Budapest, Hungary! The Eastern-most destination of our trip. The language barrier is getting stronger and stronger. The overnight train we took to Budapest was insane. We had taken one more overnight train (from Amsterdam to Prague) and it was actually a great experience. The car was clean and we slept well enough. However, the train from Prague to Budapest was small, cramped, and dirty. There were about 6 rooms total in our car, and each (tiny) room had six fold-out beds, 3 on each wall. There were five people on the trip. I believe it would make sense to spread the people out on the train since there were several empty rooms, but the attendant forced us all to cram in there (with our luggage - 5 packpackers = lots of stuff)... and then he LOCKED the other rooms! We couldn't even go sit in there to get away from the crowdedness, or put or luggge elsewhere. This guy (the attendnant) spoke little English, had obviously not showered in at least a week, and was smoking in his quarters (of the non-smoking train). Thankfully, though, the people in the room with us were very cool. There were two Brazillian guys and a girl from the U.S. Needless to say, we made it in one piece, but I couldn't wait to get into our hotel and have a nice long shower.
When we arrived in Budapest, it was still raining. We checked into our hostel, which was actually more of a guesthouse - it was run by an older man named Josef who was basically renting out rooms in his own apartment. We immediately showered, started laundry, and went to find something to eat. It was Sunday, so nothing was open - we had to settle for McDonalds. I expected McDonalds to be the same exactly everywhere you go, but that's only true for the price. While everything in Eastern Europe is far cheaper than in America or Western Europe, it still costs $3-$4 for a burger at McDs. However - and maybe it was just because I was famished - I believe the quality to be better. Also, they had seasoned waffle fries which were actually quite good. And they had a real "McCafe". Pastries, donuts, coffee, espresso. Watch out America, I'm sure we're going to be getting those next.
After eating, we decided to brave the rain and walk toward the city center. I figured there would be SOMETHING to do, even though the weather was bad. I was so right. As we approached the center, there was a full-fledged carnival with rides going on! It was interesting because the kiddie rides all had paintings of American celebrities on them. Really random. Like you walk up to the bumper cars and there are these airbrushed paintings of Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Christina Aguilera and Janet Jackson. As though they had just copied and pasted from Clip-Art. Also, there were some very sexual images on these kids rides, like pin-up models with their nipples showing through their shirts. Much like the mannequins. It's amazing how much we're used to censorship in the states, but that's another story.
After passing through the carnival, we approached a festival of some sort. A musical group was setting up on a stage, and we noticed that it was a string group and a vocalist. There were also food stands set up close by, so Bert got some goulash and other goodies while I sat and watched the group. OH MY GOODNESS. They were performing traditional Hungarian folk music and it was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. Within minutes I was openly weeping. It was poignant and sad and so different from our folk music, and the rain really brought out the mood a lot. I will have a short video of it posted soon, because nothing I can describe can do it justice.
We walked through the festival, eating yummy cheap Hungarian festival food and looking at super cheap shops, and found out that apparently this festival was for something called Gallop Fest, a horse-racing event that happens annually at Hero's Square. I guess horse-racing is a huge deal in Hungary. In fact, they want to turn it into an Olympic Sport but nobody else is good enough to beat the Hungarians. At least that's what our very Hungarian tour guide said.
Anyway, this festival was HUGE, and apparently because there were actually two festivals going on: the Gallop fest and the Children's Day festival. If you can have two festivals plus a carnival going on in your city center at the same time, I have to say that you know how to live!
Cold and wet, we made our way toward the much-hyped natural hot baths. Going there was one of the best decisions we have made on our trip. This complex is basically a bunch of natural (but temperature controlled) water pools. There are about 15 pools, 3 large ones outside and several small ones inside. Every pool has a set temperature ranging from 16 degrees celsius to 40 degrees celsius. So basically, a very cold pool to a very warm jacuzzi. There were also mineral water pools. Believe me, it was SO good to relax and be clean after so much walking and being on that dirty train! We spent three hours there and felt sooooooooooooo relaxed afterwards. Our skin was incredibly soft. It was so worth it.
That night, we met up with some of our hostel-mates and went out to a couple of Budapest clubs. Our mates were very cool - 3 New Yorkers, two Aussies, and a Canadian girl. The clubs we went to were gigantic and the layout/design, true to European form, were involved and elaborate. We had fun dancing (I never dance, but literally EVERYONE there was dancing, so I couldn't NOT dance) to mostly American music, and left at 3 a.m. That's another thing. European clubs/bars stay open pretty much 24/7, unlike bars in Texas which close at 2 a.m.
All in all, it was an incredibly successful day considering the horrible weather!