Eager to break away from my politically disappointing country for awhile, I grabbed my passport for a necessary European getaway -- half spent wandering the streets solo and half with my family/best friend during Christmas. Bracing myself for the cold, my soul was in dire need of a cleansing two-week walk through the cobblestoned streets of some not yet explored cities. So, I bought a heavy jacket and flew to Budapest.

Upon was cold. The coolness from the winter winds pierced my face, awakening me for adventure. I landed and easily made my way to the city center by taking a bus and the metro. Budapest reminded me a lot of Paris...grungy in parts and absolutely breathtaking in others. I found my way to Friends Hostel, a minimalist hostel in the center of town that's walking distance to everything you want to see.

From here, I walked all over Buda (and Pest!) for two days. I walked toward the magical Christmas markets by way of St. Stephen's Basilica and took in the holiday air. Breakfast meats roasted over the fire coals, mixed berries warmed the air from their cauldrons, cinnamon sprinkled dough smoked before my eyes. My Los Angeles blood was frozen solid but I could feel the sparks of excitement in my gut. I wandered toward the water and watched the riverboats light up the Danube until I couldn't feel my toes. I settled in for the night to hopefully ease out of my jet lag.

The next morning I grabbed some doughy fire-roasted cinnamon goodness and went to the Great Synagogue of Pest. This beauty is the largest synagogue in Europe and I couldn't believe the detail on the walls dating back to its 1859 consecration. 

From there, I took the train across the Danube to venture up Castle Hill. This monumental part of Buda's history was a great exploration on foot. I took my time wandering up the hill to the castle that was originally built in the 13th century. Over the centuries, many invasions of Buda Castle led to mass destruction, but it was always rebuilt. I went through the Hungarian History museum, as my knowledge was lacking in that department and ventured back toward the water. I walked across Chain Bridge as a light snow started to blanket the city and welcomed the rush of coolness on my tired body. The freezing temperatures kept me alert throughout my entire trip, so I can't totally hate on the cold.

Jealous of all the goulash-eating tourists, I did a little research and found a quaint hole-in-the-wall vegan restaurant, Kozmosz Vegan Etterem. This was THE BEST food I had in Budapest and I definitely ate my way through the whole menu.

Choosing to squeeze in another walk to avoid keeling over in a food coma, I walked back towards the Christmas markets for a spiced wine nightcap. While perusing the different flavors, I ran into another kid from my hostel who knew Budapest very well. We decided to venture out to the ruin bars, which I knew nothing about. Let me just say...

RUIN BARS ARE SO COOL. Budapest ruin bars were created from the abandoned buildings after WWII, and are virtually unseen from the street. Each bar is it’s own glorified thrift store, with different themes in each room and eclectic art strewn throughout the maze-like structure. They are easy to get lost in, which is basically why I came to Europe.

Photo from flickr (By laura aitchison)

Photo from flickr (By laura aitchison)

Open till early morning, Instant had me dancing to a live Polish rapper/rock band and I happily left knowing I caught a glimpse of Budapest’s wonderfully kitschy nightlife. My favorite ruin bar was Szimpla Kert, which just looked like an antique sale from the inside. 

Budapest was such a gem to start my trip off with. It was a great city to explore, with its endless cobblestone streets leading me from one historical monument to another. I would love to come back when it's warmer, but seeing it glow in its festive holiday season was such a joy.