This trip was a long time in making: we'd started talking about it with friends early in 2016 and booked our plane tickets months in advance. In picking our destinations, we drew lines connecting constellations of possibilities. One big hub city through smaller, quirkier places, to another from which we could easily find flight options to come back home. We rattled lists of names off to each other over happy hour and emails for weeks.
This part of trip planning is one of my favorite. I love pulling up Google maps. I love sitting there just looking at it, zooming in and out, panning and exploring. The whole world before me to discover.
In the end, it would be six of us traveling to four cities over two weeks: Budapest, Vienna, Dubrovnik, and Rome. We'd leave in mid-September, just as summer leaves NYC, and come back days before fall.
Our first city was in Budapest, Hungary. I had especially high hopes for this city because I wanted it to be like Prague. I knew my expectations were unfair but I couldn't shake them, and I couldn't help the slight disappointment I knew was coming my way when I confirmed that it wasn't Prague. Of course it wasn't. However, having had months-worth of hindsight by now, I've developed a special appreciation for our very first stop.
Here's an overview of Days 1 & 2 in Budapest.
At the time we wanted to turn vacay-mode way up (as in 0 to 100 after a 7+ hour flight) on the one hand but didn't give it our full attention or appreciation on the other because we were very much looking forward to the other legs of our jam-packed trip.
On the day that we arrived, the first thing we did after checking into our AirBnB (building pictured above) was stop at a weird, whimsical ocean-themed bar that was empty but for us. It's remarkable and hard to explain, that first sit down somewhere new after air travel. There we were, sitting on a sidewalk in Hungary, drinking beers and taking shots in a completely different time zone on a different continent.
My favorite memories mostly occur at night, a testament to our party's party-mode. We spent our days non-stop walking around, crossing bridges and climbing hills topped with castles. We spent our nights like champs, albeit tired and jet-lagged champs in their late-twenties, by going out.
Day 2 was was sunny and beautiful. On our first full day in the city we started off by walking over the Chain Bridge to the Buda side to climb the hill, visit the castle, and see Fisherman's Bastion overlooking the river.
We had one of my more memorable meals in Buda that day at a hotel called Pest-Buda. We were absolutely starving from having walked so much, and we ordered a bunch of food and cleaned every single plate off. Not a single one of us even stopped to take a picture of the food. Meal times are so special when you travel and I absolutely love eating with this group - we were all so open to trying new things and shared everything family style.
We took the funicular down the hill and walked back across the bridge to Pest. We wandered the town, getting gelato scooped in the shape of roses and stopping into a gorgeous jewel toned church. We learned in Tuscany to never bypass a church in Europe, these are some of the oldest and most architecturally impressive buildings in any city or town.
We went to Szimpla Kert that night, one of the ruin bars which are popular in Budapest. As we were nearing the bar, the area started to feel like the Lower East Side. In fact, my lasting impression of Budapest is that of a city-sized LES.
We started our vacation stories early.
Dennis got lost on our way back from Szimpla Kert that night, having disappeared seemingly into thin air. Upon discovering that he was no longer with the group, Kevin and I suddenly sprang into action as if we'd practiced what to do in that scenario. He directed two to stay put in case he retraced his steps, two to walk down the street in one direction to look for him, and he and I would go the other direction. We immediately broke into a jog and it was about a block before we spotted him in the crowd, coming toward us. When he saw us he sat down into a crouch in relief.
Lost Dennis was born on this night. He joined the ranks of Angry Dennis and Difficult Dennis. We'd come to meet a couple more iterations of our friend through the rest of the trip.
After the Lost Dennis ordeal, we purchased five bottles of wine and started drinking them on our walk back to our neighborhood. We stopped in the nearby square and sat on stone stools as the bars and restaurants closed up around us, passing barely concealed and then not at all concealed bottles of wine between us.
In Budapest we established the tone of the trip, tacitly forming agreement on the following approach:
- Walk a ton during the day and see as much as possible
- Wine all the time. Bottles, pitchers, or carafes at meals, bottles for the room at night
- Have a general plan for the day but keep our eyes out for serendipitous finds
- Sit outdoors when we could at restaurants/bars and take moments to savor the scene
- End our nights by playing games
See more of my BVDR trip recaps by clicking on the BVDR2016 tag!