I'm not sure how many countries I've visited in the past year, but the fact that I have no idea gives you an idea. Four in the past week, if you don't count the US. A lot of good flight deals popped up, and I booked them more quickly than I could ask myself if traveling constantly was really the best use of my time. But here I am, in the air between Budapest and Amsterdam, on the last round the world I have booked.
On these trips I've been to a bunch of new places. There wasn't a single one that left me unable to find something to love of the city, but certainly some were better than others. Budapest, totally unexpectedly, is one of the best new places I've been in a long time.
That's not to say that it's objectively better than anywhere else, only that it fits my peculiar tastes remarkably well. I flew into Budapest without being able to list with certainty a single country Hungary borders. That's a good indicator of how little I knew about the city. I figured, like other European cities, I'd go to museums, walk around the city, admire the architecture, and eat delicious unhealthy food. I did those things, but also found a lot more.
Budapest is beautiful. It straddles the Danube river with three different bridges, and along those banks are beautiful old European buildings. But go a bit further in and you also see really well done modern architecture, sometimes integrated with old buildings.
What I really liked, though, was that there were tons of things to do that I love doing. More than pretty much any other city I've ever been to.
Because it's so remarkable, I'll start with classical music. I love rap music and classical, and almost nothing else. The only exceptions on my phone are one Johnny Cash album and one Izrael album. Everything else is classical or rap. But I've also realized that I don't really enjoy going to live rap shows. They can be okay, but unless it's awesome free tickets to one of my favorite acts, I'll stay home.
Classical concerts, on the other hand, are some of my favorite live entertainment, second only to MMA fights. And while I didn't see any fights in Budapest, there are daily opportunities to see world-class classical music. MUPA, which stands for something in Hungarian, is an organization with a huge modern building in Budapest. In the concert hall they have amazing concerts every day, most being only forty-five minutes and costing only $3.25. For thirteen quarters each, we saw the conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic play Moonlight Sonata, and then lead a string ensemble from the Philharmonic to play some Bartok.
Every seat is $3.25, so if you booked in advance you could get front row seats. And you could do this seven times every week. It's really remarkable. My friends went and saw a ballet for $10, which I missed because I did a reader meetup.
That's the best kind of culture, as far as I'm concerned. Easily accessible, cheap, varied, and frequent.
My next favorite thing is the baths. Due to Turkish influence, Budapest is full of amazing thermal bath complexes. We went to three, and each was amazing in its own way. The first was a sprawling luxe complex that had a giant indoor pool, and five huge tiled tubs ranging from 33-40 degrees celsius. I'm not sure what the history is, but it's an old grand building. We spent five hours hopping from tub to tub chatting.
The next bath was open late, so we stepped in at 10pm. It had five main tubs, the hottest being 42 degrees, and the coolest being 28. The arched brick ceiling contained clouds of steam hovering above the dozens of people enjoying the hot water. It also had a steamroom that was the hottest place I've ever been-- and I only made it to the much-cooler anteroom. None of us could handle even walking towards the door to go in the main room.
Then, on our last night, we went to an absolutely colossal bath complex in the park. We got there too late for the eighteen indoor tubs, but got to visit the two outdoor tubs that flank a huge heated pool. One tub was a tepid 33, but it had a giant whirlpool ring that had people flying around a big circle. The other side was 37-38 with fountains pouring hot water into the giant pool. Couples, singles, and huge groups of friends soaked under the dark sky.
What was amazing was that drinking isn't allowed at these things, and no one had been visibly drinking before. It was so refreshing to see people out at night doing something healthy, social, and a bit cultural.
Sometimes I check for teahouses when I travel, but Budapest didn't seem like the kind of place that would have teahouses. I was wrong, though. Our Airbnb host happened to mention a place called 1000Tea, which we visited. We were there on "go night", where dozens of people met to drink tea and play go. We had a middling Lishan Oolong and a fantastic Old Tree Puerh, as well as some really tasty hummus and baba ghanoush. It was so good that we returned the next day to drink a great Dong Ding.
I was also really grateful to be able to find healthy food. Not everything was healthy, of course, but plenty was. My favorite was a place called Pad Thai Wok Shop, which was essentially Asian Chipotle. They had brown rice, a lot of vegetables, and proteins like duck, beef, nuts, and tofu. Traditional Hungarian food was also very good and inexpensive. The first night I had some really nice beef with foie gras and lots of vegetables for $14 after tax and tip. And we got fresh-squeezed blood orange juice for $3 for half a liter.
Budapest is one of few cities that I'd happily go visit for a month. It would be really easy to sink into a routine of work, healthy eating, going to classical concerts all the time, and relaxing in the baths or in the teahouse with friends. I had a great time and can't wait to be back.
Picture is my favorite of the three main bridges.
I wrote this a week ago. And guess what? I've already booked another trip back. Having a great time with friends in Tokyo now, and then looking forward to a couple weeks back in the US before I write my next book on a cruise.
Now that I spend so much time in Budapest I get a lot of requests for things to do there. I'm not always the best at replying quickly, so I figured I'd write a blog post with an exhaustive list of all of my favorite places.
If you're not going to Budapest, you might think this list doesn't apply to you. But Budapest is the Best Place in Europe, so you should read it to understand why, and book a trip there!
Around half of these recommendations came from my friend Mark Webster, a friend-of-a-friend I was introduced to when I came to Budapest this summer. He gave me a big list of places to go and 90% of them became my favorites.
Life has been busy around our house lately. For the past two weeks we’ve seen a slew of family members and then Saturday, when most of them were gone, we trekked to Cleveland Ohio to watch Disney’s The Lion King and it was awesome.
Earlier in the week I was talking to my sister-in-law and we were sharing what our favorite live performances were, hers concerts, mine musicals. That I would ever come to this would have surprised my adolescent self but I do love them. The entire show is a collection of efforts that are so synchronized and detailed that I get a lot of pleasure from understanding that so much work went into creating the thing I’m watching. Venues must be booked, travel arranged, and tickets sold. Dances must be put to music, music must be practiced, and scenes constructed. Musicals are a wonderful demonstration of synergy and The Lion King was no exception. It was the best stage show I have ever seen. Everything about it was wonderful and I would go again though Book of Mormon in Columbus tops my list for next year.
In addition to being busy with family, my book of essays about parenting and life has hit 23,000+ words in the first draft. I wrote for 22 straight days before faltering over the weekend but am absolutely thrilled at how it’s turned out so far. You can read my thoughts about writing it since June 26th.