Driving down from Slovakia into Hungary the scenery changes in a subtle way. Well I say subtle, if your idea of subtle is going from a beautifully mountain fresh 15 degrees to a humidified, Mediterranean 27 degree-d, slick-backed swamp of sweat in a matter of hours then you probably wouldn’t even have noticed the difference. But I did. Oh yes, you bet I noticed.*
Among the many things that this project has brought me, is quite a strange ability to acclimatise to various environments fairly quickly. Extremes of heat or cold such as Finland or Croatia apart, I generally find that given the best part of an afternoon, I can stop looking like a red faced, clammy potato and I’m ready to rock on with the day. And so it was in Budapest, once we had got ourselves sorted and become accustomed to dropping about 2,000 feet in altitude towards the equator I managed to start taking a proper look around.
And what a city it was! Like so many others in this side of Europe, the country had suffered the ravages of the Second World War as despite Hungarian Jews being the single biggest population at Auschwitz in Poland with over 500 thousand of the 1.3 million sent to the gas chambers, that didn’t stop the merciless Russian/German destruction of the city. But with undeniable courage, the country has re-built from the ashes.
The city is split into Buda and Pest and much like other cities such as Tyneside or Brighton, there’s a posh side and a side that let’s face it, is a bit ropey. For the Budapestians, Buda might be where people want to live but Pest is where they actually live and while Buda is on the west side of the Danube with rolling hills, smaller streets and pricer attitudes, Pest sprawls out over the Eastern side with a far larger urban feel. It’s loud, it’s real and it’s got the ruin bars.
And speaking of the ruin bars… with a simplicity of concept matched only by the glorious nature of their very existence, the ruin bars stand as testament to the very definition of hipster. For many years after the war, with so many buildings in the Jewish quarter destroyed there was a significant problem in finding somewhere to enjoy a drink, which as we all know is the next most important infrastructure construction project to be started after sanitation, government corruption and roads etc. So there seemed to the young and disaffected youth of Budapest that there was a growing problem with no-one having enough money for a license even if there was a building for the license to be registered to. The solution seemed simple; Start selling beer from the burned out hollowed shells of the Jewish Quarter and to shamelessly mix religious metaphors, twenty years later the place is a Mecca for the Stag and Hen party scene.
But after a night out at the Ruin bars, when you might be feeling a little fragile and the constant drone of a hormonal tweenager is perhaps a bit too much to take, Budapest has got you covered. The city is covered with Turkish baths at multiple sizes and price points. We visited the Palatinus Strand Baths, one of the most family friendly establishments. Set over a frankly enormous 75,298 square meters on Margret Island, the complex is the largest water park in Budapest. With slides, waves and 14 separate baths including inside and outside pools all at various temperatures from 14 to 42 degrees we spent long enough to consider missing our flight back to Blighty. For obvious reasons I’ll use publicity shots that I’ve nicked from their website for this bit but quite honestly, the place is amazing for families. If you get the chance to go to any of the ‘official’ baths in Budapest then jump at it, make sure you check them out beforehand though as I would not advise being caught unawares at a non-legit bath house.
But what do they think about Brexit? Well, as you may expect, it was at a Ruin Bar that I got the most honest answer. During an evening’s crawl tour of some of the best Ruin Bars, our local guide was a fella named Yamann. In-between attempting to confuse and tempt me with shots of pink grapefruit Palinka (which in no way explains the truly horrible photography), he set out his Brexit vision:
“It’s not good news for the UK. I think that Hungary will be OK because we are already supporting the EU and the smaller countries will continue to grow with France and Germany. The UK is one of the most important countries in Europe and I think that it will still be but hopefully we can now be equal. We will not know for at least 10 years but I think that if the UK loses, we will win.”
That is one of the more interesting perspectives that I’ve come across, Yamann definitely saw that the EU will have a higher status and therefore by extension, Hungary will be equal to the UK. He was pleased that Brexit meant a better global position for Hungary because they were still in the EU but he was also sure that the UK would be OK, if a little embarrassed from the whole experience.
So thank you Hungary for your time and enthusiasm, I’m sure we’ll be seeing you again very soon!
*I have covered many times on this blog that the heat is not something that I was fortunate to have been born with the propensity to enjoy. Clearly beach holidays are not my preferred go-to destinations so this is nothing new, but as the planet warms up during these past trips around Europe this is something that I (and perhaps the rest of the world) will just have to get used to – But we’re going to Cyprus next, God help me.
The #2MenEUTour Big Brexit Tour journey so far: