Published: February 20th 2007February 8th 2007
Technically we got screwed before we got to Budapest but didn't find out about it until we got there. More on this in a few.
The train ride from Vienna to Budapest is about 3 hours and thanks to the audio book we have been listening to on most of these trips..Wildfire (18 hours of great story telling! Thanks to Mama J!!) the ride was a breeze. We were spending 4 days in Budapest and made the very smart decision to travel. The second we stepped out of the hotel we were approached by several people asking 1. If we needed a hotel, 2. If we needed help, 3. If we needed to exchange our money.. hmm.. I think I'd save the exchange of the money thing at a bank not with some random dood on the train platform. This place was definitely a little shadier than most places we had been so far.
We headed to the tourist station to try and figure out the best way to get to our prearranged hotel. When the tourist guy didn't recognize the name of our hotel and had to go look at a map.. we had a feeling we were
in trouble. He told us the hotel was pretty far from the city center and if we hadn't paid for it yet he can reserve us a place in the city for a fairly reasonable price. We had paid for it all right.. about two weeks ago back in Vienna. When we had gone to the train station in Vienna to try and buy train tickets to Budapest the guy had offered us a "Package Deal" with a hotel for a VERY reasonable price. When it sounds like its too good to be true.. it probably is.
After getting "loose" directions from the tourist guy we embarked on the challenge of finding our hotel. After a train and then a tram ride later (about 15 mins) we got off on the suggested stop. Well the place was in the middle of a residential area.. and we had no clue which direction to go. Thank god one of us is a human GPS.. after looking at a horrible 2' x 2' map, David lead the way to our hotel. We walked for about 45 minutes..and the only thing I could think of was.. this would have been a true nightmare
had we decided to bring luggage..We finally saw a sign for the hotel..as nice as this place was.. we could not stay here.. we were in Budapest for only a few days and it makes no sense spending an hour getting to the city.. It's like wanting to go out in Hollywood and renting a place in Valencia..After arguing with the hotel ladies to try and get some sort of a refund we decided to call it a loss and get back to town. (We even splurged on a taxi this time..)
After finally getting a room in the main part of the city we walked around the city a bit and called it an early night.
The next day we decided to explore the Buda part of Budapest.. Budapest is divided in half by the Danube River. The Buda part is the older, mellower and hillier part of town housing the Castle. Pest is the livelier, younger and flatter part with all the hustles and bustles of a big city.
David quickly figured out his way around Budapest public transportation system and we were off to see the Castle. It is so nice to travel with
someone who is so competent with maps and directions and he actually enjoys it.. it would have taken me forever to figure things out. We took the underground M2 to Moszkva ter and grabbed one of the numerous castle busses at the top of the station. You can also do the 10-15 min walk up the hill. The Buda Castle sits on a hill and it's more of a self contained city complete with a school, houses, restaurants and the most magnificent view of Budapest. The castle was born in the 13th century and it has gone through many changes since. The palace was taken over in the 1500's by the Turks and they destroyed it. Technically the palace was sparred in 1526 when the Ottoman Empire burned down Buda, but they came back in 1529 and finished the job. We walked around the castle and the palace and took some great pictures. The beauty of Budapest is undeniable from this vantage point. We had read that there was a Labyrinth in Buda Var and thought it would be interesting to check it out. The place could have been really cool if it hadn't turned into such an obvious tourist
trap.. after walking around the Labyrinth we felt like there was nothing authentic about it.. it may have been the larger than life sand made coke bottle placed as one of the exhibits. The most interesting tidbits about this place is it's history.. it was used for wine cellers, torturing chambers, jails and treasury during the middle ages. More recently during the war in the 1930's it was used as a shelter and a military hospital accommodating up to 10,000 people. Reinforced (and disfigured) with concrete it was used as a secret military installation during the Cold War. OH Yea.. the Renaissance Hall of Rocks has the constant flowing wine fountains, which we helped ourselves too.
After the castle we came back down the hill and across the Chain Bridge back to Pest. The Chain Bridge was the first bridge built to connect the two sides together. It's a work of art.
We took tram #2 towards the main market to grab a quick bite. The main market is a two story indoor market with the bottom floor occupied by fruit and vegetable stands and the top floor with souvenir and snack shops with no shortage of fried
stuff. Lots of paprika in Budapest.. dried chillies were hanging from just about every stand. After sampling on some damn good Apfel Struddels and a fried pizza dough.. we headed back towards our hotel. It had been a long day of walking around we had earned our drinks tonight!
The following day we had decided to keep the tourist tours at minimum and checking out Budapest’s famous Bath houses. As much damage as the Turks did to Budapest they did do some good too..they discovered the healing powers of Budapest's mineral waters and they built various bathhouses which are still functioning today. (Some of them are men only, others allow women on certain days.. blah blah) We found one that was co-ed all times of the day and decided to check it out. Szechenyi Medical Baths and Swimming Pool was the first bathhouse established on the Pest side in 1913 located in the City Park and easily accessible through the city tram. After waiting in line for almost an hour.. it was Sat and apparently a very popular day for bathing, we got in. Side note- after a few minutes of waiting in line we noticed that only women
were in line and men were just going straight up to the front and getting in.. I was 2 seconds away from saying F this BS we are getting out of here.. when we realized that the reason women were in line.. was because there were no lockers available in the women's room.. not because of some sexist rule.. I felt better.
The place was a dump to our standards. It smelled, all the pipes were rusted and black liquid had dried all over the walls. The outside pool was ok.. but that was about it. It needs a huge make over..but then again you get what you pay for.. we left thinking the highlight of our day was a bust... clueless to what we were about to see next.
On the tram ride back we decided to stop at Hosuk Tere (Hero's Square) to check out the statues. Once we got off the tram we noticed groups and groups of people lining up at the square. It took a few seconds to realize that most of these people had bald heads, were wearing black and could it be?? Yup we had just walked on a neo
nazi protest. We had read in our travel bible that there was a healthy presence of neo nazis in Budapest but their activities have been confined to peaceful protests as of late. We watched as about 1,000 men and some women lined up and marched to the beat of drums to the center square. It gave me the chills watching these people out there in the open preaching their hatred towards everyone who didn't belong to their race. I am for free speech and all as much as the next person, but this is a hard pill to swallow. It makes me sick thinking that we share this world with such sick, close minded and ignorant people. All we could think was.. good thing Budapest is not a melting pot of races.. I can't even imagine the number of hate crimes..
After leaving Hero’s Square we walked around Vaci Street, the walking streets of Budapest and ended at the Elizabeth Bridge. We had read about a bar called For Sale, where you are supplied with a bottomless bucket of peanuts and are encouraged to throw the shells on the floor... it was a fun little place with lots of
peanuts and beer galore.
Our last day in Budapest we went to St. Stephen's Basilica during mass and wanted to see the Sacred hand church (Where St Stephens mummified right hand steals the show), but we were about two hours too early for the viewing.
Our next adventure was to try to find a giant cave system (16 km long) David had read about (Palvolgyi Cave) and was a bit outside the tourist map, but we had nothing else to do, so why not. We made our way to the Buda side of the city and grabbed the HEV to Szepvolgyi ut and began to venture up Szepvolgyi towards the caves, hoping we could find a bus going our direction. We were able to grab a bus our direction at Kolosy ter, bus #46. Five stops later we exited the bus and headed toward the quarry looking outcrop of rock and to the entrance and ticket office. The tour of the cave was rather interesting for the information we got but unfortunately the number of Hungarian visitors out weight the English speaking ones so the tour was in Hungarian. We did get to see some very apparent fossils
in the cave and were able to take some great pics. After the tour was over we headed up to the bus stop and noticed all of the “pro caver’s” coming from the other side of the road, opposite side the tour was on, covered in mud and adorning headlamps and jump-suits. This is apparently where the real adventure goes down, but we were out of time and carrying our packs. Maybe next time, back to the train station we go.
It had been a full three days.. we were ready to head back to Vienna for some much needed rest!
There are more photos below