This is it, folks! The last leg of our backpacking adventure. After an easy 2 & something hour train ride from Vienna, we arrived in Pest. Another sweltering afternoon. Our apartment was clear across the city, so we took the metro and had to climb up what felt like a mountain to our place in Buda. Sidenote: You guys know I love renting apartments during travel, having that local experience, but this time, without air conditioning, I thought I was going to die.
We decided to check out the castle grounds first since they were near our apartment, practically a stone’s throw away. Such a lovely area! Beautiful cathedrals and other interesting buildings everywhere you turn. W didn’t even pay for entrance into any of them, just marveling from the outside was enough. After a great meal near the water, we headed to Pest to check out the scene there.
While more lively than residential Buda, it was still fairly calm compared to other bustling cities we has visited like Prague and Vienna.
That night was a quiet one on our terrace reading and drinking Hungarian wine.
Thursday led us to Nagycsarnok, a large food market in Pest. Where I bought, of all things, string cheese, whuddup. It was delicious. But we also loaded up on paprika and saffron, then had a nice lunch on the touristy yet pleasant Vaci street.
That afternoon, our lives changed. We went to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths. I’ve been to hamamms in Marrakech and Turkish baths in Istanbul, but this was totally different. This giant complex was built like a water park, with 18 different pools (3 of them outdoor), countless saunas and, that’s right, massage parlors. After almost two weeks of lugging around our packs, walking entire cities in sandals, this was a welcome (and much deserved) treat. For only €12, you can hang at the facility all day, dipping in different sulfur and mineral baths of varying temps (34-40 celsius), freezing plunge pools and saunas (45-65 celsius), laying out by the pools outside and just generally enjoying your life. Oh, and the massage was extra… Like a whopping €30 extra. Um, can I get 10? Back to back? Pun intended? While not super luxurious, it got the job done, although it had me wincing in pain from all the knots in my back.
We liked the baths so much we went back on Friday. Oops!
Friday night was our last night of the trip. We thought we should attempt a big night out. Headed to Pest and saw potential at Vaci street, so we searched for a place for dinner. We eventually settled on one with outdoor seating and tv’s so we could watch the Germany vs. Greece game (poor Greece) with wine and chicken paprikash. Afterward we headed to what we thought was the night scene, to not find it. Or perhaps find it too late? As we walked through the area, the clubs were empty, bars were calm, there wasn’t much going on. We ended up at a nice wine bar, but it wasn’t the rager we were expecting. When we decided to head back to Buda, we had one problem. The metro stops running at 11:30 and it was now after midnight. I know, we’re such rebels. Problem was that the night buses were extremely confusing and with no one speaking English, we had difficulty finding where it stopped. Once we did, it was now after one and it had just left (of course) and wouldn’t be back for an hour. So, we bit the bullet and as much as I despise doing this while traveling… we took a cab. Defeated. But there was no way we were walking that late at night. Even once we got to Buda and were safely dropped off at the metro, we were stopped by police asking us why we were out and that we should go home. Hmm. At 2am on a friday night in any other city, there would be young people out everywhere. Not the case here.
The next day were our flights heading separate ways. What a great trip. Some quick takeaways from traveling in eastern Europe:
1. Never bother buying train tickets ahead of time. Buy them once you are in the city you are traveling from. Trust me, there will be a train to get you where you need to go. I bought tickets ahead of time, did not receive them before I left (print tickets was the only option on this rail line), had to re-buy all of them and now have to fight with the train company to refund me. Here’s hoping…
2. Never underestimate the power of a good map. And no, I don’t mean Google. I mean a real paper map. That is lightweight. And fits in your bag. Don’t haul around a Lonely Planet guidebook that weighs 5 pounds. …Like I did.
3. When renting apartments, check the actual walking distance to the big attractions. (This is where Google is helpful) Don’t rely on eye-balling it on a map. Some of our places were a good 30 minute hike on hilly streets from anything. That is not fun at midnight when you are tired.
4. If #3 is unavoidably or accidentally your situation, get to know the public transportation system right away. Like Nike, just do it, it’s never as bad or as confusing as it seems. You can always point to your map (see #2) to show the conductor where you need to go.
5. Eat the local food. Don’t be a wimp!
From Budapest, I headed back to Kiev to be with Jaro so we could celebrate our one year wedding anniversary together! I can’t believe it’s been a year. I can’t believe what a year it has been.
We’re now (finally!) back in Amsterdam. Looking forward to some down time with my husband and getting ready for our next (and final… for this first year abroad anyway) visitors – my childhood friends!