After a longer-than-anticipated stay in Ljubljana, I was finally rejoined by Mike. We decided that since we’d lost about a week of travel time, we’d “fast-forward” to Budapest. This meant that we did not cycle through the northwest corner of Croatia or the southwest of Hungary. We’ll be going to the coast of Croatia toward the end of our trip, though.
We took what we thought was supposed to be a direct train to Budapest from Ljubljana. Unfortunately, about two hours into the train ride, they kicked us off and herded us onto a bus. I still don’t know what happened exactly, but I think there was some kind of problem with the tracks. After a 1.5-hour bus ride, we got on another train that took us the rest of the way. The journey was fun except for the frantic loading and unloading of bikes and the drunk Hungarian man who snored loudly and chain-smoked on bus and train when not asleep.

Snoring, chain-smoking drunk douchebag

We stayed 3 nights in a small hotel we found on AirBnB. The manager, Jord (sp?) was very helpful, and the hotel’s dog was friendly. The dog’s name sounds like Top Punch and means “little foot.” The place was a little noisy on Saturday when we arrived, but we went next door for some goulash, which was yummy. 

On Sunday we explored the city by bicycle. First, we stumbled upon some kind of festival in a park by a castle (which may or may not be a normal Sunday tourist thing). We had a tubular cinnamon and sugar pastry for breakfast. There were archers, people in medieval costumes, a bagpiper, and all kinds of craziness. 

We visited some landmarks and looked at tons of cool buildings and then went to Margaret Island, which sits in the middle of the Danube between Buda and Pest. It’s a lovely park for a little rest. It has a Bellagio-style (though not quite that magnificent) dancing fountain, too.

Our next stop was Memento Park, described by my Lonely Planet guidebook as a “socialist Disneyland.” That might be overreaching a bit, but it is an interesting park filled with communist-era statues. Our bike ride to the park had some epically steep hills, so that may have diminished my enthusiasm somewhat, but it was a pretty bizarre little park. The crazy Soviet music playing when we entered added to the ambiance.


Memento Park communist statue of a worker

On Monday we left the bikes and went on foot (and by bus) to a number of our top picks. Unfortunately, we were thwarted at a few turns. Ah well. Our first pick panned out nicely.

We started off at a place called Hospital in the Rock. Its name is pretty apt, though it has undergone many transformations. Basically, there are a lot of naturally-occurring caves underneath Castle Hill. They were used for a number of purposes in ancient times, but their more modern history began around the time of WWII. The caves were connected by tunnels and made into a hospital. It served thousands of soldiers and civilians during WWII and other later conflicts in Budapest. Then, during the Cold War it became a nuclear bunker. The tour was really fascinating since it contained TONS of medical supplies from the 40s-60s. It was also populated with many wax figures. We got to see surgical rooms, dorms, the kitchen, the water treatment facility, the air filtration system, the crazy fuel tanks that were secretly restocked by “gardeners” “watering flowers” on Castle Hill when it was a secret shelter, and more. I highly recommend this bizarre tour to anyone visiting Budapest.

After the tour, we went up on top of Castle Hill for the lovely views of the city. Unfortunately, we struck out on our next two visits. Both the Synagogue (with a Holocaust museum) and the market were closed for Pentecost. Apparently, that’s a national holiday in Hungary. We only found out because of the sign on the door of the synagogue, but it explained why most of the shops and all of the groceries we had passed were closed also. Bad timing.


Parliament building across the river

Luckily, the Turkish baths are open every day of the year, so we went to the Gellert Baths for our final stop of the day. Mike wasn’t too excited about the plan, but I felt it was something we had to do while in Budapest, so he played along. The baths are fed by natural hot springs and range in temperature from 35-40 degrees Celsius (not counting the regular, in heated pools). We explored the many offerings in the maze-like spa. Lonely Planet claims the experience “has been likened to taking a bath in a cathedral.” Again, this seems to reach a bit, but there is some pretty elaborate tile work and statuary in the century-old spa. Was it worth the hype? Eh…maybe not, but I’m still glad we did it.

Despite our disappointments, Budapest is one of the coolest cities I’ve been to. It’s beautiful, lively, and full of history. If you haven’t been, put it on your travel list!

One Response to “Budapest”
  1. Dad says:

    Jackie, I really like how descriptive you are with the words you choose. Even before I saw the picture of the chain smoking snoring drunk Hungarian I had a good image.

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