One of those experiences that you kind of just have to have, but won’t necessarily enjoy, is the overnight Orangeways bus from Krakow to Budapest. It’s a well travelled (and hated) route, in a bus that looks like it came out of a third world country a few decades ago. I mean, okay, I’m exaggerating a tiny bit – maybe only one decade ago – but still not fantastic.
But the most wonderful thing after a sleepless night on a cramped bus with no toilets was that when we finally got to Budapest at 6am in the morning, we were just in time for breakfast. For the free breakfast that our Hostel (Paprika Hostel) put on, and that they didn’t mind us partaking in when we turned up at the doorstep 8 hours before the check-in time.
The great thing about travelling through Eastern Europe in Winter is that the hostels are comparatively empty and most of them are totally alright with letting you check in early.
You really appreciate a hot shower and getting to climb into the embrace of crisp linen sheets once you’ve spent a night desperately squeezing your bladder after the bus driver laughingly declares that there’s no toilet on the bus. On an overnight bus from Krakow to Budapest! Is there no God?
I’d been to Budapest twice before, but we had to pass through it to get to Romania anyway and Dylan had never seen it, so we decided to stay there a few more nights.
If you travel around Europe you’ll find that travellers rave about Budapest everywhere you go. I don’t quite get it -don’t get me wrong, I quite adore Budapest and I think it’s got a whole lot of cool things to do, but it would be more like my seventh favourite city in Europe rather than the first.
Plus, it’s full of Australians and Americans – especially Australians on Contiki tours – getting piss drunk everywhere. If I wanted to hang out with drunk Australians I could do that back home.
Budapest is definitely worth a visit though, or three. Every time I go there I have such a different experience that it almost feels like a different city each time. The two things I’d really wanted to do on previous visits, but had been too busy for, were caving and the Sparty. I was determined to get to them this time.
As it so happened, I ended up doing both the day I arrived. The owner of our hostel, this super warm and lovely woman named Andi, was going to take one of her new Workawayers caving that day, and I asked if we could tag along.
I try to explain to people just how amazing caving in Budapest is but I don’t think I can quite convey it. So, think about this: I would go back to Budapest, for the fourth time in my life, just to go caving again. Yea. That good.
It was proper caving, not just walking through some caves: we put on jumpsuits and helmets with lamps on the front, and followed our guide, Lotsy, through tiny little crawl spaces, up rocks, and sliding around on our bellies.
Lotsy was hilarious – he was like a little pixie on speed, super agile and energetic and always telling jokes and trying (successfully) to scare people. It’s a wonderful bonding experience too, you end up becoming friends with everyone you go caving with.
The Sparty, on the other hand, was like going to a gigantic orgy in a gigantic spa, again with mainly drunk (and not particularly attractive) Australians and Americans. I’d gone with friends I’d made while caving, which made it a lot of fun, but I think I’d hate it on my own.
My favourite quote of the night (which I think perfectly demonstrates the calibre of the guests) came from a random English guy who swam up to me and said “I’d like to suck a fart out of your ass through a straw.” Not quite sure what he was trying to suggest with that one, but points for imagination – if I’m going to get harssed at least it’s with an original line and not a cliche, which is the next best thing to not getting harassed at all.
The music, however, was seriously fantastic and I kept trying to get up and dance on the walls and seats, and security would keep pushing me back into the pool.
Unfortunately after that first day, Dylan and I realised that we’d have to go our separate ways. Travelling with someone else is hard, and travelling with your siblings, when you’re into very different things and people, can be even harder. It always felt like we were getting judged together, instead of as individuals, and we were starting to get on each other’s nerves. So, while Dylan stayed at Paprika, I decided to switch to Retox, Budapest’s most famous party hostel.
I was in a room alone with a guy from the US named Chris, who I got to know quite well my first night there when he stumbled in drunk, saw that he had a new roomie (trying to sleep), sat down on my bed and spent the next hour and a half chatting to me while I struggled to stay awake and convince him that he should maybe go to his own bed.
In hindsight, I feel like the Budapest Party Hostels are another aspect of Budapest that people absolutely rave about, and I’m not as keen on. They’re all about drinking and partying, but it’s the kind of place that’s great for people who aren’t used to finding adventures on their own and it was more trashy than wild. I’d much rather find some locals and go to an underground rave or do something else along those lines.
What I did enjoy was going out to Instant:
Instant is truly the enchanted forest of Budapest’s ruin pubs and bars. Featuring 26 rooms, 7 bars, 2 gardens and 7 stages, the party never stops in the nightlife of this ruin pub. Whether you’re a veteran of the ruin pub culture or simply travelling through Budapest, we welcome you each and every night with new experiences!
That whole night was brilliant; I’d snuck some of the people I’d been hanging with at Paprika into my room in Retox to pregame (which I was particularly proud of because they’ve got a strict no outsiders policy and a huge intimidating security guard to enforce it), we’d met an English dude whose name I don’t remember and bought him along with us, and then we danced until the club closed, getting friendly with lots of local Hungarians along the way.
I ran off with some dude whose name I don’t remember afterwards to find somewhere we could keep going, then got utterly lost and spent ages wandering the streets of Budapest in a state of exhausted delirium, asking locals for directions I couldn’t understand, before I finally managed to get back. All part of the experience.
Budapest wasn’t all wild partying though. I also checked out the Labyrinth under the castle, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s no longer used as a torture chamber though, and now has quaint little displays of the Panopticon and Dracula and Budapest’s history, which are a lot more fun to learn about while wandering through a Labyrinth. We also found an unlocked gate and wandered through a part of the Labyrinth that wasn’t open to the public and was pitch dark. Exciting.
We also heard some excellent sax-psytrance at a Thai Restaurant (unexpected, I know) for only one track before it changed back to typical dinner background music.
Those were my favourite experiences. What I left out was Budapest’s extensively colourful history, the fact that every time I’ve visited I always get random Budapesti’s coming up and talking to me (including an old man who’d been involved with the Frankfurt School in it’s heyday, the grand architecture and how beautiful the city looks when it’s lit up at night, and the numerous spas that pepper the map that provide an excellent way to recover after a big night out. Unfortunately the fact that I’ve visited thrice now means that I’ve just skipped over all the things that excited me on previous occassions.
One thing I will leave you with though: it’s pronounced Budapesht, not Budapest.