Budapest, Hungary

After my interesting night-train ride from Venice, via Slovenia and Croatia (I got off at both stops to kwickly walk around to officially have “been” in the two countries) I arrived in Budapest at about 9 in the morning on Sunday the 29th. I had about a 20 minute walk to my hostel, The Aboriginal Hostel (Aussie themed), and I found it with no problem. On my long train ride I spent plenty of time reading up on Hungary, Budapest, and the Hungarian Language (always gotta know at least Thank You – Kosznom, this keyboard doesn’t have the letters with all the dots and crap over them so that is kind of what it is).

So after getting settled at the hostel, I was completely ready to explore the city. At this point I am starting to get out of my comfort zone. Everywhere I had been, English had been pretty easy to find (and my Spanish skills helped in Spain and also Italy), and places seemed pretty normal. But now I was starting to get into Central-Eastern Europe where things were a little different. I soon found out that English speakers were hard to come by and Hungarian was impossible to understand/read, but really I got by just fine.

I chat-chitted with a girl who was staying in my hostel room when I got there, and she showed me to the closest ATM (gotta get some Hungarian Koruns). A little different dealing with this currency, since 1 American Dollar equaled about 223 Koruns. I felt like a complete baller with a couple 10,000 bills in my pocket. I then parted ways with my new hostel friend, Karen, who was headed to Budapest’s World Famous Baths (more explanation on these later), and I was headed to see the main sites of the city.

Budapest is divided into two parts – Buda on the west side of the Danube River, Pest on the East. It is nicknamed the “Pearl of the Danube,” and it was obvious to see why as I first approached the river. The huge buildings and sweeping bridges were quite a site. Buda is the historical side, featuring Castle Hill- A mile long plateau with lots of mansions, churches and palaces. Pest is the more city-like side – busy, vibrant and much like a lot of European cities.

I started off my exploration by crossing one of the bridges to the Buda side and immediately hiking up Castle Hill. The main feature on top of it is the Buda Palace. Also on Castle Hill I checked out Szentharomsag ter (a busy square with lots of tourists, vendors and buskers), Matyas Church (very big and colorful, somewhat dampered appeal though because its main steeple was under reconstruction), King Stephen’s statue, and the Fishermen’s Bastion (a castle like building on the edge of the hill that had great views of the river and Pest side).

After a few hours exploring the Buda side, I crossed the cities most famous bridge, The Chain Bridge, and walked by the massive Parliament building which sits right on the banks of the Danube. I then headed towards St. Stephen’s Basilica, another site to see from Castle Hill that sits in a few blocks in from the river. I had spent most of this days sunlight simply walking around, taking pictures and admiring what Budapest had to offer.

As darkness approached, I headed back to the hostel, and there I met up with Karen, and also met a couple other girls staying in my room. We sat and exchanged traveling stories and plans, and then headed to find a local restaurant to eat at. We found a good looking one near by, and we all sampled some Hungarian brews, and I had roast duck, cabbage and potatoes to eat (listed under Hungarian specialty dishes). Everything in Hungary also happened to be very very cheap, so it was nice to sit down and have some good meals. We spent a couple hours at the restaurant and then called it a night.

The next day, the 3 girls and I had a plan laid out for the day after breakfast. We first headed back to Castle Hill, and after exploring around for a little bit more, we went into the labyrinths located under the Castle Hill and the Palace. It was like a giant maze of caves and corridors (aka a labyrinth) and was very creepy and cool. There was also this one statue thing there that had wine coming out of it. I tested a little, and then saw the sign that said it is not suitable for consumption, I am still alive so oh well. We spent a while getting lost there, and then headed to our next Hungarian adventure.

Up next we wanted to go to one of the famous Baths. Karen had been to one and there were many in the city, but we wanted to go to one that wasn’t very touristy (Karen’s was the mainstream one). We found a local out of the way one, but this meant Zero English to be found. This old man saw us struggling with what to do, and he also spoke German, as did Karen, and so they got to talking and he  ended up walking us through the process of paying and starting off, and then ended up hanging out with us the rest of the time at the Bath. He was a very nice old man, and very helpful!

I have never been to a Spa, but I think that the Baths are basically very similar, but obviously way better, duh. It was a bunch of different pools, hot tubs, hot water springs, thermals, mud baths, and saunas, all of which looked awesome with really neat architecture (mosaics, sculptures, stained glass). We first went into this outdoor pool that was very warm, and had all of these different stations with water jets that would message you. Very, very good for my back and feet that had been doing tons of walking and carrying of my heavy backpack.

Oh and a kwick side note, I was the Only one there wearing board shorts. I have never seen so many speedos in my life. And since we were at like a local one, it was basically just a bunch of old retired people (lots of big bellys and hairy people). So let me burn that picture into your head – Old, hairy, fat guys wearing speedos.

Next we went indoors to the hot tub thermals. There were a lot of different temperatures, sizes, designs and need-based ones. I tested them all out. Then I took a cold plunge in one with freezing waters and headed straight for the sauna. The sauna was very, very hot and had like a minty/menthol taste in the air. I guess doing the cold plunge and then going into the menthol sauna is suppose to be amazing for your heart. We spent about three hours at this Bath doing all of these different things and others that I can’t even explain. But all in all it was a great time and like something I have never experienced. And very relaxing and a great way to spend a good chunk of the day.

After the Baths we went to the Communist Statue Park. Here there were basically just a lot of old statues of commies such as Marx, Engels and Lenin. It was very interesting and a cool place, even though it was a little bit out of the way.

Then it was time for dinner. I had found a place in my book that sounded really cool called “M.” It was a tiny little restaurant that had plain walls with the decorations literally drawn on them (lamps, fish tank, books). You could also draw on your table, as we did. They had a highly animated chef, who the book claims is completely real, but seemed a little of the top. The food was of the Franco-Hungarian type, and I had a smothered steak with potatoes, local beer and a bananas fosters-like desert. Once again very cheap for what I got.

That night as we were walking back to the hostel, a kid stopped me and another girl (we were a little separated from the other 2), and asked us for some directions. He spoke English, but was obviously from somewhere in Europe. It was a very shady situation and I was being very careful of him and my surroundings, and it also seemed like he was looking at someone else the whole time.

We then left him and the girl I was with went to the ATM to get some cash, and then realized her wallet was gone from her big purse-bag. She automatically starting freaking out and we of course figured that she just got pick-pocketed by that kid or someone he was with. The situation seemed perfect for it, and I was being very careful and protective of my stuff, but she felt really stupid. We then went to talk to the police. I kept telling her that she should check the restaurant, but all three of them were certain nobody left anything there.

The police didn’t do shit, and she had a plane to catch in 4 hours, but now had no cards, cash or passport to fly. It was now about an hour later and we were at the hostel and I finally convinced her to at least call the restaurant and of course, it was there, haha. Nice little adventure though. It was now pretty late and I picked out a movie to put on in the lounge area (Team America: World Police, I thought it was very appropriate ha) and then called it a night.

The next day after breakfast I did a little more wandering around on my way to the train station to catch my Noon train to Kosice, Slovakia. It was this train ride that I ran into my first traveling troubles while in Europe. My EuRail pass is not covered in Slovakia. So I got a free train to the biggest Hungarian city on the way that was close to Slovakia, and had also bought a ticket from there to Kosice. But the ticket didn’t tell me a train number, departure time or arrival time. So basically at the other Hungarian town where I had to switch I was on my own trying to figure out what to do and where to go.

I found a train that I thought looked like it was heading towards Kosice (and I swear its destination said Kosice), and the ticket guy for it grunted at me and motioned towards it like I was on the right train. I couldn’t find annnnnyyyyy English speakers anywhere so I took a chance. Turned out that train terminated at the very last station in Hungary before the border. This station shouldn’t even be considered a station though, it was tiny and had a total of 2 people working there, neither of who knew a word of English. So after drawing pictures for them to try and have them help me, I figured out that I could catch a train to Kosice in about an hour from there, and my problems were pretty much solved. I eventually arrived at Kosice where I had my own personal driver, Boris, waiting for me.

No pictures yet for the blog posts. I do take tons of pictures though of each place I go. Hopefully at some point soon I will get them up here, but for now check out facebook those of you who have it or know someone who has it. I put up usually 60-120 photos from each place I go.

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