sábado, 21 de julio de 2012

I am hungry and I am in Hungary!

On my previous post I said I would write two more posts about Budapest, but I better make this one longer so I can tell, in order, all the places I visited during my short stay in the starving country.
Budapest from Géllert Hill
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and capital of the Hungarian Empire. It is an amazing city full of many historic details that can be seen all around the city. My first impression of the city was that it was old. You can feel it everywhere. That sensation was what I liked the most. Once again I understood why Europe is called “the Old Continent”. Budapest is a large city with more than 1.5 million inhabitants and some call it “The pearl of the Danube”. This city is located next to the Danube River, and it is, without any doubt, one of the most beautiful cities located next to this river. The name “Budapest” came after the unification of three cities; Buda, Obuda and Pest. First, Obuda and Buda unified and then Pest came to be part of an only city called BUDAPEST. The Danube divides the city into two, east and west, Buda and Pest. This river is really important. In the past, it was a natural barrier when Buda and Pest were not part of one entire city. The Danube is, besides, and important mean for trade and the development of this city. It is said that the king Buda was crowned on the river, in a cruel winter, when the river was completely frozen. I just think of it and it gives me the creeps. My trip around the Old Continent helped me a lot to learn many things about the World history that I did not have any idea of and there was not a better than Europe to learn about them. Budapest was brutally affected during the First and Second World War. Nowadays, we can still see the impacts of the bullets on many walls which are scars of the First and Second World War.

Hungarian Parliament
My second day in Budapest had already begun. At 10 a.m. Adrienn came to my hostel. I was more than ready to go out. We began that day by walking near the hostel. It was Saturday, there was not a single cloud in the sky and the sun had a significant influence on that day. I was even able to take my scarf off! We walked up to the parliament. This time we saw it from the opposite side of the previous night. I mean, not from the other side of the Danube, but from the front. During the day it is amazingly great. There was a huge line at the entrance for those who wanted to enter. As I mentioned on my previous post if you want to come inside the parliament you must book a ticket online some weeks in advance. I did not know this, so I could not enter. We continued walking and seeing old buildings. Apart from the Metro, buses and trams are apparently very popular in Europe. I looked like a native indigenous out of the jungle amazed by everything! We walked to a tram stop, awesome again. Trams are also very, very old indeed. This large can of tuna with wheels dropped us very near the Danube River. We walked up to a kind of monument to the Jews who were drowned in the river during the Second World War. I know I have talked a lot about the Jews thing, but it is impossible not to see anything related to the Holocaust throughout Europe. The monument is about 60 pairs of shoes made of iron and attached to the ground known as “The Shoes on the Danube promenade” it was created by Gyula Pauer and Can Togay. They were placed in 2005 on the west side of the river 300 or 400 meters away from the Hungarian parliament. Many people do not know the meaning of these shoes, they just come to take pictures and put their feet inside. From the distance they give the impression that they are real shoes and someone has just left them there while swimming in the icy Danube. In three places there are some iron signs with the following message written in English, Hungarian and Hebrew: “In memory of those killed and thrown into the Danube by Hungarian Nazi Party militia in 1944-45. Erected on April 16th, 2005”. 
Shoes on the Danube
Then, we walked in the opposite direction we were coming until we got to some stairs that connect to the Chain Bridge. This bridge is one of the most important symbols throughout Hungary. The story tells that the only way to cross the Danube and to reach Buda from Pest, or vice versa it was waiting for winter when the river was completely frozen and it could be crossed by foot or cart. But not wanting to wait for winter, Count Stephen Szechenyi, in 1839, ordered the construction of this bridge. It was the second bridge over the Danube River and it was one of the most significant symbols regarding the unification of Buda and Pest. Since its construction until today, its picture is essential in any presentation of Budapest or Hungary. It is represented in many Hungarian bills, recently in 2009 it appeared on the 200 HUF bill (Hungarian national currency).
During the Second World War the bridge was dynamited by German troops to prevent communication between the two parts of the city. In 1949 it was rebuilt and it still remains standing nowadays.
We crossed the bridge to reach Buda, the other side of the city. Despite being very cold in the shade, under the sun it was really warm. I wanted to take my shirt off, but I did not want all Hungarian girls running after me, with excitement, and then I had to hide somewhere. I decided to go on with my jacket. We came across the bridge and walked until we reached the funicular. This funicular, also known as "Cable Car", was built in 1870, and it was the second in Europe. Yes, I know, you are probably thinking "everything there is always old, it was the first, it was the second, and it is the oldest, and so on." Yes, that is Europe, everything is old. After the Second World War, the funicular was practically destroyed. However, years later it was restored following the original model without changing anything. So, in 1986, two years before a star was born (that star being I, of course! hahahaha), it was reopened. It is currently part of the route that connects the Chain Bridge to the top of the city, where the Buda Castle is. 
Chain Bridge
There is something else worth mentioning, right next to the cable car station, in a small square called Adam Clark (What a name!) there is a sculpture that symbolizes the kilometer 0, which is used to measure distances in Hungary. Prices, according to what I read on the Internet, are about 840 HUF ($ 3.60) and it operates from 7:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. I do not remember why we decided to go by bus instead of coming up with the funicular. We sat on a bench taking a sun bath just like lizards in the desert. Believe me, after Germany I was practically traumatized and now every time I saw the sun shining I was extremely happy. We waited about five minutes for the bus and it took us less than 10 minutes to reach the top of the hill. We went up and the bus dropped us near the Buda Castle. We walked towards the side of the Castle. Despite the fact that it was still winter, the garden was beautiful. The city view from up there is UNIQUE! There is nothing better than appreciating the vastness of a city from a hill. I could clearly see the Danube River, cruises sailing along the river and I could contemplate the entire city. I took some photos while Adrienn was on the phone talking to her mother, I could hear some strange words and I occasionally heard my name mixed with strange sounds. I wish I could learn this language. Although in my visit to Romania I learned some good phrases, I will tell you guys later. After contemplating the magnificent view I had in front of my eyes, we walked in front of the palace. This historic building was the home of many Hungarian kings. It is gigantic and magnanimous and inside this castle was filmed Katty Perry’s video “Fireworks”. From the outside you can even feel the luxury of the palace. It is restored and it looks like new. Adrienn explained me that the palace has been restored several times throughout its history. Its construction began in the 14th century and from that moment on it has been gradually expanded and decorated to become what it is today. Inside this castle many real assemblies, seals, medieval tournaments and diplomatic meetings were held, and from there, the Hungarian kingdom and all the vassal states were reigned.
View from Buda Castle 
Going to Budapest is a journey into the past, a trip to a film full of kings, princesses and floats. In front us we had the Buda Castle and behind us we could see the whole city and the Danube River running. I thanked God for this moment. We left the castle and we were hungry, so ironic! We took a bus that dropped us at a square and right there we got on a tram. This time it was a completely new tram. Finally I saw something recently built. The tram was identical to those in Berlin. Adrienn told me that they were sold by the German government that is the reason why they were so similar.
The Budapest transport system does not only include the Metro, but trams and buses. The metro only works until 10 p.m. So, if you want to go partying you have to make sure you come back before 10 p.m. By the way, the unlimited weekly card for train, tram and bus costs $27.
The German tram dropped us at a station with a strange name I cannot remember at all. We went to eat Turkish food, yes I know, I am in Hungary and I eat Turkish food and McDonald's instead of trying the National dishes. I bet that if I go to Turkey I will not try Turkish food. But such are the ironies of life! One day Adrienn had to work and I spent all morning and afternoon alone, I tried to have something "typical" in a market where I bought souvenirs. I began by seeing the menu, all in Hungarian and the waiter did not speak English. Can you imagine, I wanted to order something with no onions and not very spicy. I tried to do all that was possible to explain him, signs, gestures, but I failed. I stood up and left. I ended up eating again in McDonald's. I did not need to speak Hungarian, only said: - "Number 2" - that was it!
Buda Castle
Another day Adrienn had to work again; I decided to go to the Hungarian Statue of Liberty. Yes, they also have their Statue of Liberty. It is located at the top of Gellért Hill which is located on the Buda side; it is 150 meters high and looks towards the Danube. To reach this hill I walked guided by my GPS (as always!) through Elizabeth Bridge, one of the bridges that connects Buda with Pest. From there I walked through an endless and exhausting path. It took me about an hour to get there, little by little. I did not want to suffer an asthma attack right there. It was still cold. I walked and walked and several times I stopped to admire the view from different heights. Besides the exuberant nature, you can see while you climb up, when you reach the top of the hill, there are many historical monuments that are worth seeing. Among them, as I mentioned before, The Hungarian Statue of Liberty. This monument is called in Hungarian Szabadság Szobor (What a weird name!) it was built in 1947 as a recognition to the Soviet forces for liberating the country from Nazi forces during the Second World War. This statue is 14 feet high and it was made by an artist whose name is so strange that I do not remember. It has gradually become one of the local symbols. The Hungarian Statue of Liberty can be seen from almost everywhere in the city, at all angles, because although it is not that high, it is on a base that is 40 meters high, which makes it look much more dominant. This statue is a woman who is holding a palm or something unusual like a leaf, this symbolizes the spirit of freedom.
How this monument is seen today is very different than how it was seen originally. At first it was dedicated only to the Soviet forces. But during the time of the political transition, the figure of the Soviet soldier was taken away and two more were added; one that represents the struggle against evil and the other one represents the progress. Adrienn explained me, once again, that despite the vast majority of communist monuments were removed, not only in the city, but across the country, the statue is one of the few that remains where it was originally placed. When you approach the monument, you can read the inscriptions and dedications, previously only dedicated to the Soviet Army, but now it is for all those who sacrificed for the independence, freedom and success of Hungary. Down the communism!
Hungarian Statutue of Liberty
During my stay in Berlin, I told Lola, my Spanish friend, that I was going to Budapest. She told me that I would fall in love with the city, and I had to go to any of the thermal spas of Budapest. I had never heard of this, but when I got to Budapest, I realized they are very popular in Europe. People around the world come to this city especially for these spas. Moreover, in 1934, Budapest received the title of City of Thermal Waters; many people call it the World Capital of Medicinal Waters.
The temperature of the waters varies between 21 to 80 degrees Celsius. More than 70 billion liters of hot water come from the underground every day. The most popular spas are Gellért (Gellért fürdő), the Széchenyi Spa (Széchenyi fürdő) which is the largest European spa, Lukács (Lukács fürdő), Rudas Baths (Rudas fürdő), Király Spa (Király fürdő) and Rác Spa (Rác fürdő). Apparently, I suppose the word "fürdő" means bath or spa. What I do not know is how to pronounce it.
One day I decide to visit one of these baths. I began to search on the Internet for spa prices to see which was the cheapest. Prices range depends on what you want. Some packages prices include lodging, meals, massages and more. Of course I chose the luxurious mega package that includes massages by a masseuse just like Amy Lee of Evanescence, food, stay in a luxurious suite and so more. Seriously, I found that the cheapest Spa was Rudas. This is one of the oldest in the city and in the whole continent.
It is a Turkish bath that was built in the 16th century and it is one of the few that keeps its original design. The entry cost me only $15. It did not include massages or meals, only the admission for a few hours. I really wanted to go to one of these baths, and I always remembered my aunt Hecuba; she always tells me that in these kind of places I must breathe deep and maybe the sulfur, that emanates from the underground, would cure my asthma and sinusitis once and for all. I was ready to go to the Rudas fürdő. I walked from my hostel and it took me less than 30 minutes to get to the bath. I had to go from Pest to Buda and cross another bridge that connects the city. The Rudas spa is considered one of the finest Turkish baths in the world. They were built during the Ottoman occupation. These baths are very similar to those that can be found in Istanbul, capital of Turkey. The place was actually built during three different times. It was first open in 1566 and remodeled in 1896. In the past, only men were allowed in the baths, but over the years and nowadays with equal rights between men and women, the bathroom can be used by both sexes, without any discrimination. The electric doors opened and I entered. I was attended in English, FINALLY! I was given a kind of bracelet that I had to put on my wrist. I had to approach the bracelet to a sensor and then the door opened. 
Bath Dome
I continued walking, passing through another door, where I was given a kind of “Loincloth”. It was just a kind of apron that covered only the front. At this point, I did not know what it was. I was wearing my swimsuit and I thought that it was to wipe my face. Before going to the area of the pools I had to go to a cabin where I could change and leave my things. I remember the cabin number was 0212, I never forget it, because it was just like area code of Caracas. On my way to the cabin I saw some “extremely old people” I went into my cabin, I put on my swimsuit, my bracelet and I left. I went up the stairs and found another door that led into the main pool. This was certainly the most important part of this place. This area has an octagonal pool with four side pools at different temperatures, ranging from very cold to very hot. The roof is high and keeps the style of a traditional Turkish dome, and it has little holes covered with colored glass. The whole place smells of sulfur. But that was not all! The worst was yet to come, my trauma! When I looked up and saw the place, I was about to have a heart attack. 90% of people were around 100 years old and they were all naked! I know I was in Europe, and I assumed people are open-minded, but this was too much for me.
It was horrible. There were old-naked people everywhere. Women with their breasts reaching their knees and men showing everything. I felt like a cockroach in a chickens dance (Literally translated from a Venezuelan idiom) I looked left and saw old-naked people, I looked to my right and I saw many more, everywhere I looked they were there. I almost ran away, but tried to calm down instead. I had paid $15 and I was not going to waste them that easily. There were also young people, but it was a minority. The first thing I did was immerse myself in the main pool, which is the largest. The area is actually not really big, it is small and the pools are small too. I cannot get over it, people were naked! They were not wearing the loincloth they were given at the entrance. When I left, I read a sing, which was in English by the way, which said that the bathing suit was mandatory only on weekends, but I went on a Wednesday. I spent about three hours in the spa. I was supposed to stay all day until 11 pm, but I began to feel uncomfortable. I tried to enter a sauna but it was too hot for me, beside I was also scared. I was completely alone and I did not feel like trusting those people. In addition, I started to feel hungry and thirsty, and as you may know, I had chosen the cheapest entry and therefore I could not eat there. So I decided to go, I took a shower to take off the smell of sulfur. I went to my cabin and got dressed. Next time, I will go to another bath and I will make sure there are not too many wrinkled people (No offense) or if they will be naked at least I hope they are worthwhile. That day at 5:00 p.m., I went for Adrienn to her workplace. I became an expert in the transportation of Budapest in just few days, later I completely forgot about it. I arrived on time, well, almost, despite everything was written in that weird language, which I did not understand. I started to feel cold again, so I put on my jacket and scarf. We walked to a nearby mall and then went to the movies. At first I did not want to go, if the film was in Hungarian I do not know what I was going to do, but we made sure the film was in English or with subtitles. We saw “Iron Lady” the life of the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, I must say that it was an excellent film!
House of Terror
I only had two more days in Budapest. I would only come back for two hours when I took my bus to Romania. The next day, Thursday, we walked along Andrássy Avenue until we reached the Hero’s square. This square is the most important square of Budapest and its statues commemorate the leaders of the tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century. Just like almost everything, after the Second World War, the square was almost destroyed; all of the statues were literally torn down after a bomb exploded. This square is currently on the list of World Heritage Site. The walk from the center to the Hero’s square was long. We walked about an hour admiring everything I saw. We passed in front of the Hungarian Opera House and the Museum House of Terror, which was the headquarters of the Nazi regime's secret police. The building is easily seen from a distance, and it has written in giant letters “TERROR". The museum tells the terrible story of the double occupation of Hungary, first by the Germans and then by the Soviets for nearly 5 decades. When you enter the house, the first thing you see is a Soviet battle tank in a small yard. The walls are covered with pictures of people who died in the basement of the building. It has several rooms with different themes; the first rooms tell the story before the occupation of Hungary, when everything was normal, and the periods of occupation and other ones show, in detail, the crimes that took place there. The basement, as I said, was a place for horrible crimes during the 50s. Currently, the cells are equal as how they were left at the end of the Soviet occupation in 1991 as a reminder of what happened there. The name "House of Terror" fits perfectly! The museum is located at 60 Andrássy Street. If you want to go to Budapest, you MUST go there. Admission fee is only $8.
We finished the day eating Mexican food and remembering our Mexican friends. Adrienn made me try Pálinka, typical Hungarian liquor. I took three shots, the first, the lighter one, the second a little bit stronger and the third, I almost lost consciousness. The waiter asked me what the typical Venezuelan liquor was, I said Rum. For those who do not know, Rum Santa Teresa is one of the most famous rums in the world. For three years in a row it has been on the top of the best rums in the world. A bottle of Rum Santa Teresa in Europe costs a lot! Unlike wine, which is very cheap there, and in Venezuela it is very expensive.
Hero's square
I had only one more day in the starving country. This last day I went to visit Margarita Island. This is the version of the Central Park in Budapest. This island is on the Danube River and it is connected to Buda and Pest by a bridge that has the same name of the island. This is a park where people go jogging, walking their dogs and spend an afternoon away from the center. It was cold that day and there were few people on the island. In fact, it was practically deserted. I walked until I got tired. Well, actually until a dog scared me. As always, I was using my GPS to see where the bus stop was. The GPS guided me to a bus stop nearby. I walked through a short cut and I heard a dog barking in the distance. I kept on walking and then I saw a dog running towards me showing its teeth and barking. I looked everywhere, but I saw no one. I panicked; I was about to run and climb a tree. I suddenly heard the owner yelling and the dog stopped immediately. I almost fainted. The dog owner apologized, well, I think he said that, I just said "Do not worry" and maybe he realized that I did not know Hungarian. I walked to the bus stop and went back to my hostel. By the way, I had to switch to another for the last two nights. I was practically “kicked out” from the first one. Actually it was because there was a problem in the bathroom, the water was too hot and I could not take a shower. The other one I liked better, but the room was not as big as the first one. The truth is that after my tour to Margarita Island and I went back to the hostel and around 6:00 pm Adrienn came from work and we went to party! HELL YEAH! We went to an extremely crowded bar to drink and drink alcohol. We drank vodka, whiskey, and others. We stayed until 12 that night because the next day I had to go to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Yes, gentlemen, There is a country named like this. I say this because I was often asked what the hell Slovakia was hahaha!
Budapest was definitely one of my favorite destinations. It is a beautiful city, full of amazing details and full of history and distinctiveness. I highly recommend you to go there. You will not regret it at all.
Margarita Island
In short, Budapest is a fascinating place next to the Danube River. Many people skip this wonderful city when they visit the Old Continent. People always prefer the most famous cities like London, Madrid or Paris. Some people do not ever know how AMAZING Budapest is. Even London was not as surprising as I thought. I would like to go back one day, and with more money of course.
See you on my next post. This time, I head to another country, another city, another language, another people and another culture only at 4 hours away.

Hugs from New York City...

2 comentarios:

Bienvenido a Tripping a la venezolana

¡Puedes seguirme en Facebook y Twitter!.

¡Suscríbete a Trippinng a la venezolana!

Recibe en tu correo las últimas noticias del blog. Sólo ingresa tu correo para suscribirte.