Roughly an hour and a half outside of Budapest, maybe two hours in an old van, is a massive lake called Balaton. ‘The Hungarian Sea’ is backed by Volcanic Mountains on which a mosaic of vineyards are scattered amongst deep green forests. The hills behind the lake are topped by Castles that overlook the water as boats cruise along its gentle waves and beyond that, meadows of lavender paint the plains. Amidst this serene setting of natural beauty, in a grassy, overgrown building plot on the lakeside, Bani and I shared a nervous beer, as it was in this strange place that we would get our A-level results.
Our friends, and a lot of eighteen-year-old English people, would be heading into school to discover the results of their final exams and in most cases, if they would be going to university or not. It seems that a lot of them had a tasty breakfast in a café in town, headed to school for a little envelope and then went on to celebrate, or commiserate, in a hometown nightclub. Bani and I were fighting a gearbox in central Europe before some German builders took pity on us and let us stay the night on their site. The morning of nerves arrived and rather than enjoying a full English breakfast before heading to school, we ate some sweaty brioche, washed in the lake and waited for a phone call.
I picked up the phone to the sound of my choked up mum on the verge of tears, which was a worrying start, and she left me in a brief, dread-filled limbo, before confessing they were tears of joy. Whether she was simply proud or profoundly shocked that I managed to pass, I never figured out, but with Bani smashing his exams and me beating my brother, we were not going to hang around in a wildly, overrun field to celebrate. Budapest beckoned.
The next few days were a blur. We arrived in Budapest in the early evening and found a good parking space on the edge of the city park and began our celebrations. And so began the blur. We headed to the famous ruin bars before winding our way to a club. The next day we did the same, only with a couple of mates who had flown out to join the trip. That night we caught up, celebrated, and blurred some more. Things got so confusing in the blur that on our first night together, we spent it apart. Jake and Charlie tried to get a taxi back to our accommodation but got the city park confused with the state park and ended up 10 miles away with no money to get back. Bani got lost looking for me and I woke up confused in the back of my van.
It wasn’t too different the following night. The Szechenyi thermal spa is the largest thermal spa in Europe and in the day time is a relaxing retreat in the centre of the city park. At night, however, it occasionally turns into the home of one of the craziest, water-based raves in the world. We were expecting a night out with a touch more water, but really, if you mix a club with swimsuits it can get pretty gross and really affect the healing qualities of the thermal water so, after a few slip and slides and a few bombs, we headed back into town.
Between all the partying and ridiculousness we managed to make the most of our days in the Hungarian capital, and not just in the ruin bars. In the city park is the impressive Vajdahunyad Castle, the zoo and Heroes’ Square. We walked down the banks of the Danube, past the shoes and up to the massive parliament building. It just so happened to be the State Foundation Day, celebrating when Hungary became an independent nation and St Stephen was coronated as the first king and so there were plenty of parades, street parties and fireworks. We crossed the chain bridge to the side of Buda Castle and looked back across the river to the sprawling metropolis of Budapest.
The charming city left a great impression on me. It has a rich history from Ottoman rule, to being the joint capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then a Satellite of the Soviet Union and now it is thriving in its independence with a rich concoction of cultures. I spent most of my time there wildly parting with my mates, and have left plenty to go back and see, but I wouldn’t have changed my experience, it was the perfect way to celebrate that week of my life and I loved all of it, blurred memories and hangovers include. You just don’t get that type of fun in grassy Hungarian fields.
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