A Travellerspoint blog

Hungary

The return adventure

I had checked 2 days ago what bus I needed to get back to Vienna. There were lots of seats, but I had some problems with the website, so I decided to get tickets at the bus station, which ended up not happening. I checked again before I went to bed. The bus was only about half-full. I woke up early enough to get to the bus station plenty early- in fact, the ticket window wasn't even open yet. (It opens at 6am). I was super-prepared and second in line when it did open. There were no seats. I made the lady repeat her statement- the bus was completely full and there wasn't a single seat to be had. So much for good planning and plan A. This not only sucked for me, but there was another girl in line behind me who apparently wanted the same thing and also couldn't wait until 3pm to take the next bus.

Fortunately, I had also checked my train options and knew when and where to get a train. We metroed together to the train station, bought train tickets, bought breakfast, and had just enough time to get on the train and get settled before it left. We may have paid a bit more, but I'm guessing we'll get there faster, and I know it's a more comfortable ride. As I type this, she's spread out on 2 seats, sleeping, and I was earlier, as I had all the leg room in the world. The view on the train isn't so much though. Basically, there are a bunch of trees blocking all the views, although occasionally I get to see a farm or village. I guess this is the Hungarian countryside though.

Summary recommendation: take the train unless you're on a tight budget. It was a bit more expensive and only dropped me at the train station, where I had to take another bus to the airport, but it was a much nicer ride than the bus and I was able to get more done since the wifi actually worked. Also, I slept better.

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

In air, water, and land in Budapest

Yesterday, I decided that I really waned to see the interior of the Great Synagogue. The only was that was going to happen was if I went to services there, so I got dressed somewhat nicely and went. The interior of the sysnagogue is incredibly beautiful. It reminds me of a Catholic cathedral in that everything seems to be covered in gold and gilding and there is a big organ up front. It reminds me more so of a big mosque though, in that there are no pictures of people, only geometric designs all over the walls. The architecture is amazing. This place was built for thousands of people. In just the main building, there are 3 floors of space for people to sit during services. Even if you just used the bottom floor, I think you could easily fit over a thousand people as this place was immense! Actually, that is what made me really feel, possibly for the first time in my life, the real impact of the Holocaust. There are old pictures of this place being filled to the brim with people for services. On the second day of Rosh Hashana, this place was empty. At 9, when services started, they barely had enough people to start (10 is the requirement) and even by noon, after the torah service, there may have been as many as 30 total, if you count all the people who came and went. For those who aren't familiar with the context- that's like a church that used to have thousands of people attend services on a regular basis having only 30 people attend Easter mass.

Incredibly sad.

While there are many valid non-holocaust-related reasons why a population as a whole might have shrunk and why fewer people may be turning to religion, I have to believe that a majority of the impact is holocaust-related as the city outside is still full of people and life. For a community to drop from thousands to few handful, and to see that via all of the empty seats, was extremely powerful. Reminder of genocide effects aside, I did enjoy the service. It was not at all what I'm used to in so many ways, so it was nice to get this completely different experience. After, I as hungry, so I stopped at a restaurant nearby that had a great Hungarian cheese soup and some sort of noodles in a cheese sauce. Again, like in Slovakia, I wasn't sure if they were really large spaetzle, thin gnocchi, or something else local that has a different name. (If somebody knows what they're called, please help me out here.) As I wore my "nice" clothes to services and needed to change into my ratty clothes to go caving later, I headed back to the hostel for a change and a quick nap, with plans to get my bus ticket for tomorrow and then head over to Margaret Island and walk around a bit. Apparently I needed a nap more than I thought, because I woke up way after I planned to and didn't have so much time before my caving tour anymore. I abandoned the idea of going to the bus station to buy my ticket ahead of time and instead opted to take a boat on the Danube and see Margaret island.

One of the cool things about the day pass is that it includes lots of forms of public transportation- metro, trams, buses, and the Danube river ferry. The ferry has several pickup and drop off points along the river, and goes at just the right speed for me. It moves quickly enough that you don't get bored, but slowly enough that you can enjoy the views as you pass. For those who want, there is even a bar onboard.

The ferry dropped us at the bridge to Margaret island, and I took a tram to the middle of the bridge, which is also the entrance to the island.

Margaret island is a very cute place to go for a walk. It is forested, has excellently-paved pathways, and there are tons of spots for people to just sit and enjoy the nature. I saw tons of groups just chilling on the grass, joggers, and couples strolling hand-in-hand. I did not visit the zoo or sports parks that are on the island, so without them, it basically just becomes a really pretty park. Then, it was time to go caving. In the spirit of this trip full of wandering and making decisions last-minute, I didn't remember to see if any buses went to the cave. In order to make sure I didn't get left behind, I left over a half hour to get there. Haha. I started out properly, taking the metro to the S(NAME) station and then getting on the 65 bus. However, when the bus turned off the road I needed, I got off the bus as I didn't have time to wander and this area of town wasn't on any of my maps. Instead, I started hiking up the hill. And it is quite a hill. Had I not taken the bus the first few stops, it would have been well over a half hour hike, uphill the whole way. As it was, I got there right on time, just to notice that the bus did stop at the caves. The caving instructors weren't ready though, so I grabbed a seat in the "lounge" area and rehydrated. Eventually, they called us to form groups and then had our group wait for the other group to get started. By the time we got started, it was approaching an hour after the time they told us to be there. It was well worth the wait though. The cave was a lot of fun and the instructor was excellent. She briefed us, had us all climb down the entrance ladder, through a hole and into the first "room" of the cave before stopping to make sure we were all ok. My group was all young people 20s and 30s, and they were all much smaller than me- some like a foot shorter. Nobody had any issues physically or mentally, so we continued. As we crawled on our bellies, slid on our butts, and otherwise navigated through the tiny spaces, the guide would periodically stop us in a space where we all fit in and tell us stories about caving, Hungary, and the geology of this particular cave. We saw ancient fossilized sea shells, heard her sing a Hungarian song in the "theater" and at one point, all shut off our lights and attempted to navigate a section blinded. Unfortunately, I had to cheat for a second. I hit what I thought was a dead end and the person who was supposed to be in front of me, guiding me, was nowhere to be found. After that brief moment though, the lights were out and we continued in pitch black. For those who read that and immediately think "no f*ing way I'm doing that"- the guide gave us choices for everything along the way. She kept carefully trying to read the group and make sure that we were all ok the whole time. I get the feeling that if people had been tiring or freaking out, we wouldn't have gotten to see as much of the cave as we did, which is why when I realized I had a minor health issue that nobody could do anything about while we were still in the caves, I kept my mouth shut and adventured on. It turned out to be the right choice. I have to say that I highly recommend the cave tour to anybody who is not claustrophobic and has full range of bodily motion. It was a ton of fun and helped make the trip very unique. I do have to say though, that if you can't crawl or you think bruises all over your body are a problem, this might not be the tour for you.

Physically, I was incredibly beat after the tour. I bussed and metroed back to the hotel area, grabbed breakfast snacks and another burger from the stand for dinner and was both completely ready to pass out and still very physically excited. I did manage to sleep a bit though.

Hungarian noodles

Hungarian noodles


Boat on the Danube

Boat on the Danube


Parliament from boat on the Danube

Parliament from boat on the Danube


Margaret Island Park

Margaret Island Park


Caving instructor

Caving instructor

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Buda buda buda buda rockin everywhere

I got up fresh and ready to attack Budapest, again, much earlier than most sane people get up. I did "sleep in" enough so that by the time I got to the great market (via a walk along the Danube), there were some shops open. (They open at 6, in theory.) There were still plenty of shops that were opening or hadn't yet opened, but I was planning on having a "very hungry caterpillar" breakfast with whatever I could find. I call it that because I basically just walk around and eat whatever I see that looks interesting, regardless of how well it "goes" with anything else or makes sense for breakfast. Amongst other things, I had some excellent dried sweet cherries, a pickle stuffed with sauerkraut, some smoked cheese that was very similar in flavor to the cheese I had yesterday in Slovakia (although in ball-form, not strings), and a sweet cheese-filled pastry. I also bought some paprika to take home, because Hungary is known for its paprika and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. They did have lots of fresh and dried peppers hanging all over the place, but I didn't buy any because I'm always concerned about regulations regarding bringing produce across international borders. In addition to produce, meat, and cheese vendors being open, I was a bit surprised to see several bars already open and several guys there drinking. Maybe this is where they have their after-after party, because there's no way they started drinking and were already this drunk at 6:30 am. Next, I headed to the Szechenyi baths, another attraction that was open early. The baths are basically just a gorgeous heated pool that was built by the Ottomans a long time ago. It is geothermally heated and has all sorts of vents, bubblers, and fountains. There is one small area where a current allows you to float in a little circle, kind of like the lazy river at an amusement park. There is also a waterproof chess board in another area, and guys were actually in the baths, playing chess. Other than that, it's a pool with very pretty scenery, and not super-exciting. It was relaxing though. After I got tired of sitting in the water, swimming in the water, and floating in the water, I walked around and admired the statues for a bit until I happened to stumble across a sauna. Having never been in one, I wanted to try it, plus, in my mind, sauna=heat and heat=drying off faster, so I went in. I didn't even last a minute. My asthma went wild, my chest got tight, and I left before I suffocated. So much for that. The bath building is located in a beautiful park, so I wandered the park for a bit and admired the lake and the ducks, as well as the beautifully painted park benches. Next, I wandered over to some cool looking buildings, which turned out to be museums and a visitors' center near Heroes' Square. This is apparently the place where every tour in Budapest starts, because it was completely mobbed with tour groups. This is what I should have checked out early in the morning before everybody was awake. From there, it was an easy walk down Andrassy Street. This is a wide, tree-lined boulevard that seemed to house all of the foreign embassies. There is a great litle walking path on either side of traffic, and the architecture is quite gorgeous. At the other end of the street from the Heroes Square is the Terror House. I originally didn't plan on going to this, but was told that it is a must-see, and I have to agree. This is the place where the Hungarians own up to the bad parts of their history. The entire building is a powerful piece of art that testifies to the horrors that can occur under dictatorships. The building itself used to belong to the Hungarian branch of the Nazi party, then the Communists and had been used in the past to torture and kill political opposition. Now, there are pictures all over the inside and outside of the victims as well as the victimizers. There are some powerful displays on how the various regimes came to power and kept their power. Even the elevator that brings you down to the basement where people were tortured is a powerful, artistic exhibit. Nothing is too grotesque, but it still gets across the point. I am glad that I visited this.

After the Terror House, I wandered towards downtown again, and stopped to see the Great Synagogue. Because it was the holidays and the synagogue was being used for its intended purpose, they weren't letting tourists in, but I did wander around the outside and see how incredibly huge and beautiful it was.

From there, I decided that I had spent enough time on the Pest side of the river, and it was time to check out Buda. The first "checking out" I did was really just enjoying the tram ride all along the riverfront. Whoever decided to put the town's prettiest architecture right up along the river was really smart.

Near the Bethany metro stop, I was able to grab lunch at a place called Edeni Vegan. I asked them for the "most Hungarian" things they had today and got a vegetable soup and lentils. Both were good, but neither had a particularly bold flavor to it.

Working my way back towards the funicular to the castle, I also stopped at the Hungarian Folk Art Museum. In my mind, this was a museum containing classic Hungarian art forms or something culturally Hungarian. No. Just no. There was one piece that was an American Indian dreamcatcher. There was one piece made of computer parts. There were some shoes and a matching purse that looked like they belong at a department store. Basically, it was a weird art gallery that had nothing particularly "Hungarian" or "folk" about it. I have to say that I felt that not only wasn't it worth the small admission price, but also wasn't worth the few minutes spent walking around it.

After that waste of time, I walked over to the funicular and rode to the top of Buda, where the castle district is. The entire area is charming and has a great view. I was also fortunate enough to witness the changing of the guard.

Of course you have to see the castle, the fisherman's bastion (basically just a good viewpoint) and the big cathedral there, but there are some other sights worth seeing as well.

One that I was very unsure of, having read poor reviews was the labyrinth under Budapest Castle. I actually really enjoyed the labyrinth. I'll admit that some of it seemed to have disjointed themes, but that didn't mean it wasn't fun. I learned quite a bit about the real Dracula (Vlad the Impaler), who was imprisoned in the labyrinth for a while, although I don't know how much of what I learned was true since the signs posted sometimes conflicted with each other. It was still interesting to imagine him wandering down there in the dark and to imagine what he must have felt like living there. I also learned about other Hungarian royalty, the Hungarian opera, and got to walk a section of it blinded. Overall, I felt that it was an enjoyable experience.

After descending on the funicular the way I came up the hill, I decided to walk across the Chain Bridge back the the Pest side of the river. It was a nice walk and had a great view of the city, but it is a bridge for cars, and not just pedestrians, so it's not really a bridge to hang out on, it's just for crossing the river.

Directly on the other side of the river is where the Taschlich service was being held. For those who don't know what taschlich is- Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. One of the traditions is to try to start off the year properly by getting rid of last year's sins and worries. Taschlich is when people get together by a body of water and throw bread into the water to symbolize throwing out their sins. That's a bit of an oversimplification, but it's the general idea. I really appreciated that the Chabad folks had sent me their schedule ahead of time and that I was able to participate in Taschlich on the Danube. I always love the concept of people praying in nature, and the corner that they chose somewhat felt that way, although it was very much in a city. It was a special experience for me as I usually don't participate in that sort of thing, but it was nice to have this opportunity to connect with people and share the culture. It was also kind of interesting to watch the passersby. Several tourists got a once-a-year surprise experience. Many stopped to watch and see what was going on. Some just took their pictures and left, while others stayed and watched, somewhat engrossed in the whole process.

After taschlich, I had thought that I had seen most of the "must-see" tourist things in Budapest, and started looking for a place to eat dinner. I did not realize that I hadn't seen St. Stephen's Basilica, home of the hand of a dead king, until I accidentally stumbled upon it while wandering that part of town. It's a pretty basilica, but I didn't have a chance to go inside. I walked around it for a while and also around the park next to it. I seriously considered riding the big ferris wheel in the park, but it was really expensive, and I had already seen some great views of the city from the castle.

Along the Danube

Along the Danube


Great Market

Great Market


Pastries

Pastries


Szechenyi Baths

Szechenyi Baths


Chess in the bath

Chess in the bath


Hero Square

Hero Square


Andrassy Ave

Andrassy Ave


Terror Museum

Terror Museum


Great Synagogue

Great Synagogue


Castle

Castle


Changing of the guard

Changing of the guard


Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman's Bastion


Matthias Church

Matthias Church


Buda Castle Labyrinth

Buda Castle Labyrinth


Road to St. Stephens Basilica

Road to St. Stephens Basilica

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

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