In Hungary the currency is called the Forint. It's value fluctuates quite a bit, but while we were in Hungary US$1 was equal to about 215 Forints. In the hustle bustle that is arriving to a new city and locating the Metro, getting money and buying a Metro ticket I made a slight calculation error and added a zero to my ATM request. This is how we ended up, not with 15,000 Forints (about US$70, a reasonable amount to get us started in Budapest), but rather 150,000 Forints... Almost US$700!! Whoops! We'd have to go nuts to even come close to spending that in 3 days.
Our second Air BnB experience went much more smoothly then our first; a very sweet Hungarian woman met us at the easy to find and quite central apartment. She showed us around the place, all 3 small rooms, explained how the TV worked and then showed us the kitchen including a small refrigerator, in which she had stashed some juice and two pieces of Hungarian cherry pastry which proved to be delicious. That night we went for a walk and to find some food, hungry after a long afternoon train ride in from Bratislava. We stopped into one spot called "For Sale Bar" where we got our first experience of Hungarian service. The waitress looked at us with contempt when we walked in, irritated no doubt that we had the gall to interrupt the cigarette she was furiously sucking down as she stood by the bar. We sat ourselves and eventually she threw 1 menu (entirely in Hungarian) onto the table and retreated to suck down the last centimeter of her cigarette. We couldn't make out a thing on the menu even though there were several tables of people happily enjoying delicious looking meals. When she came back we order two beers, in English, which she seemed to understand well enough and then we nibbled on the peanuts that graced every table and tried to make out some of the food options. No luck. As we finished the drinks, I got up and began to walk to the bar to ask for the check where our gracious hostess was again smoking a cigarette as if it had done something wrong to her. On my way back, I saw a menu on another table; in English! Of course, the waitress didn't think to bring us one of those menus, why would she! I guess she's right: it's not her fault that we're too stupid to speak Hungarian or to at least realize that there was an English menu a mere 10 ft from us the entire time! Stupid F-ing Americans, indeed!!
After a little wandering we managed to find a nice place around the corner and the food was good and staff was friendly enough, so there you go: there is at least 1 restaurant in Budapest with nice wait staff. After dinner we went to the grocery store to pick up a few supplies for the next few days. We didn't have a backpack with us when it came time to checkout so were clearly going to need a bag to get the stuff home but the checkout lady made no attempt to offer us a plastic bag; we were happy to pay for it even. What's more she rolled her eyes profusely when she discovered that we had neglected to weigh our produce before proceeding to checkout. (standard operating procedure at European grocery stores). No worries for her though; it gave her a quick break from her long, arduous day. I ran to the produce section to weigh our goods and she wasted no time in opening up a Playboy magazine and flipping through while discussing her findings with the security guard close by. After we had finally paid, we found ourselves still without a bag or means of transporting our purchases home and the checkout lady started to process the next customer. She gave Gina a dirty look and gestured as if to say: "Get your s*** off my register!!". Gina did not like this. I saw some plastic bags behind another, vacated register so I pointed and asked if I could have one; they ignored me as if I were a mute midget that was too short to be seen over the counter. Finally I stepped over the chain and into the sacred space behind...that got their attention. Our friend the checkout lady started yelling as if I had just taken the cash drawer out and stuffed it down my pants. The security guard shot me a dirty look; he was well into the Playboy by now and none too pleased that I should interrupt his read with my asinine request for a bag. He begrudgingly gave me two; which I quickly took and started to load groceries. Gina, frustrated at the situation said "No, just one bag. She's being a b****." The woman had thus far been unable (or unwilling) to communicate with us in English, but her ears perked up at this comment. Some words are universal, I suppose. After paying 30 Forints ($0.10) for our bag we fled into the night, glad to have survived dinner and grocery shopping as well as we had!
Next morning we took a beautiful run down the Danube River and back which runs through town. We found a nice spot for coffee and got online to call our friend Srdan, an Croatian- American guy living in Hungary who came and spent last Christmas and New Year's with us in Australia. (College buddies with our friend Lizzy) We were going to rent bikes for the day but Srdan saved us this expense as he had a few spare and was able to spend the afternoon playing tour guide for us. We cruised all over the city on the bikes ticking off all the major tourist sights: churches, the impressive Budapest Parliament building, a park covered island in the Danube, several of the famous bridges, Hero's Square and the park where one of the large Turkish Bath Houses is. It was a busy and very fun day. Bikes remains the best way to see a city and I suspect we'll continue to roll like this in as many cities as it is feasible in.
That night we went out with Srdan and he took us to a few of his favorite local establishments including the most famous of the "ruins bars" which are relatively common in B- Pest. It was super cool; essentially a bar that they built in a dilapidated old stone building; hard to explain but as I say, super cool. Unfortunately, we saw the ugly side of Budapest there as an American tourist had her purse stolen out from beneath her chair not 10 feet from us. We didn't see a thing... But, in any case a reminder to be super cautious with our belongings at all times. After that spot we went to another bar/restaurant where Srdan and I shared the meat platter for 2. It was the biggest pile of meat you'll ever see! Later Srdan's girlfriend, Sasha, joined us for a bit.
In the morning we hit another run before striking out on our own to see a few of the things we hadn't seen on bikes the previous day. We started with the surprisingly steep climb up to the Citadella where you are treated with beautiful panoramic views of river and city. Next we wandered over and back up to the Castle complex which also has some nice views as well as some cool statues and gardens. After that we headed back for some lunch and stopped in at the famous market to pick up a few things. Stall after stall of people selling veggies, all sorts of meats (including bags of chicken heads, feet and innards; yum) and then various nic-nacs, t- shirts and table cloths up stairs. A quick lunch at the pad and we were back out the door and to the metro which took us out to the park where the Turkish Bath House is. This place is awesome! There are dozens of different pools ranging in size and temperature from small and cold to large and HOT. We ended up at the huge outdoor pool which they said was 38 degrees Celsius; although it felt even hotter. This pool is massive; there were easily 100 people in it with plenty of space still. After a good soak we hit the sauna of which there are also a multitude. One sauna was sooooooo hot it was hardly bearable and just outside was a very cold pool. That was alot of fun. We didn't snap any photos as it just seemed a little tactless as there were hundreds of people sitting around in their swimsuits. That didn't stop one dude though who was rolling with a SLR and video camera and not much else: a tiny Speedo clung to him for dear life under immense strain put onto it by his HUGE bulbous beer belly. Kind of a weird move, man.
After a few hours of lounging and a quick shower we hit a Turkish restaurant for a quick dinner and some hydration. We had delicious hummus and a nice Greek salad and a strong Turkish coffee then headed back to relax for a little before meeting Srdan and Sasha. They had talked about taking us to the club island which they explained is quite a scene and worth checking out, but in the end we were a bit tired from our big day out and they were over it too, so we just cruised around to a few spots, met up with some of their friends and then called it a night.
In the morning we packed our things and tidied up the apartment then rolled to the bank to exchange the extra 76,500 Forints that we still had after 3 days and buying train tickets then met the land lady to give back the keys and then swung through Srdan's for a final goodbye and thank you before hoping the metro one last time to get to the train station. I came to Budapest in 2002 for spring break during my study abroad program and I remember it being nice, but a bit run down and dilapidated. I'm happy to report that in the 9 years since my last visit, the city has undergone a number of renovations and Budapest now was much more impressive then I remember it being.