Sunday, September 11, 2011

Budapest is the Best

September 11, 2011

God answered my prayers and our night train ended up being phenomenal! It was a brand new train and luckily it was just the three of us in a room. Our little compartment had a sink and everything, and a father and son from Boston were in the compartment next to us. The train conductor was a sweet old man and I was so happy to finally be on a train that I felt like I could relax and get a good nights sleep...and then the Ukrainians showed up...

Just as we were about to settle in for the night, a younger guy walked by and said hello. In his broken English and clearly intoxicated, he introduced himself as Dennis and asked what we were doing. When we told him getting ready to sleep he said, "sleep? No sleep. It's too early." His friend Vlad quickly appeared behind him saying, "such beautiful ladies," in his broken English. After talking for a bit, they invited us two doors down to their compartment for a beer. We didn't have much of an option, as his friend returned with beers for us and asked us to meet the rest of their friends. Figuring we were in a somewhat controlled environment and the train conductor knew them and didn't seem worried, Kat and I went down to their compartment, while Nat stayed behind and rested.

They had 2 compartments that opened up to one another and had it set up as couches instead of beds. They had 4 other friends with them who barely spoke any English. We learned that they all are in some type of law enforcement in Ukraine and Kazakstan and the ones who didn't speak English used their friends as translators. It was so interesting to learn about their lives since it is so different from ours. They were so kind and actually got me to sing for them. The one guy, Combar, didn't speak any English except for his one impersonation "FBI. (kicks into the air) open the door!" It was absolutely hysterical. The whole evening was pretty hilarious as we communicated through broken English and charade gestures. I'm so glad that we met them!

We arrived at the Budapest train station and of course, the tourist information office was closed. We walked out of the station into the Budapest slums and we had to keep hiding in corners to look at the map on my iPad. Poor Nat was feeling pretty sick at this point, and after finding a Starbucks and getting wifi, we were able to find our way to our apartment. We explored the city for a bit until our apartment was ready and luckily the area got much better. There was even a buzzing street festival on our street! While walking around, I completely fell in love with Budapest. It has a buzzing culture that has yet to be ruined by tourism. Only a few people speak English and the whole experience is thoroughly authentic. Also, the HUF currency made me feel pretty rich!

We walked by St. Stephen's Basilica and it is absolutely stunning. The whole area around it has numerous restaurants and is absolutely darling. We walked over and saw the Danube River and the Szechenyi Chain Bridge. The architecture surrounding the Danube is massive and incredible. The skyline is dotted with humongous castle-like buildings.

Our apartment in Budapest was cheap, huge, in an awesome location, and beautiful. We even had a washing machine that we learned, when Kat opened the door, was completely filled with water. In a matter of seconds our shower room and part of the kitchen was flooded with about a 1/2 inch of water! I mopped up some of it and luckily the maid was able to clean up the rest quickly. It was definitely not one of our finer moments.

Nat decided to stay in for the remainder of the day and attempt to get over her illness, while Kat and I explored the city a bit. We grabbed some delicious food from the street festival and stopped by the opera house but unfortunately, we had just missed the tour. The lobby was beautiful though!

Next, we made our way to the famous Szechenyi Baths. We took the metro, which was easy to navigate (although we could not pronounce any of the stops) but the trains were about 100 times worse than the subway cars in NYC. The buzzers they set off when the doors close is something you imagine they would use in a torture chamber.

Once we arrived at Szechenyi Baths, the experience was very...memorable. The whole setup was very strange and we had to wear bracelets that looked like watches that locked our lockers and the towels were actually sheets... The baths had about 10 different saunas and hot tubs and three outdoor pools. You'll never guess who was waving at us from across the way... Our friend Vlad that we met on the train! He introduced us to some more of his friends and showed us some more areas of the baths. Heck when in Budapest, bathe as the Hungarians (and I guess Ukrainians) do!

After the baths, Kat and I went to the Budapest Wine Festival at Buda Castle. After crossing the Chain Bridge and making our way up a massive hill, the festival was beyond words. I will have a thorough explanation of the experience on my wine blog, but let me tell you, it was so incredible I was weeping at the thought of leaving Budapest. The castle setting, with the full moon blazing upon us, and hundreds of wine stalls was mind blowing. We drank heaps of some of the best wine that I have ever had and most of them do not even export to the US!! I'm planning on fixing that as soon as I return home. We met so many wonderful people and it was the event that truly sealed the deal on my love affair with Budapest.

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