Until approximately two years ago, I really hadn’t seen that much of Europe. I guess the thinking was: ‘it’s so close, I’ll definitely go at some point’. But then you realise that real life is creeping up on you and you haven’t explored the cities, or countries, on your doorstep.
Budapest has been on my travel bucket list for the last few years, and Serbia even longer, so this year I finally combined the two trips in one…
B U D A P E S T | H U N G A R Y :
We eased ourselves into the trip by visiting the Rudas thermal baths. This may sound odd, but Budapest is known as the ‘City of Baths’ as there are plenty of thermal springs around. The traditional Turkish baths are a relic from the Ottoman Empire, and offer the chance to relax and unwind.
My friend and I arrived on the ‘women only’ swimming day, and I was relieved to see a sign on the wall that said: ‘no nude bathing’. Until I took one step further inside the cave like room and realised almost everyone in sight was naked. At one point an older lady was standing very close behind me – so close in fact, she bumped into me… I guess it just added to the overall experience, but nonetheless, I awkwardly retreated to the sauna.
At the weekend (specifically on Saturdays) there are thermal bath parties, from 10 pm – 4 am, but we only stayed in Budapest during the week.
After the baths, we visited the National Hungarian museum – there was a lot of history to take in. I’d definitely recommend visiting this museum, and setting aside a good few hours to get around everything and to appreciate just how much life has changed in Hungary over the years.
In the evening we headed to Szimpla Kert ruin bar, described by Google as ‘one of the most famous ruin bars in Budapest’. If you’ve never been to Budapest then you might not know about the ruin bars, but these bars are a gem of the city. They’re all individual, quirky bars, full of character and personality.
The next day we headed to Fisherman’s Bastion – an absolute must if you visit the city. This beautiful vantage point allows you to look over the Danube and across the whole city.
It also compliments the evening walking tour that we took part in. I believe walking tours are a great way to see a city, to meet new and like minded people, and to learn about the history of a city from someone who is local and/or passionate. The tour was really interesting and we learnt loads.
For instance, Budapest used to be three separate areas; Buda, Pest, and Óbuda (which literally translates to ‘old’ Buda). The three places came together to become ‘Budapest’, but the ‘Buda’ side of the river (where Fisherman’s Bastion is located) is known to be hilly, steep and mountainous, whereas the ‘Pest’ side is flat.
After the evening walking tour (highly recommended), we joined a ruin bar crawl. We figured this would be a good way to explore some of the best bars in Budapest and check out the now infamous nightlife. Overall, I thought the bar crawl was really good fun until the second to last bar, which was more like a club, so we ended up losing the rest of the group, but apart from that, it was good!
I definitely think Budapest has a lot to offer in terms of a weekend break. And even though I’ve only just got home, I really want to go back for longer. I want to do more, see more, learn more. And I’d like to experience it in every season, not just summer (although it was glorious).
After a few magical days in Budapest, we headed to the airport to catch our bus to Serbia for the next leg of our adventure.
We thought it would be simple to cross the border from Hungary to Serbia and vice versa. We thought the journey would take approximately 4 hours because that is how long it is advertised as taking. But this was not the case in real life. During each journey we got stuck at the border for 2 or more hours, making the total journey time 6.5 hours on the way and 6.5 hours on the way back (including a 30 minute break after spending 2 hours at the border?!). I suppose it was straightforward enough, but it took way longer than anticipated – you have been warned.
N O V I S A D | S E R B I A :
When we visited Budapest, the purpose was to see and experience Budapest, but the reason for visiting Novi Sad was specifically to go to Exit festival, which is held in this incredible fortress – Petrovaradin Fortress to be precise. It looks way more magical at night when it’s dark and lit up, but the sunrise in the morning is really special.
The festival was a totally different experience to other festivals abroad (including Ultra, Croatia), for a start it was in this huge magical fortress, but also there were so many stages, so many cool things happening, and interesting bands. I mean, we saw Jake Bugg, Years & Years, Jason Derulo, Duke Dumont (a favourite), and Robin Schulz (to name a few).
Something I really liked, but that also surprised me, people would come up to my friends and I and start chatting away in Serbian and we would have to stop them and explain that we’re English. It felt like we were at this huge local festival, and we were part of something bigger than just us. It didn’t feel like this huge international event, as Ultra previously had.
During the day, we hung out at the beach, which is super cool! And unexpected as Serbia is a landlocked country. It’s got your classic beach holiday vibes – loud booming music, bars, beach area, but also there were families, and a grassy park type area away from the booming music – it really felt like there was something for everyone.
I would seriously recommend going to Exit festival – it was a great experience (which reminds me: the only real downside was all of the dust. I guess this was a good thing because it meant it wasn’t raining, but to begin with, we couldn’t figure out why everyone was wearing these surgical-looking face masks… after a day and night of coughing, and generally feeling a bit under the weather, we figured it out).
Aside from the festival, I would love to go back to Serbia, to see more of the country and to learn more about it. The architecture we saw in the town was so beautiful, I feel very lucky to have seen it at all.
One of the things I’ve come away from this trip with, is the desire to learn more about the history of Eastern Europe. In particular, I want to know more about the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire. If you have any book recommendations for these topics, please leave your comments below!