Monday, November 26, 2007

Upon my return from Budapest

...I realize wanderlust has a powerful pull and I have no desire to fight it.

Budapest is an amazing and beautiful city. A person can read all the books, do all the research, but it isn't until I step foot in a new city and do some exploring on my own that I finally get what the travel books are tying to explain.

After 14 hours of flying (one way) and 4 airports (8 airports altogether. So much better than the 17 to go to Greece) I landed in Budapest, Tuesday afternoon around 3. In my hotel by 4. Since insomnia just seems to be part of my life at this point, along with not sleeping on the plane, the time difference, and just being plain (and plane) tired, Tuesday was mostly a bust. A trip around the block to see what I could see in the dark (not much) a bite to eat from a local shop and back to my room.

Wednesday was the tour of the city. A trip to the Jewish District, which was the Jewish Ghetto during the war, to Hero's Square (the square built in honor of their Millennium celebration in 1896, not completed until 1929, oops.) Opera House, Parliament, around the city, over the Chain Bridge and the Danube, over into Buda, to the Fisherman's Bastion,(which serves as a viewing terrace and nothing more.) Gellert Hill, (Gellert was a man who tried to convert the locals to Christianity. The locals didn't like this very much so, they put Gellert into a barrel, sealed it, threw the barrel down the hill, thus killing him. Let all other Christian converters be warned.) and then I was left in the town square to fend for myself to find my way back to my hotel. Hmmm, where's my map. In my pocket. Excellent. Now. Where am I?

On my way back to my hotel I stopped at St. Stephen's Basilica and then, since it was approaching dusk (which happens around 3 and dark by 4. Me no likey.) I wanted to make the trek back to my hotel since I wasn't sure how to get there and according to the helpful man on the street, it was only a 15-20 minute walk. Totally do-able. However, on my way I came across the Jewish Quarter again and I wanted to walk around since we really didn't have the chance on the tour. After a short stroll I realized I had forgotten the directions back to my hotel. (hey, the synagogue was shiny and sparkly, the stop couldn't be helped.) I stopped into a quaint Jewish bakery and asked the girls for directions. English was not a second language and there was some stumbling, but I was pretty sure I got it. And while in the bakery, stomach rumbling as it had been several hours (several) and many miles (many) since breakfast I bought a few pastries and they gave me a loaf of bread as a present. (ah, girls after my own heart.) Short story long, after about two hours I found my hotel. I didn't get lost, I got distracted. There is a difference.

Thursday I walked back to the Jewish district and took a tour of the synagogue, the second largest in the world, which also included a tour of a museum, the memory garden, which included mass graves from the Holocaust, and the Tree of Life, built in memory of those who were lost. The whole thing was beautiful, amazing, lovely, and heart wrenching.

I walked through the streets which was once the Jewish ghetto and let my mind wander back to another time. I listened to the sounds, the noise, the quiet, the smells, and took in all the buildings and it was suddenly 1940s World War II. It wasn't hard to image that the graffiti on the buildings once spelled out racial slurs and the buildings once housed thousands of Jews cramped into a small space. The fear, the dread, the threat of being taken away. It never ceases to amaze me what man can do to human kind and how human kind can overcome what man tries to do. It was an emotional journey.

From there I walked over to Buda and into the Castle District. To do so I had to walk over the Chain Bridge over the Danube. Pausing on the bridge to, once again, travel back in time and image when there wasn't a bridge, through the years of the war, post-war, to the present day.

Buda and Pest are totally different from one another. Pest is busy, busy, busy, noisy, lots and lots of traffic, lots and lots of car pollution, and the buildings all have graffiti on them. Buda is quiet, quaint, and has a feeling of old world. A place where a person can sit and watch the world go by. Pest, you are the world going by.

Friday was a walk down to the House of Terror. The building where both the Nazi's, during the war, and the secret police, post-war, used as their headquarters. Just as the name suggests, it was a house of terror. Again, what man does to each other. Again, it was an emotional morning. Later in the day it was back across the Chain Bridge, into Buda, and back to my hotel.

Saturday, up at 4:30 a.m., picked-up for the hotel at 6:15 and on the plane home. I arrived back in home state around 6:35 pm. Back to my apartment at 5:32 pm on Sunday.

It was a lovely and very quick trip. It hasn't all hit me yet, but I wouldn't mind going back some day.

Some highlights: I don't know what it is with me and European airports, but from Amsterdam to Budapest, I didn't have a boarding pass. I needed to stop at a transfer desk to get one. After learning the difference between "t" and "d", running, waiting and being told to go to another "t" gate with a shorter wait, running to the transfer desk and being told the plane was closed. Telling the girl I would run really fast if they would let me on, she said she would call the gate and in the meantime I needed to run. Now, running in an airport is interesting in itself. Running in an airport after sitting for 10 hours straight with a 30 pound backpack strapped to my back, well, yeah, "running" is not necessarily what I was doing. More of a fast jog. They were waiting for me at the gate. Yep, they held the plane for me. (ah, special.) After struggling to get the pack off (nice backpack strap burn on my arm) I was on the plane. On the return flight, I was booked on a plane/flight that didn't exist, they were most kind to me in Budapest and they placed me on the correct flight. Then I realized I had a whopping six minutes to get from the Budapest plane to the Amsterdam gate. Yep, six minutes. This time I had a boarding pass and I figured between the six minutes, plus the 30 minutes to board, I had 36 minutes to get on the plane. Totally do-able. I made it in 15, (I have learned to navigate my way through airports quiet nicely) but it turns out they make you go through security well before the need to board. I "ran" for nothing. Lesson learned. I also had to answer several security questions before I could board. Toughest test I've ever taken.

The food: Lots of bread, lots of pastries. Good wine. Since I hardly ate and I walked from one side to the other (literally) no weight gained. (yah!) (Must eat more next time.) And if you like things pickled, go to Budapest. A gyro in Greece is not the same as a gyro in Budapest. The same is true for falafal. The difference: it has all things pickled on it. Red cabbage, sauerkraut, carrots, and just for good measure, pickles. Mmm, that was a surprise....and not a pleasant one.

The people: very lovely.

The language: Almost everyone spoke English. When there was a language barrier, it is amazing what a smile, a pointing of the finger to what I wanted, money, and a nod of thanks, can get a person.

The currency: I made a cheat sheet, which was a really good idea; and when I would see 924 I kept reminding myself, that it was only about $5.

The weather: Not bad. Cold, but it didn't rain or snow. Definitely needed hat, gloves, and a scarf.

Problems: The only glitch was my cell phone. I had made it an international phone, but unfortunately, Verizon added that feature without checking to see if it would actually work. I spent about $80 on phone calls. Verizon will be getting an earful later today.

My feet: cobblestone, bricks, and ornate streets are beautiful, but good Lord, they hurt my feet. My shoes are literally worn out. The tread has been worn smooth. I ended each night with a foot massage. Sadly, performed by me.

Me: I honestly did this trip all alone. I was alone in Greece, but I would run into the same people, or the same people would be on the tours, so I was alone, but I met others. This trip, not so much. I literally did it all by myself and I am very proud of that achievement. I didn't get lost (getting turned around and distracted by shiny things is not the same as getting lost.) So, go, me!

My next trip: If I wasn't going to be spending my summer in Brazil (and wow, that's tough) I would be going to Prague and Vienna. Everyone I spoke with (and by "everyone" I mean shop keepers) kept asking if I was going on to those two cities. I wanted this trip to include all three, but time didn't allow for it, I now need to see the others. (I almost did a day trip to Prague, but again, time.)

It was a lovely and very quick trip, again, it hasn't all hit me, yet. I'm sure, just as Greece took some time to all hit me, the same will be true for this one.

The synagogue

The view of Pest from Buda

St. Stephen's Basilica

The House of Terror

The Chain Bridge

One of the lions guarding the Chain Bridge

Memorial garden, mass graves in the synagogue yard

Tree of Life, synagogue yard

View of Pest, from Buda

Fisherman's Bastion


Bre said...

I can't even begin to tell you how unbelievably jealous I am right now!

Bob said...

also GREEN with ENVY --->

Glad you had a wonderful time!!!

WooHoo on them holding the plane for ya... I hate the hurry up and wait of airports!!!

limpy99 said...

See, my tour description would have been "and then we went to the next brewery" over and over again, which is why you are so much better at this than me.

ptg said...

Sounds like an absolutely amazing trip - amazing in both a heart-breaking and heartwarming way, I imagine. You are a wanderluster after my own heart. :o)

Party Girl said...

Bre: Next time, you will be in my suitcase!

Bob: I totally understand. I spent to many years dreaming, it's time to start doin'.

Limpy: Had I had a traveling partner, trust me, I have a feeling it would go the way of your interpretation.

PTG: Hey, where did you blog go?

And the trip was exactly that. Beautiful and heart-wrenching.