On May 31st, I had a packed backpack, a passport, and a printed boarding pass, all ready to begin 3 flights and about 20 hours of traveling to arrive in my first Eastern Bloc country. I was heading to Budapest, Hungary. I arrived with my friend Dean, meeting my other friend Ben, to a city I knew nothing about. We'd chosen Budapest because it was close to Istanbul, a city we were visiting after, and because I'd heard that Budapest was an interesting city, despite not knowing the details.
Budapest turned out to really surprise me with its beauty and history. The city is located along a bend in the Danube, and is separated into the hilly Buda on the West side, and the flat Pest on the East. Because the river divides the city, there are tons of old bridges that cross the river. And each bridge has its own style and its own history.
During WWII, a large portion of the biggest European cities were bombed, and many old buildings were destroyed. However, Budapest was largely left intact. The bridges were destroyed, and some buildings near the river were also bombed, but away from the river, there is still a ton of very old historic buildings. This made for really great walking as there were lots of great sights.
I didn't know this, but Hungary is also apparently known for enjoying its meat; salami and sausages are everywhere. We visited a market where more than half the vendors had tens of different kinds of salamis and even more cuts of meat for purchase. We also found amazing restaurants sprinkled throughout the city. Many had foreign influences (several were French inspired), but I was able to try some of the local cuisine. One of the most well known is goulash, a hearty soup with chunks of beef. In all, the food options were great, and I definitely never went for lack of food.
So, despite arriving in Budapest with just about no sense of what to do, or what to eat (I only had a place to stay), the stay was great. We were there 5 nights, and each day was as full as I wanted it to be. We even managed to avoid the highest river levels in city history, which peaked just a few days after we left. Besides the photos in this post, I've posted more in my Budapest set on Flickr.