I am going to try something different, I am going to write about the place I’ve recently visited, but black out the name. Then, people can comment and guess where I was. If I’ve recently told you where I was, don’t spoil it for others, and there are definitely ways to “hack” the post and find out, but no one likes a cheater…
There was a holiday recently in Switzerland, so Jeff decided to take an extra day off, and spend a four day weekend in a new city. We took a night train to our initial destination, but instead of getting off at that stop, we would stay on until Budapest, and actually saw two new cities in one weekend!
Night trains are definitely an interesting idea, for longer train rides, you save money on a hotel, and have the whole day in the new city. There are different classes of seats, some are just reclining chairs, others are beds shared with up to 6 people, and others are private rooms with your own bathroom. We shared a room with six people. It was actually a good first time experience, we had some english speaking roomies, and some Swiss ones who had beer! They shared with us and we hung out and chatted most of the night. Since there wasn’t any place to sit, we sat in the car with the bicycles, and some random other train traveler came by in search of beer. He didn’t speak English, but took interest in Jeff and I for whatever reason, so for about an hour I practiced my German with him. I think it went pretty well actually, it could of been the beer, but I think we actually did understand each other and had a reasonably informative conversation. It was exciting! Usually when I try to speak German in Switzerland they figure out pretty quickly I’m an English speaker and switch to English.
Anyway, after our bilingual adventure, we went to bed. They wake the train up an hour before your arrival, so for us it was 6am, because the train people didn’t know we were staying on until Budapest. We were groggy and had small headaches, but going back to sleep wasn’t an option. We arrived in Budapest at 11 am but it felt so much later than that. We got a map from the tourist office and set off towards the river. We decided we needed some caffeine so we stopped by a bar, and in the process we had some of the local spirits. The local spirit is called Unicum, and is very similar to Jägermeister, but with a more herbal, longer lasting, aftertaste. It didn’t wake us up exactly, but we did say funnier things afterwards.
After the bar we walked down the main drag of the city and took in the streets. It was definitely different than any other European city. The landscape was dusty and tan, like it had been summer for months already, and the air had a wet heat that made our skins sticky. The windows had a brown hue to them, like they needed to be cleaned or that they were staggeringly old. At some point we made it into the downtown part of the city, which is on the banks of a river. The grass was green, and the windows clean and kept. We were definitely in the wealthier/tourist part of town now. We decided that it was time to have lunch, after we were unsuccessful in finding a hotel, and had some of the traditional Goulash soup. We ate at a restaurant that was right on the river, and gazed across the river to the other bank which had a magnificent buildings and a steep hillside, covered in trees. During lunch I was literally falling asleep in my hands.
From the restaurant we started a more serious search for a hotel, and on our way we happened upon the setting up of a musical festival that was happening that evening. We decided our hotel needed to be near here, and the weight of our bags and our eyelids made us settle on the next hotel we found.
After a quick nap, it was beginning to be dusk, but since it doesn’t get dark until 9pm or 10pm here, we still had a lot of hours of daylight. We went for a walk along the bank of the river, past the house of parliament, and towards the big chain bridge. Budapest became a country in 1873, and was the joining of the city on the Danube’s west bank, Buda, and the city on the east bank, Pest. During it’s history as a country, Hungary was in a union with Austria, but after WWII they spilt into seperate countries.
While we were walking along the bridge, we came across this memorial. We were a little confused, because when you first happen upon it, the shoes do not look like metal. This is a memorial for the Jewish population of Budapest that were killed during WWII by Nazi’s and the Arrow Cross Militiamen, which was more or less local Nazi’s. Budapest is sometimes called the Jewish Mecca, and currently has the highest Jewish population of Europe, per capita. During 1944-45, 20-40% of Budapest‘s 250,000 Jewish population was murdered. If my math’s right, that is, at a low estimate, 70 people a day for two years, in one city.
After the shoe memorial we were at the bridge and crossed to the Buda side of the Danube river. We walked up the steep hill and it was a breathtaking view of the city. The streets were cobbled, and the buildings painted in warm and inviting colors. We got some ice cream and wandered around in the heat, admiring the views, and the local activities.
From here, we walked back down to the Pest side of the river, and made our way to the Festival. We enjoyed the local music, filled with words we didn’t understand, while we enjoyed some Polish food from one of the food vendors. It was delicious, but maybe, being 50% Polish, I have a bias. While sitting at the festival my attention was split between the music and the 16 year old’s, about 20 ft away from us, that were literally on top of each other making out and rolling around. I was disturbed by their public display of affection, but also jealous of their ability to really not care what the people around them thought.
We went for a moonlight sit on the river bank after the festival, which ended around 10:30pm, and then turned back to our nice cool hotel room.