The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Forests and Baths

Days 266-270, August 20-25, 2011

After Prague, my next stop on my way south was Budapest, Hungary. Whether by good luck or bad luck(all depending on how you look at it), I arrived on the 1011th anniversary of the founding of the Hungarian State. Good luck – fireworks!! Bad luck – nothing open. I wasn’t even aware of the celebrations that would be going on that evening until I got to my hostel and the person at reception let me know.

IMG_1954Once the sun had set, large crowds of people began walking down the street towards the river side where, from the many bridges that cross the river, the fireworks would be set off. I got to the rivers edge just as the celebrations began. It didn’t matter where you were on the banks, you had a great view regardless. Fireworks were being set off, timed to music, from every single bridge in the city. I ended up walking along the river until I found a spot that gave me a relatively unobstructed view of the show.

As most people are probably aware, Budapest is actually two cities joined together. Buda, on IMG_2001the west side, and Pest on the east. My first full day was spent entirely in Pest where I walked down from my hostel to the large cathedral for a view of the city from its dome. A large symphony was being set up just outside the main entrance of the church, with the band practicing for what was probably a concert later that evening. The view from the church dome was absolutely outstanding and completely worth the money.

IMG_2027The other major attraction on the Pest side is City Park which hosts, among other things, the city zoo and Heroes Square. I wandered through the Square, trying in vain to pronounce the names of the Kings whose statues stand in a semi circle on the east side of the square. Years of being out among the elements have tainted the statues a dark green.

As I was continuing my walk around the park, past one Budapest’s many public hot pools, I ended up behind a couple men. My wandering eye focused on the shirt of one of the men. It IMG_2060said: “Canadian Chorus Championships” with a list of all the Chorus’ that were participating. One of them I recognized: The Bridge City Chorus, the local gay and lesbian choir in Saskatoon. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity and quickly introduced myself the couple. Turns out, they were a married couple living in Calgary. Michael and Luke quickly invited me to sit with them for a beer where we spent the next couple hours chatting. I love chance encounters like that!

The Buda side of the city houses both the main fortress as well as what are known as the Buda Hills, a great place to go hiking. I did both, though on separate days. Getting to the Buda Hills via public transportation was surprisingly easy. Just grab the metro to the Moszkva ter station and then grab bus #22 up into the hills. Though, if you’re like me and decide halfway along the walk that you’ve had enough, finding your way back down might prove to be difficult. You’re either all in, or enjoy figuring out the Budapest transit system with no map. My downfall was wearing sandals. Stupid.

IMG_2090I did find my way back to the hostel though. Just involved an extra kilometer walk to the next bus stop(stopping briefly in a “roadside diner” for a bite to eat). Grabbing that bus took me too far north in the city so I had to get off, find another bus stop, head south, and get off at an obscure metro. Take that metro to where it met up with another line and take that one to my hostels stop. Took about three hours all told.

IMG_2130The fortress of Budapest stands on a high hill overlooking the city. Getting there is easy. There are numerous buses that go up the central hill. You can also take the opportunity to walk. Or, like me, take the funicular. From the top you have awesome views of the Parliament building across the river, as well as exploring the rather small Fisherman’s Bastion.

IMG_2157I extended my stay in the city in order to take at least one day in one of the famous public baths that Budapest has. Because Budapest sits on a wealth of hot springs, many baths were built to take advantage of these natural thermal waters. The baths themselves are highly ornate and decorative. I went the easy route and went to the one in City Park, the Szechenyl Bath. Getting in is pricey, though some baths(not this one I found out) gives some of your entrance back if you stay for less than three hours. There were three separate sections in the pool area. Two were full on hot pools while the middle was a cooled down swimming pool(which required hairnets). I stayed in the hot pool for a few hours, letting my legs relax from all the walking I’ve been doing. It was immensely relaxing. And very busy too.

IMG_2162Budapest was a nice city, though it was easy to start seeing the differences between Western and Eastern Europe even here. While subtle, hindsight has a wonderful way of making you see things in a clearer light. The baths are a definite highlight of my stay, as is the pure chance of being there during a major national celebration. But, hindsight once again, I can now see that my travel fatigue had begun to set in more profoundly here. It wouldn’t be until my next destination, Belgrade, that it would hit me even harder.

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