The Széchenyi Baths…relaxation heaven

I had a few different options on where to go after Ljubljana. Once you get down to this area of Europe the train links aren’t nearly as direct or fast, so you either have to stop at more cities or endure long slow train rides. So I could have either gone to Zagreb, then Budapest, or even Zagreb then Belgrade then Budapest. But the season isn’t right for Croatia at this time of year, and I didn’t want to get shot in Belgrade, so I decided to just head straight to Budapest. And now there is two options, take the 7am train (which has parts running by bus at the moment due to sludge) or catch the 2am train. I opted for the 2am train. I was lucky that the hostel let me stay there chilling out in the common room for as long as I wanted. It was around 1am and I left for the train station. The place was a ghost train and I had the feeling that this train was a joke and wasn’t really arriving. But it did, right on time.

I knew this train ride was going to be shit, and I was right. It wasn’t crowded at all, so I was the only person in a bank of four seats. The problem with the journey though is that it goes via Zagreb, and Croatia not being an EU country, there is passport control. And as you can imagine Croatian passport officers mean serious business. Burly dudes that look pretty damn serious about everything. They even pull down the false ceilings in the carriages to check for anyone hiding. So all up in the journey I had my passport checked twice (and stamped!) and my ticket multiple times. This means a night of no sleep. On the plus side I saved money on accommodation. Eventually the train rolled in to Budapest at about 11am, I stumbled out and found the station exit. I followed the directions I had written down the night before and walked to the hostel. Walking in to the hostel someone shouts ‘Dave!’ from behind a curtained window. I have no clue who this person is as I cant see them let alone, like, who the hell knows me in Budapest? Turns out it was a chick who stayed at the same hostel in Bled. Complete coinkidink. So I checked in and they stuffed up somehow and had overbooked the place, so I got the single room for the same price for four of the nights. Sweet.

I ended up staying in Budapest for seven days, initially having only booked four. I just kept extending it because, well, why not. The place is super cheap and theres enough stuff to do, and even just wandering the streets its a great city. For two of the days I just went to the baths, specifically the Széchenyi Baths, which are the largest in the city, and one of the largest in all of Europe. The payment system is mind boggling, there is about 4023 different combinations of what you can pay for. Both times I end up just paying the all inclusive ticket because I have no idea. Then there is the change rooms and lockers etc which go back to old school soviet times so they are also confusing as hell. The baths are wicked though. There are a few different ones indoors, but the smell of sulphur is too overpowering, so I hit the outside ones. There is three large pools, the two outer ones are at 38 degrees, and the middle pool is a lap pool at 24 degrees. Ordinarily a 24 degree pool would be normal, but after being in 38 degrees it feels like ice. Its all extremely relaxing though, hence why I stayed all day, twice. You just sit in the pool for a while, go to the ‘fun’ pool and go round the whirl pool thingo, then just sit on the side and read a book. And although there are many fine looking ladies roaming around Budapest, they seem to not frequent the baths. Ive never seen so many old fat people in clearly inappropriate swimwear.

Food and drink wise the city has it in spades. There are kebab shops everywhere, and they are really really awesome. They are the pouch kind of kebab, not rolled pita bread, and they’re super cheap. Best late night snack ever. There is also every kind of fast food available. On the massive octagon-about near the hostel there was a Burger King, Maccas and Subway. There was also a TGI Fridays, which I hadn’t eaten since last being in New York. So I went there a couple of times, they make phenomenal burgers. And even their most expensive meal is about 15 euros. For drinks there are a few local brewed beers which are really nice, and yep, they’re super cheap. For a large can of beer at the supermarket it was about $1, and when you are out at a pub it will be about $2. Outrageously more expensive. The closest good place for a drink was just a few streets away, called Szimpla. It was inside an old warehouse factory kinda thing. Was a seriously cool place. Had a very deliberate rundown look to it. Went there a few times. One of the times I headed there with a German dude and two young Canadian lads. We sat at a table next to a group of four German girls. I have never seen two guys fail so much with girls as these two Canadians. These four girls were clearly not interested in guys coming on to them, but the Canadians just had no idea. I pretty much just ignored them, only talking a few times to them about Germany and where id been etc. The German guy went somewhere after a while, and then a while later I think the Canadians got the idea and they left. The German chicks then asked me to join them and we had a great night. Hey Canada, you suck.

The days were filled with a lot of just wandering around. The city is pretty damn huge, and there seems to be something to see around every corner. As you may or may not know, Budapest, and Hungary in general, got the shit kicked out of them in WW2. There is a museum all about Hungary’s role in WW2, called the ‘House of Terror’. This musesum is awesome. You open the big thick doors and immediately you are hit with the most sombre atmospheric music you will ever hear. The scene is set and I haven’t even bought a ticket yet. The museum is one of those museums that you have to walk a specific way around it and the exhibits are all shown in a very particular order, all adding to the atmosphere and flow of the place. And it was really really well done. Probably the best museum ive ever been to. Apart from the exhibits, down in the basement they have reconstructed some of the cells which were used (in the same basement of the same building back in WW2). They were just insane. There was a torture cell that was 60cm x 40cm, and had two light globes at eye level that were on all day and night. Another cell had a roof about 1m high, another had permanent darkness, another the entire floor was foot deep water.

Whilst walking around the city you also cant miss the Parliament building. At first I thought it was another cathedral. The thing is freaking HUGE, and it has spires all over the place and even has a dome. So its not that weird to think it was a cathedral. You can do guided tours of the inside of it, every day at 10am, 12pm and 2pm. The ticket sale starts at 8:30am but theres no chance I was ever going there that early. It took me three times rocking up at about 11am to finally get a ticket. The tour was pretty sweet. You even get to see the crown jewels, even touch them if they didn’t have a case around them. The actual parliament where they do whatever they do, talking and stuff, was wicked.

On the other side of the Danube river is Buda, and not much is really there. Its nice to walk along the river on that side and see parliament etc. The main attractions on this side are the palace and the castle and a cathedral. But in all honesty its better seeing all of them from the Pest side of the river. The walk up the top though is quite nice and gives a good view over Pest. Further down the river is the Gellért Hill and the Citadel. Up top is a pretty damn awesome monument, the ‘Liberation Monument’, a giant woman holding an olive branch between her hands. Whilst up there I also took a tour of the original WW2 bunker, still all completely intact. The same afternoon I did that I walked all the way back along the bank of the Danube and went to Margaret Island. Id quickly walked around it a few days beforehand with some other people, but the place is huge so we didn’t see much. This time I saw more of it, and even stumbled upon a sort of zoo. There was a few cages with crazy huge eagles in them which were cool, and a massive duck pond that had some the craziest ducks id ever seen, rainbow coloured and everything. To get back across the river to Pest there are multiple bridges, the most famous one being the Chain Bridge. What just look like huge pieces of steel are actually chain links. A really interesting old bridge, that was nearly completely destroyed in WW2 except for the pylons. I was extremely tempted one night to climb up the chain links to the pylons and take photos, as someone I spoke to said they had done it the night before. There is no barricades or anything, you just jump on to the chain links that go up and start walking. I wasn’t too keen on staying up till 3am when it got quiet though so that never eventuated unfortunately.

Whilst walking around the city one day I came across a camera shop, a film camera shop more specifically. For some reason when I think about collections of old film cameras, an Eastern Euro ex-communist country seems fitting. In the window out the front was an Olympus Trip 35 camera, and it was only the equivalent of $15. I know pretty much nothing about film cameras, but what I do know is that the Trip 35 is one of the easiest film cameras to use, and the results aren’t half bad. So why not, its only $15. Walked out with that and a couple of rolls of black and white film. So now I can totally be cool and go backwards in technology and take arty photos.

Overall the city is really really cool. Theres stuff to do for everyone. Theres laid back bars for a quiet drink, theres hectic massive clubs. There is cheap fast places to eat and there is also swanky restaurants. A zillion really well kept parks with seats to relax and read in. Baths to go swimming in and other hydrotherapy type stuff. A world class opera for the fancy people, and cheap side shows for the backpackers. A tonne of WW2 history stuff everywhere you look. I probably didn’t need to stay for seven days, because if you whizzed around and had a checklist you could probably see everything the city has to offer in four or less days. But its a great place, its cheap, so why not.