Music & A Bath

Trip Start Aug 17, 2010
Trip End Sep 16, 2011

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Where I stayed
Adam's Apartment

Flag of Hungary  ,
Monday, August 8, 2011

We are travelling along the Danube river, using boat once again to cross borders, on our way to the beautiful Hungarian capital known as Budapest. Actually, we're on a hydrofoil, and it buzzes on top of the water at a fair clip. Both river banks show a lot of greenery – trees and fields, with fishing huts sparsely distributed along the river. Not quite the scenery we were expecting when deciding to take a cruise, but excitement is provided by the use of industrial-sized water locks to travel down the river. The locks take many vessels at once –military in nature with their control towers and technology. Huge water doors close off the lock, which then empties down by 10m, leaving you craning your neck to see the top of the water door the boat sailed over to enter. Bizarre !

Budapest is actually two cities – Buda, the old medieval town on one side of the Danube, and Pest – the "modern" ( i.e. 19th century ) city on the other. Our apartment is on the Pest side, next to the famous St Stephen’s Basilica. We take to the streets, and it does not take long to sample the local menu – goulash ! - and we also acquaint ourselves with the small local bar / cafes in the Jewish quarter.

Our exploration of Budapest is now put on hold for a week, as one reason we are here is to join our friends Peter and Steve from Margate, and some of their regular crew, to attend the famous annual Sziget music festival ! With Gareth, Katie and Yolaine, we are all ready for 5 days of music festival madness, with bands ranging from Empire Of The Sun, Pulp, The Prodigy to Romanian gypsy bands and Serbian rock bands playing to an estimate 400,000 festival visitors on an island in the middle of the Danube !

As we are not far from the river, the group vote has been to take the Sziget Festival Boat to and from the island – an excellent decision as we avoid nasty, crowded buses to relax on a 45 min cruise up the river, treated to views of the Citadella on the top of Castle Hill, The Royal Palace, and the magnificent Hungarian Parliament House. Even more spectacular when coming back at night, with the monuments well lit and glowing in the dark.

The Sziget festival is far larger than any festivals we see in Australia. An astounding range of stages – the Main Stage area is huge, and the side stages would qualify as the main stage in Australia – but in addition are numerous specialist stages ( such as the Reggae stage – our chilled introduction to the festival ). We also find tiny stages tucked in corners, where young up and comers try out their material to an open minded audience. In addition to the music stages are circus schools, arts precincts, environmental and social awareness presentations – and of course a bewildering array of food and drink stalls. Starting to feel hungry, we are introduced to the Hungarian langos – which I’d unkindly describe as a big fat dougy pizza base covered in cheese, sour cream and garlic oil. Needless to say I didn’t need to eat for the next day, though the others did try langos from another stall which was thinner and crispier.

Time to get back to the music, and king of the festivals in the 90s – Pulp – came on and gave a fantastic show, which held onto our rating of festival highlight through the next 5 days.

The plan for the next morning hit 2 needs – recovery and preparation for Festival Day 2, and sampling a key part of Hungarian culture – thermal baths. Hungary is riddled with hot springs, and not surprisingly bathing in these springs is a major pastime. Budapest has magnificent 19th century baths, and we head to the largest - Szechenyi – with 3 outdoor and 15 indoor pools. The bath building is a statement of 19th century architecture – truly awesome to see – and the outdoor pool area is very attractive. Within minutes of sinking into the 34 deg water, we all feel refreshed and ready to go. The outdoor pools have water features, such as fountains - which are used for massage, or just fun - such as the “whirlpool” circle. Being a hot day, we head indoor to find an array of mineral hot pools, steam rooms and saunas. Hydrotherapy heaven, we all leave feeling great and ready to go. ( These baths are so great, Lauren and I couldn’t leave without a second visit on our last day – mmm ! )

Its all happening at Sziget and we dive in once again. The pattern set for the week, we all finish feeling somewhat dazed but satisfactorily tired, having had our fill of world music, indie bands, blues singers, circus performers and Indian curries nicely bookended with river cruises. Highlights included Pulp ( of course ); a little known NZ band – Batucada Sound Machine – amazingly good with a fusion of Latin, Hip Hop and percussion; Peter, Bjorn and John from Sweden ( hei doh ); and Dutch surprise Baskerville Live who we just stuck our heads into randomly.

We have a couple of days left, and catch-up on the sights, visiting St Stephen’s Basilica and viewing the religious relic of an authentic dead human hand, belonging to King Stephen – founder of the Hungarian State, and subsequently canonized. The tower of the Basilica gave us our first view of Budapest – a low rise landscape highlighting the monuments of the twin towered Great Synagogue and the Basilica itself.

Time also for another “funicular we have ridden” – yes, a short rail up the hill to the Palace. Even better views from up here, and our first experience of the winding laneways of medieval Buda. Lauren and I return the next day to explore further, and walk around the old city walls, taking the view off the other side of the hill across the rest of Buda.

A final evening walk along the banks of the Danube, a pastime also popular with the locals, not surprisingly what with the beautifully lit Royal Palace and Szechenyi Chain Bridge reflecting on the river. An interesting spot, Budapest, and a city with a warm atmosphere – the thermal baths await – get thee there to enjoy !
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