Published: April 17th 2012April 17th 2012
*sry if these first few paragraphs are weird, they were typed on my iPod.*
Arrived by orangeways bus: decent bus, seats small but leather, had a stewardess, free coffee, and movies. The ride here was fun, I watched some movies, played some games, and did some reading. Slovakia was really cool, I kind of regret skipping out on Levoca and Spisky hrad but I’m glad I had a few days to chill in Krakow.
I arrived at night with no map to the hostel, so I had to follow directions old school “left at the light” style which was pretty cool. The hostel was in upper floor of a building seemingly like all the others, kind of falling apart but cool, old Hapsburg architecture. Building and gated hostel door looked shady at first, but it was great and really colorful/happy inside. Nice non-bunk bed in this one and big locker and helpful staff.
First day (April 12) I woke up, showered, and went for breakfast at the hostel’s recommendation. It was a nice place, I got good coffee, orange juice, and a croissant for only like $5 or less. Then I went on a walking tour which was really good. (this day was probably the highlight of my time in Budapest). We saw all the major sights near the Danube on both sides, and got to learn some Hungarian history (known for revolutions and wars and always losing lol) and culture (they don't like their government, still transitioning from communism, great hearty food, goulash, langosh, paprika, very good, very cheap (3 course nice meal and strawberry beer for only like $7.50)). Highlights were Parliament and Castle, and lunch afterwards in a local buffet serving Hungarian food for really cheap (I had minced meat wrapped in pickled cabbage leaf and covered in soupy gravy). On this tour I met three American girls and a Chinese guy, they were all students my age and one of the girls was from Wisconsin so we decided to hang out for the rest of the day. I got along really well with Neil (his real name is Dafu, but Neil is his “English name”), and we got to talk about all sorts of things concerning travel and culture and it was really interesting to here about Chinese culture from him. Just simple things like that they still have a communist government, but there is some voting involved, and their economy is very capitalist. Also that they truly aren’t allowed to have more than one child, (I was about to ask when one of the girl’s assumed he was an only child, and then I got reminded about the only one kid thing). So yeah we hiked all over the Buda side of town (west of the river) seeing the castle and then up a large hill to the Hungarian statue of liberty. There were some great views overlooking the whole city from there and a cool old military fort that was free to go in and walk the walls. Ok after that we went back to our respective hostels to get clothes for the baths. We took the metro to the main city park which is huge and includes a fairytale castle (yes yet another castle :D) heroes’ square and Budapest’s most famous thermal baths. The bath complex is even more incredible architecture and inside are a myriad of different baths and saunas. The water for the baths is heated naturally and rises from miles underground. Upon reaching the surface it is piped into all the different pools, with different temperatures and mineral contents in each pool. There are three large outdoor pools, and many smaller indoor ones in all sizes from hot tub to pool. The idea is to take a shower with rough soap to open your pores and then hop from one pool to one sauna to another pool then to another sauna all with different temperatures, from freezing pools to 200 degree saunas. It was one of the most relaxing experiences ever, I just felt like melting into a pool of jell-o afterwards (and my skin felt really good). *side note about the baths: Hungarians are not the skinniest people thanks to their hearty cuisine and being Europe everyone is wearing Speedos. So it’s pretty common to see large Hungarian men with mustaches and giant bellies in tiny bathing suits… enjoy that mental image :P After the baths we went for some great local Hungarian food on the hostel’s recommendation again. It turned out to be a great place with a large English menu and pictures of all the food. I got a three course meal (goulash soup, cheese langosh and minced meat, and desert) and a strawberry flavored half liter beer for only about $7.50, gotta love Hungary.
Unfortunately all my new friends left the next day (Friday the 13), and that day I switched hostels to Carpe Noctem Vitae. Which I was kind of apprehensive about but turned out ok. It was a “calm” party hostel so the staff was super friendly and there was always something going on, usually, no make that always, involving drinking. But I managed to take advantage of the social atmosphere without giving into anything too crazy, and met some cool people along the way. I spent most of that day (the 13th
) just getting resettled in the new hostel, but that night I went with the hostel and some new friends to Aqua World (the biggest waterpark in central Europe) for a night swim. It was kind of a crazy idea, but it turned out to be really fun. Giant waterslides and drinking, something that probably would never fly in the US or UK is apparently perfectly OK in Hungary. I had a few beers, didn’t even really get buzzed, but it was hilarious to watch the drunk guys trying to do backflips off the diving board. I just had a good time hanging out with a couple new friends from England, a guy from Chicago named Jeff, and enjoying the slides sober.
We didn’t get back until like 4AM so I slept in a lot on the 14th
before taking another walking tour, this time with a communist theme. On this tour we learned about Hungary’s communist history (they were conquered by Germany and then “liberated” by the Russian’s who just forgot to leave after WWII and imposed communism). The Hungarians quickly tired of communism though, and in 1956 Imre Nagy led the famous revolution of 1956 which actually overthrew the government but was soon crushed by the Soviet army almost a month later. The revolution wasn’t an entire failure though, as it introduced “happy communism” to Hungary, a privilege other Soviet nations did not have. It was basically a relaxing of the communist rules for Hungary, for example they had coke, mcdonalds, and MTV before any of the other nations under soviet control. Some highlights of the tour included the last communist memorial in Budapest, and the adjacent statue of Ronald Reagan (placed there presumably just to spite the Russians and because Reagan liked Hungary and the Hungarians liked Reagan because he ended the cold war).
On the 15th
I walked back to the large city park and walked the grounds and saw the castle before stumbling upon a large flea-market. I had to pay something like 50 cents to get in but it was worth it just to see all the cool stuff. It had all your usually flea-market goodies from stolen watches and jewellery to fake iPods and what-not, but what interested me was all the old military memorabilia. This place had everything from knives, to helmets, to gas masks, to uniforms, to hats, to thousands of military badges, to old musket pistols, and I think one vendor was even selling an old mortar round. I was tempted to buy this kind of cool looking old nazi iron cross medal for dad, to go with his helmet and luger. But I backed down just because it was a nazi thing and I don’t think that’s good to travel with, or even necessarily legal. I did however buy kielbasa (sausage) with mustard and a large hunk of bread for lunch, before heading back into the park for a lazy afternoon of reading and watching people play with their dogs. Before it got too late I walked back into town to the “House of Terror” museum which is a memorial/museum located in the secret police’s (both nazi and soviet) headquarters. Inside is a giant courtyard with an imposing tank and a wall covered in the black and white portraits of all the victims who died there. There was also a pretty moving museum, which was actually interesting and interactive and kind of edgy instead of your boring typical museum. For instance, you could pick up old style “spin the dial” phones and dial different numbers to listen to historical recordings, and there was rock music that kind of emphasized the terrible double invasions of Hungary in another, and then tons of communist memorabilia. At the end was a pretty fascinating exhibit with the pictures and names of all the victimizers (the people who actually worked for the secret police, tortured people etc.) and the large majority are still living and have never been brought to justice, but they just kind of live alongside everyone else. Anyways, that pretty much wraps up my time in Budapest… the next day I just slept in and waited around at the hostel before taking a taxi to the airport to fly to Turkey! (I’m actually in Turkey right now, but it’s almost 1AM so I need to get to sleep, hopefully I’ll have time to write a Turkey update tmrw and get some pictures up, it’s amazing here!)