On Wednesday we took a 7 hour train ride from Budapest to Prague and it was totally delightful. We forked over a little extra for first class seats and the first class car was nearly empty so we got the entire 6-seat cabin to ourselves for the whole ride! We listened to music, watched movies, looked through our guidebook, ate a picnic lunch and had a wonderful time. Seriously, the 7 hours flew by like THAT. If only plane rides could be so pleasant.
Our hotel in Prague is nice, but nowhere near as comfortable and perfectly located as Le Meridien in Budapest. After we settled in for a bit we walked down to Wenceslas Square and got some greasy street food.
We got a feel for the city, walked around Old Town Square, checked out the Charles Bridge at sunset, got lost a few times and then found our way back to the hotel.
Tomorrow – Prague Castle!Read More
Just in case anyone is wondering where Ray is, he’s still here! It’s just been working out that I do the writing and he takes all the photos, so we’re even.
We woke up at 5am on Tuesday morning unable to sleep any longer, so we got ready and headed out in search of an early breakfast. Nearly everything was closed but we found a little diner with a patio that had just opened up. Just a few feet from our table were about 10 fire engines and some cop cars along with tons of firemen and police milling about. Occasionally an ambulance would race by. We couldn’t understand anything they were saying so it added a sense of confusion and urgency to the morning.
Next we walked down to Heroes Square at the entrance to City Park and took a few obligatory statue photos. Then it was on to Szechenyi Furdo, one of the many Turkish baths in the city. The place is a huge, co-ed bath house with steam rooms, saunas, hot tubs, freezing cold baths, and a “whirly pool” with a current that pulls you around in circles. Most of the other visitors at that time of day were older regulars. I was having a hell of a time figuring out my locker and an old lady took me under her wing. When I pointed to my flip flops and then pointed outside and said “yes?” (trying to figure out if I could bring them into the pool area) she realized I didn’t know what the hell was going on and literally led me through the bathhouse and out into the main area, telling me things in Hungarian the whole time. You gotta’ love old ladies in any country! Ray and I decided to get our money’s worth and hung out for a few hours swimming, soaking, drinking and reading. The high for the day was 85 F!
After the bath house we walked back towards the city and went to Terror House, a museum dedicated to two of the most awful periods in Hungary in the 20th century: the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party (Hungarian Nazis) and the communist terror organizations AVO and AVH. Interestingly, both parties used the museum’s location at 60 Andrassy Boulevard as their headquarters and carried out horrific acts like torture and murder in the residence. The museum was amazing, with haunting photographs and memorabilia, propaganda, videos, as well as elaborate, interactive sets. The museum ends below street level in a reconstruction of the underground tunnels beneath the building where people were held prisoner, tortured and murdered. Just knowing that we were standing on the same ground and walking through the same rooms as both victims and victimizers was chilling.
The rest of the day consisted of chilling out and watching both World Cup games (Japan v Paraguay and Spain v Portugal). I can’t decide if I’m coming around to liking soccer or I just think the players are hot. Either way, it’s been fun for us to actually watch sports together for the first time, and everyone here is so into the World Cup.
We ended the day with dinner on an outdoor patio under the looming towers of Saint Stephen’s Basilica and realized that we are so happy to be here during the summer when all of the outdoor patios are open and the weather is so nice.Read More
Today we spent most of the day exploring Buda, the city on the west side of the Danube River. But we also hit up a little bit of Pest, which is the side our hotel is located on.
We started off the day with a posh breakfast at Cafe Gerbaud, a very fancy coffee house in the city center. The food was delish and I was very entertained by the birds that were fluttering around on the outdoor patio. It was already very warm first thing in the morning and it ended up being a really hot day.
After breakfast we went back to Saint Stephen’s Basilica and climbed the stairs to the very top of the dome, something we forgot to do the first time because we were mesmerized by the grandeur of the cathedral. The views from the tower were amazing and gave us a great sense of the layout of the city.
Next we walked down the east side of the Danube along the waterfront. The city is very pedestrian-friendly and in the summer there are “Kert” or Garden bars all over the city with outdoor seating, umbrellas and music.
We finally arrived at our destination, the Great Market Hall, a huge, restored neighborhood market. We bought a simple (and cheap!) lunch of meat, cheese and fruit and packed it all away for later.
Next we walked over the Szabadsag bridge to Buda and checked out Cave Church, this creepy church carved out of the side of the looming Gellert Hill. It was pretty small, but nice to get out of the intense heat.
What followed next was a hike of epic proportions, mostly because we weren’t expecting the walk to be so long and steep. The guidebook said “take the stairs to the top of Gellert Hill”, and 90 billion stairs and ramps later (give or take), we finally made it to the top. As soon as we surfaced, I bee-lined it to the overpriced refreshment center to purchase a tiny, $2 Fanta because it was THAT hot. Once we cooled down we realized the view was amazing with beautiful statues all around. Gellert Hill is named after the Italian missionary Szent Gellert, who was killed by being rolled down the hill in a barrel of nails. Brutal.
Next stop was the Castle District, also in Buda. We sort of entered through the back door, so we were completely alone for much of the time, exploring the beautiful castle gardens and little walkways and nooks and crannies. The castle itself is absolutely huge, with beautiful views of Pest.
By this point we were getting pretty tired and were looking for a cafe to chill out for a bit. But we came across a creepy looking stairway leading down marked “Budapest Labyrinth”, and Ray was sucked in. We spent the next hour exploring the underground tunnels, caves, carvings and wall markings of the ancient tunnels underneath Buda castle. Somehow we missed the part where you were supposed to pick up a lantern, so we spent the first half of the tunnels stumbling around in the near pitch-black with our hands out in front of us, using our cameras for light and getting dripped on from the low stone ceilings above. Suddenly a staff member with a headlight appeared from nowhere, handed me a lantern, and then disappeared. I assumed he had been sent to chase after the stupid Americans who were surely about to get lost or dome themselves on a low-hanging rock. No sooner did we have our lantern that the tunnels became pitch black, narrow, maze-like and filled with freaky shit like life-size statues that appeared out of nowhere, or steep stairways filled with tombstone-like structures. We also stopped seeing any other tourists, and the ceiling started dripping a lot. It was around this time that I officially lost my cool, had a little claustrophobic freak-out and declared that we HAD to leave NOW. Once we found the exit (easier said than done), I felt better and we were able to go back and check out the stuff I had speed-walked through.
After the Labyrinth we were exhausted and walked straight back to the hotel. We just finished watching the Chile-Brazil World Cup game in the lobby bar of the hotel, and now we’re off to chill for the rest of the evening.
Tomorrow we take on Pest!Read More
First thing’s first – we’re in freaking HUNGARY!! We both keep reminding each other that, because it’s pretty awesome.
But first, let’s recount how we got here.
Our flights were nice and uneventful. We killed a few hours watching episode after episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as well as Zombieland. I killed another couple hours with the in-flight movie, Valentine’s Day, which Ray tuned into occasionally without sound and, as usual, was still able to summarize pretty much the entire plot of the movie afterwards.
Unfortunately our bags never made it to Budapest, which was not surprising to either of us. So we caught a cab to our hotel and were soon feeling like royalty, what with the personal tour of the hotel, and awesome room with a chandelier. Who doesn’t feel special with their own chandelier?
That evening, despite almost no sleep since Thursday night and going on day two of the same clothes, we met up with Ray’s teammate Matt and friends at an awesome bar/patio to watch the US-Ghana World Cup game. Nearly everyone in the bar was rooting for Ghana, but there was literally no jeering for the US team, even when we lost and they were showing the dejected US fans on TV with their ridiculous red, white and blue body paint. The bar went wild whenever they cut to Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger enjoying the game together.
We woke up today super bummed that our bags still hadn’t arrived, and trudged out to get coffee and a bite to eat. It was at the coffee shop that I realized that a) Ray totally fits in here with his slightly Eastern European look, and b) the outfits we had been wearing for 3 days were identical (jeans and a black Patagonia zip-up.)
After breakfast we took a stroll around the neighborhood and checked out Saint Stephen’s Basilica. The church took over 50 years to build, due to fact that the first two architects died during construction and the dome collapsed and had to be rebuilt.
We came back to the room to discover that our bags had been delivered, hooray! The plan for the rest of the evening is to shower and hop into some clean clothes and then hit the city for some dinner, tourism and perhaps some nightlife.Read More
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