Hi all, here is the highly (not) anticipated Budapest update that I promised you.
It was a seven hour train ride from Zagreb to Budapest, and a humid one at that. I was fortunate to be sitting with a recently engaged American couple (the guy proposed when they were in Ireland) who helped pass the time and we even had some fun trying to guess the pronunciation of various Hungarian towns that we passed. We managed to keep the cabin we were in all to ourselves for the first five and a half hours, but after that the train got so full of people we had to let some others in. It was a humid day and we were keeping the window down to cool off, but an old Hungarian lady indicated that she did not like the window down, so we closed it and sweated it out for the final hour of the trip.
In Budapest I found an ATM and it asked me how many thousands of Forints (the Hungarian currency) I wanted. I wasn’t sure, so I took out 25,000 Forints, which is about 110 American dollars. Crazy as this may sound, I managed to spend exactly 25,000 Forints during my time in Budapest. Hungary is one of those nations that will make you feel like a king when you go to the store. I didn’t get too much done that arrival day, but I did take a walk at night along the Danube River, which was nice.
My first full day in Budapest was spent mostly on the Buda side, which is on the west side of the river and is the hilly part of town. I started out by checking out the Hungarian Parliament building, (on the Pest/eastern side) which lies along the Danube and is apparently the second largest congress/parliament building in the world. It looks somewhat like the American capitol building, but in a neogothic architecture style. After that I walked a bridge over the Danube and while crossing briefly walked around the island in the river by Parliament. The island appeared to be mostly a large park, but I didn’t go very deep into it because I wanted to dedicate time to sights on the Buda side of the river. Having crossed the river, I went south along it until I reached a church that sort of looked like a smaller version of the Notre Dame church in Paris. From there I hiked up to Matthias Church, which is the church the old Hungarian royalty used to attend. The inside of the church was mostly covered up due to restoration work, and I honestly did not think it was worth the entry fee. I imagine it will look much better when the restoration work is done, but if you go to Budapest in the near future and go to Matthias Church you will probably be fine just getting some photos of the outside. Moving on, I worked my way over to the Royal Palace, which these days holds various museums. Unfortunately it was Monday, so all of them were closed (Monday closures for museums seem to be a common thing across Europe). On the plus side the palace has a good view of most of Budapest. From there I went over to the Liberty Statue, which is on another hill separate from the palace, so I had to hike down the palace hill and then up the statue hill. The hike up to the Liberty Statue was fairly step and quite tiring. At the top I had to stop to rest for a little while, and then I got some more photos of Budapest. There is also a fort on top of the statue hill (not really a castle, just a stone fort) but I didn’t go in. I came down from the statue hill near the “Green Bridge” (it has a real name, but is known as the Green Bridge because that is the color it is painted) which I crossed to go back to the Pest side of town. Near the bridge on the Pest side is Budapest’s Central Market Hall, which was closed for the day when I got there. Since it was getting late, I walked north along a pedestrian street up to the Chain Bridge, which was the first permanent bridge to cross the Danube in Budapest (and thus permanently link what had been two separate towns). I continued on to St. Stephen’s Basilica and then on back to my hostel to end the day. Along the way I came across a park where a large screen had been set up and a few hundred people were watching the Euro Tournament.
Day two in Budapest was dominated by a single event, which you’ll read about momentarily. I started out back at St. Stephen’s Basilica, which I had passed by the day before. It is Budapest’s largest cathedral and much more impressive than the Matthias Church. Inside you can see the hand of Saint Stephen. Just FYI, this is not the Stephen who got stoned to death in the book of Acts in the Bible, but a Hungarian saint by the same name. After looking around inside the church, I walked over to the Great Synagogue of Budapest, which is the second largest synagogue in the world, after the one in New York City. Among other things, I got to see the Tree of Life, which is a metal tree whose leaves each have a name of a person from Budapest who died in the Holocaust. When I finished with the synagogue, I took the metro out to the northeastern part of central Budapest, to the famous Szechenyl Baths. Thermal baths are something of a Hungarian tradition, and the Szechenyl Baths are supposed to be the best in town, so I decided to go ahead and drop some money on a new experience (then again, when you do the currency conversion I only spent about 32 dollars total). In addition to getting into the bathhouse, I opted to get a aromatic massage (I wasn’t even totally sure what that was at the time) which I know is completely out of character for me, but I was feeling somewhat adventurous. The inside of the bathhouse is a neoclassical sight to be seen (go to Google images and look up “Szechenyi Baths”. I’ll wait). I got my massage before going in, and got worked over by a fat dude. I do not know what oil they used on me, but it was embedded into my skin and did not come off, even later on when I was in the pools. It’s a strange feeling to feel a bit oily while underwater. I was told later on that the oil is actually meant to do that and helps keep your skin from getting irritated or dried out. Over the course of five hours I tried out nearly every pool in the bathhouse, both indoor and outdoor. Perhaps my favorite part though was the lazy river, which propels people around in a circle. If you stay near the edge you can get moving pretty fast, and I might have been enjoying myself too much, because I had a few collisions with other guests. As I stated earlier, I spent over five hours in the baths, and then had to fight myself to get out. When I finally left, I walked over to the nearby Heroes Square, which is a large public square dedicated to the Hungarian people and features statues of various Hungarian heroes from across time. I also took a look over at Vajdahunyad Castle, (take a shot at pronouncing that) which isn’t so much a castle as a chateau with a moat. I then walked back towards my hostel and along the way passed the House of Terror. This museum is dedicated to the history of the secret police in Budapest, first the fascists and then the communists, and how they terrorized the city from the 1940s up until the fall of communism. I had been told that it’s a great museum and had really meant to see it, but I had spent too long at the baths and hence it was closed when I got there. Oh well, now I have another reason to come back one day.
The next day I left Budapest, and had managed to spend exactly 25,000 Forints (so nothing lost to currency conversion, hurray!). Budapest has been one of my favorite cities so far, and I think is a must visit for anyone doing eastern Europe. After Budapest I came to Vienna, which will be the subject of the next blog post. I am typing this update from Prague, in the Czech Republic and hopefully will be able to type one or two more posts before leaving here.