I think Budapest sort of got the short end of the stick. Energy-wise I was at the bottom of the barrel after traveling for three weekends in a row, and Budapest was round 4. Now I know what you are thinking, ‘waa-waa Maarja, traveling around Europe is sooooooooo hard,’ BUT it kind of is. Don’t get me wrong, I have no way begun to take my time abroad for granted, believe me, I regularly sit myself down to take in moments on the earthly level. It just truly is exhausting to live out of a suitcase and travel around on a not-so-air-conditioned coach bus. I promise I am not whining.
Despite my exhaustion level, I rallied to fully enjoy Hungary and to use every possible opportunity to insert a Hungary/hungry pun – they are almost as enjoyable as Czech/check puns. But they get old just as fast.
Budapest was yet another kindly organized weekend trip by my academic program. So although we had plenty of free time, it was also an educational weekend, with city tours and lectures on communism, per usual. The thing that made Budapest more enjoyable in a sense than some of my other trips however, was that, and I don’t mean to brag, but I sort of know my stuff when it comes to Budapest and communism. My politics class’ focus the week prior to our trip was on the end of WWII and the following communist takeover in Hungary. And then on top of that, I had had a book report and presentation due the week before on “Under the Frog” by Tibor Fischer which is set in Budapest from 1944- 1956 (and I highly recommend this book. It’s about a naked traveling basketball team during the German occupation and Soviet takeover and I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book. You may think communism and humor don’t exactly go hand in hand, but apparently it does.) I felt so knowledgeable as we walked around Budapest and I could say, “Hey! They talked about that street in my book during the Uprising!” or “Prof. Tuma said something about that monument on Tuesday!” So I didn’t know exactly why the things I was seeing or remembering were important, but even just having heard the name before, I felt on top of my Hungarian history game. I may or may not be entirely delusional.
With architecture and a city lay-out much like Prague (the city is split between a meandering river much like the Vltava splits Prague- twinsies!), I sort of felt at home. Hungarian, however proved to have absolutely nothing in common with Czech, or any other Slavic language for that matter. It actually sounds more like a Scandinavian language- which contrary to popular belief does NOT make the language easier to understand because I am of Scandinavian heritage. Who would think that? Definitely not me…
So I struggled a little bit with the language, but if I have learned anything these past few months, it is: When in doubt, simply shut up and smile. It’s a great rule of thumb. People seem to be more understanding of your misunderstanding when you do it with an apologetic smile.
And I think it is safe to say that spring has officially arrived in Central Europe (unlike in Wisconsin….hehe, suckers!). The weather was beautiful and we spent much of our time outside, either on city tours or simply just adventuring.
But my big highlight of the trip? My cultural experience of the Turkish baths. A popular past time in Hungary, we spent an afternoon at ‘the baths’ and boy, was it an experience. I have never seen so many speedos in my life. And not necessarily on people that should be wearing them – kudos to the Europeans and their self-confidence! More power to them, I say. And a maybe just a wee bit more clothing.
The baths were essentially a big ol’ water park for adults. Outside, there were three big baths, one warm lap pool, one warmer whirlpool, and then the ‘hot’ pool. The whirlpool was actually a big pool that had a circular enclosure where bathers could run around to start a legitimate and high current whirlpool. At the center of the whirlpool was an actual Jacuzzi. So in order to get to the relaxing jets of the Jacuzzi, one had to cross the fast-moving, jam packed, and terrifying whirlpool. My friends made a run for it, I got scared, my friends made it to the Jacuzzi, and I was stuck on the other side looking longingly to the center. A kind older man saw my predicament and kindly shoved me through the current and into the hands of my waiting friends. What a kind soul.
Inside, there were pools upon pools of different temperatures, as well as saunas and steam rooms hot enough to melt your face off- I stayed out of those. I don’t think I have ever felt so lethargic, or relaxed, in my life. The heat took the energy right out of me. It was detoxifying; I guess that’s what happens when you sweat out of every single pore of your body. And minus the germs that typically come along with barefoot and half-naked people, I felt surprisingly clean and refreshed.
Now that I have happily crossed Budapest off my list, I am done traveling until I fly home to Wisconsin on May 12th– which let me remind you, is a mere three weeks away! I’m working on my Prague bucket list before I go and I still have so much to see and do. But what’s on the docket for today? Rollerblading and picnicking in the park, of course!