Our first free weekend in Europe, a group of us decided to travel to Budapest on a whim. We had heard so many wonderful things about this city, so excitement overcame us to say the least. Within the first few hours of arriving in Budapest, I was immediately in love. The atmosphere captivated the kid in me and for one of the first times on the trip I felt in a place of comfort. Throughout the weekend, we began to immerse ourselves in the city a little more each day, and I'll admit, I began to grow a love hate relationship with Budapest. The culture and overall style of Hungary is charming, but the people here are not for the weak. They tend to gravitate towards the sneaky, vulgar side of personality characteristics, and we noticed fairly quickly.
Molly was kind enough to book lodging for us, and a top rated hostel called Grandio won the competition. We were fully aware it was a party hostel, but when there’s photocopies of guests breast's hanging in the check-in office, you begin to get a little skeptical. I kept an open mind as an employee greeted me with cigarettes, alcohol, and messy hair and led us to our home for the next few days. Out of us 10 girls who were staying in a room together, a few burst into tears and 7 of them immediately canceled and booked a more sanitary hotel down the street. Molly, Megan and I decided to tough it out and though I was afraid I was going to catch a disease every time I touched something, I’m proud of us for “getting the full Hungarian experience”. After awhile we took advantage of a pub crawl in the unique ambience of their ruin bars, which consist of run down abandon buildings decorated with vintage furniture and other random findings.
The next day we woke up early and went on a free walking tour of the city. We got a full taste of Hungarian hospitality when Sami got 20,000 forints (about $80) stolen out of her hand by a homeless man at a coffee shop. A local chased him down for awhile and persuaded him to return it, but none the less we hugged our purses a little tighter wherever we went. We covered quite a bit of the city on the tour and learned that Budapest is actually split into two sections, Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube river. Buda is the more reserved area of the city, whereas Pest is locally known as the dirty, party side. Afterwards, we headed into the main square for some lunch. The city was lively with a farmers market type event, and we treated ourselves to some traditional Hungarian cuisine. We tried langos, which is a donut like type dough covered in cream, cheese, and often times meats or vegetables - it was delicious. Next stop was the Danube Palace for a Folk Orchestra and Dance show. Though we were skeptical, as we were 4 of about 10 people under the age of 70, it was some of the best live music I’ve ever heard. I could have listened to them for hours. The orchestra consisted of about 6 violins, an incredible clarinetist, a couple marimbas, and I think a couple upright basses. The songs were fast and upbeat, and every so often, couples would come out in traditional folk dress to preform historic routines. As the show finished, we headed to a wine tasting night cruise where we unknowingly met up with over half of our group. It was a nice surprise to say the least. We got 7 full glasses of wine that tour the region complete with more live violinists. Spending most of the evening on the deck overlooking the city lit up at night, I began to feel serene.
The next day we headed to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths. This is one of Europe's largest spa complexes, consisting of 18 baths filled with medicinal natural hot spring waters and 10 saunas/steam cabins. After about 7 hours soaking in bliss, we took a taxi as the 40 minute walk didn’t sound terribly appealing following a full day in the sun. We had been warned about the taxi drivers here, but I didn’t realize till later that the driver gave me my change in a different currency as everything is colorful, the same size, and foreign. Instead of giving me 5000 forints (worth about $20) he gave me 5000 rupiahs (worth about 35 cents) None the less, I guess I can be appreciative of this new Indonesian souvenir! All in all, we finished the night out at a nice restaurant and headed back to Olomouc Monday morning. Throughout the mishaps, I think Budapest is still an experience most need to partake in.