Words || Liam Dalton
Budapest is a city that leaves you awestruck upon approach. Gothic, deco and modern architecture meshes together so beautifully that you can’t help but want to see it all.
Or at least so I’m told.
I spent the entire bus ride into the city asleep, due to the fact I made friends with some Austrian bartenders the previous night who kicked all the customers out when the bar closed but invited me to stay back for whipped-cream body shots.
After I regained consciousness and was told that I had spent the bus ride being teased by our tour leader – ‘Hey Liam, what do you think of the city?’ *Snore* ‘Great, thanks.’ – I had the unique experience of being dropped into a city I knew nothing about.
This left me with no agenda, no sights I needed to tick off my bucket list, and no plans. This turned out to be the best thing for someone who had been traveling around Europe at a breakneck pace, only staying in each city and country for a few days. I had a chance to just explore.
Rather than looking up where to go on Google maps or hopping on one of the city’s many tour buses, I decided to make my own way around Budapest by using one of the bike rental stations.
At these stations you can choose your bike, ride somewhere else, then lock it up at one of the different stations littered all over the city.
So atop with my noble, metal, lime green, man-powered steed I chose my destination. Across the river stood an impressive citadel with a mighty statue, both arms reaching for the sky. I took this statue as a sign from the city itself beckoning me towards it, and from there I could scout my next exciting destination.
My illusion of a journey of free-willed grandeur was quickly dashed.
Traversing through the city’s narrow streets, I misjudged the distance between two cars and bashed my handle bar into a taxi’s side mirror, which cracked. Stopping and turning around to apologise, I was met with a man leaning out the window with a moustache so large it was as if a guinea pig had attached itself to his face and he had yet to notice.
Before I could utter a word the guinea pig sprang to life and started to shout at me in Hungarian. I don’t know if you’ve ever been yelled at in Hungarian, but it sounds like a mix of the most aggressive German you’ve ever heard and a demon putting a curse on you.
“it was a straight road with nowhere for me to turn. My capture was inevitable.”
Deciding that perhaps diplomacy was not the best option, and not wanting to have to sell my kidney on the Hungarian black market to pay for a mirror replacement, I turned tail and rode off. Unfortunately the traffic chose that moment to break, and the taxi driver gave chase.
I ducked through the side streets of Budapest in an attempt to lose him, but my three-speed bike was no match for what I assume was the pinnacle of Eastern Europe taxi engineering. In a last-ditch attempt to escape pursuit I swung into a one-way street, going the opposite direction to the traffic. I hoped that a risk of a head-on collision would stop him.
Alas, he was a man possessed. This didn’t shake him. There were no cars coming the opposite way to block him off and it was a straight road with nowhere for me to turn. My capture was inevitable.
Suddenly I saw a garage door open up the road and a car begin to emerge. Summing all the strength I had, I rode as fast as I could as I heard the taxi’s engine’s growl come closer and closer.
By the skin of my teeth I managed to dart around the car pulling out and heard the breaks of the taxi screech as he was blocked off. Looking back, I saw the taxi driver half out of his car, still yelling, while the driver of the car that saved me looked profoundly befuddled.
Finally, free and clear and infused with the adrenaline rush that only a thrilling car chase administer, I was free to continue my journey. Despite fearing for my life every time I saw a taxi I had a very enjoyable time riding through the city. There are bike lanes all around Budapest, which makes it easy to get pretty much anywhere. The drivers are also used to bikes – if you’re used to riding in Sydney it’s a nice change to share the road with drivers who will only accidentally run you over rather than try to do it on purpose (with one notable exception).
Once on top of the citadel and safe from the roads, the view on the top was truly breathtaking. Partly because the fact that the climb up is really steep but mostly because the city is so gorgeous.
Looking over the city I was almost overwhelmed by the possibilities of places I wanted to go and see. I haven’t even had the chance to write about a fraction of my experience in Budapest; the amazing night life, having the best meal of my life, having the worst drink of my life, a drunken bike ride through the streets singing songs from the Lego movie.
However, I will leave you with one piece of advice. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Budapest, I can’t urge you enough to take it. You probably won’t have a life-endangering experience like me but I can guarantee it will be one of the most amazing experiences of your life. (Also watch out for guinea-pig-moustached taxi drivers).
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