The Budapest Story

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Three days is too short for Budapest. Oh well, I will just have to come back. What’s a girl to do when there is just so many sights to see? Needless to say, I had a lot of fun in Budapest, the Paris of eastern Europe. There is a lot of similarities between Paris and Budapest, a lot in terms of the architecture and culture. My trip from Bratislava was only memorable in that there was only second class carriages so instead of traveling in first class, I traveled with in a barely noticeable different carriage. The trip was quiet and I found my way around the train station fairly quickly, found the ATM and got 50,000 Hungarian Florints, about $249. I set up alerts through my bank so that I get a notice for every foreign transaction so it is easy to get the exact conversion rate.

I bought a single metro ticket to break my first 10,000 florint bill and get some small bills and coins. I have decided against getting the tourist recommended multi-day passes as so much of these cities, I wind up walking instead.

I navigated the metro according to my hostel confirmation email and came up…outside a huge shopping mall. A seriously huge modern mall next to a 100+ year old train station. I was turned around for a little while until I pulled out the iPad on which I had previously pulled up a map of the area. I found it pays to do my homework and find my next hostel on the map and mentally plot the route to the hostel. When you come up put of the metro or train station, it is hard to tell north from south or right from left.

I found my hostel, checked in and armed with the free map, started wandering around the old part of the city. It was a gorgeous day and I had my camera, map and sunglasses, all you need to explore. I passed churches, parks and found a pedestrian shopping district full of tourist shops, cafes and street performers. I managed to find my way to the central market. This is a huge hall that I first thought was a converted railway station. Actually it was purpose built along the Danube River for easy access to shipping. The downstairs was full of food stands. I have never seen so many sausage sellers. The sausage and meat sellers outnumbered the fruit and veg sellers by about 2 to 1. Upstairs were the textile and souvenir sellers with a few food sellers with stand up tables. The hard part about traveling the way I do is that I have to constantly remind myself NO SOUVENIRS.

The next day, I joined the free walking tour. These have turned out to be good orientations for each city. At first I was worried about hours of walking. The walking part is fine, we stop several times for explanations and photos. The guides for Budapest were the best so far. Emma was the main guide and she had 2 helpers. Emma was very charming, dynamic and fun. I learned a lot about the history of the city.  Most of the city is less than 150 years old. That is because there was a huge flood then that pretty much wiped put every thing there at the time so all the major places were rebuilt. After walking around the Pest side, we walked across the chain bridge over the Danube into the Buda side, which is older and built on hills. We climbed up to the castle, a steep climb and fortunately stopped midway for a break. At the top, we had a great view of the city, very photo perfect day. We wandered past the castle, now a museum, the presidential palace and a huge church and then found some shade for our final lesson in Hungarian customs. At the end of the tour, the guides showed us a self serve restaurant with Hungarian dishes and reasonable prices.

I stayed on the hill to look around some of the shops and visit the museum. I really enjoyed the second floor of the museum that had the 18th century paintings of Hungarian artists. In particular, my favorite painter was Miklos Barabas. The third floor had 20th century, prior to 1945 art. I am learning that I prefer the older masters to modern art.

That evening, I attended a performance of Hungarian music and folk dance. I really enjoyed the performance and picked up a CD of the music. The orchestra was 4 violins, 3 violas, a clarinetist, cellist, bass player and some kind of stringed harpsichords. There were 4 men and 4 women dancers and they did 6 dances, many of them singing as they danced in traditional costume. Most impressive was the women who danced with bottles on their heads.

The next day, I headed out to the baths. I will insert the name later. I walked there. Took about 30 minutes to walk so I worked up a healthy glow. Along the way, I saw a bicyclist hit from behind by a car. He seemed OK, he got up briefly until the van driver and others urged him to lie back down and wait for help. I was encouraged by how so any people stopped to help. By in large Budapest and much of Europe is great for cycling. There are special bike lanes on the wide sidewalks in many places and lots of pedestrian crossing lights.

Closer to the baths, I stumbled upon a ceremony. The was a new statue being unveiled. There were representatives and a flag from Korea, so I guess this was a present from Korea. They had a full orchestra and choir, almost as many people in the orchestra as attendees. I stayed for a few of the speeches and understood neither the Hungarian or Korean translations.

I went on to the baths, which are swimming pools/thermal pools. The Ottomans invaded Hungary and left behind the public bathing concept and the water here is great. They have three pools, all about 4.5 feet deep. Each pool is a different temperature, medium, hot and cool, some with pulsing jets to give you a massage.. I only managed to get up to my knees in the cool pool. They have this cool locker system. When you get your ticket, they give you a watch like electronic key. Instead of the watch face, it is a near field electronic ID. When you close your locker, you touch the watch to the button and it will lock and then when you come back, you touch it again and it unlocks.

So I got a little sun and relaxing, stopped into the sauna for a little and came out feeling refreshed and clean. By then the statue had been unveiled, the orchestra packed up and gone and there was just a few platforms left to pack up. I stopped to check out the statue, which was a composer who wrote the Korean national anthem and who had studied in Budapest.

That evening I attended the ballet at the Opera House. Ooohhhh, beautiful building, very photo worthy. I got a seat in the third/top balcony in the first row. Aside from my fear of falling off, the view was grand. The ballet was Rachmaninov’s The Brothers Karamanov, The main dancers were male and having yet to know the story, I tried to figure it out as the story progressed. Later I looked up the story on Google and I was amazed how close I got.

It was really nice just walking around the city, there are lots of people out and I felt comfortable walking around, very safe. Aside from seeing the guy on the bike who was hit, this seems like a place easy to move around. There is a bus or tram every few blocks so if you are in a hurry, you can take public transport too.

I’ll be back I know, and now it is time to move on to Ljubljana Slovenia.