Day Four When we arrived in Budapešt, the time was 23:30. We were dropped far out of town, at the Planetarium, in a park. We didn’t have any forint (Hungarian money) so the nearby trolley wasn’t of any use to us. At the drop-off spot, there were eight young adults getting ready to go to sleep in the grass while waiting for the morning bus back to Prague. They had come to the well-attended annual Hungarian Music Festival that just ended on this day. We walked to a nearby hotel we had seen from the bus. It looked like a very nice place but we declined their rate of about $120 for the two of us. We were near a trolley station and a Metro station was about five blocks away. Ota picked up a map in the hotel lobby and we walked toward the Metro station to find an ATM (automated teller machine) and then a ride. This Metro station is also an international bus station. By the time we reached the station, the Metro and the trolleys closed. Ota navigated us toward the Centrum [TSEN troom] or Downtown Historical Center. The word “Centrum” seems to transcend borders and languages. We sought cheap accommodations like a bargain hotel or a hostel. We walked our legs off. We used the map to find major arteries where we guessed we might find our targets. We found some crummy places closer to the Centrum. They asked as much or more money for a night’s stay as the first nice hotel near the planetarium. We were mostly walking through residential, park or old, low-rise business neighborhoods. We did find an ATM and loaded up on forint ($1 = 210f). Budapešt
When we came upon an all-night market, we bought more food and drink, including half a loaf of fresh cinnamon bread. We devoured it almost immediately. The night temperature was a wonderful 72 degrees. It stimulated our appetites.
Seven bridges connect Buda to Pešt across the Danube River in the Centrum. Buda is the older part of the city. Pešt grew independently on the other side of the Danube. In time, the cities united into one. We found a decent looking hotel near the first bridge we encountered. They asked $120 for a room. I was extremely tempted to stop walking but Ota and I agreed to look a little further. As we walked away from this hotel, a man approached me from behind. He asked, “Hey! Are you from Baltimore?”. I wondered why he asked, particularly since I live so close to Baltimore. I was wearing a purple Baltimore Ravens football team shirt. This guy, Kent, was from Kentucky. He was traveling
tonight with a guy named Daan from Holland. Ota had the wherewithal to ask where they were staying. It turns out that they met at a HOSTEL, right across the bridge. They said they were on their way back to it and we should follow. Their place has 16 floors and 700 rooms. If Ota hadn’t been with me, I might have been too suspicious to follow them. I felt invincible with Ota. About 15 minutes later (02:00), we were at the hostel. There were young folks all around, on the front steps, inside the lobby and in a dance club located in the rear of the lobby. It was throbbing with music. We learned, at the reception desk, that the hotel was full. Kent and Daan were apologetic. Ota and I pushed on. Parliament
We continued across Buda, traveling parallel to the river. About half an hour later, we came to another hostel, four-stories tall but large. They too were full. We crossed another bridge, back to Pešt. We inquired about price at more hotels in our path. We stumbled into an enclave of very fancy hotels. We also found one that was not so fancy, outwardly. We rang the bell and woke the attendant who graciously registered us for $68 per night. I was still amazed that Ota could communicate in almost any language. He did use a little help, though. The woman handed him a list of rules and information, in English. Breakfast was included in the price of our room. Towels require a 500f deposit, refunded upon their return. Check out time is 10:00. We didn’t have enough forint to pay for the room but St. Matthew’s the kindly middle-age woman took a deposit and a Basilica passport and told us to wait until daylight and get the money from a nearby ATM. After passing through a large portal, we found ourselves in an attractive outdoor courtyard lined with Corinthian columns and plaster statues. Blooming red geraniums hung from the balconies that are facing inward. The courtyard is the setting for an attractive looking restaurant or banquet facility. Of course, the courtyard was dim and deserted at this time of night. Our room was plain but large. It was, in fact, a suite. There were three beds, an armoire and two nightstands. There was a sitting room with a table and chairs and a refrigerator. The bathroom contained a small shower, a sink with a mirror and a toilet. The toilet had a hole at the far, shallow end rather than in the front like I’m accustomed to seeing. I noticed that my left leg, and my foot, was swollen to elephant size. The other foot was following suit. We slept. We awoke to a beautiful day. The morning was sunny and mild. We had to hustle to get to the free breakfast before the 10:00 closing. We found breakfast cereals displayed in large serving
bowls. There were boules of crusty French bread with a chewy inside, margarine, fruit jellies, instant coffee and tea. Ota ran to the ATM for cash immediately after we finished eating. We checked out on time. Fortunately, Ota and I both packed lightly. We carried our possessions on our backs. We followed our map looking for a tourist information office. It was illusive. Budapešt is enchanting. The old buildings look like fairy tale props, like dripped icing. Modern architecture is interspersed with medieval. Most of the buildings are individual works of art. Statues and sculptures adorn many of the facades. One baroque building, along a pedestrian plaza, had a row of people statues half hanging out of portholes on its side. Many of these elaborate structures began life as palaces owned by noblemen. We were looking for a city tour like I describe as a “circle tour”; one that circles around the city with narration. Having taken a circle tour, one can intelligently choose where to return and tour in more depth. This late in the morning, I didn’t expect to find a tour beginning until afternoon. Even following the map and directional signs on the street, we never did find that information center. We rounded a corner to a major square near the main Basilica of Saint Stephen. A salesman hawking 3-hour tours stopped us. His tour is conducted on an open-deck bus, with additional walking excursions included in the price, starting now. The price was about $20 for me and $13 for Ota, with his student card. An attractive 40ish tour guide translated her dicta into German, English and Italian. We walked with her for about a block, through the square, to the open-top bus that was waiting on the street. Our guide was personable and did a very commendable job. At stops where we disembarked, she would make an effort to approach the comrades in their clicks and speak the appropriate language. It was a very comprehensive tour. The three hours were filled with the wonderful tour and not with waiting or with souvenir shopping, as I so often find in city tours. Ota set up his MP3 player/recorder beside a seat speaker, in order to record the narrative, so I could better enjoy the sights and digest the information later. When the city was settled, both sides of the river were known as Pešt, not Buda. It means stove or kiln in Slavic language. It probably refers to the natural warm springs found here. The name Buda came around 1241 when King Bela IV ordered that new castles and fortresses be built after Mongols devastated the city. King Bela named the new city “Buda”. He built the first Royal Palace in Buda on what became forever after known as Castle Hill. Descendants added in a
grand way to the Palace as both Buda and Pešt prospered. In 1490, King Mathias raised the status of Pešt to be equal to Buda, separate but equal. Then, in 1526, Turkey conquered the two cities and they languished for 150 years. The main legacy that the Turks left Budapešt is the Turkish Bath Houses, which are fed by hot springs. In the 17th Century, Buda and Pešt were freed from Turkish rule and again flourished. The cities were under heavy German influence and German was the official language. As the Hungarian society bloomed, and the area became a center for learning, the Hungarian language took hold. In 1873, the cities united to improve their municipal power in order to build permanent bridges and improve the infrastructure. This marked the true renaissance of the modern city we see today. It became, at this time, the capitol of Hungary. Once again, World War II devastated the city and besides the loss of lives and magnificent architecture, every bridge across the Danube was destroyed as the German army pulled out. The bridges were replaced within four years. Building and rebuilding continued. The transportation lines of all of Hungary were designed to connect in Budapešt, which guaranteed the city a strong future. With all the destruction and strife that Budapešt had to overcome, it is amazing how beautiful and ornate it is today. High on the hill where the Citadel watches over the city, we encountered a festival atmosphere with music and rows of mobile carts selling food and souvenirs. Ota and I shared a plum tart, which resembled a personal pan pizza. The sunshine was brilliant. We were all offered the use of straw hats but Ota and I declined. There were speakers throughout the bus so, except when street noises reached a din, we could hear the narration just fine. About three hours after we began, we reached Victory Square. There is a picturesque array of statues atop columns and archways. When asked if we chose to disembark and shoot photographs, not one passenger was for it. I believe we had reached the saturation point. Certainly, I felt as though I had gotten my money’s worth. After the tour, Ota and I stopped at an outdoor café for lunch. It was rather pretty and more upscale than our usual mode. We sipped on Dreher, a local draft beer, and watched Hungarian life go by. Ota ate a composed chef
salad served stuffed into a large round outer leaf of iceberg lettuce. It was garnished with, among other things, hard cooked quail eggs. My smoked salmon and avocado sandwich was also a work of art, and good. It was served open-faced. The salmon was twisted around exotic types of lettuce and also garnished with quail eggs plus fish roe. We shared a 5-layer cappuccino before we pushed on (4,330f or $20.02) and the 20% tip was included in the bill. Three islands lie within the Danube in Budapešt’s Centrum. Margaret’s Island was the place we chose to return to and explore. To get there, we passed directly beside Parliament and paused for some dramatic photographs. Another thing I wanted to do was touch the Danube River. It was easy because the banks, on both sides, are steps, as though they are stadium seating facing the Danube. So, I climbed down the stairs and felt the cold, gray water rush through my fingers. It seemed too cold to me for swimming. We walked over to Margaret’s Island, which is accessible on two ends by lesser bridges that connect to two major bridges that cross the Danube River. While crossing over the Danube, we looked down on the island to see a few dogs swimming at a rocky point on the leeward tip. There were many sunbathers but no human swimmers. I liken Margaret’s Island to Manhattan’s Central Park. They are each garden get-a-ways in electrifying cities. The island is accessible by city bus. One never passed that wasn’t full to capacity. The other forms of transportation on the island, for rental, are bikes, bicycle carriages for four peddlers, Volkswagen-size battery powered cars, electric scooters, roller blades and a touring tram with Hungarian narration. The island is so wide that you can’t see from one side what is happening on the other side. It is much longer than it is wide. Flourishing old trees fill the skies. Their gnarled trunks also help to keep Margaret’s treasures a secret until we uncover them, one by one. A large circular mechanized fountain spews waters that dance to the tunes of Bach, Schubert , Dvořak, Handel and the like. Every 10 minutes, a new five-minute program begins. The schedule of performances is posted nearby. We sat and dangled our feet along side many more audience members. The cool breeze provided a refreshing respite from the heat of the day. Here and throughout the island, are snack bars, liquor and wine bars, restaurants and food kiosks. The late afternoon brought flocks of visitors. A large water park, with an admission charge, was jammed with revelers. The water park contained a giant swimming pool with fountains, slides and lap lanes. There were other slides and inner-tube rides in other pools. The tanning
beaches and grassy tracts were crowded with bodies.
Among the other attractions we found are lily ponds with koi and turtles, a live-performance stage with light rock being performed, soccer fields, tennis courts, a spongy jogging path, ping pong tables, a sports building, an observation tower, a river-walk and an enormous grassy field where folks were practicing Tai Chi. We also found a cascading waterfall. It is a backdrop for a garden with manicured meandering walkways.
The drinking fountains around the island were fun and confounding. They seem to operate from air pressure. Each was configured the same way. They look like (upside down) “L” shaped water pipes that extend from the ground. They have a small hole on the top and also on the underside of the drinking end. We still aren’t sure how to operate them but sometimes, when we used our hands to cover the top hole, water poured out from the bottom and sometimes when we covered the bottom hole, a small fountain of water would bubble from the top. It was fun because the results were inconsistent and we kept getting wet. At the far end of the island is a hotel/spa built around geothermal waters. To me, it looked like an expensive resort. The restaurant was certainly expensive by Hungarian standards. The parking lots around the hotel were completely full.
There is a bridge on each end of the island but we agreed to double back because there was so much to see and do, we knew we must have missed some things. The late afternoon air was invigorating. We walked a long way on the river walk on the island’s periphery. The city views were gorgeous. We came upon another swimming pool, Olympic size, inside an open-air stadium. An international swimming competition had taken place earlier in the day. We came in during the awards ceremony. Italy placed third. Hungary came in second. First place went to Spain. When we left Margaret’s Island it was early evening. We headed toward the second hostel that was full the night before. We stopped at a market for camera batteries and also picked up juice, fruit and candy. Then we walked back through town and along the river to find that place or another one offering equal value. Ota came up with the great thought that we would enjoy seeing a movie on this night. We agreed that the new Superman movie would be one we would both enjoy. Ota found it playing in English. We put that on the agenda.
We walked through Buda’s streets, up and down hills. Some are so steep that the sidewalks are stairs. One dumpy hotel along the way was asking $160 per night. We walked several miles. Foreign names and tiny maps kept me clueless most of the time. Ota was always able to pinpoint our location and navigate for us. I knew the general direction and location of where we had been but winding roads often led me in a direction away from where we wanted to go. When we reached the Citadel, I recognized the neighborhood and took us to the hostel. They had room for us. Also, they extended Ota’s student discount to me. We paid about $17 per night, each. Our room was on the first floor. I was happy about that because my leg and foot were swollen to about twice their normal size. Walking didn’t bother me but climbing stairs did. This hostel has few frills. There was a laundry room. A coffee bar was in the basement. At the end of our corridor was a small kitchenette. Our room was large. It had four beds but only we were assigned to the room. There were also two desks and three armoires, a small refrigerator, and, under a mirror, there was a sink with a shelf. The pastel orange walls had slightly crumbling plaster. There was a musty odor. And there was a black wire strung across the ceiling. The room had no soap and no towels. The place looked a little shabby. On our floor, there might have been 60 rooms. I saw inside two other rooms and they each had four beds. Also, both sexes shared the floor. With this in mind, the bathroom seemed odd. There was only one bathroom for everyone’s use. There were five shower stalls, without curtains. There was no urinal. There was one toilet, yes, one toilet (and no toilet paper).
We lightened our loads by dumping our stuff in the room and we took off to find the mall where Superman was playing. The electric trolley station was two blocks from the hostel. Both ticket machines were broken there so we boarded the trolley and went to the next stop to buy tickets. There are validation machines on board. Sliding the ticket through the validation machine puts a time stamp on it. The time stamp allows riding for two hours. If the ticket is not validated or if a rider is caught by transit police, without a ticket, then there is a large penalty to pay. The same system exists in C B Chhaaiinn Brriiddggee Prague. Machines in the second station were broken too. The one-way fee was only about 80 cents but we couldn’t purchase tickets. We decided to take the risk. We did not get caught.
Ota and I walked uphill, another six blocks, to Metroplex Mall. It is a modern shopping mall adjacent to a trolley junction and underground Metro line. In the mall is a multi-screen movie house with stadium seating. We were too late to see the last performance of Superman, for that night and also for that run. One more showing was scheduled at 10:00 tomorrow, but only in Hungarian. The time was almost 22:00. Four attractive restaurants were open near the theater entrance; one Mexican, one seafood and two Continental. By the time we decided where to eat, only one restaurant was still open. It offered European fare. The motif was modern Scandinavian with blonde woods, straight lines in the furniture, low light and small flickering votive candles in short, clear glass cylinders. We each ordered marinated broiled chicken thighs with a cold Turkish salad mixed with a yogurt, garlic and cucumber dressing. The thighs were split and pounded thin. The skin was crackling crisp. It was served with steak fries. The presentation was attractive with its branches of thyme and rosemary stretching out from near the center of the plate. We drank peach juice and pineapple juice. The cost of the meal was $17.07. We took the night bus and trolley back to the hostel. Busses and trolleys all have human operators but they are cordoned off from passengers behind glass booths. The drivers donâ€™t inspect tickets. Sporadically appearing conductors do that. We didnâ€™t try to buy tickets and we
When we came upon an all-night market, we bought more food and drink, including half a loaf of fresh cinnamon bread. We devoured it almost i...