• Norway!

    Norway: Sunnylvsfjord. Go Now!

    Known for its natural beauty, Norway is home to isolated villages, fjords, and mountains that create a culture and landscape without compare. Begin Your Journey!

  • Vatican City!

    Vatican City: Vatican Museums. Go Now!

    Vatican City
    The smallest country in the world offers the heart of Catholicism and among the world's finest art collections, including the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms (ceiling pictured). Go to Vatican City!

  • Macedonia!

    Macedonia: Traditional architecture. Go Now!

    Macedonia is a country still finding its unique identity, but its architecture is already one of a kind. Explore Macedonia!

  • Austria!

    Austria: Belvedere Palace. Go Now!

    Belvedere Palace (pictured) is just one of many palaces found in Vienna. The capital is a good start to Austria, which also features the Alps, the Lakes District, and incredible history & food. Go Now!

  • Spain!

    Spain: Guell Park and Gaudi architecture. Go Now!

    Fusion foods, lively music, historic ruins, and cultural events like the Running of the Bulls and La Tomatina make Spain and Barcelona (pictured) a favorite tourist destination. Explore Spain!

  • Ukraine!

    Ukraine: Traditional Village. Go Now!

    Ukrainian culture is based on village life, particularly that found in the Carpathian Mountains (pictured). Begin Your Journey!


Budapest, Hungary


March 17, 2005
Burger King & Dictators

Some say it takes a week to see Budapest, I think I saw more than more than them in just one day. At 6:00am I went to Gellert Baths to catch them as they opened. I was a little unsure of what I was supposed to do, so just followed the locals. I only paid for the thermal baths since I had no interest in a massage, jet stream bath, or mud bath. I went in, found myself a changing room, put my swimming suit on (as is required now, although not followed), locked my stuff away and went downstairs.

The first bath was 38C and I found it too hot, so moved to the 36C bath, which was surprisingly much better. I sat on the edge and stretched like the others, basically just relaxing and looking at the building, which contains tiles designed without taste considered and more than a few naked guys. They say this is more of a Hungarian bath as opposed to a Turkish bath, but I was in Budapest, so that's what I was going for.

I was the only foreigner in there at 6am, in fact there were very few people there at all. After 45 minutes I moved over to the 38C bath and again decided I couldn't take the heat; I began sweating while I sat on the edge and felt like I was suffocating as sweat dripped down my face. It was mysteriously hotter than the other bath, so after about 2 minutes I moved back to the first bath until I had cooled down. After a few more minutes here I left: first I showered then dried and finally dressed. I was feeling great and relaxed, but as soon as I got outside I faced the hill back up to my hostel. I decided to stay at a hostel on top of castle hill for the views, which I realized was a bad idea when I arrived and had to climb the steps and re-realized (if that's a word) that again today.

After getting my bags and checking out of my hostel, I headed to next door to the castle. The castle was at first seemed only okay, but soon realized I had not entered the bulk of the castle, whose complex is that of a fortress. The entrance gate leading from the walkway to the courtyard was guarded by two extremely impressive lions in each direction; the two on the entry at peace and strong, whereas the other two, heading out of the castle were active and fierce.

The entrance to the National Gallery was also impressive, but was overshadowed by the nearby Matthias Church and Fishermen's Bastion. This small square overlooks the Danube River and Parliament on the opposite bank. The views from here were perfect although the air in Pest appears to be more smog than oxygen. Through this smog the Parliament building reflected in the Danube and the contrast of Pest's flatness was emphasized on castle hill in Buda. At the far northern part of this fortress on Castle Hill, I reached the National Archives with a roof similar to that of Matthias Church in its Art Nouveau tiled roof.

After exiting through neighboring Vienna Gate and on to Moszkva ter, I caught a subway to Keleti Station and Pest. North-east stands the Geological Institute just south of Varosliget. The building is a mandatory stop on my tour of Budapest since I'm writing a report on the architecture that dominates that building for my art history class. It wears a blue tiled roof adorned with a globe; I took a couple pictures and left to the next stop on my educational-paper requirement tour: Varosliget to see Vajdahunyad Palace, then to nearby Hero's Square. This square was built in 1896 to celebrate the Magyars 1,000th anniversary in the area that is now Hungary and Transylvania. The square was lively and active, but with little to do other than people watch, which I did just long enough to catch my breath and move on.

I grabbed the subway to the Museum of Terror, the city's newest museum. The Museum of Terror was incredibly educational and very well put together. The exhibits were great and extremely unique. One section was just wax bars placed together like bricks, not quite knowing where or when it was going to end. Another room had the floor boards torn up and you could see the layer beneath the wood to the dirt where a huge cross lies in the ground, as if buried and re-found. Another room was only metal, the ceiling, floors, and walls, with a circle in the middle of red debris. I learned more at this museum than I've learned in some classes and most other museums. The museum was more than the simple "terror" that one thinks of at Halloween time, but is quite real and very well put together.

After the museum I headed down Andrassy ut and soon found a Burger King, as if God were watching down on me; I was led to it by a single beam of light breaking through the clouds showing me my destination. I kept telling myself one would appear and sure enough it stood there on the corner like an angel, however my wallet had run dry so I frantically sought an exchange booth and for my efforts was rewarded with two whoppers with cheese. It was heavenly and I was re-energized to continue my day (don't blame me for eating Burger King in Hungary; I've been living abroad for nearly two years, I don't have fast food anymore and the Whopper is my favorite). By this point it was noon and the 15 minute stop was my first extended stop of the day; yes, I ate both those Whoppers in 15 minutes.

This tree-lined street is also home to the Budapest Operetta Theater, Opera House, and St. Stephen's Basilica, which seemed nice, but time was ticking and I had to get to the Postal Savings Bank for my report. This was a logistical hassle, since the building is in the middle of a block so nearly impossible to take a good picture of the roof, which is what my report's on, so the time-consuming journey was disappointing to say the least.

Parliament looked better from across the river as it reflected in the Danube, but I had to stop by for an up close look none-the-less and from any vantage point the building is very impressive. Time's ticking... subway to Ferenc korut (stopping at Europe's largest synagogue on the way) to see the Museum of Applied Arts for my report; unfortunately, upon arrival I discovered the museum to be closed. It only houses temporary exhibits and there was one opening the next week so I turned out to be 0 for 5 for building interiors for my report.

Next stop: Statue Park just outside of Budapest, west of Buda so back on the subway, Etele ter and Kelenfold Station, then a bus to the park. There were a number of other foreigners on the bus and we all got off at the park. Most of the statue descriptions were vague and there was little to talk extensively about. Most of it was plaques or poor busts of Hungarian communist heroes few have ever heard of. There were a lot of Bela Kun and about two of Lenin. There was none of Stalin, which was my main motivation for going, since I've never seen a full and complete statue of Stalin. I felt I saw enough in only about 15 minutes, turned around, and followed my path back.

With three hours left I had to decide between a number of sights; the National Museum and Burger King won. I spent most of the rest of the day at the museum which was easy time to fill as I was occupied with Roman ruins and the most incredible complete mosaic I've ever seen. The entrance to a Roman villa transported me to that time as it stood about 30 feet tall and about 15 or so wide. After seeing I had spent over an hour and a half there I quickly ran through the last bits of the last exhibit and took off to Burger King for a last meal of bliss before returning to the Burger King-less country of Poland.

Near the train station, I stopped to spend all the Hungarian money I had left: two Kit-Kats, a Mars bar, a chocolate bar, a liter of water, a litter of juice, and another local candy bar. By the time I reached the station I sat for about 15 minutes at which point the platform for the Krakow train appeared and I got on board as my Whirlwind tour of Budapest had come to an end.

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