12.12.2009 - 27.12.2009
Travelling without a plan is very susceptible to the concept of inertia as when you are travelling you keep moving and when you stop it takes a while to get moving again. After cruising happily through both Romania and Bulgaria on my rough journey towards a white christmas somewhere near Vienna I arrived in Budapest and ended up staying here for Christmas instead. This blog could really be very long but I will gloss over some bits to keep it short(ish).
So why so long in Budapest you may well ask, well the answer to that my friends is that I found a cool little hostel called the Loft where even though initially I was the only guest (a common theme lately) the staff made it difficult (and in Gez’s case almost impossible) to leave. The hostel itself is more akin to crashing at a mates place and brings with it a very relaxed feel that makes it a very comfortable place to stay in Budapest and also saw me elevated to clayton’s staff after less than a week. So with some friends around and the weather looking promising I stayed in Budapest preparing for my first (hopefully) white christmas. Sadly after the week before Christmas was filled with snow the temperature rose unseasonably during Christmas week meaning no snow and just a bit of rain but oh well can’t have everything can you!
Whilst there wasn't any snow Gez (bless her heart) drew a frosted snowman in the window to atleast make it seem a little snowy which was a lovely touch. As opposed to my normal tradition of eating a big lunch and then snacking and lazing through the day we decided to cook up a big dinner, although this almost turned into a Boxing day breakfast as it took so long cook. It turns out that the oven we had there was adequate most of the time but when you have four chooks, a bucket load of veggies and Yorkshire pudding to cook it takes a while but it was in the end well worth all the effort.
Budapest the city is also a cool place that has a very interesting history with my favourite bit being the fact that they changed the date of settlement to coincide with when their 1000 year expo grounds were actually completed. This coupled with the fact that they owe much of their written history to an anonymous author meaning the statue in his (or I guess equally possible her) honour is very vague and amused me plenty. The expo grounds also showcase all the different architectural influences in Hungary and are thus an interesting place to walk around however it now predicatably is a museum. This area also contains the monument to Heroes Square which despite its grand nature is quite an elegant monument representing the various kings of Hungary and the seven founding tribes as well as the soldiers that have died for their freedom. Besides this the city has a lot of very random statues (such as the princess dressed as a prince statue) as they needed to replace the soviet statues that they removed from after liberation from the soviets although they oddly fell in love with the “lady of peace” statue and would not let it be removed. The city also has a nice parliament and fisherman’s bastion area that is an extension of the church on castle hill. The castle on the hill is quite plain and rather predictably (atleast in Budapest) has been turned into a not one but two museums. The national palace is largely unnoteworthy apart from the one guard that patrols the area who looks desperately lonely and begging for someone to talk to him. They also have some Christmas markets in the main square but other than being a good source of cheap food there wasn’t much on offer although I did see a good acrobatics show done with puppets once that was amusing – there are however better Christmas markets.
Hungary suffered the fate of being on the losing side in WWI and as a result they conceded a large amount of territory, curiously also losing some to Austria their former allies and partners in the Austro-Hungarian empire. After a short run as a democracy the country was occupied firstly by the germans despite Hungary resisting late into the war and then the Russians who hung around for four decades despite the best efforts of the students in the 1956 uprising. This uprising was met by the brute force of the Russian army with tanks rolling in to persuade the protestors to disperse despite the use of Molotov cocktails to halt their progress.
Budapest is crazy about their museums and they have a way of turning everything into one. The best two that I went to were the terror museum and the labyrinth museum . The terror museum tells the story of Hungarians struggles against the communist regime that was in place and is full of information and some really detailed rooms, oddly in a very Hungarian way the museum starts on the third floor and works its way down finishing in the basement. The labyrinth museum is very good as it is setup in the cave system under the castle district which has about eight different areas allowing you to get lost for a few hours. The art there is all carved out of the walls and consists of among other things soldiers guarding the doors which give it quite an eerie feel about it. There is also a continuously running red wine fountain (presumably for when the caves were used as refuge during the war, and hey lets face it everyone has needs). The final and best room though is a completely dark room where your aim is to find the one ray of sunlight coming from above (a task more difficult when there was no sun for a week!) that marks the exit. It also tries to create an atmosphere by getting you to follow a guide wire to a very bright light before delving in to the darkness that messes with your visibility and perception such that giant pillars and walls seem to arrive only when you are millimeters in front of them – all in all pretty cool.
Budapest is ofcourse famous for its baths and I spent a day checking out the baths that were used in the movie Red Heat all those years ago. The baths themselves are really quite good but after a couple of hours it does get a fraction on the boring side but the baths of various temperatures up to 45 degree water were a nice change from the sub zero weather outside.
Budapest also has a really good night scene with a lot of very cool pubs and plenty of places offering live music regularly. By far my favourite of these was a so called “ruins pub” which came about because the building was about to be destroyed but the students started hanging out there and drinking and as a result they decided to turn it into a bar. This one comes complete with chairs fashioned out of bath tubs, pummel horses, crates and an old VW bonnet for example. As I said I could continue for a long time but I will leave it here to keep it readable all in all Budapest is a cool city to visit!