I am going to try to post about my travels at the end of the weekend, so during the weekend. Though I have not been in Europe for a week, it is Sunday.
It has been completely amazing to be in Budapest and seeing my friend after such a long time. We met in a Spanish class in Spain when I took my gap year five years ago and have not seen each other since. When she picked me up from the airport, it was like no time has passed. I truly missed her.
Going forward, I will call her SJ because she is from Japan and we speak Spanish with each other. She knows English, but because we met under Spanish terms, it is strange to speak in English to each other. Friends from the ruin pub, later in this post, were surprised that we didn’t speak English with each other. It’s normal not to. She also informed me that my American accent is a bit difficult to understand since she learned the English English. So we are two people from two different countries, speaking Spanish (which isn’t our native language), in Hungary. It is a bit funny.
Her apartment is pretty much in the heart of the city. I have walked to the majority of sights. The Danube River is two blocks away and across is the Parliament. After dropping off my bags, we walked around the area. It was a lovely night and the city was all lit. We walked to the top of Castle Hill. So named because it holds the old castle. There was a little bit of rain, but it did not subtract from the view at all.
The old castle now holds at least three different operations- the Budapest History Museum, the National Gallery, and a library. Budapest has a very lively history. It originally was two cities: Pest and Buda and then it became Pest-Buda. There are two famous Hungarian kings- King St. Stephens who is the first king, and King Matthias Corvinus whose symbol is a black bird with a ring in its beak. St. Stephen has his own church- a basilica actually on the other side of the river. Both are very beautiful. SJ and I went to a classical concert in the church of Corvinus while I toured the basilica on a different day. Within the basilica, in the back room, there is a mummified hand of St. Stephen. It is a bit strange to have, but there it is.
St. Stephen’s crown is also another relic that is a Hungarian treasure. It is held in the Parliament building that looks a lot like the Parliament building in London. The English tours were full so I joined a Spanish tour and we all were amazed by the gold art pieces inside. It is probably the prettiest government building I have seen. We were allowed to take pictures of all the rooms except where the crown was kept. It has resided in other countries several times. The most recent time was in the United States and in the 1970’s it was returned to Hungary and it hasn’t been moved since.
Between the basilica and the parliament building there is a square that has a statue of President Ronald Reagan and a different square was named after President Roosevelt that was later changed.. The US embassy still resides near the Reagan statue.. I was also able to see the second biggest Synagogue in the world, the first being in New York. It is the biggest in Europe. It is also beautiful and has a sad story. Hungarian Jews suffered heavily especially in the year 1944. The majority of their population were deported and killed in the camps. Those who stayed were forced into the ghetto around the Synagogue and then died. There is a mass grave memorial next to the Synagogue.
Hungary is also known for its thermal baths. The Romans and the Turks took advantage of these when they resided here. Rudas Bath has night swim and so SJ and I went over. There are different rooms- one more Turk looking, one more modern, and it also has a rooftop pool allowing swimmers to see the view of the city and the lights. It was very relaxing. There were some interesting individuals there such as a man who would try to be submerged as much as possible. Also, couples here are very open about their affections…
Unfortunately, like the crown, we couldn’t take photos inside the baths, not that I wanted my camera getting wet from the steam or maybe dropping it in the bath anyways.
I love wine. Due to my travels in Argentina, I prefer Argentine wine and red, but Hungary actually has a strong presence with wine. Apparently, the Tsar in Russia years ago loved Hungarian wine especially one from Tokaj (pronounced Toe-kai). Therefore, on Saturday we made a three hour one way train ride to Tokaj in order to try some. Tokaj is known for their white wine. We stopped at several places for tastings. We had a glass in one location, a full five glass tasting at a real winery, four glass tasting in someone’s basement, and finally we stopped at another person’s basement where SJ had one glass tasting and bought the bottle. Truth be told, at the second tasting, due to an empty stomach…I was feeling it. We ordered some things to snack on, but it was not enough. The third tasting some guy called us over and gave us some samples for free looking to sell his bottles, but I tried explaining to him we just wanted to taste and he seemed fine with that.
SJ went to another souvenir shop and I went next door for a meal to take on the train. I wasn’t sure what I wanted and they recommended a dish that was from Hungary, but it reminded me of hot dogs. Heading back to the train station for the train back, I realized that the lady gave us an early ticket.
“Hi, do you remember me?” Seeing that I do not blend in at all with the population as well as speak English, she did remember me. We showed her our tickets and she realized what happened and gave us new ones. I was worried it might be like in the States were we needed to buy new tickets. Without a minute to spare we hopped on the train and waited another three hours.
This day was full of drinking- drinking wine and we were going to go out for the night. Budapest is host to “ruin pubs.” These pubs or bars are located in not the nicest buildings. It is very….hipster for the lack of a better word. After a long last year at university and a long three months on a bike, this night was the most fun I have had in a long time. I was able to meet and make friends with many individuals. This particular ruin pub was popular with foreigners, but there were some natives there as well.
Upon buying a shot of a native alcohol and a beer, I saw a group of guys trying to take a selfie:
“Excuse me, do you want me to take your photo?” I yell a bit loudly due to the music. The man looked at me then smiled, a little drunk.
“You are American!” I didn’t know what to say because it’s a true statement.
“That’s awesome, everyone here is Hungarian. Here.” He gave me his phone and yelled at his friends to pose. A woman tapped me on the shoulder,
“Do you want me to take a picture of all of you?” I laughed and thanked her, but then explained that I wasn’t with them. We proceeded to go upstairs and SJ and I met some more people from the UK, one was very drunk, but he was hilarious. His friend was apologizing, but he didn’t do anything to offend, he just kept introducing himself. His accent was so thick that I had a hard time understanding him. They left and SJ and I decided to add our names to the well written walls. While we were trying to do that, two men leaned over our shoulders to inspect our work. They were four from Switzerland, here for only the weekend. SJ ended playing foosball with one while I was talking with the others as well as two girls they just met from Budapest. They were all interesting. I enjoyed my conversations!
I excused myself to use the restroom and while waiting in line, because there is always a line in the female bathroom, I started talking to the woman behind me. She was studying abroad from the States in Prague and was here for the weekend as well with her friends. We exchanged information and another American spotted us while we were washing our hands. My new friend asked,
“Are you stationed here?” We had a laugh and the other woman informed us that that made her night and she was actually studying medicine full time, not just study abroad, in Budapest. Who knew one can make friends in the restroom? Upon my return, we decided to go to a club and on the way out I talked to some more people from the UK and then we took pictures at a photo booth.
The first club we went to had a long line so we went to another one. It was a lot of fun and the drinks were super cheap in comparison to United States’ prices. One of the guys and I managed to get into the VIP section for three minutes and then were promptly kicked out. Before I knew it, it was five in the morning and our group left except us. We started walking and ran into his other friends. SJ took a cab home. After talking to them for several moments, we exchanged information and I wished them well.
When I arrived back to the apartment, I flipped out because my friend wasn’t there. I tried calling her and sent her a message. After twenty minutes she messaged back saying she was at a restaurant around the corner since she couldn’t enter the building. I had the front door key. We ended up not going to sleep until almost seven in the morning.
Leading us to sleep till almost noon. After a lazy start we got groceries and walked around Margaret’s Island in the Danube River.
I can’t believe it has only been five days as it feels like I have been here a lot longer. It has been a great five days and I can’t wait for what’s next. I have a couple more days in Budapest before continuing on to Prague.
My original plan was to tour around Hungary then go to Croatia then go to the Czech Republic for the TEFL classes, but I realized that my tourist visa wouldn’t have worked like that as such. So instead of taking the classes in November, I will be taking them next week.
The majority of Europe is under the Schengen agreement, which allows citizens of those countries to pass through without a passport. It also means that tourist visas are not per country, but per the area. Meaning my 90 days is for the whole area not just Hungary. This changes my plans a little bit, but very manageable!
And what’s a post without more food pictures?