After going to Berlin and travelling around Germany in 2021, and then to some Italian locations in 2022, I’d unintentionally repeated two of the countries from my European trip in 2009. When I realised this I felt it’d be nice symmetry to then visit Greece in 2023.
Whilst that was a nice idea, I didn’t really want to do this trip without including the authentic Athens Marathon which is a bucket list race for many runners. When I realised how much planning was going to be needed around making the timings work, I realised I’d already left it too late to plan; so would now be better for another year.
I didn’t really want to go a year without having been somewhere new though, but couldn’t decide where to go initially. When my sister said she’d like to go somewhere too I suggested Budapest, knowing it was somewhere she’s wanted to visit for sometime. The only question was how long to visit for. I felt most sights could be seen within two days, at the most. Although, I also thought it’d be nice to venture beyond Budapest. Could it be tied in with another country? Or was there enough in Hungary to keep us busy?
My initial research was a combination of a Google Search for 'budapest sights' and watching the Channel 4 travel series, 'Travel Man: 48 hours in…' which happened to have an episode in Budapest. I'd used that series when researching Milan last year, and this year found that everything it'd suggested had come up in my search already. It seemed I barely had enough sights for two days, and everything was in Budapest, so I then started to browse a couple of different tour marketplaces to see what our options would be. I saw options including day trips from Budapest to Bratislava in Slovakia, but the price was very steep. This led me to look at what public transport is like, and whether we could do that by ourselves, but that wasn't going to be easy either due to the distance to the right train station, and the times of the trains.
We assumed we'd find something though, and booked flights and accommodation. The flights were tricky to decide what to go with. We could have flown from Heathrow using British Airways, but the times weren’t so good, and the cost was a lot higher than the alternatives. It seemed our best option for both cost and times was Ryanair - an airline I've not used before. When booking through them we had to be careful to get all the extras we needed in terms of checked luggage, and found we'd make a small saving for the airport parking through them as well. However, when the booking for that came through we found that the exit time was the same as the time we were scheduled to land. Clever.
I tried contacting Ryanair, but they wouldn’t fix it, and told me to contact the company that handles the parking at Stansted. The only downside there is that it requires a phone call, so I put it off for a couple of weeks before eventually getting in touch. The auto-attendant for their support line makes you select the airport you're travelling from, in this case Stansted, and then spews a load of information that lasts several minutes. During this time it eventually got onto some information about car park entry and exit times, and this was actually enough to answer my question without needing to get through to an operator. I found that the booking is valid from four hours before the specified time, and up to six hours after the stated exit time. This meant as long as our return flight doesn't get delayed, or at least delayed too much, we'd be okay.
The accommodation was tricky too. Unfortunately we'd picked a period during the school holidays which meant not only would Budapest be more expensive, there were fewer places to choose from, and those that were left were more expensive too. Ideally we wanted somewhere not too far from the sights so we wouldn't be wasting time, but ideally we wanted two separate bedrooms as well rather than a twin room. We'd managed this in Italy by going for apartments with a futon in the living room, and in Budapest we’d be doing the same.
I pre-booked a tour of the Parliament building for our first full day, and I figured the rest of this day and one other would be enough to see all the sights in Budapest. This would however leave us with two full days with nothing to do. A lot of the tour options outside of Budapest would be a few hundred pounds each, so we’d need to consider our options carefully to avoid putting the price of this trip up too much. The best value for money we felt was a bus tour of some cities along the Danube that included a river cruise back, and one to Eger where the thermal activity has created some stunning sights.
It was likely we’d still have plenty of free time to explore, and our plans would remain fluid with no expectations of what we’d actually get to see. I thought it would be nice however to try some of the local cuisine so I also made a list of the local dishes and desserts that might be worth keeping an eye out for.
In terms of packing, this being a city break makes it very easy as it’d require pretty much the same as spending a weekend in any other city. It also meant I’d only need the one camera lens and body as it was unlikely I’d be needing anything for wildlife. I could actually pack light, despite the amount our tickets would allow us to fly with.
My sister had five months left on her passport, but the UK.GOV and RyanAir websites confirmed she’d only need three months on her passport. Sure, it was still a concern with RyanAir occasionally insisting on six months, and only time would tell if this would be an issue. I’d subscribed to UK.GOV alerts in case this changed between now and the day we’d be flying. Our only other concern now was whether various strike actions and airline cancellations would affect us…