Monday, November 1, 2010

It's been a while: Budapest

Ok so I know it’s been a while since we’ve touched our blog. Ooops. Sorry about that. Let’s just say grad school has been taking up our time…

Since we last blogged, we have been through a few more countries. We finished up our term in Vienna and are glad it’s over. Altogether, it was rather stressful for a time there. We didn’t leave the apartment for days at a time unless it was to go to the grocery store or school. But now that it’s over, on to the next adventure.
We left Vienna on October 16th, by train, to head to Budapest for a few days before our next term started in Bangkok, Thailand. We learned our lesson last time about trains…be there early and make sure you know which train is where. So we headed to the train station about 2 hours before it was scheduled to leave. All was good to go. We arrived in Budapest about 3 to 4 hours later, slightly rested and ready to stretch our legs. Of course, we were toting our 23kg bags around with us so it wasn’t easy.

First things first. Where do we go when we get off the train? To the metro. But where it is in relation to the train? Let’s ask. So I did. Oh and where is the nearest ATM? Considering Hungary doesn’t use the euro but the forint we needed to stock up before heading to the metro. So we step out of the train station and find one of the most depressing set ups thus far. Jonathan told me on the way to Budapest it’s one of the most depressed cities in Europe – typical Eastern European city. Lots of construction and renovations “in progress”. The view from the train was exactly that. So we cross the street, head over a small construction site (wooden boardwalk included, aka ply wood) and headed towards the ATM. It was closed. So we tried the next. We each took out about 10,000 forint, which was approximately $50. A nice start. On to the metro. We head back towards the train station and go past it to the metro. Unfortunately I’m little and a 23kg bag is hard for me to maneuver down a flight of stairs. So the great and wonderful JP carried mine down for me…and his. We bought tickets on the metro and headed towards the train.

Not sure how many of you have seen the movie “Quarantine” but it’s a zombie movie that came out several years ago, and personally, I thought it was terrible. Horrifying but terrible.  Well walking into the metro to wait on the train was exactly what I would call the “Quarantine” station. Everything was dingy, cracked, dull, faded, scratched, and in need of some serious work. Oh and the lights flickered like a horror movie, too. Regardless, we wait patiently for the train. When it arrives it’s obvious that it’s been there for a while. The “Quarantine” train. It stutters to a halt and we wait for the doors to open. Everyone looks terribly pissed off that the train has to stop at all. We get on and go three stops, each time having to hold on to the railings to make sure we don’t fall over. Characteristic of an old train. When it’s time for us to get out, we do. We head towards the escalator (no stairs this time!) and reach the station only to find that we have to walk up a flight of stairs to get out of the station. Again, the great and wonderful JP takes both of our bags up to the top.

We get to the top of the street and realize we’re on the wrong side of the road. So we race across the 4 or 5 lanes of traffic (with our heavy bags) to reach the other side. Later, we discovered if we had gone to the other side of the station before exiting, there is another exit on the other side of the road. Oops. Anyways, we find our hostel and follow the directions to get in. Check in was a breeze. It took a total of 10 minutes and then up to our room to put our stuff down.

The hike itself wasn’t too bad – there was an elevator. A “Quarantine” elevator that had just enough room to hold me, my bag, Jonathan, his bag and the guy showing us to our room. We get there to find that our room is the size of a coat closet. A slightly large coat closet, but coat closet nonetheless. We put our stuff down and head back towards the door. It’s feeding time. Before we left Vienna, I bought a Top 10 Budapest guidebook. Let’s take a look in there to see what we can find. The Black Cat Irish Pub you say? Deal.
We leave our room and towards the pub. We arrive about 15 minutes later and find the little hole in the wall pub that was exactly what we wanted. We went in and noticed there were several tables that had a piece of paper with writing we couldn’t read. However, we assumed they meant ‘reserved’ and I guess our confused looks gave one guy that worked there a hint: foreigners. Or worse: Americans. He said something we couldn’t understand so naturally we asked if he could speak English. He said “I try” and asked what he could do for us. Where can we sit? Anywhere you want! So I pointed to a table behind him and said ‘is this ok?’ It
wasn’t one of the papered tables. ‘Sure! You sit here!’ So we did. We each ordered a beer and then a skewer of meat and steak fries, with a side dish of chips and cheese. Note to self: if you see something that looks like pineapple on a skewer of meat that doesn’t say it comes with pineapple, don’t eat it. It might just be a big piece of fat.

We finished our meals and headed back to our rooms. Time for sleep. Much to see tomorrow. The morning came quickly and we headed out semi early. We started down a road called Vaci Utca which the Top 10 book told me was worth the walk. Lots of shops perfect for tourists. We bought a few things and decided it was food time again. We noticed several coffee shops around but didn’t want to take a lot of time to sit and eat. Next best thing? Burger King. I don’t even like Burger King in The States but here goes nothing.

After breakfast/lunch, we head across the bridge that runs into the end of Vaci Utca to head towards the Cave Church. Literally a church inside a cave. It’s been “remodeled” with new cave-like plaster walls but it’s still a church inside a cave nonetheless. I quickly snapped one picture, afraid to disturb anyone (although we weren’t there during a service), but also wasn’t sure if I was allowed to, so I didn’t want to get caught.

Heading out of the church, we turn left and walk down the river towards the castle district. Along the way there is a monument on the top of a hill so we decide to wander up there. Fall in Budapest is beautiful. So many colors! We get to the top and take pictures of the city. The river is right in front and Parliament and the Castle District and to the left. Heading back down we’re not really sure which way to go. Left obviously, to reach the castle district but which road is best? We make it across a few intersections and find an outside restaurant/beer garden type deal. It’s cold but we decide to take our chances outside. After a quick beer, we’re on our feet again. Up towards the castle!

We walk for about 15-20 minutes and come to the next bridge, which, according to my map, is where we turn left to head up to the castle. Sure enough we find the almost 200 stairs and start climbing. Once at the top, we take more pictures of the amazing view. I’m almost too tired to walk at this point but there’s so much to do and such little time! Suck it up Brandy. Moving along. We walk inside the castle walls to find a huge courtyard where I make Jonathan take pictures with the lion statutes. We debate whether we want to pay to go into the castle or not. We choose no. Heading back out of the court yard we head in the opposite direction from which we came and find numerous walks and ways. We wander through a few of them only to find the end roped off. So we turn around and head the other way. We eventually come across a man who is standing with a bunch of children holding bows and arrows. Out of curiosity, we stop and watch. For a small fee of like $5-7, you can shoot 5 arrows into a target about 10 yards away. I want a try! We wait for 10 minutes and the line is going nowhere. So we leave, making a pact to come back later. Unfortunately it never happened but we found something even more exciting a few minutes later. A Hungary “funnel cake” is what Jonathan called it. It’s very hard to explain but it’s dough in the shape of a cone – when it’s cooked, it’s wrapped around some kind of wooden cone and heated until it’s crispy. Then they roll it in the “flavor” of your choice. Jonathan’s was cinnamon. It was delicious! But of course it just made us more hungry for real food.

Heading through the rest of the castle district, we find several more places to take pictures of the city, but soon head down out of the castle district towards food. We find a pub and go inside but were disappointed to find out they have no food. What? A pub with no food? Oh well. One drink then we move on. We head across the river to find a pizza place down a side street. And honestly, it’s some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. But there’s no time – moving on towards Parliament. We’re both tired and the light from the day is almost gone. We reach Parliament in time to take a few pictures and then head back towards the hostel. Along the way, we walk through a park and several green areas with monuments and statues. Eventually we come to St Stephen’s Basilica. I want to come back tomorrow to go inside but take advantage of the night view. Down one of the side streets, we stop for coffee and then head back to the hostel for the evening. It’s late and we’re both exhausted from such a long day.

Unfortunately there isn’t much more to write about our trip. Why you ask? Well I apparently got into something that didn’t agree with me and was sick all night. I woke up the next morning and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to handle going out again. We eventually wander back down towards St Stephen’s to take pictures inside but that’s about the extent of my energy. We do, however, stop and buy postcards. At least my family and friends can see what I saw in one day. Back to the hostel to nap some more. Around 5pm, I’m ready to find food. Oh and I have to find my book from Budapest! So off we go. I’m still feeling sick and Jonathan isn’t 100% either. We head towards a book store I found in my Top 10 book which is supposedly an English/Hungarian bookstore. Wrong. English only. So we wander to the next store. We’re running out of time because most of the stores close at 6 or 6:30 and it’s already 5:50 or so. However, I eventually find my store and walk in. Aldous Huxley it is. No idea what the book is – I can’t read Hungarian – but the author has two thumbs up in my opinion. Mission accomplished, on to food. We stop at a Chinese restaurant and then head back to the hostel. The rest of our evening was spent watching Mad Max and finishing my dinner.

The next morning we wake up to the first sunny day in Budapest since we’ve been there. We’re both feeling better so we get cleaned up and pack all of our stuff up and then head down for food. We wander for a few minutes but want to leave enough time to get to the airport. So we stop for a pastry and then head back to the hostel to retrieve our stuff. We leave at 11 and our flight doesn’t leave until almost 5pm. We wanted to make sure we left enough time in case we get lost. However, we apparently know what we’re doing and made it to the airport in less than an hour. So we have time to wait. Time for some reading and food. We anxiously watch the board to see when we can check in. But of course it doesn’t show up until 2 hours before we leave. At this point we’re just tired and ready to be on the plane. Once we get up to the check in counter, we realize we’re going to have to pay for our luggage – it’s too heavy. We get out of paying over $350 for our baggage (we paid a fraction of it – thank god) – I’m assuming it’s because of the absolutely shocked look on my face and the “how much?” in a high pitched tone –
 and head towards the gate. It’s going to be a long flight.

We board the plane that will take us to Cairo where we will switch planes to head to Bangkok. Naturally we get the plane filled with loud obnoxious people and have to listen to movies and music play the entire almost 4 hour ride. However, we make it to Cairo without committing murder and only wait about an hour until we are on the next flight out to Bangkok. Time for horrible plane food and some sleep. Bangkok here we come!

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