Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Lara, Patti (Lara’s friend) and I met up in Budapest on 01.10.2005. Lara and Patti were coming from Prague, and I came from Vienna (after getting back from the Dumlerhutte the night before), so we all met in the Keleti pu train station in Budapest.

Before I tell anything about the city of Budapest, I have to tell about my misadventures getting to the city in the first place. Originally, Lara and Patti thought they would arrive at a different train station, so we agreed to meet at our hostel. Before I got to the Keleti pu train station (where I happened to meet up with Lara and Patti), I originally got off the train at the Kelenfold station. This station was closer to my hostel (according to the directions from the hostel), so I thought it would be faster to get off at this station, instead of going all the way to the main station. Before I go any further, I need to preface the rest of my story by saying that I made a bad decision because I did not exchange any Euros for Hungarian Forints before I arrived in Hungary. Part of this is due to the fact that I was running late and afraid that I would miss my train, but part of it is also due to my arrogance in thinking that I would easily be able to find an ATM and take money out of my bank account when I arrived in Budapest.

So, I got off the train at the Kelenfold station, and start looking around for an ATM. I quickly realized that there wasn’t one anywhere at that station. Kelenfold wasn’t really a train station anyways, but more of a train platform for the locals to use. So, I wandered around, getting more and more anxious, because lack of money was not my only problem. As I was looking for an ATM, I began to realize that nobody in the whole train station spoke English…except for me, of course! For the first time, I knew what it felt like to arrive in a foreign country with no money and no way to communicate…and that is the scariest and loneliest feeling in the world. After continuing to wander around the station for about 40 minutes, I saw that a night train was coming from Vienna to Budapest. So when it stopped at the station, I hopped on board and illegally rode the train for ten minutes to get to the main station in Budapest. When I arrived at the main station, Lara and Patti were waiting for me…which was a very welcome sight after my early morning adventures!

After I finished hugging Lara and Patti and telling them how glad I was to see them, we found an ATM, got some money, and then headed out to the Backpack Budapest Hostel. The directions to get to our hostel were not entirely straightforward, so we had a little bit of trouble finding it. But, we eventually found it and got settled into the “Jungle Room,” named because of the jungle animals painted on the walls. Since it was after 1 pm, we decided it was time for lunch and headed to Borbirosag Etterem, a restaurant that was recommended by the lady who runs our hostel. It was an excellent choice, and we enjoyed a wonderful meal that included traditional Hungarian goulash and a wonderful Hungarian wine. It was nice to sit down and have a relaxing meal after the crazy morning that I had gone through.

After lunch, we decided to walk around Pest, and we ended up at the National History Museum. The National History Museum was a very nice museum, with a lot of interesting historical information about Budapest and Hungary. One of the most interesting sights was a suit of armor from the 15th century that was smaller than me. It was very surprising that the men in Europe used to be that short. Once we finished touring the National History Museum, we headed back to the hostel to rest for a little bit before going out for the night. We wanted to go up to the top of Buda Hill and view the city lights after it got dark. Lara, Patti, and I left the hostel around 8:30 pm and took the tram to Buda Hill. From there, we climbed up to the castle, and walked along the front to look out on the city. We were rewarded for our efforts with some magnificent views of the Chain Bridge and the Parliament building. After taking some beautiful pictures of the city lights, we were going to go to a café on Buda Hill to have some coffee, but it was getting late and we were afraid that the tram would stop running and leave us stranded on the hill. So, we headed back to our hostel, and did what any normal American would do when they want coffee at midnight – we stopped at the Jiffy Jet to get some! On Sunday, we checked out of our hostel and headed across the river to view some of the sights in Pest. Our first stop was the Zsinagoga (Jewish Synagogue). This is the largest synagogue in Europe, and it is very beautiful. One of the interesting features of the Zsinagoga is the twin clock towers. The clock on the right tower is set to Budapest time and the clock on the left tower is set to Jerusalem time. The Hungarian Holocaust Memorial is located over a mass grave from 1944 (next to the Zsinagoga). It is dedicated to the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who died in the Holocaust. The memorial is very unique, because it looks like a weeping willow with steel leaves, and the names of the victims are engraved on the leaves. It is a beautiful and moving tribute to those who were killed during the Holocaust. After visiting the Zsinagoga, we headed towards Szt. Istvan Basilica (St. Stephen’s Basilica). This is the largest church in Budapest, and its size is very daunting when you are standing beside it. We originally approached the church from the back side, so it was quite an experience to walk around to the front entrance and see the actual size of it. From the Basilica, we went on to the Opera House. It is a beautiful building, and we were disappointed that we could go inside because it is supposed to have one of the most beautiful auditoriums in Europe. However, we still enjoyed looking at the outside of the building, which was very impressive. The next place that we visited was the Terrorhaza, or House of Terror Museum. This is a museum that was opened in 2002 in the former Secret Police Headquarters in Budapest. The museum showed how the Hungarian people were treated by the Arrowcross (who were affiliated with the Nazis) from ~1914 to the end of World War II and by the Soviet Police from the end of World War II until the fall of the Iron Curtain. It was a very shocking experience to see the methods that the Secret Police used to control the Hungarian people and to realize that they were still being used only 15 years ago. Seeing this museum has once again reinforced for me how incredibly fortunate I am to live in America and be able to experience all of the freedoms that we take for granted on a daily basis. In retrospect, I am very impressed with the museum curators and how they have displayed this unsettling history to the people of their country and the world. It will hopefully serve as a constant reminder of the past, so that these acts will never be repeated in the future.

After the Terrorhaza, we had lunch at a place called the Mensa. It is an old Communist cafeteria that has been turned into a restaurant, and they still serve traditional Hungarian food at excellent prices. I had chicken goulash, which was amazing! I am going to have to learn how to cook some of the meals that I have eaten over here so that I can enjoy them when I get back to the States. The other dish that I had was baked chicken with potatoes, mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese. It was excellent, and I was stuffed by the time we left the restaurant. As an aside, Lara had a bowl of yellow pepper soup with dumplings in it (or so we thought). It turns out that the white balls (which we thought were dumplings) were actually balls of fresh mozzarella cheese! So, here is a picture of Lara showing off one of her many talents…blowing a bubble with a ball of mozzarella cheese! It was time to head back to the hostel after we finished our lunch. We picked up our bags, and headed for the train station to go home to Vienna. It was a fun-filled trip, and Lara and I were both very glad that Patti was with us during our explorations of Budapest. As you can see, we were very tired when we got home! If you would like to see more pictures from this trip, click on “Andria’s Travel Photos” (on the right side) and select the album titled ‘Budapest.’ I am going to try to get my Switzerland adventures posted in the next day or two, so stay tuned!



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