09.10.2012 - 14.10.2012
Budapest Oct 10, 11, 12
Arrived at 1130 AT NIGHT on 9 Oct. on a nice, cheap flight with Ryanair. Highly recommend checking out both Ryanair and Easy Jet for travel within Europe.
October 10 - Gorgeous sunny day.
Took the first taxi of our trip, so far; getting from the airport to our hotel because we arrived so late at night. We are staying at Hotel Timon which is relatively close to the airport. It is actually the nicest, cleanest hostel we have stayed so far, breakfast included, under forty dollars for the two of us. And we met Attilla the Hun. Who knew he was Hungarian? Middle aged desk clerk very helpful and spoke good English.
We have now taken one trolley and two subways to get to our next accommodation. We wanted to get on wifi so are in MacDonalds where they serve the coffee in a cup and saucer and give you a real spoon. Also the fries are different from home, better actually. We do endeavor to eat local food but going on wifi kills a bit of time while we rest our feet and backs. There are lots of backpackers around but I am the oldest one I have seen. Damn I'm good!!
We have rented an apartment through airbnb.
Our accommodation from 10 to 14 October is lovely. The building is from 1850 or something but the apartment has been renovated and is very clean with a 12 foot ceiling and huge windows. The appliances are all new, I am washing clothes. Gabor, as in the Gabor sisters, but this is his first name, our landlord, left detergent, there is also a dishwasher. Flat screen tv with BBC in English. He provided poppy seed croissants also. Strong wifi connection, we are styling!! 176 dollars for four nights. We could sleep two more people here and reduce the cost. Just kidding, it is nice to have this spacious and bright area so we have to push ourselves to get outside and walking while we have good weather. Grocery store and bakery right across the street.
Ok so we went to a restaurant, The Drunken Taylor, just half a block away and enjoyed goulash for supper and then went downstairs to the cellar to listen to folk music. Before we went downstairs our server treated me to "a spirit, the Hungarian Brandy I believe, in a pretty glass. She said, "let it linger". It was good Poplinka. Yes, I liked it and was touched when she said "it is on the house". So now this is our local spot.
Tonight we will go for the beef stew which is likely closer to what we think goulash is, because goulash is actually a soup. People have been good to us.
The folk music was lively, violin, viola and I really liked watching the dancing, the two young men were so light on their feet it was like they were floating and then they would slap their feet. The girls had scarves so although they were in street clothes, as in jeans, the scarf was part of the story. One girl had on a gathered skirt and red tights though and really looked cute when she twirled around. Too dimly lit in the cellar to get a photo. A few wall sconces, candles, reminded me of a coffee house in the late sixties. Or a really retro basement.
Another sunny day. We bought 3 in one coffee at the grocery store so now I can make a morning coffee. Eegads, this building is being renovated and for the first time I am hearing it (as I write this on Oct 12). It is 845 in the morning though. I am sitting by the window so my aging eyes can see better. Now I looked out and what do you know there are workmen right on our balcony, how they got there I have no idea. We haven't been able to use this balcony due to the scaffolding and in fact they are doing something that involves drilling. Lucky thing I was more or less dressed. Likely scared the guy as I haven't combed my hair and look a fright.
So now I have moved to the desk, slowly, with my coffee. Slowly for my aching feet, we walked up 240 steps yesterday on a long walking tour - free by donation. We saw St Stephen's church, Andrussy Avenue, the Parliament buildings, the changing of the guard at Buda Castle, Fisherman's Bastion.
We walked across the chain bridge from the Pest to the Buda side of the Danube. On those stairs up to the castle I was pretty winded. There is a tram type contraption, the Funincular, that takes people up to Castle Hill but tourists older than me were taking the stairs. So to save face and two dollars I narrowly avoided a heart attack and took the stairs along with most of our walking tour. The thought of a heart attack briefly crossed my mind on step 143 when I stopped counting to concentrate on my breathing, muttering to myself, calm down, calm down.
We have decided to stay another night so lined that up with Gabor. For 42 dollars a night our rooms are amazing and although we took the subway to the tour yesterday, we did walk (slowly) home. Jeff is usually ten paces out front. So now we will leave on Monday. For lunch yesterday we ate cinnamon buns on the street on the Buda side which is more expensive than the Pest side where we live. While we ate we watched a man play the hurdy-gurdy, an instrument with a crank and drone strings, I had never seen one before. Well I thought it sounded a bit like the bagpipe. It has been around though since at least the 12th Century.
You should see how far underground the red subway line is, the longest escalator I have ever been on, hope it doesn't break down, could be more than 200 steps. Budapest has the second oldest subway system in the world, the yellow line was built in the 1890s and appears to be original. The red line, built later, has an escalator that takes you deep underground into what was once a nuclear shelter.
Hungarian is an inductive language, shares some root with Finnish and Estonian, and the Hungarians were originally from Mongolia. They are Magyars. Attila the Hun. The seven tribes joined up, didn't go back to Mongolia, and settled down here in Hungary.
They say something like seeya for hello and hello for goodbye.
Warning if you pay your bill and say thank you they think the transaction is over. Keep your mouth shut as you pay the bill and don't breath a word til you get your change. Count it, check it twice, then go ahead and say thanks. The money is confusing and this is a poor country. Also, pulling something over on somebody, may make you feel like a national hero, they have only been free from the Soviets for 21 years, and like the poplinka, the flavour lingers.
However, centuries as a melting pot produces people who look like you and me. They just speak a very difficult language, one of the five most difficult languages in the world and their language makes them good in math and science. They start from the big picture and work their way back. 2012, 10, 11. Like Yoda, their phrasing would be, "go we will".
Budapest has a wonderful Opera House and I highly recommend that you buy a cheap seat in advance, just to get in to look and listen. This is better than a tour. If Budapest is on your itinerary book the cheapest tickets as soon as you can online. Well worth it. I did not do this and really regret it.
Today we are going to the baths, good for rhumatism and whatever ails you. Good day for me to go.
The jack hammering on the balcony worked better than the alarm clock so Jeff woke up, and soon we were off for our day at the baths.
We went to the Szechenyl Baths at city park on the Pest side. Family friendly, works for us.
3400 florints gives you all day admission. Who spends all day at a thermal bath?
Two hours later I was limp. My fingers looked like prunes. My feet are nice and clean.
Rented a sheet to use as a towel for 500 florints. You get a locker and there are individual change rooms.
The pools are much nicer than Watrous and there are lots of them, also saunas.
Everybody was in a suit and none of the women were topless. We were all there, old, young, men, women, a few kids, the good, the bad and the ugly and nobody cared.
We went into all the warm pools and spent quite awhile in the outdoor pool where some older men play chess. They have been there since Rick Steeves did his video, look just the same.
Very ornate building with domed ceilings and pillars.
We went to a different place for supper and almost washed dishes as I wasn't carrying much cash. I ordered the beef stew and Jeff had chicken paprika. Turned out all the side dishes were extra and I misunderstood the waiter, so when the bill came we pooled all our money to pay the 5400 fl bill and maybe left a 300 fl tip and hightailed it out of there. It was expensive for us, about 29 dollars but there was also a violinist and accordian player. They came to our table and played a special song for us and offered to sell us their cd for 4000 fl but will have to wrestle their share of the 300 fl tip from the waiter. It sounds better in florints, in English it is likely under two dollars. I have no shame and apparently no class either, that was our most embarrassing moment so far.
We had not wanted to have too much cash or anything to steal at the baths so left our credit cards and debit cards at the apartment.
When we got back I felt something lumpy under my shirt and it turns out I had another 2000 fl in my neck pouch so Jeff went to the store and bought some tonic water and yoghurt as supper had been kind of skimpy.
Hungarians consider themselves central European although we are counting it as Eastern European. Budapest is located in north central Hungary and we will travel south to Serbia and then east to Romania by train so we expect to see a lot of the great plains.
We walked from our apartment along Andrussy Avenue to the Keleti train station and booked round trip to Subotica Serbia and one way to Brasov (sleeping car) for 280 C or 62000 florints, not bad for two poor globetrotters. Built in the 1880s, Keleti Station has an elegant facade.
Buy paprika, does not take up much room, they have a sweet paprika and a hot, get one of each.
After getting the train tickets we went on the free by donation walking tour about Budapest under Communism.
The Parliament Building in Budapest overlooks the Danube and is really beautiful, similar to (but larger than) the House of Parliament in London. Budapest has the second largest Parliament Building in Europe. The largest is the Palace of Parliament in Romania.
Apparently the communists encouraged drinking to keep the people happy, Hungarians are among the heaviest drinkers in Europe we were told on the tour, Top 3 percent, but behind Russia.
We had noticed that there are bars everywhere, not so easy to find a restaurant. Also booze is cheap.
In the main square on a Saturday we people-watched and drank cappuccino on a patio. The people looked very smart, even the men wear a carefully tied scarf in a casual way.
The women are wearing a lot of jeggings and other tight pants tucked into boots, or short skirts over tights, lots of very smooth pulled back hair dos.
Out in the hood where we stay, not so much.
October 14 - we got up early to take the subway to the bus station for our day trip to Esztergom and Slovakia.
We had to transfer from the red line to the yellow line, bought a book of ten transit tickets, each took one, stamped them in the machine, showed them to the transit police, got on the train, red line, got off at the right station, threw away the tickets so as not to get them mixed up with the new tickets we were going to get stamped for the next leg of the journey and were fined each 8000 florints by the transit guards at the exit for not having tickets.
I was carrying the recently purchased book of tickets in my hand so I could divvy them out. There was no explaining the situation, we did not have the stamped tickets to show, anyway, Jeff had the cash on him as he was going to pay the landlord later, I don't think they take credit.
We were so upset by this incident, it really soured us on Budapest in specific and Hungary in general. I think we could have ignored them and walked away but at the time we were so stunned and upset, they were so aggressive and officious, but really they aren't the police. We were targeted as tourists for a cash grab. Now the streets are dirty, the subways stink, we see the vomit and dog poo, we resent that the menu says soup with bread and you don't get the bread, the sign says lunch special til three pm but when you go in at 215 oh, no longer available....but you can order and get the individual items off the menu, they see us coming, dumb tourist, it is a post communist country, poor, the health care is free but people still need to pass cash under the table to their doctor if they want to be given attention when they are sick or in hospital.
We took a bus to Esztergom, had coffee in a bar, walked over the Maria Valeria Bridge to Sturovo, Slovakia.
Being Sunday there was a huge street market, like ten or more city blocks, I lost Jeff for an hour, but he found me so all is good. Sturova has a population of about 11000 and is the southern-most city in Slovakia. There are great views across the Danube of the striking Esztergom Basilica. Slovakia is on the Euro, Hungary is on florints.
Eszertogom is situated on the bend of the Danube River, the domed basilica is perched high above the river, reflected in the water. Rich in history it was the royal seat for two centuries. The largest church in Hungary is located in Esztergom.
We went to a bakery cafe and had dobras tort and chocolate pudding, then Jeff felt sick for a couple of hours from only ingesting sweets and coffee all day. and we came home. You can find bakeries and bars but the family restaurant is elusive - except for Burger King, MacDonalds, take out pizza places. There are lots of restaurants, we just could not find them. Of course the small places like Ezstergom didn't have Macdonalds but we had one in Budapest as a landmark near the subway stop on the way home, stopped in there for fries and they were out of fries, now we are really getting negative, picked up frozen pizzas from the little grocery store and "cooked" supper.
High time to leave Budapest we are seeing the beast, not the beauty. If you stay in the tourist area near the river and the attractions you can walk everywhere, all will be good.
Hungarian florints - as a guide I figured two hundred florints was a dollar. Therefore one thousand florents is five dollars. Twenty five thousand florints is twenty five dollars, no that can't be right - ok one hundred florints is fifty cents, twenty five thousand florints in twelve dollars and fifty cents, no wrong again, it is one hundred and twelve dollars and fifty cents, it is confusing. I had major difficulty with the conversion, ten thousand florints sounds like a lot of money!! That was our daily budget for accommodation and meals.
1.75 million is the population of Budapest. It is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and is a popular tourist destination.