Riches to Ruin: Fermentation in a Hungarian Hostel.

I woke with a burnt lip and the drys. Someone rolled over on the neighbouring bunk and I ran my tongue around the roof of my mouth. Nothing. How much longer could I put off getting up? An ungodly drought occupied my mouth; resistance was futile and I was soon clambering down from my top bunk in search of water.

It was 10.30am but the room was still. The figures that remained from the rout of morning checkout were quietly comatose and in no rush to leave. They’d be hunting their own water soon enough.

Token tourist snap?, check.

Token tourist snap, check.

Not much had changed in the two weeks since I’d seen my friends in Poland and they were just as rinsed as when I’d left them (so was I). Our settings had changed though: we were in Budapest and, while not as foreign as Ukraine, we were still well and truly East. A homeless man slept on the stoop outside our hostel while the hot sun slowly crept up his leg. Still he didn’t move. Was he dead?

Never not working.

Not dead. (Apparently)

The gang informed me he’d been there all morning. Another country, another alcoholic homeless – it was good there were other factors to tell the countries apart, or Eastern Europe would seem remarkably uniform. We did our bit to fit in with the locals and with no reason to act otherwise, continued on as before.

The first night our hosts from the hostel took us to drink in a park (YOLO!), where a junkie sold Ryan what he claimed was MDMA. It wasn’t, but while we did our best to convince ourselves that it was working Sarah fucked up royally and drank some water from the stagnant fountain. By the time she realised her mistake it was too late. The injury was self-inflicted: the result of impatient hands, proximity to the fountain and an empty wine bottle – there was no-one to blame but herself. We were hysterical. Perhaps it was working? (It wasn’t).

The following afternoon we sweated our sorrows away in the steam of Hungary’s famous water. The baths were vast and we took turns alternating between saunas and ice pools, sweating and shivering it out with the other members of the speedo mafia.


Speedos: A-OK in Europe. 

We walked the old city, where bullet holes from the war still riddle the walls and old ladies calmly regard the street from their balconies. One of these old women approached Mark outside the subway and we were co-opted into providing a valet service for her straining bags, complete with the routine hand waving and head nodding. Here? {Shakes head}. Here? {Shakes head} – and so on.

No lie.

No lie.

Later at the hostel we endured the weak banter of the Aussie hosts and did our best to ignore the hulking torso of Daniel, the young British employee with an aversion to shirts and tragic aspirations of life as an underwear model. This revelation came to light in a drunken display of flirting virtuoso that had no one touched and Dan certainly not getting touched, heavy as it hung in the air. Still, what they say is true and I think he actually pulled that night: alcohol really can make you forget anything.

And make no mistake, alcohol is what these hostels are selling, even when they’re not selling it. Our hostel did its best to hype the party pitch, with tours of different bars and events every night – although “events” is perhaps too kind a moniker, as our trip to the park all too readily demonstrates.  The hosts were affable enough – lads from Aussie, living the reprobate dream – but the routine regression to circle of death and sloppy small talk was about as Hungarian as the bland food they provided every night.

Budapest has exploded in popularity over the last few years and is now a mecca for party-loving backpackers from all over. The city itself was beautiful and seemed to have a lot to offer, but the whole hostel scene just felt a bit… forced. Hyping the party beyond what it was didn’t just lead to inflated expectations but also felt like a money-making scheme, not to mention an affront to any licensing laws the country might have had.

Real bullet holes! Probably from a war too.

Things down the road at the aptly named “Retox Party Hostel” were considerably wilder, although definitely in the same vein. There was the classic loose sex in the dorms, vomit galore and all sorts of other slovenly carry on (rumours of a communal vibrator were never confirmed, but hint at the sort of crowd you might expect there). It was just another Vang Vieng as far as I was concerned: the same garish music, get fucked up or/and pass out trying attitude, and not much else. Which isn’t to say that this doesn’t have it’s own appeal – but I’d done my time and wasn’t overly keen to return.

To be fair, we did miss the infamous pool party, but given the company and their general attitude to life (“just get fucked up, get fucked, Budapest, fucking – fuck YEAH!”) I wasn’t particularly fussed. Perhaps this is what they mean when they say that travel helps you mature. My time alone had provided a harsh counter to the in-your-face hype of group mayhem and I wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Fortunately for us the nightlife was much more chop than the tired backpacker carry-on and we sampled a number of Budapest’s infamous ruin bars: from Szimpla, with its collection of eclectic rooms and baths converted into sofas, to Corvinteto, a rooftop bar hidden in a mall, complete with heaving dance floor – where I am told we had a great time. The blame for my memory loss falls squarely on the shoulders of Unicum, the menacing Hungarian liquor sold in dark bottles reminiscent of the anarchist’s bomb it so cleverly mimics.


Was this guy there? Fucked if I know.

Anarchy aside, we avoided the ruin the bars promised, just, and made our flight to Venice (just). Our taxi ride and the last of the weed provided the distraction our hangovers needed while we struggled to fathom the driver’s live DVD of AC/DC and his refusal to pay the road the attention it deserved. But who could blame him? Thunderstruck sure is one hell of a tune.

2 thoughts on “Riches to Ruin: Fermentation in a Hungarian Hostel.

  1. Ha! I’m an expat and I’ve lived in BP for nearly four years. The ubiquity of and apparent general acclaim for shitty music is something I’m still not fully accepting of. Cool Unicum bomb.

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