I decided that the best way to kick off my time in Budapest would be with a walking tour. You know how I love tours.
It was a pretty good one, although not my favorite. I guess it was mostly to point out architecture. There isn’t a lot of really old history to look at because so much was destroyed in Hungarys rather tumultuous past. The Pest side was actually designed by the same guy who worked on Vienna and Prague, and so the three make up what is called the “golden triangle.” I can see the resemblance. Prague is supposed to be the most beautiful of the three, but I’ll let you know what I think.
We ended up on Castle Hill. There are no castles there, by the way. There’s the president’s office now. They have a “changing of the guard” every ten minutes, but it has no historical relevance. The weapons aren’t even real. They copied cities like London to please tourists.
There is another hill on the Buda side (actually, the Buda side takes its name from the Buda hills, whereas Pest lies at the beginning of the Great Plains) that I wanted to see. Marcos told me that budapest was his favorite city, because the view from this hill was so beautiful. It’s also interesting for the two large sculptural monuments on it.
The first is of a bishop who has been sent to Hungary to convert people to Christianity. I believe that his name was Gelert, and the hill is named for him. The locals did not take kindly to this guy. So, they put him in a large barrel lined with nails and with some rocks inside, then rolled him off the side of the cliff into the river. Hungary is now a Christian country, and so a statue of him commemorates the location of his martyrdom.
The other statue has an equally funny back story. It’s their liberty statue, and it’s a triumphant woman at the very top of this hill. The ironic part is that it is a communist statue put in place during the soviet occupation. Afte the Russians left, the Hungarians wanted to keep it. But first, they had to was away the sins of communism. They covered the statue in an enormous white sheet, soaked it in blood, and left it. After three days, they took it off and had a huge celebration. Now it’s the Hungarian Statue of Liberty. Ha.
It was not easy to get from one hill to the other. I tried and failed several times to take paths or roads across that all ended in dead ends. Eventually I just went all the way to the bottom and walked along the river til I reached the second hill.
It’s a long climb up, but it is worth it. By that point it was almost 4 in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten yet. Fortunately, there was a restaurant at the top. You’re paying for the view, but in the end it’s not bad. It’s a nice way to spend time after you work that hard to get up there.
I wasn’t really sure what to do after this. At 6:00, you can go into the labyrinth caves with an oil lamp and try to navigate through the maze. That sounded cool. Budapest is also famous for thermal baths from it’s many, many hot springs. I don’t really like spending time at spas, but it seemed like a good cultural experience.
They were on opposite sides of the city, and either way I had to return first to my hotel.
It was at this point that I had the horrible realization that I had (once again) fudged the dates on my travel plans. I have been planning for ages to see my friend Vivien, who lives in Hungary in a small town outside budapest. I thought I was going tomorrow… But she was actually expecting me today. When I got to the hostel and was able to check my Facebook, I saw the several concerned messages from her when I hadn’t shown up at the train station that morning.
I could not feel more sorry. I was so looking forward to seeing Vivien and the city of Kecskamet. I can’t imagine how concerned she must have been when I didn’t show up and didn’t contact her. And before anyone brings up my bad travel juju, I know exactly how this happened–and it was my fault. We had changed the date, and I simply forgot it when I was in Venice and planning my trains. I can’t believe I did that. It’s such a bummer.
On the bright side, budapest is lovely and I am happy to spend another day here. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the labyrinth caves by 6:00, so I headed off to the baths. There is one in town with a discounted ticket if you go late enough in the day, so that’s where I headed. I knew that swimsuit I’d packed would come in handy at least once.
I wasn’t really sure what to do when I got there, so I just headed to the thermal pools. All slightly different temperatures and naturally steam fed, it was really relaxing to pass through them. The high mineral content is supposed to have health and healing benefits. My stomach has been in a bit of a funk lately, so well see if it helped.
I accidentally sat on a girls foot and we got to talking. She invited me to join she and her friend in the hunt for the facility’s saunas. They had only met this morning. We kind of all hit it off. All three of us are foreigners, traveling alone, and in long distance relationships. The guy’s girlfriend is also in the army, and the girl’s boyfriend used to be. What are the odds? I’ve never met anyone in quite the same situation as me, let alone two at once. I’m not alone!
The sauna world, we found out, required a second ticket. But the girl, Isabel, speaks fluent Hungarian and was able to talk our way in. My favorite one was the salt sauna. It wasn’t particularly hot, just slightly warm. The walls were made of bricks of salt. They were all different colors and backlit. It’s supposed to be really good for your lungs and sinuses. I just enjoyed getting to lick a wall. I don’t know if that’s allowed, but… salt.
When the bath closed, we decided to go separate ways and clean up. The three of us were going to meet back up later on and go to a salsa night that Isabel had heard of. Apparently, salsa is hugely popular in Budapest. There are world-class dancers, huge salsa parties in the summer, and salsa nights all the time. Carson had taught me a few bachata moves in Normandy that I was eager to put to good use. Luke, the guy in our trio, wasn’t so keen but consented to come spectate.
I arrived at the restaurant at the designated time but waited an hour before Isabel got there. She came alone. Luke had jumped ship. The restaurant’s kitchen had closed even befor I got there, but they pointed us towards a Mexican restaurant. I was quite surprised to find the Mexican food better here than in London. I had always thought it was more or less related to distance.
I’m sorry to say that I didn’t make it to salsa. By the time we were headed to the venue, it was past midnight. I was cold and I just needed to get some sleep. What I thought was redness from the hot baths and hot saunas turned out to be a rather awkward sunburn. I loathe sunburns on so many levels: pain, peeling. ugliness, freckles, wrinkles, skin cancer. I just wasn’t happy about it.
I had walked all over and up and down this city, and I want to be able to make the most of my day here tomorrow. I hope I made the right decision. I try to say yes to every experience I can, especially when traveling, but not tonight. I feel even a little guilty about it. I’ll have to find something to do tomorrow that will make up for it.