Friday, August 06, 2010


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.

56er memorial.

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.

Heroes' Square

Me at Széchenyi Bath.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


I just shaved my beard. I still have the goatee, but I am sure that will go in a few weeks too. This picture shows more or less what my face looks like. I don't have that much hair and I'm certainly not wearing that many clothes. I am really just using this picture as an excuse to put this flashback picture up. It is about eleven months in of my one year stint in Antarctica. I might be looking a little haggard.

Me in September 2008 with Talie (picture by Joselyn).

Monday, August 02, 2010

Rural Hungary

This is hopefully going to go down as the worst leg of my trip. I spent entirely too much time on the Internet trying to find out if and when I was going home for my dad's memorial. I had one foot at home and one foot here in Europe. I just wasn't able to focus on either. I was paralyzed by less that ideal choices and a lack of information. I craved the days in the Austrian countryside where all I had to do is ride. On my push to get to Budapest to maybe catch a flight, I did 101km and 126km days. When I woke up on the third day, it was raining and my throat was sore. However, I also found out the memorial was pushed back, which temporarily relieved me, but also added a lot of complications for flying out later.

15th century benches at the castle turned agricultural college in Mosonmagyaróvár.

What is there to note about this leg of the trip? I made a smart decision. I was about to do a huge day, but on a whim pulled up short. I just didn't have any need to rush along even though I was only mildly interested in what I was seeing. That put me in a hotel and a bed that was really nice to sleep in. I might be getting smarter at this. I was trying to beat a tractor. It won. Who knew tractors went faster than 30k?


What is wrong with this picture? I think the sun flowers are on strike.

While riding through the rural towns, I saw a ton of people, old and young, men and women, doing their yard work in their bikinis. It was really hot so it should not be any different than the beach, but it is a little different since they show a bit more in their bathing suits, no matter the body type. I had to strongly resist the urge to take a picture to protect your eyes.

I have no idea what this was about, but it was great.

They seemed to have so much yard work because most of them have vegetable and fruit gardens. In the US, this seems to a middle class trend to get back to the earth and back to green. However, in the Hungary it seems to be the working class who is leading the way. Actually, they never left. They have always done it that way. The one predominant characteristic I felt while riding to Budapest was humble living. I liked it. Of the two castles that I stopped by, one was now a factory and the other was an agricultural university.

A national theater or a ski jump in Gyor.

Szechenyi ter, the city center in Gyor.

Recreating by the Mosoni-Duno river in Gyor.

While biking the wrong way one day, I passed two old French guys. They were doing the Danube river trail over two summers. They were carrying almost no gear. I was jealous. They were committed to spending every night in a hotel and eating every meal in a restaurant. I cannot imagine how much easier the biking would be if I prescribed to that same attitude. I have been in a hotel or hostel for seven nights straight, including the Budapest nights, and it is definitely making me soft. I'm not sure I am looking forward to getting in my tent again, but I know I'll love it once I am out there. Tonight should be that night.

Just like in Austria, I love the old with the new, the horse and the satellite dish.

My time in Hungary started to turn around when I got a Thai massage and then spent a couple hours chatting up the two out of four Thai women in town. I cannot imagine living in a town where only 3 other people speak my language. Their work requires them to only know the basics to talk to their clients, but they are learning by making their clients, like me, practice with them. Anyway, while talking they found out about my shoulder and the two of them both went to work on it at the same time. I do not think I have ever experienced more pain in my life. My whole body was tingling and I was light headed from the pain. When they were done, it did move a bit more, but that might have been the adrenaline talking, just like when I was playing ultimate.

The abbey at Esztergom.

On Semester at Sea, I was young and brazen. I went up and talked to all types of strangers. I have great photographs of people. I have not done that this trip. I have taken a step back. Maybe, I am not fearless. Maybe, I am more respectful. I don't know. I forced myself to break the bubble for the first time in Hungary. This might be one of my favorite photographs so far.

One of many old Hungarian men I met on the trail.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Bratislava, Slovakia

At artist gallery nook with a special greeter.

I love the art in the windows of the derelict building next to the up to date Cathedral.

Bratislava is great. I loved it. If you ask me why, I would have trouble answering. It reminds of when I tried to tell people about Vietnam. There was not any one thing to see or do, it just had a great feel and energy. The people were friendly. From the moment I got into Bratislava, it did not fail to deliver. A girl I talked to didn't like it at all though. She said you could see it in just a single day. I agree from a tourist perspective, but I am going to pretend I was seeing something else. I know someone else didn't like the repetitive communist housing either. Question of the day, we look at that repetitive communist housing and cringe, but didn't we do the same thing in the USA with housing developments by choice? What is the difference? Perception of choice? A curious thought.

The lower half of Michael's Tower.

Bratislava castle.

Soviet era housing.

I stayed a single night at the wonderful Hostel Blues and wish I could have stayed more. I guess I could have, but I had just taken a rest day and I feel like I need to keep making progress. There are a lot of miles left on my trip and I want to be ahead of schedule instead of behind. Oddly, I don't actually have a schedule yet and going home for my dad's memorial is complicating matters. Anyway, the hostel had music going all the time at reception, but never had any blues playing. The staff was super friendly. The reception area being air conditioned might have played a big part too. I tooled around the city for a while, but came back when the heat became unbearable. It didn't cool off much that night either, but I did find bagels. I have been missing big American breakfasts and this wasn't it, but a bagel sandwich definitely hit the spot.

A little known Camden, ME franchise reaches out to new territory in Bratislava.

This statue was located outside a restaurant called Paparazzi.

The next morning, I was out the door to explore some more and take a short tour around the city. I also spent an hour visiting every mobile shop in the city trying to get my phone unlocked. No dice. However, I did find another bagel place. Just as good the second time and exactly the fuel I needed to get on the road to Hungary.

Cumil (The Watcher).

A sign was added beside Cumil because two cars have taken off his head.

The Belgian Beer Cafe. There is a restaurant in Christchurch, NZ that has the exact same name, sign, and logo. It is where Galit introduced me to croquettes. Yum!!