Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 24 and 25 - Europe's Most Underrated City

Hey Team,

After a brief pause for some serious stuff we're back with our normally scheduled programming.  Left Poland behind and headed toward Hungary and it's capitol city of Budapest (Buda-Pesht).  This town is awesome.  And when I say it's awesome I mean it is probably #2 on the list of places I've been on the trip.  This is truly one of the great European cities on the continent.

Everything here is just a little different than everywhere else I've been.  All around is a sea of Slavic and Germanic people and then you have Hungary.  Their ancestors are descended from a nomadic tribe from the Central Asia steppes called the Magyars.  They speak Hungarian (obviously) which is not anything at all like anything else around it.  Speak German, French, Spanish, and English.  Great, won't help you at all.  You're more likely to understand someone from India (Indo-European language) than you are somebody from Hungary.  While the original inhabitants are thoroughly integrated with Europe (very little physical differences between everywhere else I've gone) there is just a different feel to the country.

The Danube River, one of the major rivers in Europe, cuts this city in half.  In fact Budapest is actually two cities put together.  On one side of the river is hilly Buda and on the other is flat Pest.  I about a 20 minutes walk from the Danube on the Pest side.

Budapest is the second capitol of the later Habsburg Dynasty or the Austro-Hungarian Empire along with the main capital of Vienna.  I don't know if I was sleeping during this portion of History class but I remember very little being discussed about these guys.  I know we talked about them, but it took up about a half a page and then we went back to talking about England or something like that.  This is what they did though:  From Wikipedia

Their principal roles were as:
Other crowns held briefly by the House included:
 They were major players for 600 straight years until Franz Ferdinand (not the singer people), who was next in line for the throne,was assassinated, which set off WWI.  Like I said, they were a big deal and Budapest was a major hub for a lot of it. For centuries empires have often considered Budapest to be the barrier between East and West, and you can see the influences of both in their architecture.  
My only disappointment with the town was the weather.  It was cold.  For all the northern folk it probably was not a big deal (39 degrees) but for someone who doesn't need all of his fingers to count how many times he's seen snow, this was not comfortable.  On top of that, Day 2 was that temperature and raining which really put a crimp on my sightseeing plans, which is why I've combined the two days instead of doing just one.  Here's some shots of my walking around.

This is a shot of the Hungarian Royal Palace in Buda. It's apparently a shell of it's former self as it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over.  Today it houses a museum instead of the Royal Family.

This is a shot of the Chain Bridge, the prettiest bridge spanning the Danube in town.  I'm on the Pest (flat) side looking at Buda (hilly).

Here's a shot of St. Istvan's (Stephen) Basilica in Pest.  I'll have a better shot later, but I wanted to include a picture that had some blue in it rather than the cold cold cold (did I mention cold) clouds that I've been seeing for the last week or so.

This was my first stop, The Hall of Terror.  As I said, Hungary has had a very colorful history.  Because it's at the crossroads of abutting empires, it's been destroyed and rebuilt more than any other place I've visited.  This used to be the home for both the local Nazi and Communist strong armers.  If you didn't like the government, often times you were taken here and "taught a lesson".  Unfortunately, that lesson often was torture and death.

It has now been turned into a museum that shows what kind of atrocities where committed against the populace.

They wouldn't allow pictures but I snuck this one. These are the actual gallows that were used after the 1956 uprising against the communists.  Hundreds were killed or executed after the Russians came into the main square of Budapest with tanks to face off against the populace who were armed with home made bombs and simple rifles.  The year 1956 is a big deal in Hungary and we'll see several other shots that deal with remembering this unsuccessful resistance to communism.

This is a shot of Hero's Square which celebrates the 1000th anniversary of the Magyars inhabiting Hungary.  Half of the beautiful buildings in Budapest were built to commemorate this anniversary which was in 1896.  All of the statues in the monument are the key players in the Hungarian Hall of Fame.  Unlike Cooperstown and Canton, requirements for admittance requires that you've been dead for at least 100 years and look good riding a horse.

Here's a detailed shot of the original leader of the "Hungarians".  This is Arpad in the middle everyone.  He's not considered the founder of the Hungarian Kingdom, but he is thought of as the originator of the Hungarians, thus why he is assuming the top spot on the monument.

This is the backside of the monument.  I just liked this shot.

And now we get to the really awesome part of the day folks.  What's this you ask?  Could it be a nice church?  Maybe some government building?  Nope.  This is what the entrance to their swimming pool looks like.  Actually it's a bit more than a pool.  These are the world famous Szechyeni Thermal Baths.  Inside of here is basically an Olympic Pool sized Jacuzzi.  Apparently, Budapest is sitting on top of these huge thermal springs that supply therapeutic baths to the populace.  It was the coolest thing I did in Budapest.

Here's the pool.  Remember, it was below 40 outside and there are 50 people out here just hanging out.  There are three different pools and they are all at different temperatures getting up to a little over 100 degrees or so.  I stayed in the hottest pool.  While I was there I ran into two girls from DC who were over the age of 20 (this has been a rarity.  Surprisingly, I have found that not a lot of people at my point in life are not taking seven week vacations).  We chatted for a while and ended up going to dinner and hanging out.  They had to leave the next morning but I had a blast hanging out with some American folks for a change.

Here's a shot of Alyssa, who was one of the girls I hung out with.  The other was Alice who unfortunately was behind the camera instead of in the shot with us.  This is a picture of my first round with the drink Absinthe, which was outlawed in the USA until 2007 apparently.  As I said, we had a great time and I was sorry to see them leave so soon.

By the way, there is no chlorine in this thing so no peeing in the pool people.  Actually they don't use chlorine because the water is not recycled.  It is replaced continuously from the underground bath.  They do put certain therapeutic agents in the water, and you can actually subsidize paying to go to the pool for medicinal purposes.

If you go to Hungary, this is the thing you absolutely have to do to live like the locals.  Young, old, male, female. . .  I saw everyone here.  So if you're ever in Budapest, go to the Baths. . .

Just think, this too could be you one day. . .