Sorry it’s been a couple of days since I’ve posted anything. The last few days have been jam-packed and I just haven’t had the time to sit down and get my thoughts out. I’m almost halfway through my adventure and what an experience this has been! Not gonna lie, sometimes those experiences make me want to punch something or sit on a bus bench and cry. This morning was one of those.
I woke up at the crack of the morning to catch the 8 a.m. train to Slovenia. I figured out the bus I needed to get to the station, gave myself plenty of time. When I got to the bus stop, nothing made sense according to what I’d looked up. Dang it! The #5 bus arrives and I know this one is the number I need, but my experience in Berlin taught me that it could be the wrong direction. So I ask the driver if it goes to the station. Yes, it does. Ok, phew. Yeah…it didn’t. Repeat Berlin. The bus heads out into the middle of nowhere and stops–time to get off. I ask the driver, “I thought this went to the train station?” No, he says dryly. “Well, how do I get there?” He shrugs and says “Can’t help you” and tells me to get off. I have never wanted to punch someone in the face so hard. In a moment like that you have to remember, not everyone is nice or cares, no matter which country you’re in. So, naturally I missed my 8 a.m. train, the only direct train for the 9 hour journey. Sigh. So now I’m sitting drinking coffee, waiting for the next train at 2. Just when I think I’ve mastered the international transit puzzle, the universe says “Just Kidding!” and puts me in my place. Top it off that some nuclear-mutated mosquito thing decided I was a buffet and went to town on me. I am COVERED with bites. And anyone who knows me knows how I beautifully I react to bug bites. Grr…
I may have bordered on frustrated breakdown again this morning, but I have regained myself and accepted the minor setback for what it is–minor. I won’t let it sour the fabulous time I’ve had in Budapest.
But first, where did I leave off? Oh yes, Vienna. After leaving the city of music, I spent a day in Bratislava, Slovakia. Little Slovakia was part of the greater Czechoslovakia until the velvet divorce of 1993. Today it’s a quaint country still trying to heal from the Soviet oppression. It’s a bit behind in the times–poor, still a little backwoods, no Starbucks on every corner. But Bratislava, the capital, has quaint old world charm. The city is best known as the setting of the horror flick, Hostel, in which unsuspecting American backpackers are kidnapped and sold to people wanting to pay exorbitant amounts to torture people to death (lovely concept). Although the film may have some anecdotal basis in the far east, there is no factual evidence to support ANYTHING has ever happened like that here. The Bratislava tourism board was actually quite upset with the film as it damaged the already fragile reputation for the communist torn country.
But, thankfully, the little city is recovering nicely and the winding cobblestoned streets are alive with musicians, artisans, and posh eateries. I sat in a lovely tuxedo-waitered old-timey place on the square and listened to a pianist recite classic tunes, then made my way to a rooftop lounge with panoramic views of the countryside. At both high-end places, you’ll only have to part with $3 for a wine! Not bad for a 5-star touristy place.
My rendezvous with Slovakia was brief, then I headed off to the exotic Hungarian capital of Budapest. Ever since I started planning this adventure, I had developed quite the travel crush on Budapest and I was overwhelmingly excited to meet her. My first impression was not what I’d dreamed about. Mid-evening Saturday night, the train spit me out onto the bustling streets of the Hungarian hot-spot, absolutely buzzing with revelry. One thing I didn’t realize was that Easter is a national holiday for many European countries so it’s an extended holiday weekend. Students and party-seekers were out in droves! When I finally arrived at my hostel, after a two-mile walk, I nearly stopped dead to realize that it was actually IN a bar. I don’t mean that there was a bar in the hostel, the hostel was IN the bar, on the second floor. Not only was it a bar, but a big open air bar and my bedroom window looked down into the debauchery. As my new Irish friend says, Lord Above! Absolutely no way this was going to fly. I went to bed with my earplugs welded into my ears and irritation stewing.
After a good night’s sleep, I woke up refreshed and collected with a more positive outlook. In doing some research I realized this is quite common. I’m in what’s called the “Ruin” bar district–a once forgotten neighborhood next the Jewish Quarter demoralized by communists that has recently been revitalized by artists and hipster youth. Old warehouses and abandoned houses now house trendy, artistic, smoky, open air bars. Muraled walls, eclectic art and cheap yummy eats give life to this seemingly gritty quarter. Although I wouldn’t want to live there indefinitely, I appreciated the experience for what it was.
Budapest is a sprawling city with something for everyone. Swinging, inexpensive nightlife beckons European weekenders, picturesque topography and museums call to the peaceful traveler, the hot spring baths call to EVERYONE. Hungarian wine is delicious and CHEAP. (An average place won’t charge you more than 200 HUF (about $.75) for an 8 oz pour) and the food is hearty and diverse.
The capital city was built to represent the capital of a march larger nation, so it feels slightly grandiose and overwhelming for a small country. It’s split into two main parts: Buda, a scenic touristy-by-day hillside, and Pest (Pescht), the thriving pulse of the city filled with everything from gritty ruin pubs to upscale pre-opera dining. Again (starting to sound like a broken history record here), the country was occupied and both socially and structurally beaten down by first the Nazis and then the Soviets. They’ve struggled for the independence and are finally figuring out what makes Hungary tick. It’s a diverse and internationally influenced culture, but Hungarians are proud that it’s THEIR culture.
I spent the sleepy Easter Sunday strolling along the Danube River, enjoying the locals in the their Easter best, and attending the Opera! What a great experience that was.
For the first time on my journey I REALLY connected with my roommates–An Irish gal and two Canadians currently living in Ireland. We spent Monday lounging at the hot springs baths–a decadent all day spa retreat with poolside drinks and a private cabin for $18 for all day access. (HELL-O flabby, hairy European men in speedos!) Despite it still being a brisk 50 outside, the enclosed outdoor area of the baths are naturally warm due to the thermal activity underneath. After lounging in the sun, we went to an outdoor festival on castle grounds where we warmed up with hot wine, hearty Hungarian nosh and local music. That night we explored some of the famed ruin bars (described above).
Tuesday, despite rainy conditions, I trekked up to Castle Hill in Buda–a hilltop outlook with breathtaking panoramic views.
Back to today–so I sit drinking coffee, trying to salvage what seem like a few wasted hours in my day. I need to get some writing done anyway, so I’ll just chalk today up to work. And the bugs bites will go away–at least it’s long sleeve weather. 🙂 You win some, you lose some. But, hey, it’s 60 degrees today and the sun is beaming. And there are always chocolate croissants. Everything is going to be just fine.