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October 4th 2014
Published: October 14th 2014
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Monday 29 Sep – Budapest

Today is 23C and sunny. Our hotel had THE best beds we’ve encountered in Europe. The only bed that stands out even more is the Westin heavenly beds (and of course, my own latex piece of awesomeness)!

Eger is a cute town surrounded by vineyards. It’s famous for Bull’s Blood – a type of dry red wine. Nothing to do with animals but that was the rumour back in the 1500’s and it’s stuck ever since. There is an old fort that is being renovated, although you can still wander around it whilst they are hammering away. It gives a good view of the town. We decided to have lunch here before heading to Budapest since there was a 3-course meal on offer for 1300HUF ($7) at one of the restaurants. Unfortunately the service was terrible and it’s a pattern we’ve noticed since Slovakia. If you speak English, the waiters seem to put you in the “too hard” basket and serve everyone except you. We even walked out of a place yesterday in Slovakia because we’d been there 15 mins and they had still not even taken our orders. Reminds us of Italy. Anyway, we finally got our meals and were pleased with what we got and what we paid.

We drove to Budapest, got fleeced on the $13 toll road, found our apartment and handed back the car without issue. We hoof it for the next 4 days.

Tuesday 30 Sep – Budapest

Another 23C and sunny day. First stop on our discovery was the markets. These are held in a beautiful building that almost looks like a disused train station. On first impression they certainly look old world enough with their three massive arch windows at each end. The markets are two storeyed and on the ground is the food – cheese, bakery, meats and veg. The top storey is souvenirs, clothing and take away food stalls. Dwayne found more dried green melon so he was happy. I found a local delicacy called “langos”, which is deep fried bread dough. Was the size of a small pizza and very yummy but it was a heart attack waiting to happen, so I shared it with Dwayne.

We then walked across the bridge from Pest, where we’re staying, to Buda. That’s the side with the castle and hills, overlooking the flat city of Pest. We wandered along the river taking photos of the architecture along the Danube on the Pest side, notably the Parliament and Chain Bridge. The Danube was packed with boats on both sides and it reminded me a bit of boats in Asia that are moored several ships abreast. Given this is either the start or end point to a River Cruise (Amsterdam-Budapest) they were also moored side by side 2-3 out from the docks as well. There’s no shortage of tourist dollars here. I actually thought the Danube looked cluttered with all the ships. There are a lot of Americans here. In fact, we’ve heard more English here than anywhere since leaving Australia.

We crossed the Chain Bridge and continued on to Parliament. I think this has to be the most stunning Parliament building I’ve ever seen. I’m sure our photos won’t do it justice. It’s amazing to think that 80% of the buildings in the city were damaged in WWII. In fact, Gresham Palace was devastated after the war and it sat as an abandoned shell overlooking the Danube, right at the Chain Bridge, until it was bought and renovated in 2004. It is now the Four Seasons Hotel and absolutely stunning. You can stay here for $700 per night.

From there we crossed another bridge back to Buda and found the oldest and most beautiful of the three Ottoman Turkish Baths in Budapest, Veli Bej, built in 1574 by the occupying Turks. The biggest baths are over at Szechenyi but they were only built in the early 1900’s, they’re a bit further out and very popular so we opted for a more intimate and authentic experience at Veli Bej. They limit the number of visitors to 80 at any given time. 2800HUF ($13) bought us three hours in the 5 pools, and I thought the 5000HUF ($23) for a 45min massage was also worth it. So we started our spa experience with a couples massage and then soaked in the thermal pools for 2 hours. The pools varied in temperature with 23C, 30C, 36C, 38C and 40C. We spent most of our time between the main 38 pool and the cooler 36, although we did do an ice plunge in 23 a couple of times. Boy, did that get the skin tingling!!

After we finished our time of relaxation, we exited the complex at the beginning of dusk, just in time to watch the night lights come on. I really like how extensively the buildings are lit. In fact, I think I like it more at night than during the day! It was gorgeous and we took our time going home so we could get night shots along the way.

It was our biggest day of walking today – 25,933 steps (approx. 20km). Our legs are fatigued and we hate to think what they would have been like if we didn’t have that spa in the middle.

Wednesday 1 Oct - Budapest

Segway time! Dwayne and I did a 9.30am tour and it was a nice change for 2.5 hrs not to have to walk everywhere. It was awesome.

While we were segwaying, Mum and Dad went to the Hospital in the Rock. It was a hospital that officially turned into a Red Cross hospital in WWII with the understanding that they would treat everyone – Nazis and Allies alike – but any locals that were inside the hospital were not to be touched and nor could it be invaded. One doctor in particular secured neutral passports for many Jews and he saved hundreds of them this way. And both military sides respected the non-invasion rule.

Dwayne and I met them at Buda Castle and we found a cute little restaurant for lunch before exploring the citadel in detail. Unfortunately the castle, built back in the 1200’s after the Mongol invasion, was only used up until the Turkish invasion in the 1500’s. Between then and now, neither the Turks nor the Hapsburg empire used it as a castle so it’s a National Art Gallery and Library instead. We had been hoping for royal rooms or some sort of palace memorabilia so that was disappointing. Still, we wandered the citadel for several hours.

Before long it was time for our evening dinner cruise. This was my birthday present to Mum and Dad (as they didn’t want my Segway present back in Krakow) and it was their last night in Budapest. We boarded the boat and then went cruising along the Danube for 1.5hrs past all the night lights whilst hungrily chowing down the buffet. It wasn’t a long cruise but Mum and Dad enjoyed the food and whilst it wasn’t as good as we would have had at a land restaurant, the sightseeing made up for it.

On a cloudy but warm night, it was the perfect way to end the group holiday.

Thursday 2 Oct – Budapest

It was a bit of a sad day today as Mum and Dad packed up their suitcases and we all wandered out for some last minute sightseeing and lunch before they went to the airport.

We introduced them to langos and they had enough money left over to get some fancy milkshakes at the only Christian bookshop/café we’ve seen, aptly titled Patmos, playing familiar Hillsong music. The Oreo shake was especially enjoyable. Then we said our goodbyes, although we’ll see them for dinner in Singapore on Saturday night before they fly home. Still, the end of a holiday is always a sombre moment.

Dwayne and I then spent a couple of hours in the House of Terror – a former headquarters of first the Hungarian equivalent of the German Nazi Party, and then subsequent to the war the Hungarian secret police during the Soviet occupation. It wasn’t as terrible as I was expecting. The exhibits kept talking about the fact that atrocities were committed but they didn’t go into details. Rather, they talked about the appropriation of land and how different groups were affected (i.e. churches, farmers etc.). The period propaganda was unbelievable. Stalin was telling people that they were living in a democracy and that they had freedom and were striving for world peace. What a liar!

I didn’t realise that after WWII, all Hungarians of German descent were forced to relocate to Germany, even though many of them had lived in Hungary for centuries. The new communist regime took them in the middle of the night, packed them onto trains with whatever they could carry and sent them to Germany where they had no land, no homes and no identity. Of course this was all agreed to by the Allies so forced evacuations were ok as long as you weren’t a Nazi. Never mind that all relocations were cruel no matter what side of the war you were on.

The most powerful part of the exhibit was definitely the witness videos. That was where the gruesome details came out. One guy talked about how he was forced to hold his hand in a fire because he said “I doubt we’ll get out of here alive” and he lost 2 fingers on each hand as they burnt away.

There were 2 things that I did find absolutely bone chilling:

· One video showed the Nazis bulldozing thousands of dead Jewish bodies into graves. Of course we’ve all seen still photographs of victims and we know in our minds what happened, but this was the first time I’d seen this uncut footage, together with very clear close ups. The hundreds and hundreds of naked bodies flopping around like mannequins as the bulldozer powered over the mounds was just horrendous. I have a pretty strong stomach when it comes to graphic photos but even I had to turn away when I finally realised what I was looking at.

· The statement from the Communist Party outlining what sins called for “internment”. You could be interned if the government thought you were a risk to its ideals or security or was opposed to something you believed, voiced or supported. They spied on people under the guise of peace keeping. “Internment” meant they could remove you from public life either by house arrest or by holding you indefinitely without charge. Most of the victims were prosecuted with lies, spies and other false evidence that the state “discovered”. I immediately thought of Julian Assange being under house arrest and basically shut down from his life, Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction” evidence and all the other unnamed people who disappear or are held indefinitely without charge.

Dwayne likened the Nazis to comic bad guys who came in and killed everyone without questions or thought, but the Soviets were so much scarier because of the web of deceit they wove, trying to sell their people on a fake reality. Sound chillingly current? Same modus operandi, just different governments and levels of scale.

Friday 3 Oct – Budapest

Last day in Budapest and since Dwayne likes steam trains we went to the Transport Museum. They had trains, boats and cars to admire from modern Hungarian history (1800’s +). Was good but the 2hrs we spent there was certainly long enough.

For lunch we had used our leftover grocery items to make sandwiches and we sat in Varosligeti to munch on our lunch. It’s a large park in the city with lots of trails and greenery. On the left side is the Szechenyi Baths (1903) and at the bottom entrance to the park is Vajdahunyad Castle, originally built of cardboard and wood for the 1896 World Expo and rebuilt from stone at the end of the expo. Across the road from the castle is Heroes Square, which is quite impressive. It’s a monument to the heroes of Hungary and is big and grand like the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. From there the tree-lined Andrassy Avenue, modelled on the Champs-Elysees, continues 2km to the Danube.

As our last meal, we went to a famous patisserie called Gundel and had 2 cakes, a hot chocolate and a cooling mocktail, all for $9.50. It was all delicious.

Then we made our way to the airport and officially ended our European holiday. Finnair continued their bad customer service by leaving at 7pm, when our flight was meant to be 7.15pm. Luckily we were on it. We thought we’d be getting dinner and all we got was a snack for the 2.5hr flight to Helsinki (and no inflight entertainment!). So we starved until the next meal at 1am – not what we thought we had paid for with a full service airline.

Final stop - Singapore.


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