Everything Is Fine, Nothing Is Ruined: Budapest, featuring "Wow, is this real life?"

Everything Is Fine, Nothing Is Ruined: Budapest, featuring "Wow, is this real life?"

Everything is fine, nothing is ruined was a key phrase I learned during my stay in Budapest. That, along with Whatever brings you pleasure.


“Great, we have to get used to a whole other language now,” Emma and I despaired as we spilled out into the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport with our ever expanding* luggage. There were entirely unrecognizable words like bejárat and kijárat posted everywhere. At least toalett was familiar.

And that reaction how you know we had more than acclimated to the idea that we were traveling the world as if it were ours to rule. (Coincidentally, it is, but don’t tell anyone yet. Our uprising is still underway.)

High five in Budapest, Hungary

Best. Uprising. Ever.

…ahem. I haven’t even gotten started and I’ve already digressed.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I had been recapping my recent three week stint in Europe. My maiden voyage overseas. The unbelievable, unreal, what-is-life-even, this-doesn’t-happen-to-people trip that has ruined me for whatever semblance of Normal Life I’d been holding onto. Granted, there wasn’t much normal to begin with, but, still. WOW.

* Please note: My luggage remained the same size for the whole trip. Emma had to buy brand new luggage to fit everything she kept finding and wanting to bring back.

Excuse me while I pick my jaw up from the floor.

Let me explain you a thing real quick.

Hungarian people are beautiful. Jaw-droppingly, can’t-stop-staring, ‘holy wow how does so much Good Looking fit into such a condensed area’ beautiful. (I mean, this should make sense since I am 1/4 Hungarian, but just saying.)

Anne Dorko: Hungarian
Such beauty. (Permission to stare granted.)

I’m not sure whether or not that fact plays into what I’m about to tell you. Which is that the culture of Hungary involves a lot of staring. It isn’t considered rude or strange.

At least, that’s what the internet told us as we got back to our hotel and searched all manners of “Why are they staring at me?” and “Staring in Hungary” and “Staring at people in Hungary” …the results were sparse, but we deciphered what we could and decided it was relatively normal. We also decided it was because everyone was so beautiful that it just became a normal thing to check everyone out all the time.

So, we got to Budapest.

When we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by a gracious woman named Suzanne. We warmed up to her quite quickly. She was our dedicated guide to Budapest for the week.

There were a few phrases we quickly adapted to, the first being that our schedule and activities were referred to as our Program. Everything became a Program. Where we would go eat, what we would visit, things we should see. It was all our Program.

Another was, “What would be for your pleasure?” or “If it brings you pleasure.” Answer: Many things in Hungary brought me much pleasure.

Melange with honey in Budapest
This melange with honey, for example, brought me much pleasure. Much pleasure indeed.

We were sitting in the taxi on the way to the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest and I was attempting to take a picture of the sticker in the window that read “Licensed Budapest taxi”  in Hungarian. Emma looked over and with a voice of aggressive disdain said, “What are you trying to do? That’s a terrible picture.”

(Granted, it was dark out and you could barely see. But still. Rude, Emma. Rude.)

We checked in at the Four Seasons. Up until this point, almost everything was under Emma’s last name. This time, due to my Hungarian last name, they were really defaulting to ask for me everywhere.

This was okay with me.

We checked in after a quick detour about a dance performance that didn’t pan out, but the hotel was splendid, then Suzanne took us out to eat for dinner where we discovered two very important things about Hungary: portion sizes and pálinka.

Suzanne had laughed and said, “You must be very hungry!” after we’d ordered. We were, but didn’t understand why it was so funny.

Until our plates arrived.

Emma and I had both ordered wiener schnitzel, and both of us being the lovable idiots that we are… didn’t really know what it was. We just recognized it because of the American chain.

So when two dishes featuring flat, breaded, enormous pieces of ???? came out, we shared a look as if to say What have we done.

It was good, but we’d also both ordered additional soups and other food to eat as appetizers. Appetizers which really were practically meal sizes all on their own.

About this pálinka, though.

Wait, back up. Even before that - fresh lemonade. You can go almost anywhere and order lemonade and it isn’t just the boring, sad lemonade you’re used to. None of this powdered nonsense. None of this bedraggled excuse of a drink you think is lemonade.

This was real, sparkling, fresh-squeezed lemonade with fresh mint, herbs and berries muddled into the bottom. This was fairies and butterflies holding the first dance of spring on your tongue. This was mellifluous angels singing the hallelujah chorus in sweet, sweet unison in the chambers of your esophagus. This was the delightful giggle of wood nymphs prancing in your nostrils as the slight bubble of the drink tickles your senses.

The lemonade of Hungary is real.

But pálinka. Hungarians do not mess around. Not with their food, not with their lemonade, and definitely not with their drinks.

“You should really try it!” Suzanne tells us as we curiously investigate this new vocabulary word on the drink menu. We allow for it.

Pálinka is to Hungary what sake is to Japan. Pálinka comes in many different flavors, mostly fruit based.

Pálinka is to Hungarians what vodka is to Russians. That first night, we had to mix our pálinka into our lemonades, because pálinka is strong as a working farm ox.

We slept well that night. Thanks, pálinka!

A brief summary of Budapest.

Our entire time in Budapest was packed full of adventure.

We sampled many cafes, diners, and saw many cultural highlights. We even saw Russia, because that’s still a thing leftover from political unrest and Russia left a small piece of itself right outside the U.S. Embassy because we’re all adults and aren’t holding a pissing contest with each other.

Russian land in the city center of Budapest
Oh, hello there Russia.

I’m going to try and list the main things we saw and/or visited while there. And by “there”, I mean Hungary - not that tiny piece of Russia pictured above.

So! While in Hungary, we saw…

  • Az Országház (The Parliament)
  • Dohány Utcai Zsinagóga (Dohány Street Synagogue)
  • Mátyás-templom (Matthias Church)
  • Budavári Palota (Buda Castle, a.k.a. the Royal Palace)
  • Széchenyi Lánchíd (Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which is where I am in that picture from earlier)
  • Magyar Állami Operaház (Hungarian State Opera House)
  • Budavári Sikló (Budapest Castle Hill Funicular)
  • Szabadság Szobor (Liberty Statue)
  • Gerbeaud Cukrászda (Cafe Gerbeaud)
  • Fővám Tér Piac (Central Market Hall)
  • A Duna (The Dunabe River)

This is definitely an incomplete list but hits a lot of the major attractions we saw, some of which we were able to go inside and really investigate.

As usual, words really don’t sum up everything so a here’s small selection of pictures to give you a taste of what it felt like to walk around and explore:

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These were the sights. It’s incredibly interesting because Hungary is only recently out of the grasp of communism (since around when I was born) so everything is only just now being restored. The buildings range from broken down ruins to over-the-top beautiful restorations… all within mere blocks of each other.

Matthias Church

I also managed to grab a video of the changing of the guard at the Parliament:

Feed me Hungarian and call me hungry.

Excuse me while I dedicate a whole section to food and drink. Because Hungarian food. I emphasised that those were the sights because what comes next are the flavors.

Things I consumed while in Hungary that made me moan inappropriately in public places:

  • Goulash soup
  • Hungarian beef stew
  • Hungarian prepared steak
  • Hungarian roasted pork
  • Salmon over pasta
  • Fresh Hungarian breads
  • Hungarian dumplings
  • Potato soup
  • Eggs that I’m pretty sure were laid just moments before I ate them
  • Lángos - Hungarian street food, which is fried dough topped with sour cream and cheese
  • Strudel - apricot and sour cherry, to be precise
  • Many ice creams and pastries
  • Rich hot chocolate
  • Melange with honey
  • Tokaji wine

Fun facts about Hungarian food! It’s all covered in paprika. And it’s all delicious.

Hungarian pork roast

I would post more food pictures but I was usually so excited and busy eating it that I forgot to capture the moment until it was far, far too late.

Which is how you get pictures like this:

Crumbs on a plate in a cafe
That awkward moment where you forgot to take a picture of your food.

Culture, the countryside, and nightlife.

One time our guide Suzanne started freaking out because she thought she had ruined part of our Program. Which is when and where we started using the phrase “Everything is fine, nothing is ruined” to help console her.

Everything is fine, nothing is ruined.

Művészetek Palotája - or in English, the Palace of Arts - was a place we spent a lot of time at. First, to see an art gallery followed by a concert featuring the works of Schubert.

Emma took a forbidden photo of the event.

Művészetek Palotája

Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.

She took this picture from up in the balcony, where we moved to after being scolded by an angry woman in front of us who was sick of hearing Suzanne’s quiet English translations for us.

Later that weekend we returned to see the premier showing of Infernal Ball, which was accurately described in the brochure as an LSD trip. A contemporary dance piece featuring a Russian dance troupe, there is no way I can even describe to you what it was we witnessed… but it was amazing.

We’d also briefly discovered what are known as the Ruin Pubs: an interesting phenomenon where bars have opened up in the ruins of old buildings that no one could afford to restore.

There were bunches of them, including Szimpla, Iskola, and Instant.

Szimpla seemed like a really neat place if you wanted to just go chill with a group of friends. Iskola (“School” in Hungarian) was fascinating and was in the ruins of an old school - the bottom level is the bar and restaurant, the upper level rooms are rented out to artists. Instant had some excellent music to dance to. Each room had a different DJ and vibe, you picked your favorite and danced till you were done.

Full-size female doll figures on a balcony.
Iskola! Keeping you on your toes from the start.

Hungary is full of character, isn’t it?

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We also took a few days out in Szeged, which is a countryside city about two hours East of Budapest.

The staring got worse in Szeged, but we still very much enjoyed our stay - which included a full day at Hagymatikum, a spa in Makó. On our way back from exploring Szeged, we stopped by Ópusztaszer Emlékpark, a historic park featuring many interactive and unique presentations of the Magyar.

Hungarian history

I almost got to hold a falcon there, but I didn’t.

Budapest was still there when we got back, the Four Seasons greeted me with a “Welcome back, Ms. Dorko.”

We checked in just long enough to put our bags down, shower, and get dressed to go out and actually enjoy a weekend day out at the ruin pubs. We settled on Instant, as it had separate rooms for a variety of different music to try out. We ended up settling on an odd room downstairs with electro gypsy swing - which is every bit as strange and amazing as it sounds.

We made it back to the hotel around 3am to finish up packing, ordered some early breakfast, and got downstairs to leave with everything in the taxi by 4:30am… just in time to make it to the airport for our departing flight.

This honestly has been the shortest version of Budapest I could put together, while still giving you a taste of what the experience was like. There were so many moments  (like Emma showing me up at archery #$%^&!!) that would just take forever to regale you with in one brief summary.

Long story short, I loved Budapest.

So hard.

In closing, here’s me standing at the Zero Kilometer stone.

anne-dorko-hungary-zero-point