Brody cafe where the A-list of Hungary often eat out.
I rode into Budapest ready for good things happen. Esztergom had put some pep back in my step. Budapest seemed like it was going to do more of the same. It was just another one of those cities that felt right. It is possible that I just set the mental tone, but I think it is something else. I had a great conversation with an old friend about it later. He said that Paris, Barcelona, Vienna, and a lot of the other European cities are. They are already great and defined. Vietnam, Bratislava, and Budapest are becoming. There is something very special about the energy in a place that is becoming. Transformations are a special time in our lives, why shouldn't it be the same with cities?
Chain Bridge in the rain.
My first view of the city was its bridges followed up by the dominating Parliament building. I am pretty sure that is my favorite building in Europe so far. I can't believe such a grand building was built by and for the people instead of for religion.
Budapest castle over the Chain Bridge.
Szent István Bazilika (Saint Stephen Basilica)
Guarding the pedestrian zone.
My first agenda item in Budapest was to get to my lodging, The Aboriginal Hostel. I thought it was a bit cheesy to have an Australian themed hostel in Budapest, but when I saw the address, Bródy Sándor utca 46, I felt like I had to stay there. It was a great choice. The hostel was friendly, informative, quiet, and all together brilliant. Consider it recommended. After getting situated, I spent the next twenty-four hours getting a first look around the city based on the list that Zach, an ice friend that used to live here with his family, sent me. It is so nice to be nudged in the right direction instead of just starting from the generic guide book (that I didn't have anyway).
The garden bar, TŰZRAKTÉR.
Artwork at TŰZRAKTÉR.
After my first day in Budapest, I met up with the one and only Matty Liddle. He is an epicenter of fun. Matt and I played college ultimate together. He was a founding member of En Sabah Nur and brilliant. I have not seen him for ten years. He lived in Hungary for three years and happened to be back there for two weeks for vactaion when I was passing through. Upon hearing that I was having a lackluster time in Hungary, he took it upon himself to use up a couple of his vacation days to turn my trip around. We met up to see an alternative country band that a few of his friends were in. Afterward, we went to a classic open air Budapest garden bar which was created when the bar bought and abandoned apartment complex. It was a great way to spend a cool, Budapest evening. He left me with more ideas of what to see and plans to meet him for lunch tomorrow.
Kürtöskalács (Chimney Cake), originally from Transylvania where it was made by wrapping the dough around the chimney pipes. They remind me of Auntie Anne's pretzels.
Budapest's Great Synagogue
Budapest's Great Synagogue
Budapest's Great Synagogue
Instead of going inside just another church the next morning, I decided to mix it up by going in a synagogue. Budapest has the second largest in the world, behind New York City. Unfortunately, since World War II, they have not really needed its full capacity. Our Hungarian tour guide let us know each of the famous Hungarian Jews with such pride. I actually knew who a few of them were, like Pulitzer.
Kiadó Kocsma chair made from old bike wheel parts.
Matt took me to a 'bike messenger' restaurant. I had an omelette hoping it would cure my craving for a big American breakfast. It didn't. It just wasn't the same. I just need to make me own one of these days when I am in a hostel. So far I haven't because I am always in camping mode and forget I get to use a real kitchen. Though my meal wasn't what I was looking for, I got to spend an hour in a chair made out of old bike wheel parts. Incredible!!!
Anonymi Bele Regis Notarii ('the anonymous notary of king Bela'), but is generally cited as Anonymus. Matt's favorite statue in Budapest.
A Széchenyi outdoor pool.
From lunch, we headed off to one of Turkey's famous thermal baths. There are eight in the city. The first ones were built by the Romans. The others are still over a hundred years old. Today, thy are still accessible for under $12. I can't imagine what places like these would cost to enter in the USA. However, in Budapest, it is just part of life. In fact, your doctor can prescribe you eight free bath visits a year to take care of general ailments. How great is that?!?! Not everyone goes in Hungary, though. It is the same as massages in the USA. Some do it. Some don't. We did it, and did it well.
A Széchenyi indoor pool.
Another Széchenyi indoor pool.
They have a ton of different baths that run at different temperatures. They have cooling baths too. You just hop between them at your own leisure. In the states, I tend to avoid hot springs that are pumped into pools like these, but for some reason this worked. I might need to reconsider the ones in the US. I remember my first hot spring pool in Russia. Nothing made it different from a regular swimming pool except it was warm. Maybe the amazing decorations were the difference here.
The Széchenyi Bath whirlpool!
They also had saunas and, my favorite, steam rooms. The one sauna we went to was set to 200F. At the South Pole, they have a 300 club. When it hits -100F, they crank the sauna up to 200F, heat up, and then strip down and run around outside. Boiling is at 212F and I had always wondered how 200F wasn't terrible. I was that since South Pole is so dry, no one gets burned. Unfortunately, the same is not true of Budapest. I left with souvenir burns on my bum and feet. There were a few people in there before and after us. I have no idea how. They just make them tougher in Hungary!
An outdoor pool at the Széchenyi Bath with Zeus, in swan form, making love to the mortal Leda, mother of Helen of Troy.
Gelato Rose that was really more like ice cream.
After a quick city bike tour, ice cream, it was time for a nap. I was dehydrated from the baths and needed to recover some energy to meet Matt that evening for a jam session with his old band and friends at a bar. They took over the entire upstairs of the bar. When I knew Matt, he didn't play or sing. Now he does both, and does them well. While he played alt country tunes (like Up on Cripple Creek, Tootsie, and the Dead), I spent time with his friends. They were so warm and welcoming. Such a good last night in Budapest.
Great Market Hall, built for that.
My last morning started out hanging with the old ladies getting their groceries for the day at the Great Market. In the afternoon, it is overrun by tourists, but in the morning it reminded me a peaceful farmer's market. I'm a fan. From there, I headed back to City Park, a lot of which was built up for the Millenium Exhibition.
Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park.
The castle in City Park was never a functioning castle. In 1896, it was built out of compressed cardboard. It was meant to represent all the different building styles in Hungary. After the exhibition, the people liked it so much, they built it out of stone.
This is Matt's favorite artwork in Budapest. He might have made it mine because he explained what it meant. Without that explanation, I would have walked on by and known nothing. In 1956, the Hungarian Revolution took place against the Soviets. At first, it was just a couple solitary events (the right side), however, more of them started happening until they came to a refined point (the left side) that was able to drive the Soviets out. Unfortunately, the Soviets came back with a larger army and crushed the revolution. Over 200,000 of the 56ers fled the country to save their lives. After the Soviet suppression, Radio Free Europe was criticized for having misled the Hungarian people that help would arrive if the citizens continued to resist.
This is a one year hour glass, but, like most hour glasses in my past, it is clogged.
Me at Széchenyi Bath.