Monday, June 13, 2011

Andrea Judd: Budapest, Hungary

Andrea Judd is a master's student in Health Education at the U of U. She is currently abroad with the U of U's Health Promotion & Education program in Vienna, Austria.
This weekend I sipped the best hot chocolate I have ever had, explored a medieval underground labyrinth, wondered at castles and churches of amazing artistic beauty, bathed in the deepest and warmest thermal baths in Budapest, and had an international dance party in an old apartment turned nightclub.  I had an amazing weekend exploring the city of Budapest Hungary with the three friends I met on my study abroad to Vienna.  We’re all pretty easy-going, goofy girls..  J
If you are seeking to broaden your horizons and have the experience of a lifetime, I say go for it! Come see Budapest while you’re at it.
We arrived in Budapest this last Friday afternoon where we walked down the streets to a delicious café that our native host for the weekend had recommended ( we found him at very cheap and useful!).
I ate delicious chicken shish kabob skewers while watching the sun set in front of St Stephan’s Basilica... and the hot chocolate!  You absolutely have to try European hot chocolate,  it is thick and delicious like pudding, and they have flavors like white chocolate and hazelnut.  It was amazing.

The next morning we went to see the inside of St. Stephan’s.  It was breathtaking, the picture hardly do it justice; it’s very ornate and intricate, with a very high dome inside and paintings and sculptures line the walls.  I stood there for awhile and didn’t want to leave.  From there we toured the Hungarian parliament, which is the third largest parliament building in the world; it was a great combination of new technology and a collection of old archeological styles. 
Then we went to The Castle District of Budapest.  It was so fun and interesting to explore! First we saw St. Matyas’s Temple, but unfortunately it was closed, we couldn’t go in.  Then we saw a series of lookout turrets called Fishermen’s Bastion.  It was named because the spot was originally assigned to a band of fisherman to use to protect the city, but the actual turrets you see today were constructed in the late 1800s and are used for their scenic view over the city.  The Castle District is also home to a lot of unique, local craft booths that make excellent souvenirs.  I’d recommend going here to get a memoir of your trip, rather than the shops located in malls in the city itself.  There was tons of leather craftsmanship and pottery and jewelry, as well as the usual magnets and postcards. We stopped for a moment to enjoy some drinks and cinnamon bread near the booths, and one of the booth owners played his guitar and sang with us for awhile he was really friendly.
After that we went to the underground labyrinths, which are one of the seven underground wonders of the world.  They were built in the Middle Ages, and have served the purpose of being a torture chamber, treasury, wine cellar, and bomb shelter in its history.   The labyrinth extends for over a hundred kilometers, but only 1.5 kilometers is available now to be seen by tourists.  We saw statues representing Hungarian shamans and drawings of a deer that the Hungarians used to worship!  There is also a continuously flowing wine fountain in the labyrinth that pours red wine to symbolize the power and continuity of the Hungarian Empire.  There were signs that recommended we not drink the wine... it was sadly pretty rancid smelling.  We were given lanterns to use because not all of the labyrinth was well lit.  We were all pretty creeped out so we started singing to make the whole thing more light-hearted.  It was a really cool experience though.  I would say it’s a must see if you plan on traveling to Budapest.
After the labyrinth, we went home for the night, utterly exhausted from so much walking, and determined that the next day we would go to the thermal, medicinal baths that Budapest is famous for.  On the way to the baths the next day, we saw Art on a Lake, which was really interesting and fun.  Just check out the pictures: a house sinking into a lake, a floating park bench, a sculpture of a thinking man.... Ironically, we all had to pee, but the only bathroom in site was this porta potty on the lake. Haha.
The bath house we went to was Szechenyi, the warmest and deepest thermal baths in Budapest, and the bath house in Budapest with the most pools, and the one closest to our apartment.  It was very relaxing.  The pools are natural spring water that contains many beneficial minerals, and they have been proven to be very helpful with joint problems especially.  We tried bath of varying temperatures, up to thirty eight degrees Celsius.  My favorite was a peppermint-scented sauna, followed by a chilling dip into sixteen-degree Celsius water.  It really relaxed the muscles!  I definitely recommend it after a day of walking.
That night we went to Simpla, a bar with a VERY eclectic and funky decoration style.  It was basically an old, huge, and run-down apartment, turned into a huge gathering place with two floors, dj, outdoor tables, and three or four bars to buy drinks.  The music was excellent, really catchy but no top forty overplayed bologna, and all the music was in English.  No one was dancing but the four of us started dancing anyway because the music was so great and we wanted to have fun.  Pretty soon, we had about six other people dancing with us, and others would randomly join in.  Every time someone joined we would yell “tanzen zeit”!  (dancing time!)  and pull them in with us.  It was really fun and we made a lot of friends, from England, Germany, Panama, and Hungary.  Our new English friend said he had been there three times and never seen anyone dancing until that night.  It was a blast we had so much fun.
I really recommend Budapest, it is less touristy that Paris or Prague, but it has some very unique sites, and it is absolutely beautiful!  If you can, add it to your list and hit some of the places I recommended!  It was an amazing weekend. 

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