My house in Budapest…I don’t own one
We finally arrived in Budapest after our overnight train. Since it was 6am and nothing was open, we resorted to a Starbucks right outside the metro station we got off at. Our next mission was to find Jenn, who was meeting us there. Since she flew in and was walking around early with nothing open, she resorted to Starbucks as well. Weirdly we all meet there without telling each other. It worked out perfectly! Finally some things were opening, but we had all our stuff till we could check in. We headed to a street market and took turns walking around, while watching bags. The markets here had my favorite street food by far! Also there were booths full of crafts and jewelry. We decided on some pork sandwiches and strudel.
After checking into our Air Bnb (which was dangerously close to a kebab and baklava shop), we headed for the thermal baths. Hungary is known for their thermal springs. These hot waters are then pumped up into bath houses in Budapest and around Hungary. It is said that these waters have healing qualities. Since we had no idea where to go, we went to the most popular one called Széchenyi. This one was a bit crowded and touristy, but still relaxing and cool to see. Since we were on zero sleep still, all of us had fallen asleep in the baths. (kinda embarrassing)
After this we had to take the metro back to our Air Bnb to drop off our bathing suits and towels before our boat cruise. We had bought a metro ticket earlier in the day and thought we could get away with taking an extra ride. The metro was packed and all us were separated. Lizzy and I were on the end of the metro. A man in uniform entered the train just as we pulled up to our stop. We watched our friends exit the train and sat hopelessly as the man asked in broken english for our tickets. Playing stupid, we handed him the expired ticket. In one look over, we knew we were in trouble. He asked us what stop we were getting off at as we pulled away from it. We then had to wait for the next stop as he escorted us off the metro. He pulled out a pad of tickets, circled something and flashed it at us saying “8000.” By this he meant that we were being fined 8000 Hungarian forints. (8000 Hungarian forints is equal to about 30 US Dollars…yeah so not as bad you thought) We gave puppy dog eyes, but alas we had no choice but to pay up. As we exited the metro station we agreed to find wifi to let the others know we were okay. I mean they must have been so worried! (Oh boy…I was wrong) Since we were at the next metro stop we had to navigate back to the air bnb. Then we saw the heads of people in our group on a sidewalk. Just as we ran up and tapped their shoulders we noticed the two officers about to fine them as well. Turns out they thought we were the ones who got away. They kept repeating in broken english “8000 or police.” Since people didn’t have enough cash on them in person, we all pulled money together and no worries no one was taken down town. Lesson learned! Buy the fucking metro ticket! Now that we had wasted time and money, we were going to be rushing for our boat cruise on the Danube. We ran to drop off our backpacks and took off down the streets of Budapest. With 20 minutes to spare we found the boat, but we were extremely Hungary (pun intended). We thought with 20 minutes we could at least grab something quick, but the boat person then claimed we had to pick up our official tickets at a building blocks away and then return. So it was back to running. I was so Hungary that I was starting to feel faint. We got to the building and I had the idea of splitting up. Some people were going to stay with all our info to get tickets and the others were going to find a convenient store to get some snacks to hold us over. I was on team convenient store. I took off down the streets and was having no luck. After 6 blocks I found a mini mart open. With only 5 minutes till the boat cruise I grabbed two bags of chips, digestive cookies and a bag of peanuts. We ran back just as they secured the tickets. There was one problem though…no food allowed on the ship unless it was bought on baord for lavish prices! We did what any college kid would do…shove all the food down our throats while walking and getting horrid stares from strangers. (hence the hungry in Hungary) The sleeve of cookies had to be hidden in a cardigan pocket as we entered the boat cruise. I suddenly felt like a third class passenger on the Titanic. Wearing combat boots and a black skirt with a wet braid, I stood out amongst the fancy families all seated for their full 3-course buffet. (We did not pay for the buffet because it was expensive and had no idea that this was a fancy endeavor) We did get two free drinks though, which was a perk. All the first class passengers mingled over their dinner as we sat in a corner, tables away, smuggling cookies to each other. Anytime the staff would come by we had to hide the sleeves of cookies.
Although us peasants could not eat, the boat cruise was beautiful. We headed to the upper deck to take in the breath taking views. All the buildings along the Danube light up at night. The parliament is the most beautiful and I found myself staring in awe for 20 minutes straight.
Oh and in case you were wondering…we finished the entire sleeve of cookies, 2 bags of chips and bag of peanuts during the 1.5 hour boat cruise! (ARE YOU NOT IMPRESSED?)
The next day we went on a free walking tour. Our tour guide, who I sadly cannot remember the name, was amazing and had such pride in her country! Again I’ll just highlight some major points of the tour. To start Buda and Pest are two separate cities, that are now referred to as Budapest together. Buda meant water (you know the river and transport), while Pest meant oven (you know bread and stuff). These two are connected by the Chain Bridge.
Hungary itself has a very hard history. They have been in the hole since the 16th century, starting with the Ottoman and Haps-burgs occupations. In 1867 the Austrian-Hungarian empire was created as a constitutional union of the Empire of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. It was dissolved with the start of WW1. (Sorry trying to be brief with this history) Hungary was on the losing side of WW1 and the Allies cut it up into little pieces for themselves in the Treaty of Versailles. Thinking they could regain their lands, they sided with Germany in WW2. Again, Hungary was on the losing side, and had German occupation. 1 million of the population in Hungary was Jewish at the time and half of them were taken to camps. From 1945, the Soviets stayed in Hungary for 40 years after freeing them from German occupation. Up until recently, Hungary was divided and controlled by a myriad of others. This is the first free generation of Hungarians with the first free elections and capitalism. They joined the EU in 2004 and are hoping to bring up their economy. (Sorry, again trying to be brief, but definitely look it up because it was interesting to learn)
Next we headed to do a caving tour of Budapest. There is a huge caving system under the city. Originally it was used to store wine, but during wars there was an underground hospital. We had to take 2 buses to get to the cave entrance and then were led by a tour guide. Again I found myself in caving overalls and a helmet with a light on my helmet. Since I have already told you all about caving, I will be brief. The most interesting part was when we all had to turn our lights off. We were in true darkness. When you closed your eyes, there was no difference at all! I kept blinking just to make sure I was not going crazy. It was total blackness and strangely calming! (We also sang Don’t Stop Believing since the echo was great)
After caving we did not have enough money for both buses so we walked to the second bus stop. Then luckily the ticket machine was down and we got a free ride. (Oh the irony) The next morning was one the of the best mornings of my life. We woke up at 5:00am and headed to Rudas Baths. It was another thermal bath, but not as popular. We got there at 6am and still had a couple minutes till sunrise. We got to sit in a jacuzzi on a rooftop overlooking the Danube River and Chain Bridge as the sun rose. It was gorgeous and we were also the only ones there! Words cannot the describe how magical it was!!!
Before we left we stopped at our favorite local joint. Translated it was called “The Milk Bar.” I don’t know why but their yogurt was amazing! We have gone everyday since we have been here and had to make our last stop. Their sandwiches, chocolate milk and cheese scones all get honorable mentions! While trying to navigate to the train station, we ended up at a fancy hotel…thanks google maps? Luckily they directed us on how to take the metro to the station. (Yes, we payed for our tickets this time) Then we were off to Zagreb in Croatia! Until then…please enjoy this picture of my room mate enjoying her caving adventures