11 December 04 - Budapest
Budapest - 11 December 2004
Well, I made it to Budapest.
I arrived late last night, after my plane was very delayed leaving Stanstead airport. It arrived around 11:30. Wanting a local experience rather than taking a taxi, I managed to catch the last bus to the Metro station, but I arrived after it was closed. So I had to find another bus to get into the city center. My command of the Hungarian language isn't quite good enough for negotiating the finer points of the transportation system. Fortunately, I ran into this wild looking older Hungarian guy named Saint, who spoke some English. He claimed to be half Apache Indian, but I think he was half Hobo. He made references to his murky past, but I managed to keep the conversation on the bus stops and which would be the one I needed to get off at. In the end, he pointed out which one I needed and I was happily someplace where I could get my bearings.
I then marched off through Pest and across the Danube into Buda to find my hostel, which was supposedly in a Citadel. It was about a 20 minute walk in the cold - good thing I had packed my warm backpacking gear. I then got to a point where I knew I was 200 yards from my hostel. Unfortunately, I was at the base of a sheer 400 foot cliff! I didn't have the map for the part of Budapest that went around on the main roads, so I had to thread my way up a walking path that lead up the side of the cliff. Quite a work out, but at least it made me warm.
When I got to the top, I ran into the fortification of the Citadel. It was constructed at the top of this cliff to repel invaders - it's not that great for tourists either. Eventually, I found an entrance and was able to walk right in! I walked around the complex for a while. I had the place all to myself. It's eerie to be in a national monument on your own in the middle of the night, but I thoroughly enjoyed the unique experience. I climbed up to the highest part and looked out over the Danube valley and over to Pest - a stunning site.
I didn't dawdle too long because of the cold, so I walked to the other side of the complex where I found my hostel. It's fantastic. I'm staying in a huge 14 bed dormitory right in the Citadel, but I only had to share it with one other person, a pleasant chap from Leeds (so pleasant that we chatted about traveling for half an hour when I woke him up arriving at 2:30 am). Great hot shower in the morning, too - not bad for 2000 Forints per night (about Û8 or $11).
Today was a lot tamer - I explored Buda a little bit and then crossed the river. I went to the National Museum of Hungary, which is well curated and was very insightful. I also went to the Basillica of St Stephen, quite spectacular, and the "House of Terror", a museum of the second half of the 20th century history of Hungary. It was a heavy multimedia display about Hungary during and after World War II, the Arrow Cross dictatorship, the Communist take over, the 1956 revolution, the reprisals, Soviet domination and the Cold War. It was in a four story building formerly used as a torture house by the secret police. Like I said - pretty heavy.