Budapest: not the eastern europe we had expected

Trip Start Dec 19, 2007
Trip End Apr 16, 2008

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Flag of Hungary  ,
Saturday, February 2, 2008

It could have been a lot worse, but the overnight train ride from Venice to Budapest was horrible. The cheapest seats available were in regular seats, which meant 14 hours of discomfort . We were woken up 4 times for passport checks, (twice in Slovenia, once in Croatia and then again in Hungary), countless times for ticket checks, and then by the incredibly loud group of drunk backpackers that got on at 3am and wouldn't shut up.
We did arrive however with all of our gear to a sunny morning in Budapest. We found a hostel by using a grungy internet café with very "pleasant" staff. We picked a cozy small hostel that met all of our needs apart from the advertised free breakfast. They had their own info center that was better than the one in the train station. The staff were helpful and gave loads of advice and it was super cheap also, 13?/night. We ended up staying for four nights and saw all of the main sites.
Our two favorite things were the Szechenyi baths and a caving tour. The baths are fed by thermally heated water. There are several different pools with a range of temperatures from 16 to 38°C. Our favorites were the hotter ones outside. One had a whirlpool shaped like a doughnut. In the middle was a seating area where hard jets massaged your back. On the outside (dough part!) a wall bordered the seating area and the pool creating a ring. Jets pushed you around the circular path and it was tons of fun. Our first time we spent 4 hours there and then came back because it was so great. The caving tour was organized through the hostel and explored limestone caves beneath the city. It was not what we were expecting, it was much better! We were given overalls and a hard hat with an attached lamp. We thought we would be mostly walking and crouching but it was mostly crawling and squirming through tiny holes. Our crazy guide would give long detailed instructions how to get through a hole, then would jump through effortlessly leaving us perplexed. For example at one point he told us to lay on one side, arms outstretched, left leg straight, right leg bent. We were to push with the right leg until we coukd reach something to grab onto. He said no worries it was only a meter and a half long! Apparently the name of it was the birth canal! In one hole, one of us got our helmet stuck (see pic). It was pretty slippery as much of the ground was covered in clay (which also made for good pictures!). This was probably one of our most fun things we've done so far and we were pretty sore the next day.
The city was much more modern than we were expecting. Prices were only slightly cheaper than the rest of europe. Not the dirt cheap eastern europe we thought we were going to, but more of a moderately priced central european country. We did a guided tour of the jewish synagogue and gardens. The jewish ghetto in Budapest was reduced from 800000 to 100000 during the nazi times. There were monuments created for rememberence.
To our disappointment we could only find one lango stand. It's a deep fried doughy snack that we love from the Hungary stand during heritage days in Edmonton. Instead though we ate a decently big traditional meal at a nearby restaurant. Hungarians love their meat.
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