Some things we learn the hard way (like NOT drinking the tap water in Poland). Some things we learn the easy way (like reading a travel blogger's tips and tricks before visiting a destination). I learned the following five things the hard way, so that you can learn them the easy way. You're welcome. You should also know that I accept puppies, kittens, cupcakes, and confetti as payment for my services. I love them. And you. And cheap holidays to Goa. Read on . . .
|A view over the Danube from Buda Castle.|
Sometimes it pays to travel during the off-season - flights and hotel prices are cheaper, popular attractions are less crowded, yada yada yada. But you know what? I am sitting here bundled in a wool sweater and blanket as I write this, cursing the freezing temperatures and 4:00 PM sunset as all my friends back home write Facebook statuses like "OMG. Another 65° day in NYC? WTF?" WTF indeed, my friend.
It becomes really difficult to sightsee when your toes are numb and you can't feel your face - Dan and I spend half of our time outside just ducking into cafés to warm up. Also, unless you're the kind of person who is up and at 'em before 8:00 AM (I'm not), 3 or 4 hours really isn't enough daylight to spend wandering the city each day - there is A LOT to see here. A LOT. Which brings me to my next tip . . .
2. Buy the Budapest Card.
So I'm not the biggest fan of buying any discount card that is directed toward tourists - usually the "discounts" are nominal (5% off a 10€ entrance fee? Oh goodie!) and the attractions offered are hardly worth seeing. But the Budapest Card? UH-MAZING! This card gets you 20-50% off of hundreds of sights, excursions, events, restaurants, and more. Not only that, but flashing your Budapest Card at any public transport station gets you a free ride!
My only caveat is this: you have to be willing to pack a lot into each day in order to get the most of this deal. The 72-hour card costs 8300 forints, which is about 25€ or $37 before you've even done anything. If you are on a strict backpacker's budget, or have a longer stay and are willing to pick and choose what you see while here, you might want to consider whether it really is valuable to you. Just sayin'.
|Dolls in classic, folksy Hungarian dress.|
Straight up: YOU HAVE NEVER FELT AS GOOD AS YOU DID AFTER VISITING THE THERMAL BATHS. Oh wait, that was me. Seriously though, Hungarians are very proud of their mineral-rich waters and the reason is simple: the buildings are beautiful, the water is soothing, and you can't help but feel happy in such a place. Anyone coming to this city would be remiss if they skipped this. If you didn't catch my post on our experience at Saint Luke's Bath House, read it here.
4. Use the trams and underground system to get around.
Okay, so you decided not to buy the Budapest Card. No worries: public transport in Budapest is still remarkably cheap (the city itself is a fantastic destination for backpackers or people on a budget) and is an even better deal if you buy a booklet of 10 tickets. It costs 2280 forints for the booklet, which is only about 7.60€ or $11, and you can use these tickets on both the trams and subway system.
Here's an extra little tip: because their system is a bit, ahem, "vintage" (which I love but lots of people would probably find annoying) there aren't really outdoor ticket machines at the tram stops. You have to look for the nearest underground station, where you will find a person manning the ticket booth. Imagine?! You have to talk to a REAL, LIVE PERSON to get something?! It's like 1983 all over again.
|Colorful cars and colorful homes!|
(Also: don't use taxis while you're here. The trams run all night, so even if you're coming out of the bar plastered at 4:00 AM, you're better off taking public transport - Hungarians often refer to taxi drivers as "jackals" because they overcharge by double or triple the appropriate amount!)
5. Can't find the crosswalk? Look for the stairs.
This confused the bejesus out of me for, like, 3 days straight: I could not, for the life of me, understand how or where Hungarians were crossing the street. There was not a crosswalk to be found. Cars would zoom and whiz by and, crazed New Yorker that I am, I had no qualms about simply flinging myself into the road to jaywalk with abandon. SHOW NO FEAR.
And then I realized: they don't really do the whole crosswalk thing here. Instead, they have stairs at every corner which lead to underground shopping plazas and, of course, to the other side of the road. Easy! Now I skip down the stairs and sing La La La!
That's all for now, friends! Don't forget to tweet me! And like my page! Bye!
P.S. Unlike Poland, the water here is fresh and potable. Before pouring himself a glass of tap water, Dan asked our host if it was okay to drink. The answer? "Yes. It is very fine. Very fine." And you know what? It was.