Being the ambitious grad student that I am, I don’t get out much, but I did finally manage to get to Budapest on a very long 5-day weekend at the beginning of December. Originally I had planned on going with two of my fellow grad students Toni and Jordan but after a ticket debacle, in which the train tickets were accidentally sent to my address in the US instead of my address in Austria. After trying nearly everything to not have to buy all new (and much more expensive) train tickets, the solution ended up being that Jordan generously gave up his tickets so that Toni and I could still go without having to pay too much more than originally planned.
The overnight train to Budapest was relatively uneventful and cold. The person sitting next to me left a few hours in and I was so fortunate to be able to lay across 3 seats for most of the night. I had to take out my sleeping bag to keep out the cold but was otherwise relatively comfortable. The man who remained was a German whose wife was Hungarian. He told us how they met and where they had lived over the years as well as some other interesting tidbits. It was almost 9am when we got in and we made no detours on the way to the hostel. The hostel was on the 2nd floor of an old building (we later found out that what looked like an indoor patio from out our window used to be an apartment but had been bombed at some point). We were greeted warmly and waited a few minutes for our room to be ready. We got some maps and started checking out the possibilities. I promptly fell asleep.
A few hours later we explored the city and boy was there a lot to see – so many beautiful old buildings and bridges and random marble staircases. We walked and took pictures, then walked some more and took more pictures. For lunch we stopped at a local diner to try some homemade goulash – it bit greasy but good. Little did we know that was the BEST Hungarian food we’d have! For dinner we bought groceries and cooked with the only spice we could find – curry!
The next day we went down to an area that is being made into the city’s cultural center. For now there are two brand new modern buildings: the Ludwig Museum (or the Museum of Contemporary Art) and the new National Theater – both stunning. In the museum we saw a photography exhibit of Martin Munkácsi, a Hungarian who became popular mostly in Germany and the US. I was amazed at how many famous people he had photographed and at how good “old school” photography could be. It was inspirational to say the least! When we left that night it was FREEZING but we still took a few pictures of Budapest’s future cultural center.
Much of the following day was spent in a market that we just happened to come across while wondering near the shopping district. Many a Christmas gift was bought here. It’s always interesting to see a market in an old building such as this one was; the entire bottom floor was a food market. We quickly discovered that the Hungarians do not let anything go to waste – in fact we saw for sale every single part of a pig that you can imagine! We made the mistake of trying another “traditional” Hungarian meal here and new very soon after finishing that our digestive tracks would need days to recover from the greasy fattiness and we couldn’t help but ask ourselves: do Hungarians eat any vegetables?!?!
We also managed to hit up a circus and some old thermal baths in the courtyard of a huge palace. It was definitely unique. We wanted to go in but weren’t willing to put out the cash just to look around since neither of us had our bathing suits with us. The circus was strange but there definitely were some talented people. We of course caught a few good stunts on film (digital film that is).
The next day we were headed back to Austria. Our original train was supposed to leave at 11am but we found the same train leaving at 9am. I looked at the tickets over and over again and couldn’t decide if they would work for either train or not. There was no time listed on them which made me think they would. So we got on the 9am train and about an hour into the ride the controllers came and of course told us we were on the wrong train. We tried to reason with them but they were asking us to pay for new tickets (what?!? again?!!?) Finally we asked if we could just get off and wait for OUR train and they said yes. So we got off in the middle of nowhere Hungary and sat a few hours in mall until the next train came. Oh the adventures of traveling…