Part of the Pena National Palace in beautiful Sintra, Portugal./ PHOTO BY Margaret Waterman

Part of the Pena National Palace in beautiful Sintra, Portugal./ PHOTO BY Margaret Waterman

By Margaret Waterman, Staff Writer

After an absolutely amazing week of travel, I’m back home and safe in South Kensington. My friends and I took spring break to the next level by traveling from London to Budapest, Hungary and then making our way over to Lisbon, Portugal. From there, we jetted on home and back to reality.

Budapest, the capitol of Hungary and home to 2 million of the country’s 10 million total residents, is split in two by the Danube River. With “Buda” on one side and “Pest” on the other, it’s easy to see why people say the eastern European city has dual personalities: Buda is filled with beautiful old buildings like the Citadella and is comprised mostly of narrow, crooked streets while Pest is home to gorgeous, sweeping boulevards and boasts much of the city’s nightlife.

We climbed up to see the Citadella and trekked over to Parliament as well, a sprawling building topped with dark red domes. After a long day of sightseeing, we went to Trofea Grill. Thankfully, it was delicious and well worth the money because we took a wrong turn, arriving finally after trudging through the enormous city park and most of the rest of Pest.

The “ruin bars,” located in Pest not too far from the Danube, are amazing. Massive bars fill what used to be industrial space all along this district. The first ruin bar in Budapest was Szimpla Kert. With multiple floors with several rooms on each (including a wine bar, hookah lounge and dance floor), you could get lost inside forever, but you probably wouldn’t mind.

The following day, we spontaneously decided to treat ourselves to “fish pedicures,” which are extremely popular in Hungary. I’m not really sure how to describe this without it sounding disgusting, but essentially, little tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet while you sit in a spa chair, soaking up to your knees. My friend CJ, who had never had a pedicure before, said it was the best 30 minutes of his life.

After that, we bathed in 100-degree water in Budapest’s most famous thermal baths, the gorgeous Szechenyi Baths, which was an excellent way to decompress before our four-hour flight to Portugal the next day at 5 a.m.

Lisbon, the capitol of Portugal, is stunning. I was shocked at how beautiful it was, nestled up against the Tagus River. Built up on seven hills, the houses and buildings (most topped with red roofs) seemed to be stacked up on top of each other, painted white, yellow or vibrant pinks and blues. All the streets and sidewalks were made of small square white stones and were so clean.

We enjoyed an extensive walking tour through our hostel, Home Hostel Lisbon (which I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Portugal), on the first day. The second day, we took a short train ride to Sintra, Portugal, and explored the town and one of its castles, Pena National Palace. The castle, a bit of a hike, was worth the day trip with its mix of architectural styles and its views of the surrounding woods and Lisbon.

After not particularly loving Budapest’s Hungarian cuisine, my friends and I were determined to have an authentic, delicious Portuguese dinner. We settled upon Taberna da Rua das Flores, a tiny restaurant with a 90-minute wait that was completely worth it. We ate the freshest seafood, the most delicious pork and the most decadent desserts (not to mention the homemade fresh fruit cocktails and the Portuguese wine). Some highlights included the steamed mussels, the salmon and scallop ceviche and the passionfruit cheesecake.

While I am very glad to be back in my flat in London (and to start my internship tomorrow), I already miss Budapest and Lisbon. They were two of the most exciting and gorgeous cities I’ve ever visited and I know someday that I’ll be back.