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Michael’s Travel Diary

Friday, 28 Dec 2007

Location: Budapest, Hungary

MapSo first day in Budapest - it was a late rise, and when I did get up, I headed straight across the Danube into Buda. It was cold, damn cold, and as I crossed the Independence Bridge, I was afraid of falling in - not for fear of actually falling in, but fear of freezing to death before I could get out, or get back to the hostel if I ever made it out of the water!

Once on the other side of the river I headed up Gellert Hill and the first stop was the Church of the Cave, or something like that. It was a church that was actually set in a cave in the side of Gellert Hill. And best of all, the interior was still very cave like, albeit painted a plain grey as opposed to rock color. Next stop up the hill was the Statue of St Stephen, looking over the Independence Bridge.

The top of the hill housed a Citadel, built in 1848 to protect the Habsburg’s against any revolt against the Hungarians in an attempted revolution. It was never used in war time. The most impressive thing at the top of the hill had to be the Independence Monument. It can be seen from many parts of the city, both on the Buda and Pest side, and anywhere along the river. It is made of a tall pillar with a woman holding a palm leaf declaring independence to the people. In the past, the pillar was filled with Cyrillic lettering, but since the soviet rule ended in 1991, the lettering was systematically remover in the last decade, as were the statues of soviet soldiers that surrounded the monument.

Down the hill, along the river, and up Castle Hill. The first thing that I noticed was just how much is inside the castle walls – it is a city in it own rite now. They even have a Hilton Hotel up there. The first stop in the castle walls was the Royal Palace, which was a rather grand looking building, but more importantly, it was free to get in and it now houses the Hungarian National Gallery. By this stage I just needed an excuse to warm up – and those that know me, know that art would be my last reason to want to go into a palace. It was good to get in from the cold, and there was some interesting stuff to see too.

Next stop was the Matthius Church. This place was amazing – the colors on the walls inside the church were incredible, and being able to get up high into the church and look down on the church was cool too. Having finished that, and darkness well and truly set in, I took some snap shots across the river into Pest from high up on the walls of Buda Castle before wandering around to Magdalen Tower, the only remaining part of a church that was bombed in WWII. Eventually, after wandering around aimlessly through the castle walls, I headed down through Vienna gate, the main entrance to Castle Hill and descended into Buda. Quickly I looked for a way across the river into Pest, but somehow I think I got lost… it seems the city isn’t as much of a grid formation as one may presume.

After passing many solariums – I don’t know if they are used for tan or just warmth, but I saw an elderly couple of about 70-80 walk into one shop and pay to use the solarium. Whatever it is used for, seems everyone is in on the act! Once across the river along Chain Bridge, I wandered slowly back towards the hostel. I ducked into some of the shops in the fashion street of Pest, hoping for a Boxing Day bargain, and ended up walking out with a full price shirt from Zara – so much for Boxing Day sales? Though full price still did seem cheap when converted from Forint to Pounds!

As I walked back along the main tourist drag to the hostel, I was stopped by two blonde girls who asked if I spoke English (in a very Eastern European accent) and the asked if I knew when some street was. I said no, and then they asked if I had a map – this tied I lied, and again said no. Small chit chat later, and apparently they were students in Budapest for 4 days and were trying to find the nightclub area (at 7pm?). Anyway, they said they’d try looking for it again later, and asked me to join them for a drink at some place they’d been at earlier. I wandered with them to the place which was one that had live Latin music, and was only accessible from an elevator – going down – as far as I could see. Spidey senses tingling bad right now! I let them go down and walked off, suggesting I might be back later. They seemed sincere enough… or so it seemed.

I made it back to the hostel, dumped my bag and headed out again. On the way out, in the space of 50m, over the same touristy stretch of road, I was approached by two pairs of blonde women, again asking if I knew where something was, and then suggesting I join them for a drink. At that point, any doubt I had about my reaction to the first pair of blondes was gone, and I was sure I had made the right choice. I had read stories of blokes following women for a drink, the when the bill comes, the girls are nowhere to be found, you are expected to pay for their drinks, and all the drink are around 15 Euro a go.

Eventually I found St Steven’s Basilica, admittedly by accident, as it was around a couple of bars I had read about. Both bars were dead at 930 pm, so I headed off back to the river and found some exhibition that involved shining colorful lights on the buildings and footpaths by the river – but it had a tents, with heating, and a DJ and served beer. I had a beer there before enjoying one of my favorite past times – Blackjack at the casino.

It seems I managed to stumble across a Casino district of sorts, with the Las Vegas Casino at the Sofitel Hotel putting about 10,000 Forint into my pocket (all of| 30 quid) and the Tropicana Casino taking about 1500 Forint… but I do have a heap of souvenir chips from each! And more importantly, I had a reason to have a look inside the Sofitel Hotel Restaurant and Café – it was incredible… think I need to get there for a feed or at least a snack before I leave!

Eventually I packed it in for the night at about 2 am and headed back to the hostel for a much needed sleep – it seems this being bitterly cold does take the energy out of me! More updates soon!