Along the River Danube

DSC_0625Hello all from Budapest! The last few days have been amazing and weird and wonderful.  I met up with a few members who also arrived a day or two early of my group Sunday night, and we spent the evening till early morning getting to know each other over beer and traditional Hungarian dishes.

After wandering the city, lost until about 1 AM, and finally getting to sleep, we got up and explored the city, waiting for the other members of the group to arrive. We  managed to spend a good amount of time at St. Stephen’s cathedral looking out over the Danube to the castle district, then Scottie and I wandered through a good portion of the city, marveling at the different architectural styles present in such a small area.  We went back to meet the part of the group that arrived in mid-day, then I went back out on my own to find food and spend some alone time (it was really overwhelming being in such a big group after being on my own or with small groups of people for the last few days).  I decided to meet Patti and Jasmin at the central market, just over a mile away, and stopped by one of the largest synagogues in the city on the way.

The market was overwhelming.  It is housed in a two story building that has the feeling of a Victorian train DSC_0561station, with a huge, peaked glass roof that spills light on the thousands of people browsing through the various booths.  It was hot enough that I was tempted to buy a watermelon to take back to the hostel, but decided the walk wouldn’t be much fun lugging a giant melon.  Instead, we finished our shopping, then walked the banks of the Danube for a while before heading back to the hostel. We made a stop at St. Stephen’s to quickly view the interior of the cathedral, a beautiful sight to be sure.  By this time, most of the group had gathered, so we went back to check in and meet our roomies.  After we all got unpacked, we went back to St. Stephen’s with a few newly arrived folks to hike the steps to the dome.  From the top, the whole city could be seen, with magnificent views of the Parliament, the castle across the river, Matthias Cathedral, and more.  We then pulled off to the side of the road for a cone of world famous gelado, carefully put together to resemble a rose.  It was hot as all hell the whole time we were in Budapest, so I even opted for a big one with three flavors: Watermelon, honeydew, and kiwi banana.   It was the perfect refreshing treat to end a long day of wandering in the heat.

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We all returned in time for the welcome mixer, then the whole group went off the explore of the ruin pubs in the city.  The first bar was undoubtedly one of the weirdest establishment I’ve visited, sporting creepy rooms laid out in a maze, family portraits with cauliflower heads and voluptuous bearded ladies, and an owl-lady-horse masthead overlooking the bar. We left shortly after our arrival due to lack of locals (or people in general), and our fearless leader, Chris, led us through the city to a neat bar/food/hookah establishment filled to the brim with people.

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DSC_0695The next day, we awoke to a sightseeing tour of the city, including the Parliament building, the castle district and St. Matthias church across the river Danube.  The inside of the Parliament building was amazingly ornate, with gold leaf laid into intricate patterns all through the ceiling and pillars, and wooden statues of figures from various eras of Hungarian history overlooking the hallways.  Riding in the bus around the city, across the river, and up the hill to the castle district was an amazing opportunity to see all the styles of architecture throughout the city.  Since this area has been ravaged by so many wars over time, some building have been around for centuries, while other have been destroyed, taken over and revamped for new purposes, or restored, leading to an amazingly varied skyline over the city.  The Matthias church was incredible, perhaps even more ornate and better restored than St. Stephen’s cathedral in town.  We didn’t have very long to look in since we were on a tight schedule with our hired guide and the bus driver, but our next adventure made up for it.

We decided after all our hard work that day walking around, it was time to take a trip to the thermal baths. FB_IMG_1437492522265 We grabbed out swimming stuff and piled back on the bus and drove across town.  There were three different pools in the bath house, each with a different content of mineral and heat (or so I am told), and after the heat of the last few days all of us immediately made a bee line for the coldest pool possible.  We jumped in, and finally refreshed, swam around, splashing at each other and chatting.  We moved over to the warmest pool then for a little more talking, and finally decided to go to the medium heat pool.  Here, we found some really cool features, including jets that are strong enough that you can sit on them and levitate in the water, and a weird whirlpool that you could jump in and get pushed around in circles.  We spent some time chasing each other in the whirlpool, then hung out on the steps watching the odd assortment of European bathing suits parade by.  Our guide told me all about the school system in Austria (sounds amazing but crazy) and  got to know a little bit about a few others in the group before we toweled off, pruney from sitting in the baths for about two hours, and made out way back to get ready for a magical evening.

Later that evening, we did one of my favorite things on the trip so far: we chartered a boat to take us up and down the Danube, giving us an opportunity to view and enjoy the incredible architecture of the main monuments in Budapest.  The buildings are lit up with flood lights, much like the archaeological sites in Athens were.  For some reason (probably an attraction to the bright lights), the city’s pigeon population flocks to these building by night, flying loops above illuminated by the lights.  Traveling by boat up the river, with camera in hand of course, was a purely enchanting experience.  We disembarked after about an hour, then I walked back to the hostel with a few others, while a majority of the group went out to party since it was the last night in Budapest.

That’s all for now, but an update from Vienna will be coming soon!

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