As you may already know, Budapest is actually two cities: Buda and Pest.  Buda is on the western (hilly) side of Budapest and is separated from Pest by the Danube River.

Nestled atop the hill overlooking the Danube, Castle Hill is the prominent tourist attraction in Buda, where you can find a number of lookouts, museums, and a palace. 
As you cross the majestic Chain Bridge into Buda, you are greeted by a traffic circle and the option of traversing through a tunnel through Castle Hill. Unless you are travelling by vehicle, I would not suggest taking the tunnel route as ventilation isn't ideal and you'lll be inhaling a lot of exhaust fumes. What I do recommend though is hopping over the barbed wire fence and taking in the cityscape from the ledge above the tunnel.

Fishermen's Bastion is the most impressive lookout structure at Castle Hill.  

I'm not sure the admission fee to the second level is worth it because it appears as though the view would basically be the same as from the free, lower level. Nevertheless, there was a steady flow of tourists heading up there. In my opinion, sitting back and enjoying a drink in the Bastion's cafe would be a wiser bet.

Mátyás Church is another prominent feature on the Hill. I didn't spend too much time here as by this point, my appreciation of church architecture was becoming blurred by this point due to overexposure, but here's a sneak peak inside in case you're curious:

I also did not visit any museums or galleries in Buda or Pest due to time constraints and quite frankly, the lack of interest as I preferred enjoying the very pleasant and warm, autumn sunshine, and hanging out in the backyard of the Office of the President of the Republic of Hungary but let's not get into that...

I'm not sure why but perhaps it was the walled city or the narrow, cobble streets, but Castle Hill reminded me a lot of Quebec City.

Other unique attractions in Buda include the Cave Church, which not surpisingly is a church in a cave,

and the Gellert Baths, one of the famous thermal baths in Budapest, despite the apparent spelling mistake...

Now one would think that considering the number of tourists visiting this area of Buda, there would be a sense of pride and obligation to keep at least this section of the city, clean and very presentable to outsiders, but there were numerous instances I came across in which this does not seem to be the case...


I was also surprised to see a major historical Castle Hill structure in plain sight to tourists boarded up and simply rotting away

That being said, I understand that restoration costs money but I would have thought there would be a little more civic pride in at least cleaning up historical monuments to entice tourists to stay in Budapest even longer to support the financial costs of maintaining these impressive monuments.  Nevertheless, this apparent ignorance to the city's historical past, adds to the unique character of the Budapest.

The Danube at Budapest

From what I could gather, Budapest's major attractions are primarily located on the shores of the Danube River and from a distance, the Danube definitely adds to the city's popular appeal
but upon closer inspection, one quickly discovers that the Danube might not be the cleaniest of rivers...
That being said, these waters have already travelled quite a bit through Europe so this wasn't a major surprise. But what grabbed my attention, was the stench that whiffed through the air at certain points along and above the river, particularly near the spot shown in the photos below.  
Now, I'm hoping that is a small natural tributary but it looked and smelled more like raw sewage.  Aghhh, the smell was horrendous!  Luckily, I had very little to eat that day because I was very close to throwing up on several occasions.  Nevertheless, it seems to be a popular fishing spot!
I don't know how they do it nor can I believe that the nearby river cruise ships (and their guests) tolerate such odours.

Since this is a blog after all, I'll just step onto my tiny soapbox and say that I was deeply disappointed in the state of the Danube River and its apparent disregard by its stakeholders, especially consider the great economic benefits the river provides  Although easier said than done, considerable efforts should be made to clean up the river, its shoreline, and watershed as this gem of a river deserves better.

Aventura Hostel Review

Just a few minutes from Budapest's Nyugati Train and Subway Station, the affordable Aventura Hostel definitely does not look like much from the street (and can very easily be overlooked thanks to its tiny sign on the right hand side of the building entrance)
but once you get buzzed in to walk past the locked door, up the stairs, and alongside the view of the interior courtyard,
you are greeted by a friendly staff member and quickly shown around this pleasant boutique hostel.

There are no bunk beds here; just an assortment of uniquely decorated lofts ready to offer you a comfortable, restful stay. There are four rooms: the private "Indian" room, the double "Japan" room, the 5-bed "Space" shared room, and the 8-bed "Africa" room. I stayed in the "Africa" room, which as you can see from the photos below, is a split level room with 4 beds on each level.

And here's how it looks from the second level:
You might be wondering if sleeping by that huge hole would be safe but with those strategically placed ropes, I would say that you're safer sleeping in that bed than in your typical top bunk. 

The beds were comfortable by hostel standards and there was plenty of space to store your belongings. That being said, if you had anything super valuable, I would question leaving it behind in the locked bed drawers, as they were not meant to be that secure.  Nevertheless, I did not feel unsecure in leaving my stuff behind for the day. I'm pretty sure the hostel staff would be able to offer you safer storage space if you asked.

The washrooms were clean and well-maintained.

With its big rooms and huge windows, thanks in part to the extremely high ceilings, I would definitely look for a place like this former apartment, if I were in the market for a loft in Budapest.

The hostel also offers a large, well-equipped kitchen where you can make your own meals and share your travel experiences with other guests and staff at the dining table.  Breakfast is also available for a nominal charge but considering I am not a fan of pâté and how I wished to sample life as an ordinary Budapest resident, I passed on the light breakfast offering, and practiced my very limited Hungarian speaking skills at nearby grocery stores and bakeries.

Here's what the street looks like...

Reliable, free wireless internet and computer access is also available.

On top of the superb hostel facilities, the 24/7 hostel staff are top-notch, friendly people.  And flexible too. Considering I was only leaving Budapest in the late afternoon of my third day and not wanting to lug my backpack all day long through the streets of Budapest, they had no issues with me leaving my rucksack at the hostel until I was ready to leave for good.  They also provided directions to the best place to exchange money on my first day. Not only was it nearby but it also offered the best rates that I saw in all my time in Budapest.

So to summarize, Aventura Hostel was the first boutique hostel I stayed at and I would, without any hesitation, recommend staying here for as long as you need a peaceful, relaxing, and friendly place to dine and sleep in Budapest.  Based on my experiences at Aventura, I will be closely looking for other boutique hostels during my future travels.

If you found this unbiased review and photos helpful, please click on one of the interesting Google advertising links on this blog to help me out. Thanks.

First Impressions of Budapest

As I walked towards the train station exit, I was thoroughly impressed by the architecture of the station but I was soon surrounded by locals trying to rent me an apartment room or perform foreign currency transactions (which supposedly isn't very legal in Hungary).  From old ladies trying to convince me to stay in their apartments to shady looking characters offering me the best prices for Hungarian Forints, I made sure I kept on moving forward to avoid being surrounded and even more susceptible to pickpockets.

The subway entrance is located just outside the train station.  It should be noted that the ticket office and machines at this subway station only accept cash (Hungarian Forints).  I actually tried getting my hands on some forints back in Vienna but the bank strongly recommended that I exchange my money once I reached Hungary.  The bank teller said the rates would be much better there than anything I could find in Vienna.  I was impressed by the fact that a bank went out of its way to not take my money so I thanked him for his honesty and went about my business in Vienna.  Well, it's too bad that I took his advice because the exchange rates at the train station foreign currency exchange booths were simply ridiculous (about 30% profits as I found out afterwards).  I also discovered on my departure a few days later that the Wasteels ticket office on the other side of the train station offered much fairer foreign exchange rates so be sure to check it out before exchanging any funds at the station.
Before my trip, I read that Budapest has a very complex public transit ticketing system and considering the number of ticket inspectors checking every single passenger, I wasn't going to risk inadvertently buying the wrong ticket and ending up in who knows how much trouble, so I bought the multi-day pass that provided me with unlimited (and more importantly, stress-free) access to Budapest's public transit.

Here are a few pics of Budapest's underground:
I reached Nyugati Station and evenutally found my way back above ground to see the sunshine again.  Let's just say that Hungarians don't believe in good signage!

Next stop is Aventura Boutique Hostel, my home for the next two nights...

All Aboard to Budapest

Vienna was always considered the starting point of my mini-European vacation so all along, I was considering where else I could go.  Bratislava was definitely close by, and I could always settle on maintaining a pure Austrian experience by traveling to Western Austria, but I was looking for something a little more grandiose, and Budapest fit the bill perfectly as it was close enough to Vienna yet different enough to make it interesting.  To make the decision even easier, I came across the SparSchiene Special in which ÖBB offers Vienna <=>; Budapest train tickets for as little as 19 Euros each way.  So with my ticket in hand, I was off to the Wien Westbahnhof train station, not knowing exactly what to expect as this would be my train trip ever.

Well, this is what the train looked like from the outside... 

and in the inside...
and since you're curious, the washroom...
What surprised me was there was very little guidance as to which train wagon to climb into and of course, I ended up in the wrong cabin, but was quickly pointed in the right direction by an employee on board. I guess the train company expects everyone to know what they're doing.  Well, considering my train ticket was completely in German, I think I did pretty well on getting on the right train the first time, and the right seat on the second try.  Nevertheless, I got comfortable in my seat, and soon enough, the train started moving.

Soon enough, I was asked by an employee to present my train ticket, and I was off to Hungary!

Besides the wind turbines that dotted the farmland, the scenery was not too spectacular but it was interesting to notice the transition from Western to Eastern Europe along the way.  The train stopped at the Austrian-Hungarian border (or at least somewhere nearby) where there the ticket-checkers boarded off the train and new ones boarded the train and again, checked everyone's tickets. Now at this point, I was expecting to have my passport checked but this was not the case; only the train ticket was of any interest to the ticket-checker.  There were a few stops along the way, but none lasted more than a few minutes nor were there any announcements as to the next stop, etc. so if you plan to get off the train before hitting Budapest, it's up to you to get off at the right train station.

Just over three hours later, I arrived at Keleti Pályaudvar Station in Budapest, Hungary!

Last Full Day in Vienna

Day 4 arrived and it's another early start to the day.

The first objective of the day was to find a place to sleep the final night of my trip, which was still a few nights away but nevertheless I had unfortunately not booked a place to stay and now almost every place in town was completely booked or priced well out of my budget.  So it was off to a few nearby hostels in hopes of find an off-the-books bed but to no avail.  Oh well, if worse comes to worst, I'll just spend the night criss-crossing the city on the subway, tram, or bus....

Not wanting to waste anymore time, I started my way back to the subway station and passed by a basketball court. Now as you can see in the photo below, the Austrians play in cages!
Anyways, it's off to the subway so that I don't get stuck in the queue for Grand Tour tickets at Schloss Schönbrunn.  The tour gives you access to 40 rooms of the palace.  Each room has its own unique story and decorations, and provided for an interesting start to day.  I got there around 8:40 and didn't encounter a line-up.  On my way out however, I noticed the line-ups were out the door.  Luckily I came early! 
Photography of any kind was strictly prohibited inside the rooms so sorry, no pics to show you from the interior but in my opinion, the grounds surrounding the palace are far more interesting.

Also, on the palace grounds is the KHM Wagenburg, the home to the core of the carriage fleet of the Viennese Court.  This small museum provides a glimpse into the elegant horse-drawn carriages that whisked Austrian royalty throughout the generations. In addition to the ceremonial carriages, the collection includes little carriages for the kids and meticulous designed carriages for weddings and funerals.  Here's a sneak peak of what you can expect inside ;)
Midday passed and it was time to head back into town to take in the sights and sounds of old Vienna perhaps one last time. Next thing on the agenda was to stumble upon a baptism in Jesuitenkirche.
Now, just to show that Vienna isn't as impeccably pristine as you might think it is, here's an alley I came across while strolling in the Innere Stadt. 
Unlike in North America where Sunday shopping is the norm, Vienna appears to have limitations  as to which stores can open on Sundays, as only souvenir stores, bakeries, and chocolatiers were open.  Nonetheless, the Innere Stadt was lively with people being entertained by the buskers and enjoying the warm autumn sunshine while window shopping with their families.

With all this walking I was building up quite the appetite so it came as no surprise that I quickly darted into the Villacher restaurant asking for exactly what the two gentlemen were eating out in the courtyard. 
Now, I'm sure that "Texas Ribs in Sweet Hot Sauce mit Potato Wedges" isn't authentic Austrian cuisine but those ribs certainly demanded my attention.
And boy was I right!  The ribs were even better than they looked. I've had more than my share of ribs in my lifetime, and these were definitely the best by far! And to top it off, the courtyard was nice and peaceful so one can enjoy one's hearty meal without any distractions.

After my lip-smacking good ribs, I was off to stroll the Innere Stadt some more and came across a few things to satisfy my sweet tooth.
How can one say No to a "Buy 2, get the 3rd free" bakery special!?!
Or how about visiting Vienna without tasting some of its gelato?
Now I must admit that I am not a gelato connaisseur but I've had more than a few scoops of gelato back home in Canada, and this gelato was certainly the best ever.  At this point, I was wondering why there aren't more fat people in Vienna but it must be from all the walking because that's what I did for the rest of the evening as I window-shopped all the way back to the hostel to get ready for Budapest!

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