Here I am, alone, in Budapest, one of the most beautiful cities in the world and sharing the couch with T-dog. I found T-dog on a house-sitting website. Not thinking about the Travel costs has got me in a tiff... I am broke. There is still some money in my account, however, after 18 days of surviving, alas there will be nothing in my account.

How did I get here? This has been part of a 'planned' trip for a few months now. I don't want to say years because it started as a Madagascan trip but then a virus broke out. It changed to a New Orleans trip because I was working in the USA for five months, but my visa was not extended.

I considered Ireland since South Africans like me don't need a visa to visit the Republic of Ireland. That was not a favourable choice. Lastly, I thought of Prague because Prague is gorgeous, and I have some unfinished business there, I still need to finish exploring the National Technical Museum. Budapest was my friend's choice and since it was her birthday wish I complied. You might think I'm stupid, you might think I'm crazy, and you might be right.

Here I come!

Tickets - Check!

Passport - Check!

Paid luggage not exceeding 10kg or 40cm - Check!

Instructions for the bus route to my destination - Check!

Excitement for Budapest - Not so much - checked!

When I arrived at the airport I was thinking the only thing I was excited about was that I might be surprised or amazed by Budapest.

My first amazing experience was the public transportation system, I bought a 15-day pass and it works for the busses, trams, and the metro system. Too bad I took the wrong replacement bus for the M3 train and had prolonged my journey with an hour. Nevertheless, I found my way home after a bus driver showed me where I should wait for a bus, as very few people speak English in Hungary.

On the Buda, or more specifically Obuda, there is less English than on the touristy Pest side of Budapest. Luckily Obuda is more affordable than the Pest side.

Budapest on a budget

Things to eat on a budget:

The good news is, Budapest is affordable. There are pastries, bread and sweet treats everywhere, of which the chimney cake is my favourite.

At the Christmas market, it was at least 1200 HUF (3,60 euro but they round it off to 4 euro). At the local vendors outside the train station, it is only 350 HUF (just over 1 euro) for a chimney cake. I have also taken a liking to their kalács, a sweet braided bread. On top of your bread, you have a variety of affordable flavoured pâtés; chilli, lemon, nuts, and much more. Hungary is also paprika obsessed and has a lot of honey, which is great because it was a Butternut and Ajvar Spaghetti that I ate for three whole days. It was tasty like I said... Paprika is a big deal in Hungary!

Things to do on a budget:

  • Free walking tours: Jewish walk, Communism Walk, General Sightseeing, Nightlife walk

The ruin bars are truly something to see.

The story about the ruin bars is that after WW2 there were many dilapidated houses/buildings where Jewish families lived before they were deported. After the war, the buildings were available at a low cost for people to buy and the people that bought them did not bother to spend money on the decor. Instead, the owners' guests were invited to come eat and drink at their pub and at the same time donate decor to their pub. Thus when you walk into a ruin pub you will find a variety of random decor like sitting in a half-cut tub at a table, eight different types of fans hanging from the ceiling, random paintings and typewriters hanging from over-decorated walls. But you'll hear more of that if you join the Jewish Free Walk Tour.

  • Walking over the bridges: Margit híd, Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Erzsébet Bridge, and the Liberty Bridge
  • Margaret Island: The Japanese Garden, Musical Fountain, beautiful parks and trees and ruins to look at
  • Statues: Colombo and his dog, Shoes of Danube, The Fat Policeman (rub his belly to give you good luck), The Little Princess, Liberty Statue, 25 October 1956 memorial (and so many more)

The Bloody Thursday Memorial was one I appreciated the most. On the side of the Ministry of Agriculture, you can see 'bullets' on the building to commemorate those who died on that Bloody Thursday by the bullets of the Hungarian Army and the Soviet military. The Országgyűlési Múzeum is a hidden museum and memorial in front of the Parliament.

Unfortunately, it is closed in winter so I would have to go visit it when I am in Europe in the summer. You will also hear a lot more about the statues and memorials on the Communism Free Walk Tour.

  • Walking through the Food Hall Market where you can find anything from paprika, honey, live fish, stuffed cabbages and peppers, to souvenirs and traditional Hungarian dishes.
  • Admiring the architecture by foot: Parliament, St. Stephen's Basilica, State Opera House, Fisherman's Bastion, and the Castle District.

Christmas in Budapest

Alone on Christmas, I was lucky enough to have two of my friends come to visit me from Germany. Since we were in Budapest I decided I'll make traditional Goulash Soup served in a bread bun.

Now, if you're not like me, you would go to Budapest with money and eat a traditional goulash soup from a Hungarian and not made by a lonely South African chef, stuck in Budapest, excited to see her friends. Along with that, we had Törley, a delicious Hungarian Sparkling Wine which only cost 890 HUF (1 Euro =320 HUF). It decided to buy the three of us local wine. Never mind the servings we had the next day! To enjoy our sunset, we took our bus passes and went to the highest hill we could find, we broke into a, what I can only assume is, an unbuilt house that is off-limits to the public, and saw a beautiful sunset, along with enjoying three cheap beers.

Want cheap beer in Budapest?

  • Dreher, local Hungarian beer... all flavours are good and cost from 260 HUF (at the store) to about 600 HUF at the bars for 500ml
  • Kozel, a Czech beer made in Hungary. Around the same price as Dreher, sometimes even cheaper.
  • Arany Ászok. The cheapest one of them all. Also made by Dreher.

New Year's Eve and lentils

Fireworks! I love fireworks! It started early and my evening plans were to make myself a pot of lentils for the New Year. Hungary has a New Year's Eve/szilveszter tradition where they eat lentils on the first day of the year for wealth and prosperity... and I can really use some of that in 2020. The trick is the lentils should be on your dinner table when the clock strikes 12, so I left my table, set, had two glasses of my favourite Hungarian Sparkling Wine and a bowl of lentils for a stomach lining, and went to the city to view some fireworks for free.

I returned around 1 AM, the busses were packed and I had to force myself into a bus. Finally, I sat down to a lentil meal and a glass of sparkly to celebrate 2020. My lentil stew was enjoyed until 2 January 2020. Hopefully, that grants me even more prosperity!

Affordable Hostels

I had three days to spare after my house-sitting gig so I decided to make use of Budapest's very affordable hostels. With some new friends, I saw a bit of the Pest side. Our first night out we joined another group on a pub crawl, (mid-crawl), to see where we should be heading. I guess the fact that we have not been drinking at five bars previously must have shown that we are not a part of the group, but the group leader didn't seem to mind us joining in.

Our second night we went to a student bar and enjoyed (or tried to) a local open-mic night. A word to the unwise, Sunday night seems to be more lively than Monday night does.

So if you decide to go to Budapest make the best of it, walk a lot, enjoy the beauty and the history that Hungary has to offer... and send me your photos!