Day 9: Exploring Budapest Part 1

Posted: July 27, 2014 in Budapest
Tags: , ,

Today we all slept in a bit (I even slept until 7:45!) and took our time getting ready, hanging the clothes to dry and putting in another load of laundry then headed downstairs to the McDonald’s across the street… Don’t judge… I’d forgotten to followup with the landlord before we left to get the password for the wifi in the apartment and he hadn’t responded to my email and for some reason I’ve been unable to text him (despite purchasing an international “talk and text” plan from Rogers that is supposed to allow me to call or text from anywhere in Europe) so we needed McDonald’s free wifi. I only eat McDonalds’s when we’re outside North America and only for breakfast (or late night chicken nuggets) so can’t really comment on the standard of their service these days but I’m guessing Ray Kroc (founder of McD’s) would not be impressed with the service in this one… Marie must have stood in line for 15 minutes (there were 4-5 people in front of her)… Turns out they take one order, call it in, then stand around talking while your food is cooked… So you get nice hot food but it takes forever to get it. But at least they still had wifi… But for some reason their wifi won’t work with wordpress so getting the blog posted is going to be a bit of challenge

After checking our emails (Marie is having to stay in touch with work on this trip in return for getting the 5+ weeks off) we headed off for the day’s adventures.

Up first was St. Stephan’s cathedral. It’s newer than most of the ones we’ve looked at so far (built in the late 1800s) but very impressive. After the cathedral, Marie and Caitlin decided it was time for gelato (their excuse for eating gelato at 10 in the morning was because this place served the in the shape of flowers…) and then we decided to walk some of the route we’d traveled on the night bus last night. So we walked down Andrussy Ut and took in the ultra-highend stores (our street only has the uber-highend stuff) and fancy townhouses and embassies, etc. After a ways, we stopped at one of the hop-on hop-off stops (when we’d purchased the night tour, we also took a 48hr pass on the day services) and rode the bus to New York Cafe in the 5 star Boscolo Hotel. We snuck into the hotel to see how the high end people live (wasn’t all that impressive… I mean they hadn’t even fluffed the pillows on the loungers in the lobby for goodness sake) and poked our heads into the cafe to see what it was all about (very impressive but no pictures unless you’re a paying customer). Then we kind of wandered around looking for a place to get something to eat/drink and settled on the Limit Bar – one of many bar-restaurants in the area – where we had some snacks and drinks at much more reasonable prices (whole bill for a big salad, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, some chicken wings, a Bacardi Breezer, a pint of beer and a huge strawberry lemonade = $15).

After lunch, we wandered a bit more before finding ourselves back where we’d picked the bus up in the first place so we hopped back on and made our way to Hero’s Square (a very impressive local landmark dedicated to the kings and hero’s of ancient Hungary and to the victims of the 1956 Uprising) and then decided to walk around the park and head to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths… Along the way we stopped and rented a “canoe” and paddled around the little lake for 1/2 hour, then explored a complex of what looked like super old buildings but were actually 19th century replicas built to celebrate Hungary’s 1000th anniversary in 1896. Eventually we made our way to the baths and made our way in (took a few tries but eventually we found the right entrance and figured out how the whole system works). Once you pay your money ($75 cdn for the three of us after a discount from our hop-on hop-off coupon book… even in Europe Marie looks for a coupon!) you’re given a “watch” that is essentially a digital ID – you use it to enter the facility, lock your locker, etc. – and then head for the locker rooms (separate for men and women). It took a while to find an empty locker that actually worked and then find our way back into the sunlight but eventually we all met up and took in the 10+ hot pools of varying temperature, the cleanse pools, the cool pools, the cold pools, the steam rooms, the saunas and the swimming pools… This is just one of many hot springs complexes in Budapest and they could definitely teach the Canadian hot springs folks a thing or two about making a hot springs into something extraordinary… Although the place was very crowded they had more than enough space for everyone and the pools were fantastic. We spent about 2.5 hrs soaking, lounging and relaxing… Then reluctantly packed up and headed out to find something for dinner.

By this time, we were past the last pickup time for the hop-on buses (the fact they stop early and the longish intervals between pickups are the only negatives with these buses) so we were in for a bit of a walk back but eventually we made it back to our apartment, changed into some less damp clothes and headed back out to get something to eat. We settled on an Italian self-serve place we’d seen but not eaten at in Vienna… Prices were kind of in-between (not as cheap as we’d found at lunch but not as expensive as the places right on the strip) and the food was quite good so it was a win all around. By this point it was after 11 and the hot springs seemed to have taken the energy out of everyone so it was back to the apartment and off to bed for the Dohertys.

Tomorrow we’ve got another big day exploring the Buda side of the river (home to Budapest Castle), checking out the Great Synagogue (the largest in Europe and second-largest in the world) and maybe doing a bike tour on Margaret Island as well as soaking at another set of thermal baths (this place has been likened to swimming in a cathedral)… We don’t leave until 7pm on Monday night so we’ve got lots of time but the thermal baths aren’t coed during the week, the bike tour offer expires on Sunday, etc. so we’ve got some logistical limits we need to work out to cram it all in but it’ll all work out.

Some random observations, comments, etc. that didn’t make it into other blog posts:

1) It’s hot here. It hasn’t been as hot as Thailand (high 30s and humid) or Rome (low 40s and humid) but it’s been well into the 30s and really humid. Seems it’s kind of the rainy season in this part of the world at this time of year – we’ve had a number of impressive thunder storms and torrential rains and the skies have been kind of threatening at times most days. Caitlin and Marie have been loving it… I’m melting. The only downside to the camera sling and pack I’m carrying is the sweating… Both the sling strap and the pack are pretty sweaty so I’m drenched most days. Aside from changing clothes throughout the day, I haven’t found a way to deal with it (other than wear dark shirts but that would probably kill me). I wear the thinnest cotton shirts I can find but it’s a losing battle… At least the nights are cooler here…

2) People love their smokes in this part of the world. Vienna was the worst by far but Budapest is a close second. In Vienna they allowed smoking inside the restaurants (haven’t experienced that for years) and the outside seating areas were smokier than some bars I’ve been in. Budapest hasn’t been as bad… we haven’t seen anyone smoking indoors here but there’s a lot of smokers outside. The number of young women, in particular, smoking has been unbelievable… People from this part of the world must find it difficult to get by in places like Victoria where smoking is more and more restricted. I have to say – and no disrespect to the smokers out there or the civil libertarians – I much prefer my meals without someone else’s secondhand smoke wafting in with each bite.

3) Prague is obsessed with weed. They bake cookies with it. Make beer with it. Add it to absinthe. Decorate everything from knives to kids’ backpacks with it. An enterprising BC’er could make a killing there.

4) Pedestrians do not have the right of way anywhere outside of North America (we can’t really make this statement based on our limited travels but it sure seems that way). In Victoria, woe betide the driver who does not stop for a pedestrian within half a city block of a crosswalk – or anything that remotely resembles a cross walk. Here, you take your life in your hands crossing the street. And the street systems are much more complex so you never really know where the cars are coming from… The result is you look like a bobblehead half the time checking left, then right, then left again before timidly stepping out into traffic and hoping that people will stop… And then sprinting when it’s clear they’re not going… The only other time I see Caitlin move this fast is if there’s a spider – or anything that even remotely resembles a spider – within 100 yards.

5) Marie is going to have a coronary because of the indifferent service we’ve encountered. You see, if Marie ever quits her job as an HR guru, she would want to work as one of those secret shoppers who go around checking on the quality of service in shops and restaurants, so she’s a bit obsessed with service… Even accounting for language differences, etc. some of the service we’ve had has been downright rude and most has been indifferent…  Like couldn’t care less indifferent. Like, “oh… you’re a customer… no way… did you just spend money here?” indifferent. It’s not that she’s expecting sales people and wait staff, etc. to fawn over her, but she does sort of expect a “thank you, have a nice day” under most circumstances… or maybe just a “thank you” or even just “thanks…” Not happening much so far… So now, it’s not uncommon to see Marie shaking her head and muttering under her breath as she smiles politely (but really it’s one of those smiles that suggests a potential for great mayhem) and walks away. Caitlin and I are starting to get a bit concerned.

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