I am super excited to get to blog about my Spring Break 2015, but at the same time it is kind of daunting because there is just so much to say. I am going to have to split it up…
Starting out, my roommates and I all received “idiot points” for waiting until the week before to book everything for the trip. We ended up staying up until 3 in the morning one night because we absolutely needed to get on buying our train tickets and book hostels. After a hot mess of a night as Kelly called it, we were able to get everything we needed in line to leave. The next challenge was packing. Packing enough clothes and shoes for that pretty lengthy period of time in a carry on that can’t exceed 10 kg is a challenge. I think I just got to the point where I threw clothes in the bag and said, “This is just going to have to do.” Before we left, I engineered a homemade weighing system so that we could make sure that our bags weren’t overweight. None of us were about to pay 50 euro to check an overweight bag. Using the empty milk jugs and orange juice carton we had, I filled them up with water to equal right under 10 kg and put them inside our trash can.
We ended up leaving on a Wednesday night. Since I don’t have class on Friday, I only skipped one class Wednesday night and one class Thursday. Many of the Irish students stopped coming to class long ago, so it’s whatever I guess. Upon our arrival to Budapest, we were supposed to have a shuttle booked to take us into the city so we could find our hostel. We got in around midnight and the shuttle was scheduled to come at 0:55. Well… it didn’t. After scrounging up the coins for a payphone (thank goodness someone had given Kelly some forints), I went to call the company number provided. I was finally able to get ahold of a sassy guy who sounded like he was half-asleep, but all that he would say was “One… Twenty…. Seven.” He just kept repeating it over and over and over again. So finally I got confirmation that the new pick up time was 1:27. Only, it wasn’t because the shuttle still never showed up. Every other possible bus service showed up… but never Skyline. We waited around until about 2 am, when we gave up and called a taxi.
In Hungary, I depended on Ali and Kelly to buy everything for me because they each withdrew money from the ATM and I didn’t. We didn’t understand their currency when we went to withdraw money at the airport, the ATM was in Hungarian, and we probably weren’t completely with it because it was late and we were tired, so each of them accidentally withdrew around 200 euro in cash. I am not sure that I ever really got used to their currency. They use the forint in Hungary, so all the prices are really huge numbers. Also, they use periods in place of commas. It was really difficult to judge how expensive everything was and also make sure that we weren’t getting gypped, because the conversion factor was not simple.
The next morning we decided to just wander around Budapest since we didn’t exactly know where we were going. Budapest definitely has a different look and feel to it than Dublin. In the architecture there is a combination of Roman and Russian influence. There are courtyards, detailed stonework, pointy buildings, coloured tile roofs. It’s much quieter on the streets with fewer people walking around. More people drive cars rather than walk since the city is bigger.
Our obsession with chimney cake started that morning as we stumbled across a roadside stand. After meandering in a couple of stores and then across a bridge, we managed to find ourselves in a touristy landmark which required a hike up a hill to Citadel. Before actually going up the hill, we stopped and ate a giant pretzel that was bigger than my face.
It was really neat to overlook the whole city and see the landmarks we would eventually hit from above.
At the top, there was also a playground. Naturally, we decided to spend some time there. The highlight was the giant hamster wheel. Surprisingly no one was injured… however, I did fly out of the wheel several times.
After that, we found an shop where workers tried guessing our ethnicity. They thought I was Swedish or Norwegian, which is actually a common guess that I get over here. Since all we had to eat for the day at that point was basically bread, we found a cafe where I ate a paprika veal and egg noodle dish. Paprika spiced meat and goulash are trademark hungarian dishes. We also had some strange Hungarian dessert there. It was basically fried dough balls in a cream cheese sauce… not my favourite, but worth a try. Back at the hostel, we went down to the bar and used our coupons for a free drink. Hot wine is apparently a big deal in Hungary, and that was one of our choices, so we decided to give it a go. I actually liked it because it had less of a fermented flavour and more of an Apple Cider taste with the spices.
The first actual stop, we hit Great Market Hall. This was a huge indoor market with a bunch of grocery, craft, and food stands. I bought a little wooden spice scoop since Paprika is a big deal there. We also ate breakfast at the market. We had what was called langos, which reminded me of an elephant ear. Ours had vanilla pudding on top of it, so it was a delicious mess.
After that, we shot up the road to the Parliament building. Along the way, we found wavy benches that were really comfortable; the sun shining on us made it even better. We also saw from across the Danube, Buda Castle, which was massive, and Matthias Church, which is supposedly the finest church in Budapest. There was also a memorial along the side of the Danube near the chain bridge, which was the first bridge to connect Buda and Pest. The memorial was a bunch of metal shoes right off the water. It was kind of eerie as it was to commemorate Jewish people who had been shot into the river.
We finally reached the parliament building, which was a beautiful kind of scary because of the pointy roof along with the colouration.
After that, we saw St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest’s largest Roman Catholic church. I have never seen a church so elaborately decorated. On the way out, there was a booth to buy merchandise. Ali says that Jesus probably would have flipped the table. She is right.
Then we walked up Andrassy street to Heroes Square, seeing the state opera house along the way. Heroes Square was a giant paved square with an extremely tall column in the middle along with a few arches of columns off to the side. It was incredibly huge!
After that, we walked around to Vajdahunyad Castle, which was too big to get in one picture. It kind of had a more Gothic look to it as well. There was a statue of George Washington outside it as a tribute to Hungarian Americans.
Inside the castle, there was an agriculture museum, which Ali and I had to go into considering we are agriculture students. Kelly didn’t seem to mind either, because I think we have started converting her into an ag loving girl. The museum was endless and aside from the exhibits, it was worth paying to go into just for the architecture alone. There were stained glass windows throughout and definitely felt castle-like inside still.
After the museum, we didn’t know what to do, so we decided to find food and then maybe try going to Buda’s castle. First we grabbed some more chimney cake and then we ate gyros at a little hole in the wall place. They were really cheap and really delicious, although they were quite spicy, which hurt my chapped lips. It was worth the pain. Stopping to eat also gave us time to rest our feet since we were hurting pretty bad by that point.
On the way to Buda’s castle, we happened upon a Hungarian festival they were holding. We ate yet more chimney cake, but this time, we got to watch it be made right in front of us! Also, when we got it, it was super warm and delicious. (Lesson learned from that chimney cake is that it must be consumed the day you get it. I ate all mine that night, but Ali and Kelly left some for the morning. Both of them ended up getting sick from it.) We browsed the rest of the booths and ended our day watching the sun set behind Buda’s castle.
When we got back, it was only around 7’clock, which seems super early but it was already pitch black outside. Later on, we ventured back outside to find dinner. We stopped at a place called Ramenka, which was a few streets down from us. Along the way, it was kind of dark and scary, so I told Ali and Kelly to keep up with my pace and we hurried quickly to the restaurant. At first Kelly and I were confused because the menus were in Hungarian, and Ali was confused why we were confused, but then we learned they had two sets of menus and Ali happened to pick up the English version. Since the place was packed, we took ours to go and made it home with hot ramen safe and sound. Me eating with chopsticks was a disaster. Kelly is half-Chinese so she tried her best to teach me. By the end of the meal, I had kind of sort of gotten the hang of it. After eating and reading a chapter of Mere Christianity together, we went back to the room to go to bed. Unknown to me until we reached Vienna, I left my scarf down there in the bar area because I had taken it off to avoid dropping food all over it. So now, we have changed the words to George Ezra’s song and instead of “My house in Budapest” it is now “My scarf’s in Budapest.”
The next morning was not nice to my blood pressure. The lady at the desk was as sassy as the man on the phone the first night. Hungarians in general don’t seem outwardly to be the happiest of people. They don’t laugh a whole lot. The day before, we were laughing a lot while walking around and Ali jokingly said, “Stop laughing, we are in Hungary.” After leaving the hostel in the morning, we couldn’t decipher the maps we had looked up. An uncharacteristically friendly Hungarian man with his wife came up and asked if we needed help. He could tell we were lost, but he pointed us in the direction to the train station, so we were off again! I had never seen a train station before, so I was super excited to see Keleti.
Once there we asked a bunch of different booths for help and finally found platform 8 where we were supposed to be. While waiting, we decided to get some langos from a stand at the station. The menu was completely in Hungarian, so we could not figure out what toppings they had. The lady at the window only spoke Hungarian, so she was getting really mad at us when we didn’t understand what she was saying. It was terrifying. So, Kelly just got a Sprite and we left. The workers at the station helped us find our cart. One of them pretty much demanded a tip right after he helped us find our seats and load our luggage. It was deserved, but very abrupt with the way he asked for it. He also set us in the wrong seats because we had a man and then couple try to move us. The couple insisted we move, so we found what I guess were our actual seats. I was able to get Goulash on the train, so my Hungarian experience was officially complete.