Budapest! Having recharged fully in Vienna, Budapest was a really exciting prospect. I'd heard a lot from other travellers about it and knew it was going to be a good time. The hostel I booked into was a converted old 4 star hotel and was luxury compared to what I'd been used to. Massive, too. I immediately met an Albanian chap who had also just arrived so we went for a wander together to check out some sights. Most cities I've been to have had quite a 'wow' factor, but this place was a different level. It wasn't even just the architecture : the city just has a really good feel and atmosphere to it. Turns out the Albanian dude was only staying for a night but he was a great guy... Into meditation and yoga and had grown up in a small village in rural Albania. We talked and walked for a few hours and then realised we were totally lost and neither of us had a map... Recurring theme perhaps...? Hmmm. The next day, I went to a charming little placed called "the house of terror". It traced more history about the Nazi, and then the Soviet occupation of Hungary. More depressing, but interesting stuff.
Brendon, the Aussie chap from Vienna was also on the same route as me so we met up and went for some food and drinks and got chatting to a couple of locals. One of them suggested walking up a hill on the Buda side of the river to get a good view. Having sampled an indeterminate amount of Hungarian beers I decided that about 3am would be a good time to do this. In my flip flops. Through a forest. Not my finest decision making, I agree, but man, was it worth it! The sunrise was phenomenal, as were the views of the city once it had fully come up. An unforgettable morning. The walk back was slightly eventful as I was now also massively fatigued as well as being a bit drunk and in my flip flops, but I made it. This did mean that I then spent Thursday in bed, mostly. Which was a shame as it was another beautiful day but needs must!
The next day was a visit to the local park and a walk up another tower in the middle of town. I'm making a habit of climbing these towers and I seem to always forget that steps and flip flops don't mix well. I also forget that I'm a massive wuss when it comes to heights so wobbly legs made a swift return. I found a cool little garden kitchen thing and sat with some Goulash to calm down.
The guy in the hostel reception had told me about a national park about an hour North of Budapest and said that some of the views were amazing so I planned to do that at some point. I was very keen and confident right up until the moment when he described how to get there.... A bus here, walk there, train to over there and then find a church and walk past the side of it and in order to get back take the green train onto the magic roundabout and then moonwalk back to the hostel. It all sounded a bit scary...
Someone had mentioned about the Turkish thermal baths in the city so I checked them out on the Saturday instead. I sat alone in a mad group of a few thousand tourists and observed them getting gradually more drunk. Well... Not all of them... Mainly just the Brits. What joy. It's quite a stereotype these people have made for us lot...
The baths were a ride on the underground away and I'd become fairly adept at using it so I figured I'd jump on to get back to the hostel. However... As I mentioned there was about a thousand people at the baths. At the station, there was one ticket machine. One. My maths has deteriorated slightly over the years but I'm still aware that that equation doesn't fit very well. I watched as several old luddites from various countries pawed ineffectually at the screen and decided that I really couldn't be arsed to stand and wait for longer than the train ride was going to take. I hadn't seen any ticket collectors the whole week, anyway. I'd be fiiiine.
Hmmm. Yeah.... Stop number two of 4. "TICKETS". You absolute b******. I made up some story that my weekly ticket was at the hostel so as not to worsen the British stereotype that I've just been slagging off. She was more than a little upset... Well... apocalyptically furious is a better description. 8000HUF was the fine. I tried to work out quickly what that was in pounds but the rather forceful little dear had grabbed my arm, yanked me off the train at the next stop and wouldn't shut up. I checked my wallet. 4500HUF. Oh dear. I said I'd happily pay but I needed a cash machine. Lead. Balloon. "PASSPORT". I just shrugged... I genuinely didn't have it with me and my Drivers license was in my other wallet after the debacle in Berlin. There was now quite a crowd and as I was laughing because of how stressed out she was about the whole thing she needed some help. The help came in the form of a massive Hungarian bouncer looking fella. I stopped laughing. This had the potential to go a bit wrong... Fortunately... It didn't. I managed to get to a cash machine, being flanked by Hulk Hogan and little miss shouty-pants. I got the required money (turned out to be around £18, so not so bad) and promptly paid my fine. Such a criminal. I asked which way my hostel was and he sent me on my way. Having walked for way longer than I thought was necessary I checked my map and he'd sent me totally the opposite direction, too. Cheeky git.
So after that interesting episode, I fancied a beer so met with Brendon again at his hostel. This was another experience. It wasn't so much a hostel as someone's converted apartment. It was quite quirky but quickly lost its appeal with sanitation not high on the list of priorities. It was bloody cheap though! We found another really quirky little "ruin" bar (basically dilapidated old buildings that have been converted into bars) and set about Hungary's traditional drink : Palinka. A weird Schnapps-esque concoction of varying strengths and flavours. It made for a fun evening but not so much of a fun morning. The next day was the day I'd intended to do the national park but while my heart was all for it, my brain thought otherwise. The amount of walking is still at an all time high so I opted for a relaxed Sunday doing next to sod all. There was a small traditional festival type thing on in one of the main squares so I sat on some grass and vegetated for the day. And probably had some Goulash. I'll have to come back to do the National Park so if I have any takers...?
So, now is the train to Zagreb. I've been writing this for half an hour or so and have only just realised that it's the same temperature as the surface of the sun in here. Only another 5 and half hours to go I think... Joy.
Hoping to get some hiking done in Croatia but there's a bit of a heatwave on at the moment so I'll see how I feel...Albania has just been added to the list too...
Budapest, though... What a city!