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Published: December 11th 2007
andrassy ut at night
this is one of Budapest's main streets.
about three weeks ago i was in my dorm's computer lab when i notice that anna, another girl studying abroad through IFSA-Butler, was also in the computer lab. We say hello, and then we have this exchange:
Anna: I just bought plane tickets to Budapest!
me: how much?
Anna: £20 roundtrip including taxes.
Anna: wanna go?
So, i spent four days and nights in Budapest, and you guys may not know this, but i am 1/4 Hungarian, which makes Hungary my motherland. Obviously, I felt right at home, then, and referred to everyone we met as "Uncle Joe," "Cousin Sam," or "Cranky Aunt Betty." It was fun. In all seriousness, though, most of the people we came across we so friendly and helpful that they might as well have been relatives of some sort. Formerly, I had been a bit hesitant to head to eastern Europe by myself (which is why i was so excited when i found someone else who wanted to go to Hungary) because I thought that maybe I wouldn't be able to get around knowing only English, but just about everybody in Budapest seemed to know some English and most menus were
my first taste of authentic hungarian food
pork in a paprika sauce with sour cream and dumplings. this was the best meal i\'ve had in a long, long time.
written in Magyar (which is the real word for "Hungarian"), German, and English.
We got into Budapest on Wednesday night so we didn't have a chance to do much until Thursday. First orders of business were getting into the city center, finding our hostel, and finding something good for dinner. Getting into town was easy, and our hostel was pretty centrally located and fairly easy to find. I must promote this hostel b/c it was really great. It was called the Caterina Hostel, it smelled like home, the rooms were clean and warm, all guests had free internet access and free breakfast, and best of all, the staff were unbelievably sweet and polite. As for dinner, it was a little harder to find. Anna bought a Budapest guide book that really came in handy throughout the trip, so we first looked in it for suggestions on cheap, good food. however, the nearsest restaurant that the book said would be cheap turned out to be not so cheap after all, so we just walked around until we found a displayed menu that was to our liking. we saw a sign for a pizzeria, and although pizza was not our first
choice, we figured it would be cheap and filling. this place turned out to serve a lot more than just pizza, though, and i ended up getting the best meal i've had all semester. i had this amazing pumpkin cream soup and pork in a paprika sauce (hungarians love paprika) with sour cream (they love sour cream, too) and dumplings. soooo good.
the first thing we did on thursday morning was head to the opera house. The Hungarian State Opera House is this huge, neo-Renaissance building with the 3rd best acoustics in Europe (according to wikipedia). Opera is a big deal in Budapest, and since the hungarian forint made our trip much more affordable than it would have been in many other parts of Europe, Anna and I decided to treat ourselves to some high culture. The Nutcracker was playing on Wednesday evening, but unfortunately most of the seats were sold out and the cheapest tickets we could have bought would have been about $60. No, thank you. so we postponed opera night until Thursday, for which we bought tickets to Madama Butterly for $2 a piece. More on that later.
After arranging our opera tickets, we headed
across the Danube. Budapest is actually made up of two cities, Buda, which lies in the hilly side west of the river, and Pest, which is the flat and busier. We wanted to go to the Hungarian National Gallery to sample the local art, but first, we had to battle the hills of Buda. when i say hills, i don't mean little bumps, i mean there are some pretty substantial hills over there. so we were lazy and took the funicular up to castle hill. this hills would have offered very excellent views of Pest and the Danube, but, unfortunately, it was very foggy out and our view was rather obscured.
The gallery was very nice. there was one painting in particular, Girl with a Birdcage, that I really liked.
After our healthy dose of art, we walked around Buda and had "treats" at one of Budapest's many fabulous coffee houses. THERE WERE SO MANY AWESOME DESSERTS IN THIS CITY!!!! so many, in fact, that almost every time we stopped to get treats, we had to get two at a time. the first coffeehouse we went to, Russworm, was my favorite. it was cosy, nicely decorated, fairly cheap,
and my waitress was really nice. She explained what was in all the cakes and pastries and told me which ones were the most popular. So, for our first batch of pastries I got tiramisu (b/c its my favorite dessert) and an utterly amazing cream cake that is the specialty of Russworm. soooooo good.
for the rest of the day we walked around buda, which is a very pretty area, and then headed back across the river around sunset. most of this time we spent at the fisherman's bastion. i don't know what the point of this place is really, but it is really pretty and good for photos.
a couple of interesting incidents happened during this day. in europe, bathrooms are scarce and often cost money to use. after the fisherman's bastion i had to go pretty bad, so we searched and search for a bathroom and we finally found one that cost about 120 forint (less than a dollar). i go in and they tell me that the bathroom is in the back of the museum. we were in a store type area, so i didn't know what museum they could possible have in their backroom,
but i figured it would be pretty crappy. i go in, and indeed, it seems to be a pretty crappy museum. they had lots of little figurines and some not so little figurines. for example, there was a whole smurf village and snow white and the seven dwarves in glass cases. i also saw a model of the kremlin and another of the hungarian house of parliament that were pretty big (they came up to my mid section). i figured they were just old toys and models and didn't really care very much. however, after i use the bathroom, i come out and anna asks me how the marzipan museum was. it was a marzipan museum!!! had i known all that stuff was made out of marzipan, i would have been much more interested and taken more pictures. oh well. at least i can say that i've peed in a (and probably the world's only) marzipan museum.
the second incident also involves trying to hunt down a bathroom. anna really really had to go, and we weren't finding any bathrooms, so when we passed an open building with no porter at the porter's desk, we decided to sneak in
and see if we could find a bathroom. well, anna decided to sneak in and i just followed her. we very quietly headed up the stairs, and to our amazement, we saw tiles under one doorway but that only turned out to be a kitchen. all the other doors were closed, and some of them had signs on them, but they were all written in magyar. after careful inspection, though, we saw some word that looked like "toilet" on one of the signs and went into the room. it was a bathroom and were were congrulating ourselves on our find when we heard a toilet flush. at this point, anna runs into a stall, which i should have done, too, but i wasn't thinking very clearly and just froze where i was. keep in mind, that we have no idea whether this was a men's or a ladies' bathroom, so i was very afraid that a man would come out of the stall and i'd be left in a very precarious situation. fortunately, it was a woman, but she started talking to me in magyar (probably to tell me that the stall was open if it wanted it). i didn't
round one of treats!
that thing in front is my slice of tiramisu, the thing on the top right is an almond torte, and the thing on the left is sour cherry strudel. not pictured is my super awesome cream cake.
understand her, of course, so i just stood there awkwardly. she started talking to me more earnestly, and i knew that whether i talked or not, she would know that i was an overly brazen tourist who had wandered into her building (we think it was a middle school) without permission, so i decided to at least try to respond to her. i pointed to the middle stall and said "friend in there." Thank goodness she was nice and didn't yell at me.
we had indian food for dinner. it was good.
Thursday was our luxury day. During the morning we hung out at the Széchenyi bath housewith Jayne, a very nice English lady from our hostel. Budapest is famous for its thermal bath houses, and has several different spas. We decided to go to the Szechenyi one b/c the main baths were outside and the pictures just looked pretty. I feel pretty good about our choice. the contrast between the hot water and the cold, cold outside air was actually very refreshing, although getting out to switch pools was pretty uncomfortable. the first pool we got into was i think 38 degrees celcius, which is pretty hot,
the fisherman's bastion
we took a lot of pictures here.
so we had to alternate between that one and another pool that was kept a few degrees cooler. these baths are suppose to heal all sorts of afflictions, and consequently, there were tons of old people in speedos and bikinis hanging out with us. it was pretty funny. at the cooler bath, there was an inside section where there were seats with jets under them--those were nice, and another part of this inside section turned into a whirlpool that shot us all around in circles at high speeds. that was pretty crazy. i kept on bumping into all these old men, and at one point some lady, in an attempt to steady herself, grabbed my butt very forcibly. we laughed and laughed and laughed. that was quite an experience to remember.
for lunch we had kosher hungarian food at a very out-of-the-way restaurant in the Jewish quarter called Hanna. They didn't have a menu, they just brought you whatever they were cooking. We got to chose between beef or chicken soup, and then beef or chicken with potatoes. i couldn't really understand the lady so i ended up getting both beef soup, beef goulash, and potatoes. anna tried to
explain that she can't eat beef, only chicken, so she ended up with chicken soup, a chicken wing, and no potatoes. despite these small snags, i think we all enjoyed our meal.
we ate some more treats afterwards but did not take pictures of them because we were walking as we ate.
we headed down vaci utca, the main shopping street. souvenirs were very expensive, so i didn't buy many at all.
opera night was nice. we had trouble finding our correct seats b/c everything was labelled in magyar. we got confused and ended up being a level lower than we were suppose to be. some lady who worked at the opera came in, and we asked her if we were in the right seats, and she started yelling at screaming at us to get out and go up to the next floor. even as we were putting our coats on and getting ready to leave, she kept yelling "get out! get out!" and she even grabbed anna's arm and tried to pull her out. this was "cranky aunt betty." rude, rude, rude.
i missed a lot of the details of the opera since it was
sung in italian. there was a thing that flashed the words in magyar, but that obviously didn't help. but i got the gist of it.
that's the end of pt. 1. more fun stuff to follow soon in pt. 2.
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