Once upon a time in Budapest

If my unicorn was a city it would be Budapest or ‘Boodapecht’ as it’s correctly pronounced.

I’d heard great things from backpackers – mainly about these so-called ‘ruin bars’ – basically decrepit old warehouses converted into massive bar/clubs.

They are the type of place if you are sober they make you feel tipsy, if you are tipsy they make you feel drunk and if you are drunk they make you feel smashed – fitted out with chairs hanging from the roofs, graffiti spewing over the walls and corridors painted like black and white spinning circles.

I’d show you photos but my camera has recently decided it doesn’t do night photos any more, though it’s debatable it ever did them in the first place.

My first taste of the ruin bars was spent in the company of – for the first time in a very long time and I forgot how much I missed them – typical New Zealand blokes – one of which I knew I knew from somewhere.

Amazingly, turned out it wasn’t from Christchurch where we both studied, nor the Wellington suburb where we both lived, but from London where he was one of the poor sods I tried to voxpop (the charity street-collecting, cold-calling of journalism) while working as an Olympic reporter.

My other night at the ruin bars were spent in the company of two newly legal English girls and a Wall Street broker we adopted sitting solo at the end of our table trying to pull off the whole smart-casual look – with a hoodie underneath his business jacket.

We bonded over a carrot, which waitresses walk around trying to sell tourists as apparently it’s a ‘bar tradition’ and in particular me calling him a ‘walking tourist trap’ after he bought one.

And, I’m pretty sure this ‘oh no you didn’t’ photo was taken shortly afterwards.

I could have had another night at the ruin bars too but decided against it given the hostel buddy who invited me had just spent the last hour trying to convince me over a steaming bowl of free goulash (everything tastes better when it’s free) that cannibalism is nothing more than an ‘irrational taboo.’

I played it safe given that day I’d received an email from my Dad with the bolded words – TRUST NO-ONE.

I blame his recent visit to the movies to see Taken 2 for that.

As an aside – damn you Liam Neeson. Because of you I am now banned from visiting Albania and have to check in daily with the parentals.

I felt really safe in Budapest though, apart from the two nights I slept with a chair against the door at the incredibly homely Fortuna two bed apartment hostel due to the seriously strange Chinese guy in the other room.

He rubbed me up the wrong way by smoking inside despite the giant ‘do not smoke’ sign and the fact he sneakily converted the living room into a bedroom for his friend so for the next two days and nights they could sit opposite each other on their laptops playing war games.

And, the only time we had anything even remotely resembling a proper conversation was when I confronted him over why the hell he barged into my room at 7am one morning without knocking.

Grumbling over. Back to Budapest…. A number of backpackers had told me there wasn’t much to see by day.

I disagree and think a few of them convince themselves of that because they’re too hungover from the ruin bars to actually see Budapest by day.

The city is un-expectantly stunning and I spent three full days just walking around – in jandals I might add – soaking up the incredible late Autumn heat.

Of all the places I stumbled across my favourites were: their riverfront Parliament buildings, which are the second largest in the world.

The castles and numerous panoramic viewpoints on the Buda side.



These retro roof tiles on the Matthias Church, which are a remarkably similar pattern to the polar fleece side of my new reversible sleeveless puffer jacket bought from one of Budapest’s many bargain op shops.

The Hungarian changing of the guard for somewhat obvious reasons.


The so-called Parisian Champs-Élysées of Hungary – Andrassy Avenue – with Heroes’ Square at the end.

And, just behind that in the Botanical Gardens – the Szechenyi Medicinal Baths – which I surprisingly enjoyed despite my morbid fear of public swimming pool floaties, old sweaty sauna men, ladies’ posing for near pornographic poolside shots and the fact that with quite sensitive skin being in a hot bath is akin to putting a crayfish in boiling water.

Traditional Hungarian folk dancing I enjoyed less so.

There were a few things going on there. One, the teacher gave all his instructions in Hungarian. Two, as in that’s the number of left feet my dance partner had. Three, he also had profusely sweaty palms. Four, a slapstick sense of rhythm. And five, would get quite frustratedly grumpy with me for doing it wrong despite the fact as the man he was meant to be leading.

I lasted an hour before fleeing to the sanctuary of a ruin bar.

I also found solace at a ruin bar the next night after yet another romantic boat cruise for one down the Danube, sitting next to four fur wearing, diamond dripping American woman who amazingly managed to stretch out a conversation about silverware for the entire hour.

But of all the things I experienced in Hungary the thing I enjoyed the most was learning how they end their fairy tales.

Like the rest of the world their fairy tales begin with these four little words:


But, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a fairy tale ending with the disclaimer – ‘they lived happily ever after…. Until they died.’

Any country that ends fairy tales with such a hearty dose of realism is a winner in my books.


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