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Budapest, Hungary

By Dunai Marton

If you’re not into hour-long massages in an ornamented, turn of the century bathhouse environment, fine. You really don’t have to try Budapest’s Gellert Baths. If you despise raves in a 15th-century Turkish bathhouse, with video projections on the domed stone ceiling and belly dancers above the hot water pool, that’s fine too. The Budapest Cinetrip parties will be hot with or without you.

Some don’t go for the bath scene even where almost the entire town is built on thermal springs. But then, why not try one of the hundreds of indoor and outdoor cafes? They are inviting and cheap, especially on a warm summer night. Oh, you don’t drink coffee. Well, how about a pub or a bar or a beer garden? Dollar-fifty pints are not a scarcity, and you get a decent selection anywhere, not to speak of the great Hungarian wines… not a drinker?

Eat. Hearty Balkans, generous Hungarian, healthy vegetarian, various oriental, the occasional American diner, Italian trattorias, Turkish halal shops, anything any time. What do you mean you’re not hungry? In, er, Hungary? (Don’t even try to play that pun in Budapest; they all know it and you’ll end up embarrassing yourself.)

A stroll along the river Danube, then? That’s cheap, the castle district and the hills are beautiful, the summer air is balmy (alternatively, the snow is crystal clear / the autumn leaves are romantic / the spring birds are cute); everything calls for handheld walks. Don’t like that either…

How about on the river? Small boats take you all the way along the beautiful city riverfront to the Margit Island – a water-ringed version of Central Park. Or you can escape the traffic for a whole day and take the river boats to nearby Szentendre, where the artist community has turned a medieval village into an Eastern European dreamland. It’s a day’s worth of a kicked-back joyride.

Prefer staying ashore?

Try one of the bus tours around town; they will show you the conventional attractions with beautiful buildings and statues and the Paris-like, but eastern-flavored avenues and ringroads. Oh, you hate other tourists. Well, you can just go shopping in one of the traditional markets or the famous post-communist flea market, maybe even Eastern Europe’s largest mall, but… you don’t have money to do that. It’s cheap, next to nothing, really. No? OK.

What else? There are about a hundred movie theaters with mainstream or underground movies; the theatrical life is fantastic; major music shows come to town regularly; there are classical concerts and opera festivals. Europe’s largest music festival takes place in Budapest in early August every year, with 300,000 people and a stellar reputation crammed onto the Dockyard Island in the Danube. There’s even a Formula-1 Grand Prix in Budapest. And a Berlin-like Love Parade.

It’s cheap to sleep and great to eat and fun to party and easy to befriend… but you don’t like all that. You know, why don’t you just stay away then?