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A Tale of Two Cities July 17, 2013

Posted by Katie Pokrant in Travel Log.
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This week, our travel group continued our Eastern European adventures in Budapest, Hungary. Although at this point in our program 17 hours of trains each way seemed a daunting task, but the fact that we were able to upgrade to couchettes (little beds on the train) on the way there helped quite a bit. By the time we got there the next morning at 2 PM, we were exhausted but so excited to be in this new and mysterious place. What made this trip so different from the others we have taken was that I honestly didn’t know much about it or what to expect before going: it felt more adventurous and spontaneous. When we arrived and walked to our hostel from the train station, I admit that at first I was slightly disappointed- it seemed sort of like a grungy city lined with Kebab shops and random restaurants. We changed some money to flourints, which have an exchange rate of 300:1 for euros. Essentially, after withdrawing a number in the thousands, we were ready to spend some money on a great dinner. We then headed to “A Kék Rózsa”, a traditional Hungarian restaurant recommended to us by our hostel. I have never thought of Hungarian food as a particularly awesome or special food, but it was amazing! For around 10 euros, I enjoyed a pint of local beer, a salad, a traditional goulash soup, a delicious and kind of spicy pork entree with potatoes (and some gross bacon fat thing that I couldn’t eat), and a dessert. Talk about being full! To walk off our huge and cheap meal, we walked to the Danube river. I didn’t know this before I went, but the city of Budapest was actually originally two cities, “Buda” and “Pest”, separated by the Danube river. We happened to be staying on the “Pest” side. Once we got to the river banks (after passing by Eastern Europe’s largest synagogue, a huge ferris wheel, and the beautiful St. Stephen’s basilica) we decided to pay a visit to the “Buda” side. There are many bridges that connect the two sides, but the first and the most famous is the Chain Bridge, so named due to it’s supports looking like bicycle chains. After crossing over and debating about the probability of surviving if one tried to jump onto a river cruise from above, we climbed up to the top of a tunnel on the other side. On top of the tunnel, one could see the bridge and the entirety of Pest. The Pariliament was beautiful and ostentatious, the Palace huge, and most of all, the graceful and flowing Danube. I think the river is extremely defining of the city, and seeing it from a bird’s eye view was an amazing experience that instantly changed my opinion of the city.

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After crossing back over to the Pest side of the river, we decided to check out the local nightlife to get a better taste for the city. After speaking to people at our hostel, we learned that the best way to experience nightlife in Budapest are at the so-called “Ruins Bars”. Essentially, they are bars all over the city that are basically set up in old abandoned buildings. The closest one to our hostel also happened to be one of the most famous one’s, called Szimpla Kert. When we walked in, I immediately fell in love with it. The atmosphere was exactly the right amount of chill, with live alternative rock bands. The decor was essentially composed of anything and everything you have ever discarded, arranged in chaotic harmony to surprise, delight and comfort you in eclectic and ruinous surroundings. The seats were composed of things like boats and cars, and no two were alike. I absolutely loved it. The beer and house wine were good, and we had a great time talking to locals and tourists from all over the world.  It had the right amount of quirky character that appeals to me, and was definitely one of my favorite bar experiences so far in Europe.

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The next morning, we got up bright and early to do a free walking tour of the city. We usually don’t do these type of scheduled things and prefer normally to discover the city on our own, but since we knew very little about the city we figured it was worth it. Although it wasn’t my favorite thing we ever did, our tour guide was really cool and I learned a lot about Hungary itself. Hungarians are extremely proud of their history, despite the fact that they haven’t won a victory since the 12th century. We walked around the famous parks, over the chain bridge, to the top of the Palace Hill looking over the city, saw the famous tiled roof of the Matthias cathedral, apparently the world’s most expensive penis shaped statue (“Leave it to the communists to put this up”, our tour guide said) and saw the changing of the guards at the Hungarian White House. However, the most interesting part of the tour to me was when our guide was speaking about the Hungarian language. It is apparently the 5th hardest language in the world to learn, and after she explained it it was clear why. Hungarians actually originate from the Mongols, and therefore their language isn’t really related to any of the traditional European languages. There are 44 letters. One can put the word’s in any order that they like- for example, “I’m very cold” could be said “I’m very cold”, “Very cold I’m”, “Cold I’m very”, and any other combination of the words. There are also an infinite amount of words, because one can add as many of the hundreds of suffixes to the ends of words as one likes. I learned how to say “Thank you”, “Hello”, and how to count to four, and that is probably the most I’ll ever be able to pick up in Hungarian. However, from a linguistic point of view, it is pretty fascinating. In addition, this tour really gave great insight into the effects of communism on the country- a lot of the famous sites we saw were firsts after the end of the communist era, including statues and bridges.

1059049_10200340417376290_239763346_n 1065746_10200339748639572_1926845084_o1071739_10200339043021932_199471373_o After the long walking tour, we grabbed a quick sandwich for lunch and headed for a more relaxing afternoon at the Budapest bathes. Hungary was a part of the Ottoman Empire for 150 years, and the main influence of the Turks that is left in the city is the large and ostentatious baths. We went to the largest one in the city, which was located next to the famous Hero’s Square. They had many different types of baths- hot, warm, cold, saunas, pools, whirlpools, basically anything you could think of. The weirdest one was where you went from a few minutes in the deathly hot sauna straight to a freezing bath- it was a very strange experience but it oddly awakened a lot of things in my body. In addition, we had booked massages at the baths, and it was a much needed time of relaxation after how intense many of our other trips had been. It was definitely a real treat! After that, we decided to just float around in the pool and take it kind of easy and just float around in the pool- I didn’t want to tighten up my relaxed muscles for as long as possible!

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The group then split up for dinner. My half of the group decided to hit up a local market, and tried some famous Hungarian Langos. Langos are essentially fried bread covered in garlic juice, sour cream, and cheese (again with the Hungarian foods being a heart attack waiting to happen!) However, it was quite delicious and very fun to eat in a local market place. We then moved to a different hostel for the night, the so-called crazy Grandio Party hostel. Albeit it was a Sunday, but the place was completely dead. A hostel can either be dirty or not fun, and this place was both to a bad extreme. Therefore, after a quick drink at the bar, we headed back to Szimpla because it was so awesome the night before.

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We ended up staying up all night, which made for a long 17 hours of trains back to Metz. However, we made it, and now have pretty much no long trains left! Budapest may have not been my favorite city I’ve seen, but I am so glad I went and experienced the completely different culture. Next stop- Dublin!

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