From Buda to Pest
First, we would all like to wish our wonderful Mothers a belated and emphatic HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!! Sorry Mom, we made a genuinely valiant effort to call you on the occasion; Starr got directions on where to buy a phone card but instead we ended up walking in circles for an hour and a half before giving up and heading for bed. I love you and miss you and hope you aren't too angry with your baby boy :) I will buy you an extra cool souvenir to sort of make up for it. We will definetly make some calls to everyone from Praha.
Secondly, sorry for the awkward writing in the last blog, I didn't proofread it and it shows, heh. Anyway, we just wrapped up our last night in Budapest and we have had an absolute blast. Jess, Budapest is in Hungary (heheh) and it actually is two separate cities, Buda and Pest, sitting on either side of the Danube river.
Making our way here on the train from Vienna we had our passports checked twice in as many minutes by intimidating guards with fatigues and guns, giving you the immediate sense you are crossing over into "uncharted waters." On the train, a friendly Hungarian working for the tourism department reserved a room for us and arranged a shuttle to pick us up from the train station. The shuttle was piloted by a short round gentleman who turned and uttered "no english" before putting the pedal to the floor and rapidly zipping us off to our destination. Our Hotel is a mere stone´s throw from the grand and beautiful (especially at night) "Hero´s Square."
After settling in we walked down the Embassy avenue, dubbed so because it houses all the foreign embassies in beautiful old 18th and 19th century mansions which line either side of the grand boulevard. We made it to the danube and crossed over the famous Chain bridge before heading up to castle hill in Buda, which contain the majority of the remaining medeieval structures. We popped in to the church and perused the grounds of the castle, but being Sunday many of the attractions were closed.
Budapest is catching on to the whole capitalism thing wonderfully, around the castle if you want to walk along the path of the old castle walls, 150 forints (roughly 75 cents). And inside any attraction is loaded with little extras; for example, in the Bath house they charge you to get in but if you want a "private dressing room" it will cost you 300 forints, need a loincloth? 200. Towel? 400. But, it's great, you can sense the almost child-like excitement of the Hungarian people excercising thier freedoms. The excitement manifests itself in all sorts of ways, from thier penchant for peeling out, to the wild hairstyles and flashy clothes. Besides, it is still far cheaper here than in any "western" city, though I wonder for how much longer.
Another great thing about Budapest is the architecture, left largely undamaged from the war. The streets are lined with astounding examples of neo-classical, gothic, and baroque buildings all covered with wonderful ornamentation (along with centuries of dirt and grime) and full of character. These impressive buildings stretch across the entire city inerrupted only by infinitely ugly and depressing soviet-era apartment complexes (little more than giant cinderblocks with diminuitive windows). The soviet past displays itself in quirky ways, such as the angular and staunch outlines found on the walk/don't walk street crossing signs. The only heavily damaged area is along the banks of the danube where intense fighting took place between the Russians on the eastern side (Pest), and the Germans across the river in Buda. Looking out from the castle walls you can envision just where the hardest hit areas were, because the bombs blasted holes in the grand old architecture and opened up room for the fancy five star hotels that line the banks of Pest.
Well back to the narrative, so after walking around Buda, we ate some dinner before heading in for the night. The next morning we took the Metro to the most famous bath house in Buda, the Gellerty Baths. Ever since antiquity, as far back as the second century, the natural hot springs running under Budapest were exploited and channeled to create mineral baths, revered for thier natural healing powers. The Turks built many, and the Hapsburg empire built more later on. The Gellerty baths have been around for hundreds of years. The baths were quite an experience, we started in the main pool room, which houses a lap pool and a hotter semi circular pool to the back. The pool is lined with columns decorated with fish and mermaids and other sea scenes and the end of the pool is capped off with a fountain and bronze statue. Various spouts of water tapped from the springs stream from the mouths of dragons and fish sculptures lining the sides of the baths. The ceiling opened up to the sky letting the sunshine fill the room with golden light. After soaking for a while in the main pool, we split up to check out our respective baths, (we soon learned why the strict segragation of sexes is necessary). Nic and I ventured back to the Men's baths through a maze of stalls and cubicles full of men getting different massages. The thermal bath house was even more impressive, a large arched room covered from floor to ceiling in small tiles of different shades of blue and browns with intricate designs and patterns all over the floor and walls. Statues of little cupids peer down on you from all angles. The room contains two main baths, a 36 degree bath with a 20 percent mineral concentration, and a 38 degree bath with a 10 percent mineral concentration. The water is channeled directly out of the natural springs and comes pouring out of old Baroque fountains of little boys and various sea creatures. After soaking for a bit me and Nic explored some more of the Labryinth like structure, after finding what appeared to be an enema device (a metal bar circle around a spout that shoots straight up with great force) we found a steam room. And this steam room was not messing around, the steam seemed to be rising directly out of Hell itself, and had sort of a salty almost unpleasant odor about it which was hard to breathe in. We sat in there for as long as we could to clear out any remaining Virgal and just outside the door we found a small bath marked 8 degrees. After psyching oursleves up, we got up the nerve and took a plunge. Wow. After getting out of the steam room your body isn't sure what to think; a second ago you were literally on fire and now this, it takes a moment to register the ridiculously cold temerature, but it does and it hits you like a tond of bricks. Then we limped over to the 38 degree and submerged ourselves, further confusing our bodies. The hot water feels like nothing at first, then a strong tingling sensation before briefly feeling chill and then back to warm again. We were hooked and replayed this routine at leats four more times, feeling more invigorated and refreshed each time. Oh yeah and everyone but me and nic our sporting these little loincloths, basically a dishrag and a string. Starr later informed us the women sport nothing but thier birthday suits, quite a shocker for her western sensibilities. Later we headed to the outdoor pool areas which contained an impressive complex of more pools, saunas and the like. After a few more rotations of Steam room to 8 degree pool to 38 degree pool and some good soaks, we decided to get some food, since we were all filling very thirsty and hungry after spending over five hours at the baths.
We ate at a nice Italian cafe on a popular avenue and had a delicious dinner. It was an all around superb day, but although the baths made us all feel great, it also made me tired as a dog and I practically collapsed into bed and was snoozing like an old man by ten o´clock.
The next morning (yesterday) Starr and I got up early and caught a train to nearby Eger, which supposedly housed a really neat castle and some great wine cellars. WE arrived and ate some lunch before heading up to check out the castle. The castle was rather mediocre, mainly just ruins and the coolest section of the castle (the underground passages) was inexplicably closed up at 3 o clock! Dissapointed we headed out to find the ancient wine cellars carved right into the porous rock of the mountain side, to make a long and frustrating story short, we didn't find them. The trip was kind of a bust so we decided to catch the five o clock train back to Buda. Once we arrived we returned to our new favorite cafe and had another great dinner with Nic before heading to a outdoor concert they hold at a nearby park. The park was mainly filled with high school kids, amusingly rocking out to American rock, all cheesy and dated by our standards but they seem to love it. It was rather amusing and after people watching for a bit we called it a night.
This morning we got up to rainy skies after having brilliant weather for the last three days. WE took the short walk to the other famous bathhouse which is only about a five minute walk from our hotel. The Szecheney Baths wern1t quite as impressive as the others (not as expensive either) but, we stuill had a great time and left feeling refreshed and even more enamored with the bath houses(sp?). It had cleared up again so after lunch we took some buses out to Szobor park, an outdoor museum housing the old communist statues and plaques that once filled the city. It was quite a ways out there, but once we arrived we had a great time posing for pics around the statues and afterwards we got some really cool souvenirs from the gift shop. Then we once again patronized the Fresco Cafe (I think we spent the majority of our forints at that one establishment) before heading down to the river banks to experience the night time beauty of Budapest "The Paris of the East." We snapped some pics and walked around a bit before retiring back to our abode, now I need to join Nic and Starr in getting some sleep for tomorrow we are on to Praha!!
Oh yeah and the Austrians ain't got nothing on the Hungarians, they should rename the city Babepest, well maybe not. But wow, the most gorgeous women ever (besides my ever loving, wonderful wife of course).
We miss and love you all, and an extra thanks to Vicki for watching the bitches, tell them we will see them soon. I'll get some pics next update, I promise.