Thursday, July 17, 2008 - Saturday, July 26, 2008
7/17/08 - 7/26/08 75 °F
It's nice to have the time to leisurely explore a city. The first day in any city is always the most challenging because we have to figure out a new language, the money, the public transit system, the street names, etc. Once we got past that Budapest was very easy to navigate. Just a warning: we had 8 full days there so even though it's just the highlights this post is pretty long so be prepared:
We did all the touristy stuff: walk around pedestrian only streets and on Andrassy Ut (their equivalent of Fifth Avenue), took the oldest subway in Continental Europe (the yellow M1 line), Hero Square, and Castle Hill as already mentioned. There's no castle anymore, but there are still lots of medieval buildings and also offers a great view all along the Danube.
The top of the popular funicular is also there. Best time to ride the funicular is at sunset but we ended up taking the stairs along side it instead so that Ashok can take pics from various vantage points. Because of that, we also found our way to a platform that leads to the top of the tunnel entrance that faces the Chain Bridge.
It's not meant for tour groups because to get there you have to climb through overgrown bushes and a wire fence, but lots of couples and young people go there with some wine or beer (Budapest has no open container law) to watch the sunset or the bridge lit up.
We went to Castle Hill several times so Ashok can take pictures at various times. It turned out to be a good thing because one night we saw that there was a festival on the bridge. It's something they do every weekend during the summer. In addition to the usual crafts and food stands, there were a couple of bands playing and a cool photography exhibit. There was one food stall with huge vats cooking Hungarian food that smelled so good but we had already had dinner so we went back the next day just to try it. The food was expensive but very tasty.
However, the best food we had was the meat stew at the Fakanal restaurant at the Central Market. They called it Goulash stew (as opposed to Goulash soup which everyone asks for), but I think it's actually called Porkolt and they just called it Goulash because that's what all tourists know. The meat was tender and the sauce so rich and flavorful... quite memorable.
The cloud from Czech Rep followed us and we had a couple of rainy days. On one of those days we went to the Terror House.
It's a museum located in a building that was the headquarters of the secret police during both the Nazi occupation and the Communist era. It was a sobering experience as we saw pictures of the chain bridge under water, and of tanks rolling through the same streets we just walked through. The Jews in this region suffered the same fate during the Nazi era as others and I knew about that, but seeing film footage of a bulldozer pushing heaps of dead people into a pit is just disturbing. What I didn't realize was what the Hungarians suffered during Communist rule. The Russians treated the people of these small satellite countries as dispensable labor and would just set random quotas for the local government to fill and sent the people to Siberia or other places to do hard labor with very little food and horrible living conditions. Sometimes to fill the quota people would just get pulled off the streets at random. It's a depressing experience but I would still recommend it as it provides some perspective for the local culture.
After becoming a Republic, the communist statues were all removed and some of them were taken to Szobor Park (Monument or Statue Park). After Terror House it was only appropriate to go to the park. It takes a while to get to and is not really worth it but there was an interesting exhibit where they showed footage of training videos shot by th secret police to train new recruits on how to follow people, raid people's homes, etc. Scary thought.. but interesting.
On a happier note, one of the highlights of our time there is at the Szechenyi Furdo (I'm spelling these words without the accents above the letters but it would take me forever to figure out how to do it). This is the biggest outdoor thermal bath house in the city, and is located in the Varosliget Park which is like their Central Park. Think big outdoor swimming pools but in a very grand setting.
In the middle of one of the pools is a circular current pool so you can ride along and go in circles (look in the middle of the picture). It's so much fun to ride!
The best part was that a thunderstorm passed through when we got into the water. Since we were already wet we just stayed in the pool as the raindrops fell on us. This is definitely not something that happens everyday!
We also went to the other famous thermal pool, Gellert Furdo (Furdo means bathhouse) which is mostly indoors. It's not just because of the thunderstorm experience but I think the Szechenyi bathhouse has a better setting. One thing that is similar at both bathhouses is the way they are run. Buying tickets and finding the locker room is an experience in itself... not necessarily a good one, but an experience. It's the communist era showing through.. you have these old stocky women barking orders at you, there are no directions and you wander thru these circular hallways that all look the same with many other tourists that look as lost as you until one of the ones that got there earlier takes pity on you and explains the system to you.
Lastly, a funny tidbit: because our hotel charged a lot for wireless, looking for free wi-fi connection became one of our past times. Here's a picture of Ashok sitting in a popular square with my laptop (Jen, this is where I was IM you):
In all, Budapest is one of my favorites so far and I would highly recommend it. I'd like to come back, preferably when we have an income, and try out some of the restaurants, the night life, and the shopping (that Ashok did not miss) that I didn't get to do this time.