29 September, 2009

Do All Trains in Europe Feel Like the Hogwarts Express?

Before I start with anything else, I want to first direct your attention to this website and this story in particular as the title was submitted by yours truly. I recommend you have a bit of fun and submit one yourself. (Feel free to post the link back here so that I can read them!)

I know everyone is curious, so I'll just cut right to the chase. Budapest this past weekend was absolutely AMAZING! I didn't think I was going to enjoy myself as much as I did. Before I left I thought that this was going to be a big mistake. I mean, I didn't really know where Budapest was, nor did I know have any idea of what we were actually going to do. I was definitely pleasantly surprised.

The weekend started at 3:20am on Friday, when I woke up to make sure I had everything, had a shower and was awake enough to leave the apartment and go to the train station. Unfortunately, as per usual with me, I did forget things...like my camera charger...which caused my camera to die on Saturday. We left the apartment at 4:15am, but we had missed the last tram to the train station. Another one wasn't on its way for another 30 minutes, which meant we would have been cutting it close to make it to the train on time. So, to try and get to the station on time Steph, Tarek, Dave, Drew and myself (we had all missed the tram) decided to take our backpacks and walk to the station. It wouldn't have been that far of a walk. We made it past Karlovo Namesti (a stop that lets us know we are about halfway to Wenceslas Square) when the others (Liza, Kris and Shayna) called to find out where we were. With the tension running high and a fear of missing our train, Steph and I took a cab to the train station...while the boys continued the walk to the station. We all made it and finally caught the 5:28am train heading out of Prague towards Beograd.

The train ride to Budapest was comfy. We took up two compartments, which reminded me and some of the others of the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter...it made me a little bit giddy to be honest. What can I say, it was my first time traveling through Europe by train. (You must remember, this is my first time in Europe period...so ever
ything is an experience for me.) Most of us slept on the way. It was a rather quiet ride with the exception of the conductor coming in every so often to check our tickets. I also really enjoyed looking out at the country side as we passed by.

Seven hours later, we finally made it to Budapest. A quick look outside of the train station revealed a city that looked much more like Eastern Europe than the Czech Republic. My initial vision was confirmed when we hopped on the metro to try and find our hostel. The cars looked older and were reminiscent of something you see in history books having to do with Communism.

After taking the metro and a tram, we were finally close to our hostel. I could feel the excitement building on this adventure in the making. Now, I have never stayed in a hostel before, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. (I mean for a long while, I thought people had just spelled "hotel" wrong.) The gate to enter the hostel was terrifying to say the least. A big metal, barred gate that blocked off a staircase inside a sketchy looking corridor with no signs. Menacing is probably an accurate word to descri
be this gate and give an idea of how I felt upon seeing this gate. We buzzed in and climbed the stairs to reveal the Riverside Hostel...which reminded me of a hippie summer camp. The receptionist was really nice and very accommodating. I couldn't have been more surprised. We checked into our room (yes, singular...there was one room with twelve beds in it...and there were ten of us...we all ended up staying in the same room, which was fun. Kind of like summer camp!) and then set out on an adventure to find authentic Hungarian food.

We found some at a restaurant that was off the beaten path and the food was very good. I got some creamy, cheesy chicken dish with rice and fries...yum! After lunch, we set off for a self-g
uided tour of sights around Pest. We walked along the river and saw Parliament, the Chain Bridge and the Budapest castle from across the way. It was a lot of fun to just wander the city and see what we could on our own with only a map to help. Eventually, we split up and I went with Shayna, Steph, Dave, Drew and Tarek for coffee, or in my case lemonade which was not the lemonade I was expecting...a bit different than American lemonade, it was more fizzy and less sweet. It also contained more than lemon, there were oranges in it as well. It wasn't too bad though.

Once we finished up here, we wandered down the main road of Budapest and back to our hostel with a quick stop into the Nike store along the way. We arrived back and got ready to try and go out to a bar for the night. The receptionist recommended a place not too far away, but seeing as none of us bought passes to take the tram or metro, we tried walking the distance. We would have made it had we traveled a bit farther, but our attention span at 12:30am was not really all that good. So, we settled for sitting at a gyro stand. They did have the best baklava! (It was chocolate.) Kris and myself along with Liza and Doushan (a friend from Slovakia that we have met through one of our "local" buddies...I also think I spelled his name wrong...) also headed back towards the hostel. This time we successfully bought tram tickets and made our way back to the hostel.

Saturday came rather quickly and Kris, Liza, Doushan and myself went for breakfast and then headed toward the castle. (I initially wanted to take a bike tour of the city, but no one else wanted to go so a tour of the castle was just as good.) We walked along the train bridge and got to take the vehicular to the top of the hill and overlook Pest. We also made it up to the top at 12pm, just in time to see the changing of the guard.
It was beautiful. After a walk around the castle grounds, we wandered over to the Matthias Church, where we went inside to look at the beautiful architecture and painting of the church, and then to the Fisherman's Bastian, which reminded me once again of Hogwarts. (I think Europe tends to remind me of Harry Potter...haha.) We then took a tour of the Medieval Synagogue and headed down from the castle district for lunch on the Buda side of things.

After we had finished eating (I had paprika veal with homemade dumplings. So GOOD!), we walked along the river and across Margaret Bridge heading back towards our hostel (which Kris and I overshot by a long shot). Once back at the hostel Kris and I decided to go and get coffee and then possibly meet up with Liza and Doushan to see the Jewish Quarter. This didn't happen and Kris and I enjoyed hot chocolate and a mango smoothie while sitting along the street in Budapest watching the people go by. We then went to get something quick for dinner. This is where I got to try Longosh...it reminded me of fried dough, but instead of being sweet it was more salty. It also had cheese, sour cream, ketchup, ham and I believe garlic on it as well. Yum! I wish I could have taken a picture, but by this point my camera was already dead. Fail...

We headed back to the hostel to meet the others who were heading out to a bar/club called Morison's 2. I really liked this place. It had places you could dance, a bar, and upstairs there were pool tables and video games. I wish I could have stayed longer, but as we didn't head out until 1:00am I was a bit tired and ready for sleep. I did have a rum and coke though and I got to play one of those arcade racing games from 1995. It made my night.

Sunday morning came and Kris left to catch the train rather early, but the rest of us had the entire day ahead. I went with Shayna and Steph to return the bike they had rented on Saturday in the Jewish Quarter. We then stopped for breakfast at an adorable and inexpensive place. I had the best french toast ever! And the hot chocolate I had was nice and thick. The start to a really good day. We returned to the hostel briefly to grab our "swim gear" (silly me didn't think she'd be swimming in September, especially since I don't go at home...) and we headed off to the baths. To get there we had to take what is claimed as the Oldest Metro line in all of Continental Europe. (Even though the London tube is older, Hungary doesn't like to count it because the UK is an island.) We saw Hero's Square, which was beautiful, and crossed through a quaint little park to the bath/spa.

I have never experie
nced anything like this. We changed and made our way outside where we found three pools. A warm one that contained a whirlpool, a cool one that was used for actual swimming and then a really hot one which you could play chess in. (The next pool I get is definitely going to have a chess board installed in it.) My favorite was the warm one. The culture surrounding these pools was also much different than anything in the states. There was no rough housing or running around the pool, it was more like people just sitting around and soaking themselves. I really enjoyed it. After an hour or so of soaking, Shayna, Steph and myself, made our way to an area that overlooked the pools and just sat and talked. It was a really relaxing Sunday. The boys eventually met us there, but this was as we were leaving. Shayna, Steph and I grabbed a nice sit down dinner in the area and then attempted to go to the Terror Museum...which had just closed when we got there. Oh well...

We wandered around for a bit and then back to the hostel to meet up with everyone and figure out if there were any plans for the evening. Nothing was really official, so Shayna, Steph, Dave and myself wandered out to an Irish bar that was down the street from our hostel for some drinks. They had American football games playing, which didn't interest me, but really amused some of the other bar patrons. We spent a good two hours at Beckett's Irish Pub and then returned to the hostel, where I pretty much crashed. I made sure my things were in order for the next morning and then fell straight asleep.

Monday morning was a bit of chaos as we checked out of our hostel and packed our things to head back home to Prague.

The train ride back seemed so much longer than the way there. Probably because I didn't sleep on the way back and probably because we kept getting moved around by people who had reserved the seats. I ended up sitting in a compartment with four people who could not speak any of the languages I spoke (and I can speak four languages at least enough to get by...).

I was extremely happy to be back in Prague. It really felt like home and I missed being able to communicate with people even on a basic level. Hungarian is so very different from Czech that speaking to anyone became impossible. I pretty much resorted to English most of the time because they understood me a bit more than when I tried to pronounce the Hungarian.

Overall, this trip was a whole lot of fun and I would go back again if given the chance. I don't feel like I know Budapest as well as I know Prague, but I don't think I'll ever know any city as well as I'll know Prague. I sort of think of them as New York and DC. I live in DC and know it pretty well, plus there are lots of touristy things you can do. I visit New York and never have a problem finding new things to do, but the tourist atmosphere is less than DC. Budapest is New York and Prague is DC. That's about the best comparison I can make.

So, that's it! That was my first experience with traveling in Europe beyond the Czech Republic. I can't wait to go again!

And now for some more pictures!

They are from top to bottom: Buda castle taken as we approached the Buda side of Budapest, Parliament (my favorite building) taken from Buda castle, the National Opera building, Pest from Buda, Steph, Shayna and I relaxing at the Turkish baths, the vehicular that we took to the castle, and Kris, Liza and myself with Pest in the background.

So, that's about it for the trip to Budapest. More to come! Stay tuned!


  1. Great!!! as usual. My question is with all the new foods you are trying. What do I make you for dinner?

  2. Yaaaaaaay! That looks like a lot of fun!