I wasn’t quite sure what to expect upon landing in Budapest, especially since the last three days in Stockholm had defiantly been three of the best since I have been traveling this whole semester. Since I had already been to Prague, I figured that Budapest would be very similar both historically, culturally, architecturally, and weather wise. It pretty much was except that when I got in to the cab from the Airport and gave the name of my Hotel to the driver sort of sent the tone for the next few days:
Him: Where to?
Me: Greedbridge Hostel
Him: Is that Buda or Pest
Me: Umm its Budapest
Him: I know that but which side?
(This is all in broken English)
Me Thinking to myself: what the hell kind of cab driver is this.
Me: So do you speak German?
Him: Yes, Why?
In my best German: You are the freaking Cab driver and should know which side it is on.
Him: Silence…..Excuse me but I just wanted to know if you knew which side.
Needless to say at this point I am so torqued off, not because I am thinking that I am going to be kidnapped and sold in to Slavery or worse yet, end up on a farm sleeping with a donkey ( Simpsons episode where Bart goes to France) No, I am pissed off because he has the nerve to ask me what side it is, like we are playing “Who wants to be a Millionaire” and the answer will determine if I get humiliated on national TV at such a seemingly easy question.. Grrrrr.
I finally make it to my Hostel which incidently is on the Pest side about two blocks from the Danube. This hostel was amazing, the staff was amazing along with the people I met there. Now here is the thing that I didn’t expect, from the 23rd-26th pretty much everything was closed, so needless to say I ate at the same place for three days straight and it was a son of a bitch trying to find a store open to buy some snacks in the middle of the day. The way that it was explained to me was if the Hungarians are not busy, they pretty much close up the store and go home. Hey, it makes perfect sense to me right? Except that I am vacation and want to see all the sights! The first day I grab my camera, scarf and gloves and head out to do my best impression of a Japanese tourist and take as many photos as I can. The weather was so bad, all fogy and dark that I ended up taking a lot of my photos in Black and White to make them turn out better. I was a little put out by this because I had heard about the beauty of Budapest and wanted to see it in all of its glory, but oddly enough, the deserted streets and snow covered buildings made me think about the way life must have been behind the Iron Curtain: Dark, Dreary, Lonely, and Miserable, but yet somehow Beautiful, Vibrant, and Peaceful.
Walking the bridge from Pest to Buda was a truly magnificent sight, all of the Castles lie above Buda overlooking the banks of the Danube, very breathtaking. Buda and Pest were two separate town, Pest the Industrial and Buda the more affluent and artesian. The two towns came together only after someone had the foresight to actually build a bridge connecting the two. Budapest actually boasts a few firsts, it was the first city in continental Europe to have a Subway (1850 I think) and more recently, it was the first country to open its boarders with Germany in the 1990’s contributing to the fall of the Iron Curtain. The main church which surrounds the imperial palace in Buda has an interesting story in its self. It seems that when the Muslims conquered Buda, they had turned the catholic church into a mosque, which is what was typically done. However, the Story goes that a mysterious explosion at a ammunition dump close to the church caused a statue of the Virgin Mary to be exposed within the mosque in the middle of afternoon pray. Needless tot say that the appearance of Mary inspired to Maygars to rise up against the Muslims and the Muslims naturally took it as a bad omen and didn’t want anything to do with that church again.
Anyways, on Christmas day, I ended up meeting 5 Brazilians who were on holiday, I know what you are thinking, but three study in England and one in Stockholm, so it makes total sense. We managed to find a place that was open and ate and drank wine all night long until they kicked us out. It sort of reminded me of my Christmas Eves back in San Diego where I usually gather with friends and we all have a humongous dinner followed by wine and drinks. So it was a comfortable situation for me to say the least and the highlight was definitely on the trek back watching the girls experience their first snow fall. High Comedy for sure. I was at a loss for what to do on Christmas day so I did what anybody would do in my situation, I went and got a 3 hour long Tai massage, it was so cheap, I think I actually made money on the damn thing!
The next day, I faced a dilemma. Budapest is know for it’s thermal baths but I also wanted to go Caving with my friends that I had met in my hostel and I knew something had to give, so me being me rationalized that since I already had a three hour Tai Massage, then what the heck did I need to go to a thermal bath for? So 5 of us decide to go and make the journey to just outside of Buda and see what kind go trouble we can get into. After getting suited up, we outside and follow the path down to the cave where we are greeted by a giant metal door. To put this in perspective, its pitch black outside, the only lights we have are our caving lights, its cold and these doors look like the entrance way to a satanic cults sacrificial alter. It actually wouldn’t have surprised me if a Vampire appeared out of nowhere and started battling with a Werewolf. Into the cave we go, we wind up about 40 meters beneath Buda and all is going well until I GET STUCK. Yep, the fat man got stuck. I felt like Poohbear stuck in a honey pot. I’m not going to lie, I panicked for about a second, then cooler heads prevailed, well sort of. I get the instructions to “Breath in and Hold On” WTF?? Breath in an Hold on, whats this crazy Hungarian going to do to me? I knew I should have gone to the baths. Three hard tugs on my jumper and I go popping out like the timer on a perfectly cooked turkey. Good times, Good times.
So Budapest, what can I say besides I would like to go back and see it in the summertime when everything is opened and the scenery is perfect. Because honestly, after being in eastern Europe in the winter time, it is easy to figure out why they never smile but then again it might be because the People that oppressed them for 50 years are now the lifeblood of the tourist industry. What a mad mad place we live……..