Ballin' in Budapest

Trip Start Jul 11, 2008
Trip End Feb 28, 2009

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Carpe Noctum

Flag of Hungary  ,
Friday, October 3, 2008

BUDAPEST: (03.10.08
- 06.10.08)

A group of 11 Holger
residents were off to Budapest for the weekend. Melinda & Wen were on an
earlier flight. We arrived at the airport, checked in, made our way to our
departure gate & standing waiting for us were Wen & Melinda. They had
missed their flight. We thought it was all very funny & they led us along
for a while, making up a story that they had slept in because they were so
hung-over. However what really happened was a much better outcome. Their flight
had been overbooked, so they were given 250 euro each to take the next flight
(which the rest of us were on). And to top it off, they were given first class
seats for the flight. All in all, it worked out perfectly for them.

After a two hour flight,
on which we were pleasantly surprised to be served a meal & drinks, we
landed in Budapest, Hungary. After everyone had exchanged currency or used the
ATM, we made our way into the city & towards our hostel. We had to take a
bus & a train. The bus was fine, but the train was another matter. It
looked very much to be a relic from Soviet occupation. It was big, cold,
metallic & loud. We could barely hear each other talk over the roar of the
train. Nevertheless, it got us safely to our destination and we were able to
check into our hostel.

The hostel owner,
Suzie, was one of the most interesting characters I have ever met. She was a
big, loud British lady in her early 30's who smoked constantly, drank a lot,
and had a foul mouth. Despite this, if you asked her for tips of where to go or
what to do she would be very willing to offer her advice and if she didn't know
something, would go to great lengths to find out for you. She lived in the
hostel in one of the dorm rooms and wanted to take everyone out drinking every
night (partly I think because they got a lot of noise complaints from their
neighbours and were scared of getting shut down so everyone had to be silent in
the staircase and quiet in the hostel after 10pm).

We decided to take up
Suzie's offer of a night of drinking, but first we had to get something for
dinner. On Suzie's recommendation we went across the road to a restaurant that
served both Hungarian and Thai food. It seemed an odd combination but we
thought that we would go with it and try it out. While the food turned out to be
quite good, the service was ridiculous. We had to wait 2hrs for everyone to get
their food! The Americans in the group, used to excellent service due to the
tip based pay of waiters in America, were not happy. When we finally got out of
there, the waiter was too busy to take our money and told us to leave it on the
table. Although this didn't seem the best idea in the world, we were annoyed
and just wanted to get out of there.

We went and picked up
a few drinks from a convenience store and when we got back to the hostel, the
waiter was there waiting for us. He accused us of underpaying. We were all sure
that we had payed the full amount (we had counted it at the table and everyone
had put their share in) so we refused to pay him any more. Perhaps someone had
stolen some of it off the table or perhaps it was a scam to try to rip off
tourists, I don't know. But if there wasn't the full amount there it was their
own stupid fault for refusing to take the money when we were leaving and
telling us to leave it on the table of a restaurant with other people all

After that we went out
with Suzie and the other people in the hostel. We had been told by other people
that Budapest's nightlife was like Prague, except crazier and more fun. While I
had a good time in Budapest, I don't think that the nightlife was anywhere near
as much fun as Prague. Anyway, our first stop for the night was a newly opened
club/bar called Instant that was build inside the ruins of an old building. It
was really big, had a lot of people in it, drinks were reasonably cheap &
we had a good time for a while. After that some people went on to a club but we
were tired and not very drunk so we decided to just go back to the hostel and
get some sleep. We planned to do a
lot of sightseeing in the next few days.

Day 2:

In the morning we got
up to do a New Europe free walking tour, like the one we did in Prague
(although they say its free, it never is as we always tip the tour guides
generously). We were running a bit late but Alex and Omri were already there so
they got the tour to wait for us. When we arrived we could see why they waited.
There were four other people there. It was obviously in the tour guide's best
interest to wait for 9 more people as his tips for the day would triple.

While the tour guide's
English was very poor and it was a miserable, rainy day, the tour was still
worthwhile as it showed us the best of Budapest's sites and allowed us to
decide what we wanted to take a closer look at or go inside the next day. The
tour covered both Buda and Pest, which had until fairly recently been two
separate cities divided by the Danube River. Buda is hilly and has all the
historic buildings, while Pest is flat and has the majority of residential
buildings and the 'downtown' area. We saw St Stephens Basilica, parliament
building, the citadel, the castle and church up on the hill, and more little
random pieces of Budapest that we wouldn't have seen if we hadn't been on a

After the tour we went
and got some delicious Hungarian cakes and a hot chocolate before heading off
to explore the Labyrinths beneath the castle. Some of our group got a little
freaked out down there as it was completely dark and they were playing some
eerie music with a steady drum beat. We used our cameras to light the way and
had a great time down there scaring some of our group. We came across one lady
who was completely freaked out and had to follow us to the entrance as she
couldn't figure the way out of the Labyrinth.

On our way back to the
hostel, our way was blocked by massive police barricades. There were
helicopters flying in the air, bus loads of police geared up in full riot gear
and ambulances on standby all over the place. Apparently it was all because
there was a peaceful protest march going on. Suzie told us that previously
these had not been so peaceful and there had been a lot of violence with heavy
casualties. So now for every protest march there is a heavy police presence to
avoid any trouble.

Day 3:

After about an hour
and a half of sleep, it was time to get up and go sightseeing again. Apparently
some of the other hostel guests had not had such a great night. They said that
Suzie had brought a guy back to the hostel and had really loud sex in one of
the dorm rooms. Luckily most of our group were staying in a different dorm and
didn't have to hear it but Wen and Melinda were in that dorm, couldn't sleep
and had to move to another room. Apparently it was disgusting. Hearing them
complain about how disgusting it was was hilarious.

Our first sightseeing
stop was Parliament building. We planned to do a tour but, by the time we got
there, it was booked out for the whole day so we had to move on to something
else. The next stop was St Stevens Basilica. This was an amazing building. It was
beautiful inside. Very elaborate & churchy. After we had our fill of the
interior, we climbed what felt like a thousand steps to get to the top of the
tower. The climb was worth it. The views from up top were fantastic. We chilled
out up there for a while taking a few photos and then caught the elevator back
down. In what was one of the best moments of the trip we all just chilled out
on the steps out front of the basilica, relaxing in the sun & chatting.

We then headed back to
near our hostel, got some lunch, and headed off to the House of Terror museum.
It was interesting and very moving, portraying the tragedies that Hungary and
Budapest had to face during first the Nazi occupation in WWII and then the
ensuing Soviet occupation. However, the audio guide was in monotone, which,
after not getting much sleep, was difficult to handle.

Later that night,
after getting some dinner, we headed off to the Szechenyi baths - the Hungarian
version of Turkish baths. When we
got there we were told that the inside baths were closed as it was too late and
that we would have to just stay in the outdoor baths. It was freezing! The
water was warmish but any part of your body that wasn't in the water got
freezing cold in the night air. Nevertheless we had a good time mucking around,
taking underwater photos and riding in the whirlpool. Melinda and Wen then
arrived and told us that the indoor baths were actually open. What a relief!
There wasn't much more cold that I could take. So we headed inside to where the
water temperature was 36 - 40 degrees Celcius (depending which bath you went
into) and the air was warm. We chilled out there for a while and then headed
back to the hostel.

Day 4:

The next morning, we
decided to take advantage of some of the shopping that Budapest had to offer. I
had read that Budapest had a Chinese market - much like those found in Hong
Kong - and so we set off to buy some counterfeit goods at bargain prices.

When we arrived in the
neighbourhood that the markets were in, it was like we had suddenly walked into
a 3rd world country. It was by far the sketchiest place I had been
in during my travels. There were dodgy looking people around everywhere, the
place looked like it had been bombed as there was rubble all over the place,
and the markets were hidden behind shanty style walls which you had to get to
by walking through a gate surrounded by tall barbed wire fences.

Once we got inside the
markets it was just as weird. Rather than the hustle and bustle that I had seen
in the Hong Kong markets and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, these markets were
eerily quiet. There was the noise of people working but there was no shouting
about prices, quality of goods, etc, etc. All the shop-keepers were sitting
back, waiting for someone to come and buy their goods. Also, they were nowhere
near as willing to barter as the other markets had been. Instead, they would
usually only take a little bit off and would only discount for multiple
purchases. Nevertheless, I walked away with 2 hoodies, a pair of gym pants and
some Lacoste fragrance.

By the time we had
finished shopping, we just had time to get a quick lunch, buy a fridge magnet
and head off to the airport to catch our flight home.

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