Land of the Magyars

Trip Start Sep 08, 2009
Trip End Nov 24, 2009

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Where I stayed
Couchsurfed @ Marerz & Balint's House

Flag of Hungary  ,
Friday, October 9, 2009

Budapest was the first city we couchsurfed in on this trip! We found two brothers online who love to travel themselves and are now "giving back" because they couchsurfed so much in the past. We stayed in their family home in a pretty central location in the city. They live in an apartment building, on the top floor. Their family added the top floor in the 80's, in a Swedish style, so it’s very lofty and unsymmetrical looking. It’s really cool. Wood floors, tons of plants inside… We felt like we were in a Safari house or something. Their mom was staying with them (she goes back and forth) so that was cool because she’s an art historian and knows so much about the city, the country’s history, and current art. And the brothers, Marton and Balint, are students currently in the midst of writing their masters’ theses.

Budapest was a much larger city than what we’ve been in recently. Since this city was so consumed by Communism, the buildings are much different- very ugly in some ways. The good thing is that the city has done a lot of restoration since WWII and Communism took its toll so many buildings have kept the bottom floor in the Communist style and rebuilt the top floors in a more modern style that is much more attractive. To me (Andre’s view is probably different), this whole city’s theme is its communist past. It’s so much a part of Hungary’s history that many museums and monuments are dedicated to it. It gives the city a bland, somber feel. Well, some of the city.

We spent the first day walking all around. We walked a lot I think. We saw a bunch of sites all around the city that were built in 1896 for Hungary’s 1000th anniversary. We also saw the Great Market Hall, which used to be and still is (in many ways) the locals’ market. We walked across the Liberty Bridge and hiked up a big hill on the Buda side (Budapest is separated by the Denube River. One side is Buda, one side is Pest). From the big hill we watched the sun set over the city. It was really beautiful. It was a big, full moon that night too so it was gorgeous when the moon started glowing as soon as the sun disappeared.

Something I have to talk about is a cool thing we saw when we were sitting at a table in the outdoor area of a restaurant eating dinner that night: First of all, two massive, hairy black dogs (I have no idea what breed they were but they were huge and unique) walked by, which made us stare with our mouths open. Then, their owner- a huge, extremely tall man who looked like a pro basketball player turned slightly overweight gypsy wearing all black went by. Next, the man and his dogs stopped a few yards away and we noticed the man calling to something in our direction. Then all of a sudden this black cat comes running down the sidewalk, right by us, and up to his master and the dogs. It was the pro basketball player turned slightly overweight gypsy’s cat! Just running loose on a busy, traffic-y street, following his owner! We couldn’t believe it. The dogs not being leased made sense because dogs still usually come when they’re called and dogs are accustomed to walking on busy streets with their owners- but for a cat to be on a busy street, following his owner and two huge dogs was so crazy to see! I think I’ve thought about these 30 seconds of my life a lot lately because it was so exciting. Haha.

We spent the morning of the next day in the House of Terror Museum. It’s a high-tech museum (mainly for Hungarians) showing the effects of WWII and the communist era. The building was actually the headquarters for the Hungarian Nazis and Secret Police. It was creepy to be in there. They had offices of the generals still intact. And beneath ground level there were actual cells where prisoners were held. There was even a standing cell (like in Auschwitz), and a torture cell. I was happy to get out of there.

That afternoon we decided to do the most famous Budapest activity- soak in the natural hot spring baths. The city is located over natural hot springs so there are “bath” locations all around the city. We went to the biggest and best one. We even met up with two guys we met at our hostel in Krakow. The four of us spent hours there. There are three big pools, all different temperatures, where people just swim around and lounge in. Each pool has different things to do- for instance, the first pool, which was nice and warm, had a natural spring Jacuzzi in the inside, with natural jets. Around that there was a whirlpool that would go on and off every 10 minutes. You could just let yourself go in the current and you’d go spinning around and around really quickly through the water. It was so much fun. We noticed how everyone in it was just smiling and laughing. Aside from the three main open-air pools there were dozens of indoor baths also. These had all different temperatures too. Some were really hot. And there were quite a few steam rooms and saunas indoors also. I’d never seen so many Speedos in my life until that day. And the majority of them belonged to really tan, old Hungarian men with huge beer bellies. Some of these men could even be seen playing Chess in the pools. We’d heard that the Hungarian men liked Chess and we saw a lot of this there. Andre and I even played a game of Chess (I beat him of course). Overall, the baths were amazing and so relaxing. It was a great way to spend most of the day.

The next day Andre went to the Hungarian National Museum while I wandered around. Then we walked over the famous Chain Bridge (destroyed during WWII then rebuilt) to the Castle. The castle was also something that has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times over the course of history that it hardly even looks like a castle anymore. We saw a building that was not replaced since WWII and it’s full of thousands of bullet holes on the outside walls. Crazy to see!

That night we went out to this cool square with dozens of tables where kids our age hang out at night. People bring their own beer and just hang out. Our couchsurfing host brothers took us there. Their friends came too, so it was really fun to get to know everyone and hang out for a few hours.

Marton and Balint’s mom (the art historian) is also a college professor part time so she hooked us up with her colleague’s class full of California “semester abroad” students to tag along with them to Statue Park. It’s a park outside of the main part of the city home to statues from the Communist era that an artist saved from being destroyed. They were put there in the park as a way to remember what Communism was and how it was portrayed through art. We got to listen in on the students’ class field trip about what Statue Park was all about. It was cool being in the midst of 15 or so California college students. We all understood each other perfectly!

After Statue Park Andre and I headed to the train station. Now we are currently on a train from Budapest to Vienna! We had a good time in Budapest. Overall, I wasn’t “overly fond” of Budapest (Andre really liked it) but I will look back on it with good memories. And I think I always forget how great couchsurfing is until we are doing it. It’s so nice to have a home, a family to hang out with and talk with, a quiet room, a warm bed, and a hot shower. And I think we learned more than we realize yet from Marton “Marisz,” Balint, and Edit (their mom).

Oh, and Budapest is pronounced “Boo-da-peSHt.” Don’t forget the “sh” sound.

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