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Written on: Thursday May 24th, 2007

A journal entry from: Rouen Exchange

Budapest is a great city. (and not just because of the selected fornication of the past, causing Budapest to be full of beautiful people). As you may or may not know, Budapest was originally two cities, sitting on either side of the Danube river, Buda and Pest. When the two sides were joined by the Chain Bridge (see pictures) it became one large city. I found Buda to be the more relaxing, laid back side where most of the sites are to see, and Pest to be more commercialized (lots of shopping and restaurants). Although we didn?t use it, the Metro in Budapest is the second oldest in Europe, London being the oldest. (I won that trivia during our diving tour of the city). It seems as though Budapest enjoys copying London because its parliament is also modeled after Westminster Abbey.

We left Krakow early on May 3rd as it was another long drive to Budapest. Most of the drive was spent cutting through Slovakia where we saw some beautiful countryside, including the Tetra mountains. Mid afternoon, we took a break in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Its old town area was quite impressive but when Janice and I made the trek (and I mean trek?especially for hung over Janice) to the castle on the hilltop, the view wasn?t that fantastic. Outside the centre of town, it appeared to be very industrial.

We got to Budapest that night around 6:30, spent an hour doing a driving tour and then another hour finding our hotel. As it was a Sunday night and we weren?t meeting until 9 for dinner, most restaurants were closed so the group split up in search of fast food. Janice and I had spotted a Pizza Hut earlier and headed there. The night was pretty mellow after the long driving day.

For our day in Budapest, I knew that the one and only thing I absolutely HAD to do was take a dip in the baths or get a massage. Janice, John and I started our day by walking along the river toward the Chain bridge and then made our way up to the castle on the hill. This was probably the hottest day of our trip and I was wearing jeans and climbing this hill ? it was not comfortable. Once at the top, we checked out the fishermans bastion which was remarkable. Unfortunately, most things were closed Mondays (including the castle) but that was okay since I?ve seen my share of castles being in Europe for 5 months. We continued along the Buda side of the river towards the baths. By the time we got there, I was too hot to want to go in a thermal bath. We thought maybe just a massage would be nice but turns out you can?t get in for just a massage; you have to pay for the pools as well. We forked over the 5500 forints (about 25 euros, worth it) and got in. Good thing they have an actual pool and a wave pool too. The Baths were an experience. The staff spoke next to no English so it was very much one worded conversations. ?Follow?room?wait?? Let me say, the massage experience was even more interesting. It was a 15 minute massage. I was lead through a curtain in a small room off of the thermal baths. Inside, there were 4 tables, although only one was occupied when I was there. Basically, a communal massage room. I was taken to my table and told ?Change? which meant get out of your bathing suit and then lay on the table. Thank goodness Janice went first and was able to give me a heads up. The massage felt great after all the walking I?d done the past week and at least the massage rooms were same sex.

That evening our group went out for a traditional meal at a place that had a live band with cello, violin, other things I?m sure. We also went to a speakeasy bar which reminded me of grade 10 history class. After leaving that bar, we were on a search for a dance place that was apparently close to our hotel. As we were wandering around, I suddenly realized that we were at a corner where I had been earlier that day when walking back to our hotel. I tried to tell the men (tour guide and bus driver) handling the map that I knew exactly where we were but they ignored me. I probably could have walked right back to the hotel without the map but knew they wouldn?t have followed me. Finally they let me look at the map and start to walk in the right direction when they again doubted me and we had to stop when they went to ask in a nearby restaurant. It kind of scares me how bad our driver?s sense of direction was when he has pointing in the complete wrong direction about where he thought the river was. Needless to say, we finally got to our hotel corner (without ever listening to me, in which case it probably would have taken 20 minutes less time). By this time, Mark and I headed back to the hotel since we were leaving the next morning. I said goodbye to the rest of the group and headed back to the hotel to prepare for my early morning flight followed by 4 hours of class the next day.