This blog consists of 4 parts, focused on Prague, Vienna & Bratislava, Hallstatt & Krippenstein and Budapest respectively. Feel free to jump to the section of your choice.
The capital cities of Prague, Vienna & Budapest are often referred to as the Golden Triangle. And while little Bratislava often passes under the radar, it deserves attention during any visit to this area - for the welcoming people, if nothing else. In 11 days, we covered all these cities, AND a fascinating Austrian gem a.k.a must-visit, even though it took us beyond the triangle. Here is how to do it all right.
Part 4 - Budapest: I remember telling Mr. Fly towards the end of our Prague trip that I couldn’t imagine anything being able to beat this. And yet, not only was I then introduced to the magic of Austrian Alps but unassumingly brought to the city I’d just as easily come to admire - Budapest. This city consists of two sides, Buda and Pest, the latter being the one with the nightlife. I will begin by tipping my hat to our Airbnb owner for the beautifully Bohemian setting he had laid out for his guests.
Day 1 - We started the day with a much awaited breakfast at the oldest cafe in Europe - Cafe Gerbeaud! It’s been operating since the middle of the 19th century. Pricey, of course, but you can visit it simply for the tag it carries. The rest of our day was dedicated to the Buda side of the city. In keeping with the spirit of the City of Spas, we started our trip with one of the many the city has to offer - the Gellert Thermal Bath. These baths can easily take away half your day (more, if you’d like), so plan accordingly. We opted for a massage, which frankly could be avoided. The experience of lounging in the steaming or just-warm baths, icy cold dips, outdoor wave pools and sun-kissed gardened patios to munch or sip in makes for all the relaxation you’ll need. Spend your time without any rush, moving from one pool to another. It’s a must-have experience, and Gellert is probably one of the best ones at it.
And not to forget, close to the Gellert Thermal Bath is another vegan restaurant called Vegan Love which serves fascinating varieties of burgers (that I still fondly recall, and miss!). As we walked out of the Gellert, we headed up the hill across the street to a the Budapest Cave Church, following which we decided to stay on the Buda side.
A tram took us up till the funicular that leads up to the Budapest Castle. This is where we had our first taste of the Hungarian Langosh - a thick round bread topped with cheese - a local favourite. Up the funicular that had come straight out of the Grand Budapest Hotel, we arrived at a mini-town of its own. On our left was the Budapest Castle, worth a walk both in daylight as well as in its evening lights around its maze-like pathways, all dotted with tons of photo-worthy stops. The back side of the castle lends an interesting view of the residential Buda part of the city. You can visit the museum and castle indoors, though we had had our fill of royalty by now. But as you walk past the castle and the funicular area to the other side of the hilltop, things get even more interesting.
The walk takes you past little residential houses towards the smooth grandeur of Fisherman’s Bastion. But on your way, you’ll encounter an even more intriguing Labyrinth of Buda Castle. I’d consider it a must visit. The labyrinth is a network of underground tunnels and rooms that rest under the Buda Castle in pitch darkness heavy with cold, damp air, and armed with iron gates perfect for a halloween walkthrough. To add to the amazing effect, the tour of the labyrinth involves walking around with a dim-lit lantern. If you can take one of their later tours around sunset, even better! As you explore the tunnels used as a shelter during World War II, by the Turks in the 16th century and as a prison in the 15th century, you arrive at the famous story of its infamous prisoner Vlad Tepes. You’d know him better as Count Dracula! Several rooms are theatrically set, complete with both the fiction and real versions of the many stories dating back to the empires that thrived up above. It all adds to the chilling effect where all you can see is a few feet ahead of you in the lantern light, with perfect darkness following you behind.
Fisherman’s Bastion is a short walk further ahead from the Labyrinth entrance. It’s a beautiful structure, with long balcony that also houses a little cafe from where you can get an unforgettable view of the river and the Pest side. If you have timed your arrival well, the sight of the beautiful Parliament building, and the rest of the city, slowly coming alive in yellow light at sunset is simply breathtaking! Well worth a couple of drinks and munchies.
As the night fell, we came down the funicular - embarrassingly caught lost kissing in the solitude of our car - and made our way past the bridge ahead to the other side. The walk by the river at night was worth every step. For dinner, you can try one of the riverside restaurants. The idea of sitting riverside draped in a warm blanket offered to the ladies by the waiters, listening to live music and easing through the meals while staring at the glowing yellow-lit Budapest castle on the other side… speaks for itself!
Day 2 & Day 3 – This day was for the Pest side. Much like the previous day, we started with a brunch at another prehistoric cafe - the New York Cafe. It misses the “oldest European cafe” tag by only a few years in retrospect, but it does, and should, carry the tag of the most beautiful European cafe. The 3-tiered platter, the cutlery, the ambiance, the interior details, the live music - its all worth the waiting line you’ll likely find yourself in. It was followed by another thermal bath - Szechenyi this time. Our verdict is that it is clearly more of a hyped tourist hub, especially if you have explored the others - Gellert and Rudas in particular. We didn’t spend as long as we thought we would, though it was late afternoon nonetheless.
As we made our way back to the riverside, we started by visiting the Shoes on the Danube - a sobering rendition of the atrocities of great War, you can read about it and yet, will find yourself pause and stare at this little monument in unspeakable pain. We did not visit the Parliament behind us, but walked up to St. Stephen’s Basilica, with a portion of Langosh in a new variety on the way. The basilica is worth a visit for the breathtaking beauty of its interior. We’ll let you discover it yourself but rest assured, you won’t be disappointed.
Now this sounds quite sinful in retrospect but our walk later in the evening took us to another must-visit, though for a very different reason. Budapest is famous for its ruin pubs, ruined buildings of the World War era that have now been turned into unique pubs. One of the best ones is called Szimpla Kert, and words can’t describe it well enough. A two-storeyed structure with pane-less windows across many rooms that each housed a family once but now seat patrons and several pub counters, walls scribbled over at every inch and a central courtyard decorated with a kaleidoscope of colourful lights and plants, all buzzing with chatter and music - ruin pubs can evoke a range of emotions depending on what you allow yourself to feel. With drinks in hand, just grab a seat anywhere and ponder over, or simply enjoy a unique form of lounging that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It is at once grim and a salute to this monument of a place.
Mr. Fly and I were certainly tipsy by the end of it all and we didn’t want to leave, but glad we did to satisfy our hunger. For, next door was the Karavan - a closed alleyway of multiple food stalls. It is here that we somehow managed to grab a plate of Pad Thai and (another) Vegan Burger. When you’re drunk, just about anything tastes good, which is perhaps why we couldn’t believe how good those two meals were! So good that the next day, before making our way to the airport, we actually went back to try them again - and yes, they really were surprisingly delicious. I have to admit I had never imagined I’d take to vegan food the way I did, but credit goes to the places we visited because I have tried other vegan places and they haven’t nearly moved me as much.
The final day was our wrap-up day. We did a bit of shopping and re-visited some of the spots we had liked. If you would like something more active though, you can consider visiting the Baradla Cave, pitstopping at Holloko, which takes you to outer areas of Hungary. For those with diving license, stay in the city and go scuba-diving into the unending water-filled labyrinth under the city. It’s on our bucket list for some day.
The Golden Triangle really is a gem that doesn’t get as much love as the more popular Western European visits. But it’s worth so much more and in such unique ways. Prague, Hallstatt & Krippenstein, Budapest - each of these saw us spend our last day already reminiscing a place we were yet to leave behind, and we’d gladly return to this trip again!
Who are Mrs. & Mr. Fly?
Mr. Fly is a central character in the ongoing Kalki Evian series of books. Originally conjured in the fictional narrative to describe an unbiased view of our everyday world, he was soon joined in real life by a jolly Mrs. Fly who taught him how to truly discover pleasures in little things often missed while living out fast-paced lives. As they began exploring, this blog took shape with a view to share what they saw.