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Missing the Spark: Why I Didn’t Fall in Love with Budapest

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“Where are you headed next?” my British hostel mate asked me as I packed my bags in my dorm in Krakow, Poland.

“Budapest!” I replied, making sure to pronounce it the proper way after being chastised about it only a few days earlier. (For anyone wondering the proper pronunciation is ‘Budapesht’)

“Aw you’ll love it! It’s incredible!”

That’s how everyone reacted when I told them that I had plans to visit Budapest in April. No matter who I talked to, everyone adored the Hungarian capital. Whether it was the food, the architecture, or the club scene; Budapest clearly had some magic charm that enthralled everyone who visited. And with all the positive feedback and gushing enthusiasm, there was no doubt that I planned to fall in love with the city as well.

Parliament

Parliament

I arrived in Budapest at 7am after a rough night on an overnight train. Having barely slept I was tired, and a little bit grumpy, but eager to explore. As our train pulled into the city a bunch of us stood in the hallway to watch out the windows. It was here that I heard my first warning about the city. “Don’t take the taxis” a fellow backpacker told me. “They aren’t safe and will rip you off.”

No problem, I thought to myself. I planned to take the metro when needed and walk as much as possible. But although I had no plans on looking for a taxi, they clearly were out looking for travellers like me.

“Taxi? Taxi?” their yells over the crowd were the first things I heard upon disembarking the train. I hadn’t even left the station yet and the drivers were all crowding on the platform, pushing past one another in an effort to get a customer. Letting go of my bag I slung my backpack over my shoulder, but when I reached down for the handle someone else’s hand was already on it. “Taxi, I take you” an older man told me gruffly in a thick accent. “No thank you” I responded, but still he didn’t take his hand off my luggage. In the end I had to actually pull it out of his hands before walking away quickly and ignoring anyone else who tried to offer their services.

The Chain Bridge

The Chain Bridge

Less than an hour later my new dorm mates were imparting even more safety advice on me. One of the girls had her cell phone stolen the night before, and upon reporting it to the police, met another backpacker who had been ripped off on the metro; receiving the change for a 1000 HUF note when they paid with a 10 000 note. And the police? Well according to these girls, the police didn’t care to do anything about it and treated both issues as a waste of their time.

Needless to say by the time I actually got out to explore the city on my own I felt the need to be on high alert. I consider myself to be careful everywhere I go but here I felt the need to be hyper aware of everything going on around me. For the three days I spent in Budapest I clutched my bag as close to myself as I could and made a conscious effort not to make eye contact with anyone. Lone men standing or sitting near me made me extra wary, and I made sure I was never out by myself past sunset.

Great Market Hall

Great Market Hall

Although there’s no doubt the city was incredibly beautiful, my visit was marred by my inability to find a comfort zone. Besides all the warnings I received, I found the majority of the people to be colder and unfriendlier than what I have previously experienced. On my third day, while browsing a jewelry store, one of the clerks identified me as being North American. “You are shiny and glowy” he told me,” all North Americans are.” Although I wouldn’t have used those specific terms myself, I knew what he meant. From my experience, many Hungarians are closed off and reserved, very different than what I was used to at home, and as a result I felt unwelcome and unwanted in their city.

Despite my general discomfort I was glad I visited Hungary’s capital city. There was a lot to do and see, and despite the fact that I didn’t get the same feeling from Budapest that most others did, I still appreciated what it had to offer. And, although it’s not at the top of my list, I do hope to one day return in search of my own incredible experience.

Buda Castle

Buda Castle

36 thoughts on “Missing the Spark: Why I Didn’t Fall in Love with Budapest

  1. Paul

    Such a shame you didn’t have a great experience in Budapest, I must have been one of the lucky ones and had an amazing time. I didn’t feel unsafe at any point, however I do agree that some of the locals were a tad reserved – they were friendly enough, but not overly enthusiastic like in some other countries I have visited.

  2. Muriel

    That’s such a bummer when you feel unsafe in a country and it ruins your experience. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to go back and have a better experience.

  3. Alexandra C.

    This is too bad Hannah. I have never felt this way to this extent. But I have had nights or evenings where I’ve felt this way. I absolutely hate getting to a hotel late at night. The whole surrounding seems unsafe to me. Which is really unfair for nighttime and the locations… it’s just that I am weary from the journey and in a new place. I applaud you for going about your trip as planned. And I am glad you saw beautiful things anyway. The description that the person in the jewelry store gave of you is so interesting. I never would have thought of North Americans in those terms but I suppose it makes sense. In a way, on our road trips I am always glad to be back in the Midwest where everyone is so much more friendly. Especially after driving and meeting with people in bigger cities… driving home is nice. It’s hard to explain unless you know it… but I’m sure everyone has this feeling somehow to an extent about their home. 😉 -Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

    1. hannahlogan21@gmail.com Post author

      I HATE getting to a new strange place at night- the worst! And yeah it was a definite bummer that my whole time was a disappointment… hopefully I will get the chance to go back and change my opinions

  4. Alli

    Very interesting experience you had in Budapest! I haven’t been yet, but would like to. When I was in Egypt I had a very similar experience with taxi drivers grabbing hold of my luggage and me literally having to yank it from their kung-fu grip. I’m glad you were still able to see the positive in your experience and are open to the chance of returning again in the future – very important!

  5. Amy

    Sorry you didn’t have a great time. I’ve never been to Budapest, but like you, have heard nothing but good things. I’ve had similar missing sparks with other cities. Not in the same way, but I felt really let down by Berlin. It just wasn’t what I was expecting and I was pretty disappointed.

  6. Chris Boothman

    Budapest really does look like a beautiful city with gorgeous architecture but I am sorry to hear that you experienced a generally cold reception which unfortunately is stereotypical of many Eastern European nations. Hopefully you will head to other spots that provide a friendlier welcome and change the overall perception because it’s disappointing to hear but at least you were able to appreciate the beauty that the city has to offer to an extent.

  7. Aggy

    I can totally get you, sometimes people say that we’ll love a place but turns out we don’t. I like Budapest but can’t say that I’m crazy in love with it. I didn’t feel unsafe when I was there, maybe because I was there with a friend, maybe it would be a different story if I went alone. But it is a great capital and has many things to do, I especially love the view from the Fishermen’s bastion at night!

  8. Margherita @The Crowded Planet

    Sometimes it just happens. There’s something wrong and you don’t get to enjoy the place, a missing spark, you said right. Hopefully you’ll give Budapest a second chance, and maybe you will fall in love next time. The same thing happened to my husband with Napoli, so it’s possible!

  9. Kate

    Sometimes you can have a rough first trip somewhere and the second time is a charm. It sucks not feeling safe though. Pickpockets and con artists are flocking to big cities and can make it hard to relax and enjoy. Maybe take a money belt next time? Hope it doesn’t put you off

  10. Lisa

    We are island travellers and I often feel this way about some Caribbean islands. The locals really don’t understand the damage they are doing to their livelihood by becoming so unwelcoming, and dishonest. We have had such bad experiences on some islands that there are many I won’t even consider visiting ever again. Beauty is no replacement for safety, and eventually the honesty you have written here will deter people from visiting and their economy will suffer.

  11. Jessica (Barcelona Blonde)

    That’s a shame you didn’t have a good experience in Budapest. I’ve never been, but it’s super uncomfortable when you feel like a target in a foreign city. I can’t believe you actually had to pull your case away from the taxi guy, that’s definitely going too far on his part.

  12. Anna | slightly astray

    Sorry to hear about your experience, but I totally get you! Everyone told me I’d love Buenos Aires, and I even fell in love with it before I visited. But when I was actually there, it wasn’t what I unexpected (I thought the people there were unfriendly too). It’s ok! There’s nothing wrong with not liking a city that everyone else loves. But that said, I’ll be in Budapest in a couple of months, and I’m hoping to love it like everyone else too!

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  14. Adelina

    I can’t believe I didn’t read this till now. I definitely know what you mean about the cold and unfriendliness. I completely get what you mean about feeling a little uneasy around people. It took me a good couple months of living in Budapest before I actually felt comfortable. I think if I had only visited Budapest and didn’t leave there, I’d probably have had a very similar experience to yours. It’s really unfortunate your dorm mates fell victim to crime. In general the city is very safe, but yea, police generally don’t really care.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Oh wow good on you for lasting a couple of months. I loved how pretty the city was, and that there was so much to see, but I would not have given it that long for sure. Although I do plan on giving it another shot one day.

  15. Sammi

    Right, when you go back you’re going with me, and I will take you to all my favourite places. We will have a fab time, and maybe my friend Jo- he is Hungarian- will meet us and talk to us about Hungary. He love his country.

    I felt this exact way about Riga, in Latvia.

  16. Rachael (Hilltops & Flipflops)

    I haven’t been but like you, have always been told by fellow travellers “It’s great, you’ll love it!” I will visit one day. Thank you for sharing an honest post on Budapest though – a lot of people just say everywhere is amazing, and while everywhere in the world is amazing in its own way, sometimes certain places just do it for ya! 🙂 Happy travels!

  17. Hanna Fazekas

    Dear Hannah,

    I was very sad to read your post about Budapest and I just wanted to say that I’m really sorry you had such a bad experience. I’m a Hungarian girl, also named Hanna (unfortunately, my name is not a palindrome like yours), and I love your blog and all your writings. I’m not from Budapest but from the second biggest city, Debrecen, although I’m going to move to Budapest next year.

    I just wanted to say that Hungary is a country halfway between Western and Eastern Europe, and unfortunately, tourists can meet bad people here that embody all the bad Eastern European stereotypes. But Hungarians can be lovely and welcoming too, once you get to know them. The problem is our history, which is very sad and makes people really depressed here. You see, in 1920, the Treaty of Trianon completely destroyed my country by taking away most of it, and only 28% of the original country was left. That resulted in thousands of Hungarians stuck beyond the borders. My father, who was an amazing man, often said that “Hungary is the only country in the world that is bordered by itself”. And this is our tragedy. Hungarians simply cannot get over the Treaty and they can be really bitter, depressed, and cold. But they can also be lively and kind. I’m so sorry you never got to see the better side of Hungarians. I feel ashamed about that.

    Naturally, it’s not easy reading about your own country as its a bad place to visit, but I see that unfortunately, you had many bad experiences with us and I’d like to apologize for it in the name of all Hungarians. I know nothing can improve your memory of my country but I just wanted to tell you that not all Hungarians are the same. It’s easy to feel lost and depressed if you are born in a country that has such a troubled past and I feel lost here many times, too. I’m also sad because I don’t have many opportunities, and whenever I travel, people look down on me for being Eastern European. I’d like to be an artist, I always wanted to be, but I never had the opportunity to pursue such a career in my country, but also never had the money to leave. And that’s a difficult thing. Also, just like you, one of my biggest dreams has always been travelling the world, but my nationality got in the way of many things, and my life is hard in Hungary. But it is my country, I love it, and it has beautiful places and beautiful people, too. Budapest is actually not more dangerous than any other big European city, but I can understand why you got that vibe. Nevertheless, I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry and I hope that one day you’ll visit us once again and maybe things will be different. I’m hoping with all my might that that will be the case. I was really happy to see the ice cream that looked like a flower on your Instagram, when you made photos in Budapest. I hope that maybe little things like this will remain with you as well about my country, next to the bad experiences. I wish I could have helped you feeling more welcome in Hungary.

    Thank you for reading my comment. I love your blog a lot, it’s always such a pleasure to read. I’m so sorry about all your bad experiences here. Still, I hope you’ll visit again.

    Best wishes,
    Hanna

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Hi Hannah, thanks for your comment. I totally understand that Budapest isn’t any worse than any other European city. I just sadly had a bad experience. I do plan on visiting again one day- maybe during the Christmas season (I bet it’s beautiful!)- as everyone else seems to love it. Sadly travel can’t always be perfect and amazing and Budapest happened to be a bit of a miss for me at that time. Hopefully round two will be better 🙂

  18. Yesil C

    I feel you, I honestly don’t get the hype over Budapest, it’s incredibly messy, unfriendly, dirty and quite unsafe city. The amount of piss and other human excreta (sorry for the vile picture, but seeing it in person was way worse), drunkards, homeless people, empty and shattered glass bottles and dodgy looking people I’ve seen within just a few miles radius is ASTONISHING. I’m not even kidding. Now I don’t know what kind of lens are other tourists must be wearing, but mine didn’t manage to filter out reality. I never felt safe walking around Budapest, not once, not even daytime. Maybe I’m more conscious about my environment, that could be pretty much the only explanation as to why others don’t seem to notice how unpleasant this city is. I’ve been to Budapest a couple times but I’ve always felt as if an unpleasant veil has been put on me and had to literally wash it off whenever I’ve returned from it. Just no.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      I have to say, I did go back last year around Christmas time and did have a much better and friendlier experience. Is it my favourite city? No. But I am glad I gave it a second shot

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