Welcome to Budapest, the Backpacker Capital of Europe


This was originally published on KolbyDoesEurope.com, a travel blog by Kolby Solinsky…

I love Europe. I’ve tried to help it, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s that other people don’t, not as much. I’ve been told I’m missing out, having not been to Asia or South America or even really to Mexico. But I don’t care. (Should I care’ Of course, I guess.)

But there’s something about Europe that just keeps drawing me back. Budapest, I think, is a city with the reasons why.


A Quick Lap

To me, born in 1987 and growing up and developing my brain in the 20 years post, Budapest and Hungary weren’t what I thought would be a desirable travel spot. Rome, Paris, London… those are the meccas for the high schooler’s mind. They’re the typical places – the cities you hear about, where movies are made and posters are shot.

And Budapest, when I was young, was still young, too. Not really – it’s been around forever. But the Soviet Union was rubble and the smoke takes a long time to clear. You don’t just have to beat back the Devil at your dinner table, you then have to convince your guests it’s okay to return.

Hungary, like Poland or Slovakia or the Czech Republic, certainly like Bosnia or Serbia or Croatia since 1995, had to work its way back into Westerners guidebooks’ graces. Now, it’s almost romantic to go to a city in that Eastern envelope, where you might find buildings riddles with bullet holes or gypsy women and crumbling convenience stores.

You call it authentic. But unless you’ve gone there intentionally, you’re sort of wondering whether it’s safe or not. (Even though, let’s face it, you’re much more likely to get robbed or killed walking too far down the wrong street at the wrong time in New York or L.A. than you are in Budapest or Prague.)

So how shocked and thrilled I was, when I was 21, to stumble upon Budapest.

It was supposed to be the throw-in on a trip to Berlin, Krakow, and Prague. It was just a city in between the others, a new cosmo to check off on our way through. It seemed almost Middle Eastern to me – the architecture, the beads and the soupy, green food, and the way it’s as Asian as it is European, kinda.

(The Baths really seem more Asian than they could ever seem European. They’re Roman in their heritage, then Ottoman. They come before the modern world and its ideas of what continents and their identities were – they come more from the time when things were still traded on silk and gold roads, when it took years to get from your home to your place of business, back when if you adopted the spices and tastes and culture from Asia, it stayed with you on the other side of Russia. Portugal has this, with its proximity to Africa; the United States has this, of course, with Mexico.)

I loved it, all of it in Budapest. I loved the Baths. I loved the view from way up high, on Gellert Hill. I loved the main drag and the goulash-y bowls and the beef. I’ve been back since, with my shoes tied better and more money and worse ideas, and I’ve seen the nightlife everyone raves about: It’s why you write home.