Welcome intrepid European traveller! You join us halfway through our group trip to Budapest for New Year’s Eve. In this article you will learn all about some of the other wonderful things we did that are perfect for a mid-winter break to Budapest; the Baths, the Opera House and New Year’s Eve itself.
The Opera House
The Hungarian State Opera House, or Magyar Allami Operahaz as it’s known in Hungarian, is a wonderful building built in the neo-Renaissance style. Yes I had to look this up again, but all the information came flooding back, from our friend Luke’s dulcet tones as he read from his trusty guide book. The architecture has a decidedly musical theme boasting sculptures of famous Hungarian composers.
As with many opera houses East of Vienna, tickets can be purchased for a fraction of the cost you may expect. Ticket prices here start at around £7. Mr Fluskey and I were keen to see a show but unfortunately, all the tickets were sold out, and so we returned the following day to take one of the great value tours around the building. They are around the same price as a cheap ticket so either way, you’ll have fun for less than a tenner.
We learnt lots about the Opera House’s history, its links to the Royal Family (when it was inevitably known as the Royal Opera House) and the intricacies of the building. Mosaics, brocade wall coverings and paintings line the walls and ceilings. There is an awful lot to look at.
The auditorium itself is vast and spectacular. The Royal box sits directly in the centre of the viewing area, three stories tall and glistening in gold. There is an area of seating at the very front that resembles leather armchairs rather than theatre seating, the very height of viewing comfort. We were told that these seats would set us back roughly the same as a second circle ticket in a London West End theatre. All this, and it is perfect mid-winter break to Budapest as the whole pace is toasty warm!
The Szechenyi Baths
Stripping down to your swimwear may sound like a crazy thing to do during a mid-winter break to Budapest but Budapestians are lucky enough to live in a city with its own thermal springs. Going to one of the opulent, but reasonably priced baths is an absolute must for locals and tourists alike. We were led to Széchenyi Baths, which sits in City Park, by Luke who was once again tour guiding us. (Below are pictures of the park on the way back through).
To get there, we took the Budapest’s metro, an absolute delight. The trains were two carriages long and seemed like old trams. I loved the station jingle so much, it was my text tone on my mobile phone until I got a new one and couldn’t transfer it over. It still goes round my head occasionally. I believe they now have newer trains but I will always remember the joy of the one we got that day.
The Széchenyi Baths is open to men and women, so we were all able to go together. It was definitely worth checking because this is not the case in all of the city’s many bathing houses. The neo-baroque building is magnificent and we were getting ready to put a big dent in our spending money. However, at just shy of £12 for a whole day and a locker, it was a bargain when compared with other hot springs I’ve been to (Iceland and Bath for example).
We scampered out of the dressing room into minus temperatures that had my toes recoiling in on themselves and made for the first pool we could see. It was pretty cold, not the hot water I’d been expecting. We realised that there was a distinct lack of people in that one and so we leapt out and scurried down its length to the next pool. There were a couple of people doing laps but as we dipped our toes in experimentally, someone pointed out that the last pool, with fountains feeding into it, was packed and steaming deliciously. Hurriedly, we dashed towards it, fingers going numb and goose-pimples covering our shivering bodies.
Clambering in was sheer ecstasy. Warmth seeped slowly up through my body as I lavishly draped myself into the water. I tried to keep my head out so I didn’t end up looking like Jack in his last moments attached to the door, with icicles framing my face. For many a happy hour we lazed, swam, fought against the whirlpool current that was amazingly strong and pool hopped.
It was far too brutal a concept to have to get out and try to dry off. The changing rooms were heated well, but it’s never nice having to leave a something so indulgent. Pink and pruning we ran, en masse, back to the building to get changed.
House of Terror
My friends and I all like to indulge in some dark tourism when travelling. In Budapest, we tried and failed (twice) to go to the wonderfully named House of Terror. This was 2007 and nobody had a smart phone so we couldn’t check the holiday opening hours. It tells the story of the communists and fascists that have made their mark on Hungary. When I go back to Budapest, I’ll definitely be making a beeline for this fascinating sounding museum.
We looked around for somewhere to keep warm (if you are planning a mid-winter break to Budapest, it may be a good idea to make a note of cafes that will serve this purpose) and found a phone box. Inside we piled! I think we managed over half the group. (I’ve tried to count from the photos but haven’t managed it so far. See if you can.)
Budapest’s holocaust museum was open, thankfully. This is still one of the best presented museums I have ever been to. It was dark, it was depressing, but incredibly engaging. Mr Fluskey and I took a good three hours to make our way through its galleries, the perfect mix of impersonal statistics with people’s stories had us enthralled. Completely emerged in this world, we stumbled into the cafe where the others, who had been a bit quicker than us, were sitting laughing and chatting. It took us ten minutes or so to join in. Truly heart wrenching but well worth the emotional investment.
Nights in and Out
I can shamefully admit that we drunk rather a lot on this holiday. It was so cold out that we all sat in our hostel room and played drinking games. We had made a trip to the off license and all purchased our poisons of choice. I had some cheap but excellent vodka, Dan and Kirsten had bought a vat of white wine for £3 (it lasted them the entire trip) and Mr Fluskey bought something called unicum (hilarious when you’re a student).
We started New Year’s Eve in the same way. It ended in a bit of a drunken blur. Venturing out onto the bitterly cold streets, we meandered through the crowds, sipping our pre-mixed drinks for internal warmth. A spirit of reckless abandonment reigned.
Firecrackers exploded at foot level, and eye level, and rockets weaved their way into the sky. The collective horror we experienced, through our drink addled fog, watching a small boy return to a lit firework is testament to those TV campaigns throughout our childhoods.
New Year’s Day
The next day was brutal. I believe Luke had an idea to rent some bikes and go to see a statue park slightly further out of the city. Needless to say, we didn’t go. A wander around the city and a train ride back to the airport was all any of us could manage!