and so, when I was forced to stay at the Airbnb, I slept on a dirty towel instead of what should have been clean sheets.
I do recommend a visit to the Szechenyi Baths. It was built ages ago and still retains a sense of being part of history, of the old majesty years past. There I spotted the “GAP” label of Joe’s underpants sticking out from under his swimming trunks, and Eamon and had a good laugh mocking him over it for the better part of an hour. Despite Joe’s claims that this is totally normal at the Splish Splash water park on Long Island, I will never stop finding it funny.
I also recommend buying tickets when taking public transportation. It was a sort of group policy of ours not to because in our entire time there nobody ever checked to see if we’d bought one. But on our way back from Szechenyi an inspector boarded the tram and (there’s no other way to put it) caught us. He demanded our IDs and escorted us off at the next stop, where we were forced to withdraw money at an ATM and pay about 8,000 forints—over thirty pounds—for the infraction. Dain and Eamon gave fake names (Dain signed it “Daro”, Eamon just scribbled on the paper nonsensically); Nathan, Joe and I pointed out that this was stupid because we had already paid the fine and the signature on our document would only serve to prove that.
I suspect that’s the sort of scam these Hungarians are running over there: they lull you into a false sense of security with their luxury spa, then hit you with the heavy sneaking-on-board-the-tram-without-a-ticket fines. Needless to say, after being fleeced by that inspector (we had it coming, of course, but I’m still bitter over it) Dain was in no mood to pay for the bed frame he had shattered while he was beating Eamon. That, at least, turned out okay: Nathan lied to the Airbnb owner about how the bed broke and the guy profusely apologised for the shabby bed he had supplied them with.
All in all, Budapest is worth seeing, if only for the stories, and it’s definitely a city best experienced on a budget. If you go, stay in a hostel or an Airbnb, even if you don’t have to. Walk or take the metro. Eat Vietnamese food (there is a Vietnamese place on almost every street). Don’t beat up your friend and shatter a bed frame. Don’t refuse a tissue and bleed all over the sheets. Don’t try to sneak onto the trams. Don’t give the traffic inspector a fake name after you’ve already paid the fine.
Don’t stay at Atlas City Hotel.