Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hungary & Thirsty!!

We have just spent the last 3 days in Hungary. After an interesting 9 hour sleeper train journey from Romania to Budapest on Sunday night we arrived early on Easter Monday morning. Much of Romania is Orthadox so they were not celebrating Easter at that time and so when we left everything there was busy and open. A contrast to Budapest when we arrived - even the McDonalds was closed!! We were able to leave our bags at the station and set off for the day on foot to explore.
Our first stop was the Szechenyi Furdo (thermal baths) in the city park. They were built in 1908 and are wonderful. Huge. Outside were 3 very large swimming pools. The air was cold and the water was warm to get into compared to the air but not so much once we'd sat around for a while! And so inside were more smaller baths & saunas of various temperatures ranging from 32-38 degrees - much more like it! We whiled away our morning here until we were thoroughly wrinkled and warm!

There is much public transport systems in Budapest but we ended up spending the whole day walking around the sights - we must've walked 10km! We had a tour of the 'Magyar Allami Operahaz' (Hungarian State Opera House) which is a beautiful 1884 neo-Renaissance building and wonderfully ornate. We walked along the River Danube and across the Chain Bridge to Buda (the west banks of the River, compared to Pest on the eastern banks). In Buda is 'Varhegy' (Castle Hill) which is high on a hill with fantastic views of the city and the parliamenet buildings on the Pest side of the river (which were apparently modelled after the London Westminster buildings but have many more spires and elaborate features).

During the day we had a couple of helpings of the famous Hungarian Gulash soup to keep us warm!! That evening we had arranged to couch-surf for the very fist time. It is an internet based network of people who offer to host people on their spare 'couch' or bed. You either host or are hosted. We were staying with Zsuzsa + Daniel in Buda. On our arrival at their apartment they had cooked for us traditional Goulash and dessert which was wonderful. We also sampled the Hungarian 'Firewater'brandy 'Palinka' It is strong and fruit flavoured - this one was apricot but it comes in many flavours. It was somewhat 'warming' but very tasty!! We enjoyed 2 great nights at their apartment which was just minutes from the centre of the city. It was a great first experience of couch-surfing and we hope to try it again soon!

Our second day we took the train 20km north of the city to Szentendre (sen-ten-dreh). It is a small quiet town with narrow winding streets and many souvenirs shops, cafes and galleries. It was a great place to spend much of our day just strolling around and shopping! (and today we tried the Hungarian Pancakes (I forget the name of them) They are stuffed with meat and served smothered in a yummy creamy paprika suace!). Back in the city we visited the 'Terror House' museum. The building was formally the headquarters of the secret police. It portrays the life expereinced in Hungary during the times of Nazi occupation during WWII and the Communist occupation between 1945-1990 (they had a hard time in this country!). It was a great museum, though covered a lot more information about the Communist occupation but didn't beat around the bush about how tough life was here (some video and pictures were quite graphic and very sombering).

We had the most incredible meal on our second night. We had been reccommended a restuarnt by an Australian girl, living in Budapest but travelling in Romania when we were staying in Brasov (can you get any more confusing?!). It was a good call! Trofea was near the River Danube and was an all-you-can-eat buffet (including all you can drink wine, beer, champagne, soft drinks etc). It was very good value (though I suspect quite expensive for Hungarian standards) It cost 15GBP each. There was the most incredible salad bar, fresh meats & fishes cooked to order, many Hungarian dishes (a great way to sample lots of the them!), soups, breads, cheeses and plenty of desserts! We must've stayed there for maybe 3 hours!!

Today we are heading for Eastern Slovakia - a 5 hour train journey to Kosice and our 3rd country in 8 days!

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