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It’s my final day in Budapest and, although I wasn’t head-over-heels in love with the city’s slightly gruff-but-friendly welcome and sights themselves to start with, (although of course I liked the city) I am now finding myself regretting having to leave, and once again, I have found that it is the people who have made the place special.
I stayed at the wonderful Zsofi’s House Hostel near Nyugati metro, and found in Zsofi herself a wonderful, knowledgeable host with a cheery, friendly, open outlook and a willingness to help. She posed for this photo and it really captures her sense of fun and loveliness.Image
The hostel itself is central, has airy rooms, and is so clean you could eat your dinner from the floor. It makes a welcome change from the bustle and heat of Budapest’ś heat during summer, and the people who stay there are not all-night, rock-it-in-the-corridors types, but people who really want to enjoy Budapest and most of all, learn about it.
One such guest was Ciro (pronounced ‘ Cheero’ ), an Italian-origin, Spanish-born Belgian with an outlook on life to match his positive-phoneme name. He took me down to the fountain on Margit Sziget (Margaret Island) where we chatted, sat with feet in the cooling fountain, shrieked as the breeze blew water over our heads and ate lagos, a fried dough, a little like a pizza base, with cheese and sour cream. There were a few members of a tourist group there with water pistols, spraying hot city-goers on command. Ciro was going to a friend’ s house party out of the city on the day I left, and leaving Budapest the next day after a ten-day stay. He’ s addicted.
Just down the street from the hostel, highly recommended by Zsofi, sits one of the best ice cream parlours I have ever been to. Levendula Kézműves Fagylaltozó uses such unusual flavourings such as cinnamon and plum, rucola, camembert, and of course their namesake lavender (with dark chocolate or lemon) and the price is reasonable with a cone costing 250Ft. A seriously welcome respite from the 40° temperatures! I went twice and both times I had to try not to dribble with anticipation of gorgeous flavours when I got close to the shop.
In central Budapest itself I sought out the unusual; the solitary souls who make the place what it is. Of course I looked at the spectacular Parliament building, walked up to the castle and fisherman’s bastion and hung out in the bars and pubs in the centre of town, but the most interesting part for me was the old Jewish Quarter, which is much less touristed, much less polished and which holds so much of the history of Budapest within the walls of the buildings. Central to this area is the Great Synagogue (open 10.30-6.30 Monday-Thursday, and 10.30-2-00 Friday, 10.30-5.30 Sunday from April to October) and which has a harrowing exhibition on the Holocaust which affected so many Hungarian citizens. It struck me to the core, and the weeping willow metal sculpture behind the synagogue seemed to hold much greater significance after my visit.
The thinking-strains were banished by a visit to Szimpla, a  ruin-pub which, my couchsurfing friend Eszter said started the ruin-pub movement, with individuals taking over ruined buildings and setting up unusual drinking areas in them. Nowadays, the ruin-pubs have farmers’ markets, cinema screenings and a huge range of people to meet, although sadly they are often now tourists. The alcohol is still relatively reasonable, though, and Szimpla, like most ruin pubs, is a great place to try Hungarian-brewed beer by the bucketful.
And then it was on to Belgrade by overnight train…with a slight hangover lingering…
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