From Ljubljana to Budapest we had a 10 hour train ride. Tori and I got settled in our train compartment, but seeing as there were eight seats and only two of us, we figured we’d have to share. And sure enough, soon a young gentleman opened the door and asked if he could join us. He kind of looked like a hippie to me, but seemed harmless enough so we agreed to let him sit with us. His name was Gaspar, and he was a Slovenian guy who was setting off to travel Europe with his guitar. He had tons of stuff with him, from camping equipment to hiking boots, plus a guitar he barely knew how to play. But he was incredibly entertaining company, and he kept me and Tori laughing for hours. We pooled all of our food resources and had a picnic, and his contribution was homemade bread with a shot of chocolate sauce on top. Tori and I taught him American card games to pass the time, and by the time we arrived in Budapest we were great friends : )
Gaspar, me, and Tori. Tori loved this picture because it reflected our unique travel style; her in shorts and a backpack, me in heels and a rolling suitcase… I’m glad to know there are some things that Peace Corps hasn’t changed about me ; )
Gaspar was leaving Budapest the next day and hadn’t made any arrangement for where to stay that night, so he ended up coming with us to the “I Love Budapest” Hostel. All the beds were full, but the staff there is wonderful and agreed to let Gaspar sleep on the couch. So after dropping our stuff off, we set out in search of dinner and an adventure in Budapest. We went to a restaurant that the hostel recommended, and had our first taste of Hungarian goulash! Tori and I were big fans 🙂 Gaspar had heard about my birthday being the day before, and insisted on celebrating with us and giving me the sweetest birthday toast ever, especially for someone I’d only known 12 hours ; )
After dinner we wandered the streets, looking for the Danube River. Gaspar has a personal goal of swimming in every major body of water he comes across, and Tori and I were enjoying the moonlight stroll. There was actually a full moon that night, and Gaspar insisted that walking barefoot under a full moon brings good luck… so like the gullible girls we are, we took our shoes off and strolled through Budapest looking like idiots.
Once we found the Danube, Gaspar could no longer be contained and quickly ran down and jumped in. Tori and I refrained from swimming, and I took the opportunity to get some beautiful night shots of Budapest. Did you know that Budapest was historically two cities (Buda and Pest) that grew up on different sides of the river? Now they’re known as one city, Budapest. So if you look at it that way, Tori and I were in Pest, Gaspar was in the middle in the Danube, and the pictures I took were of Buda, across the water. Buda is where all the castles are located, on the aptly named “Castle Hill.”
The next day morning we said goodbye to Gaspar as he continued on his trip, but some of our best memories from Budapest are of the night we spent with him! As Tori and I considered what to do with our two remaining days in Budapest, we both agreed that we wanted to take it easy and avoid doing super-touristy things. By this point, we’d been traveling more than two weeks, and both of us were a bit tired. So we spent most of the day chilling out at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, which was just what we both needed 🙂
Budapest is famous for its thermal baths, which were introduced by the Turks centuries ago and remain a very popular place today with both locals and tourists alike. The Széchenyi Thermal Bath is actually the largest spa complex in Europe, and Tori and I had a blast exploring it. There are three huge outdoor pools, which contain naturally heated water from the thermal springs beneath them. Its not the most pleasant experience in the middle of summer to get into a warm pool, but I bet it would be really fun in cooler weather! There are also many pools of varying degrees of warmth (and coolness) inside, if you want to get away from the sun. There are also plenty of treatments offered at the spa, and Tori and I both indulged in a massage. If you’re ever in Budapest, I strongly recommend the baths. It was a wonderful experience!
After our day chilling out at the Baths, I convinced Tori that we should do at least a little site-seeing while we were in Budapest. We avoided an organized tour, seeing as we’d been on so many already, and explored on our own. The upside was that we had plenty of time at our leisure; the downside was that we didn’t learn much about the incredible places we were seeing. But I guess that’s what the Internet is for–researching all the cool places you’ve seen after you return from your trip. ; )
So here is a brief tour of Budapest through our pictures:
Tori and I also found some new friends at our hostel. A group of French guys were staying there, and we got to talking about cool things we’d seen in Budapest. It was our last night and we wanted to do something memorable, so we went out on the town with these French guys and didn’t make it back to the hostel till sunrise. It was such a fun night, seeing how the French guys were hilarious and made great company. I’m so glad Tori got an experience like this out of our Euro-trip! She’s back in America now where she has another 3 years before she can go to a bar or club like this, so we had to do it at least once while she was in Europe 😉
Most of the night was dominated by our search for the “ruins” bars, which are all the rage in Budapest. These bars are in the old Jewish quarter, most of which was abandoned or bombed out during World War II. The neighborhood was left to decay after WWII, so it has the perfect atmosphere for an underground bar scene. The only challenge is finding these “ruins” bars, because there are no signs or advertisements. We asked at least ten people before we finally found the Szimpla Bar, but it was totally worth the search. Its a very hip scene, and it kind of feels like you’re partying as the world is ending, in the midst of ruins and decay. Maybe that says something about how empty the partying scene is… but that’s a bit too philosophical for this blog post 😉
I rarely ever pull all-nighters (especially now that my college days are behind me and I have no papers to stay up all night writing!), so I had a hard time staying awake the next day. Fortunately (or maybe not-so-fortunately) it was a travel day, most of which was spent sitting on a train because we were finally heading back to Ukraine!
Our plan was to take the train from Budapest to L’viv, which is an overnight affair. But we thought we’d do it the cheap way (as many Peace Corps Volunteers have done before me), and take a train to the border in Hungary, take a local train across the border into Ukraine, and then catch another train from there to L’viv. Well, this idea is much easier in theory than in practice… in practice it requires sitting at train stations in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, waiting (and hoping and praying) the train you need shows up. I think in retrospect I would’ve paid forty more dollars for the security of having a seat on a train that was leaving Budapest and arriving in L’viv with no crazy train hopping required… but you live and you learn. Regardless of how much of a pain in the butt it was, the bottom line was that we made it home to Ukraine August 4th, thoroughly exhausted but also incredibly happy to be back.
Thus officially concludes our Euro-trip! But the next blog post is about L’viv, my favorite city in Ukraine, where I got to spend two more days hanging out with Tori before she flew back to the USA… so read on for the grand finale!