Nursing a few sore heads after our adventurous night out, we spent the day recovering by viewing the sites on the Pest side of the Danube. Venturing through the central district dominated by modern buildings, sparkling fashion shops and the all-conquering fast food chains we arrived at the river side where the historically Hungarian buildings and attractions reside. First stop on our self-guided riverside tour was the solemn site of the shoes. The tribute conceived by film director Can Togay marks the point where Hungarian’s were shot into the river by the fascist Arrow Cross Militiamen in the second world war, the sculptures represent the shoes left by so many before they met their end. The sad simplicity of the remarkable spot is an effective way of conveying the gloomy times experienced by the Hungarians during the war. From the iconic uncomplicatedness of the first stop we followed the river up to the Parliament building. Unaware that we had opted to explore the city on one of Hungary’s biggest national holidays we were wonderfully surprised to find that the centre square was brimming with life. We had stumbled into the St Stephen’s day festivities, the celebration of the foundation of Hungary’s independence when the eponymous first king was canonized by the Pope in 1083. Military bands and marches drew in vast crowds round the buildings and the sleek pools lay on the edge for families to splash about in and cool off. At the national symbol of the Parliament building people gathered to celebrate the holiday as we admired the third largest parliament building in the world, the gothic architecture was nearly as impressive as the 20 km of stairs inside. Included with our airBnB was free use of the city bikes which kindly provided relief from the hungover walk in the searing heat. The welcome breeze of the bikes escorted us back to the nearby park where, after a short struggle, we hooked them back up their stations.
Feeling more cultured, well rounded travellers, we believed we had earned ourselves another night of over indulging in cheap beers and spirits, but this time in the cultivated setting of the public Szechenyi baths. Budapest’s brilliantly abbreviated ‘sparties’ are legendary for their wild, aquatic based nightlife and we were anticipating another loose night but with the classy refined backdrop of the old pools to insert some degree of erudition. As the largest medicinal spa in Europe Szechenyi was a spectacle with the century old neo-baroque housing providing a lovely backdrop, however I imagine the scene was a lot different when the first pools were constructed around the thermal springs. The spa parties are basically advertised as a club in a pool, leading us to naively believe we would be attending something like your average nightclub just with a lot more water. Sparties, are pretty much an orgy. The inclusion of free beers, poor lighting and partial nudity led to an unexpected amount of pool coitus, making being in some strange corners of the pool rather uncomfortable. The unanticipated raciness of the whole event was borderline disturbing, a feeling nicely replicated by the mysterious colour of the water near the end of the night. Once the gloomier corners of the bath had been escaped and certain sights supressed, the remainder of the occasion was predominantly pleasant as the beers kept coming we were free to appreciate the idea of partying in the old, stylish corner of the park. We even established some pool based games created around the lazy river, as on passing of suspiciously stationary duos a gentle nudge (which became increasingly heavy slaps) could be issued to separate certain pairs before quickly drifting off in the current, leaving the blame to be placed on some other poor punters. On our departure from the crazy scene we undertook another of our water based favourites as we created a slip and slide through the changing village, much to everyone’s entertainment. Replicating penguin like dives we eventually made it to our locker, with no unintended crashes into pedestrians and only minor scrapes before heading out into the city.
Having endured the quite bizarre pre-drinks we once again headed for our favourite Budapest night club- Instant. Having learnt our lesson from the previous night we avoided ay dodgy taxi deals and steered clear of all park detours for a more successful night out. Being of a suitable level of intoxication we could mindfully enjoy the club, bouncing between the different rooms on offer and delving into the cool courtyard too. Even on the walk home I had the ingenious idea of picking up some eggs for the following mornings breakfast. The use of which was quickly turned to ammunition to fire across the street at other nocturnal teens in a fully-fledged yolk based war, which we duly won with our dozen oval soft-shell balls.
Waking up to a disappointing lack of eggs made cooking pancakes a lot more strenuous but we it was our last day in Budapest and we were keen to make the most of it despite this terrible early set back. Budapest Zoo was the main event on our itinerary and it is where we spent most of the day. Jake is somewhat of a nature enthusiast with a love for most animals, whether they be farm based or more exotic, and he has a particular affection for ducks, he really loves ducks. Being guided by the BTEC David Attenborough we soaked up the incredible display of wildlife, where some of the previous night’s sparty attendants wouldn’t have been out of place. Jake’s excitement, which mimicked that of a five-year-old, led us around the brilliant park, stopping at virtually every exhibit in the area as we wilfully absorbed the brilliance and uniqueness of each animal. The sloths were a personal favourite of mine, their lengthy sleep patterns and docile lifestyle seemed familiar and appealing whilst the Gorillas also stickle in the memory for their powerful wall banging entertainment. At 150 years olds Budapest Zoo is one of the oldest in the world and the heritage was made clear by the impressive array of activities on offer. We learnt (we actually learnt things) about the restoration of the zoo following the siege of Budapest in the second world war where after repeated bombings, and the animals being eaten by starving locals, only fifteen species remained and on a merrier note, the first Rhino to be born with artificial insemination was at the zoo in 2007. The Zoo contains over ten thousand animals of 1072 species so the zoo wanderings filled up the entire day- and we loved it. Even the situation of the zoo being in the middle of the main park was a bonus as it was only a short walk from our accommodation. Budapest really does have it all. The nightlife, spas, historic monuments and amazing architecture all took our breath away and we were sad to be leaving such a wonderful place, but Vienna was beckoning so we once again bundled in the van and hit the road.