As we approached Budapest the students were full of curiosity & excitement. Because I have never been to Budapest I had to tell them to wait and see. We arrived just in time for dinner. Our walk to the restaurant wasn’t long but it gave the student an interesting exposure to a country still struggling with identity. Communist era apartments down one street, 19th century Austrian Renaissance/Baroque down another. An ample dinner awaited with delicious potatoes and a slab of turkey and a gravy. What was to excite the students was our hotel, it was the best so far and right near the metro & a mall.
After a solid breakfast the next day we set out to explore Budapest. Our guide Janos was quite descriptive and the students quickly learned that the city was a combination of 2 cities, Buda & Pest. He gave them a good compacted version of the cities varied past. Stretching from its time a capital of a powerful Medieval kingdom, through the rocky but economically beneficial period of Hapsburg rule, the tragedies othWII and finally communism and its fall. One striking thing was the number of posters & billboards (all exactly the same) slamming the current Hungarian President for his restrictive policy and comic failure. Travelers over the length of our visit really began to notice the number of homeless people. I haven’t seen such numbers since Paris. Most just lived on the fringe while a few begged, quite sad but good for students to see and see discussed the country’s current dilemmas.
We were staying in Pest which is the flattest part of the city. It has become the economic and governmental center. Pest sits on one side and Buda the other, divided by the Danube a beautiful river. Our bus wound through Pest until we came to the Hosok tere a great square dedicated to the heroes of Hungary, both medieval and modern. The square is used as a giant parade deck during national holidays with soldiers marching and parading in honor of those who gave their lives in previous wars. The square has an art museum on one side and a performance hall on the other. After Janos explained the history behind the square, and we took some time for pictures we headed back to the bus and departed for Buda.
As we moved through the city Janos explained various aspects of neighborhoods and history. We crossed the Danube below the magnificent statue of the German bishop invited into Hungary to convert the Magyar tribes, who proceeded to throw him from the cliffs into the Danube below. The castle was nothing short of magnificent, as was St. Matthias Church near the Fisherman’s Bastion. Each section of the castle was assigned to a trade guild to protect, the bastion was assigned to the Fisherman’s guild. Matthias Church was beautiful in and of itself. The Turk’s had used it as a mosque and like Judaism, Muslims believe you can have no faces or animal images in their places of worship. When the church was restored, artists wanted to leave some of the Muslim imagery to show the Turkish influence. Pictures, money changing and lunch followed before we headed back into Pest to visit the Turkish baths.
The absolute highlight of our visit to Budapest was the Turkish Baths. We had talked about the baths all year, but students were never quite sure what to expect. It turned out to be great fun and more importantly a wonderful way to relax. Martina led us in, the baths are right across from the Budapest Zoo, and once we got the entrance tickets figured out we entered the bath. The baths are geothermal pools and spas, we headed down to get our towels. Each person got their own “cabin” something like what you might call a cabana. Everyone changed and headed into the main pool area. After raining the night before the weather had cooled and the humidity dropped, spectacular weather. Students explored pools of various temperatures, while some looked into massages and facials. Many hung out in the main pool area, enjoying the speedy whirlpool or the main pool. They had an absolute blast in the 3 hours we spent there.
By dinner we were a relaxed bunch.
Treated to goulash, salad and apple strudel we returned to the hotel relaxed and satisfied. Our evening however was just getting started. The bus took us to the docks in Pest and we boarded our boat. It was quite nice with two decks, no food but the students could get drinks in the bar. Everyone raced up on the top deck to get a view and we headed out. The views were amazing as we crossed down river in the fading light of dusk. We saw the castle, the Parliament building and a water show behind the opera building with lights and music. As we passed the chain bridge, you could really see the city was coming alive. After 30 minutes we turned back and sailed the way we had come. Beautiful, shadowy dusk views became lighted spectacular night views. If there was one downer it was the bugs, but no oneblet that slow them down. We all were taking pictures throughout the evening and some people got some really gorgeous shots. Jane’s panoramic of the Parliament building was dazzling! Everyone was sad to see it end as we made our way to the metro to get back to our hotel.
Never a dull moment, Martina had to get the ticket machine to use Polish, and have 2 of the Canadian girls translate it so we could get the right tickets and head back to the hotel. Never have any of us taken a subway that moved that fast, it was almost like a wild rollercoaster or the lift you might see in a Sci Fi movie! After 11 stops, we arrived safe and sound at our station and headed to the hotel. Everyone packed and prepared for the final leg of our journey, Vienna. EF came through with spectacular colors, as both meals were excellent and our hotel was great. Near the metro, a grocery store and easy access into the city everyone had had a great time and was sad to leave Budapest. Our Canadian friends from the larger Toronto group packed for their trip home, as the smaller Canadian group from Thunder Bay and our selves prepared for our transit in the morning.