The plan was to go straight from Greece to Croatia. I tried every possible combination of buses, planes, ferries, and trains, but they all turned out to be expensive and/or uncomfortably time consuming. As a last resort, I searched for flights from Athens to anywhere in Eastern Europe and found Budapest. I knew nothing about Hungary or its capital city, but a friend from Shanghai lives there now and when she discovered we were taking this trip, she told me to let her know if we ever made it her way. Without doing any research, we booked our flights and assumed it was a decent place.
As our flight began its initial descent, Nik and I gasped at the lush landscape that surrounded and penetrated the broad city along the Danube River. It was early May, and we were witnessing the first hints that spring had been kind to Eastern Europe.
We easily made our way through customs and into town via airport shuttle to our rental apartment. Along the way we saw large commercial zones mixed with run down old industrial buildings, huge blocks of apartments, and people young and old riding bicycles and boarding buses. Once we made it into the city center, people were scattered everywhere enjoying their Friday evening of perfect spring weather.
The rest of our short visit confirmed that Budapest is an amazing modern city with great food, pleasant people, beautiful architecture, and a vibrant creative culture. I think it would offer an affordable lifestyle similar to what we enjoyed in Portland, Oregon with the cultural advantages of a big city like San Francisco.
Basically, if we were given an opportunity to live here, I would take it.
1. Dinner at Zeller Bistro – everything was amazing from the homemade elderflower soda to the duck main to the carrot cake. Also, their “Kakas Dülöbem, Fekete Leányka” red wine was amazing.
2. Strolling through Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library’s 4th floor reading rooms – which are part of a restored 19th century palace.
3. Stumbling upon the Gellért Thermal Baths. We didn’t go in, but it was great to see the lobby.
4. People watching at the Keleti Railway Terminal as we waited in line at the International Ticket Counter.
5. Riding bikes on Margit-sziget.
Oh, on our way to Budapest from Folegandros, we stopped in Athens for less than 24 hours. We didn’t expect to like it, but did so we’d like to visit again someday. From what we saw, it was a blend of Bangkok and Rome, both of which we enjoyed quite a bit.