I guess it was only natural that eventually I would pit these two Eastern European cities against each other in a ‘City Rumble’, and so today is the day! The capital of Hungary against the capital of Romania. Two cities with similar sounding names (just ask Michael Jackson who called Bucharest Budapest to his fans from the balcony of the People’s Palace) but in many respects are very different.
I want to start with Bucharest because most people would see the match-up of these two cities and presume that the winner would clearly be Budapest. Bucharest does not have a great reputation as a city internationally and even in Romania. Romania has many far smaller cities with amazing buildings built in or near beautiful regions. Just take Brasov of Cluj-Napoca for examples, cities I rather liked. But Bucharest is the capital, and it’s also the place I spent the most time in in Romania when I visited.
Bucharest’s streets are wide, there are many trams and trolley buses amongst the transport options, the buildings are grand and slightly gothic, yet it is a city with so many different parts to it which seem to be at odds with each other.
I stayed in a leafy neighbourhood. The trolley-bus dropped me off near my hostel, it was so packed I nearly couldn’t actually get to the door in time. The hostel was a unique hostel indeed. The receptionists varied. One was happy and talkative, the other was the stoniest face you’re likely to meet in the hostel. There were a few ex-pats from Britain living there and we had a group of Moldovans who had come to Bucharest to get working visas for Austria. They took over the place on many nights and completely ‘owned’ the kitchen. I had a bed in a two person room but never anyone on the top bunk.
This was over two stays totally 8 or 9 days. In contrast I had three nights in Budapest. In another hostel with futon beds and 10 ish to a room in an old house. It was full of other backpackers, the one in Bucharest not so much. Yet I made more connections in Bucharest and very quickly. It helped also that I already had a friend who lived there.
The People’s Palace is an incredible building, one of the largest in the world (not highest, don’t get confused). It’s sort of in an open area, and is actually a modern structure although its design is less so. I took a tour, which I think is still possible to do.
There is a large arch based on the Arc De Triumph. It’s called, amusingly, the Triumphal Arch – although there are a few names for it. Bucharest has (or gave itself may be more accurate) the title of ‘Paris of the East’, and Ceausescu certainly saw it this way. Still, this dates to the 1930s. Still the palace was all his, and basically bankrupted the country and led to his demise.
What I didn’t mind in Bucharest was the open air ‘Village Museum’ with lots of cottages from different parts of the country. It was very pretty and it showed there were almost rural areas in the city limits.
Turn to Budapest. Built on the Danube, it still doesn’t see the number of tourists it probably deserves, which isn’t so much a bad thing for those who do visit. The buildings are also quite gothic. My experience in Budapest was very different from Bucharest. I had a short time in which I saw a number of things.
The Soviet Statue Park was one, full of huge statues of Soviet leaders and movers and shakers, and those involved in communism – which Budapest has a troubled history (to say the least) with – from Hungary and other communist countries.
The Terror House Museum uncovers some of the horrors of the time and also that of Nazi Occupation and more. It’s confronting but worthwhile. There are some wonderful churches to visit, and catacombs too, and the views along the river and just massively impressive. Decent parks and if you are so inclined – hot baths for the weary and those with sore muscles.
Oh and I had a very cheap night at the opera too in Budapest which was very worthwhile too!
Prices are similar, in fact when I went perhaps things were slightly cheaper in Budapest but I’d doubt that now after the economics of Romania hit the skids. There’s an okay metro also in Budapest – both cities have great connections by rail.
But overall? Well, yes, I won’t surprise by going with Budapest as the winner. It’s actually a brilliant city to visit and those who don’t get there when in Europe are missing out in my opinion. BUT – Bucharest holds a place in my heart. An odd place. But a warmly odd place. Does this make sense? Do I ever? But some bad reputations, actually many bad reputations, are not as deserved as people think. What doth you think? Let me know! And May the Journey Never End!