Budapest, Hungary

Dates of Trip: Sept. 12 – 14, 2014

          For our first free travel weekend (Sept. 12-14), some friends and I went to Budapest, Hungary! First things first: book. train. reservations. After sitting on the floor for a couple of our trains to Budapest, my friends and I deeply regretted not calling to reserve seats. But, I suppose that’s how you learn! Once we arrived in Budapest, we exchanged currency (euros to Hungarian forints, or HUFs), bought metro passes and trekked to the hostel. What a relief it was to be able to put down our bags and settle in a bit! We didn’t want to waste time, though, so we went out into the city in search of dinner. My friend Anna had an excellent list of things to do, see and eat in Budapest from one of her friend’s who lived there for a year, so we went to one of her suggested restaurants. Arriba is basically European’s version of Chipotle, and we all wept with joy over our burritos. Afterwards, we went to see the famous Chain bridge- which was absolutely stunning at night, all lit up!

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Budapest is truly beautiful at night.

We started out the next day by going to Mass (in Hungarian) at St. Stephen’s Basilica.

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          We noticed two American girls who looked about our age sitting in the pew in front of us, and after Mass they introduced themselves, saying that they were Benedictine students studying abroad in Florence, Italy for the semester, and that (just like us) they had come to Budapest for a weekend trip! It was such a wonderful coincidence to meet students from another Catholic school, our age, doing the same thing we are doing! We went to get breakfast at a café with them, and then decided to spend the day exploring Budapest together. First on our agenda was going to the Central Market Hall, one of the most amazing markets in Budapest— and in all of Europe! The bottom floor was primarily fresh foods and produce and baked goods, while the second floor was homemade goods, embroidered cloths, etc. and food stands. It was incredible and just bustling with activity!  We spent plenty of time taking in all of the activity there before trying some of the local food for lunch. Anna and I split a langos, which is a disk of delicious fried dough with sour cream, shredded cheese and sliced tomatoes on top. It was one of the most delicious things I have had in Europe so far! I could’ve eaten twelve. We also had slices of dobostorte, a seven layer cake with chocolate ganache between each layer and a layer of caramelized honey on top. Not only was it scrumptious, but it was less than $1! One thing about Budapest- the currency is totally wack. 1 euro equal about 300 forint, so prices for things were listed in the hundreds and thousands. Even though I KNEW I wasn’t really spending that many American dollars, it still felt odd to be handing over a bill representing 10,000 forints. Immediately after exiting the market, we came across the Liberty bridge, a huge green bridge beginning near the market and stretching across the Danube to end at the foot of Gellert hill.

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We decided to climb all the way to the monument at the top of the hill, something I was not anticipating (I wore a skirt… WHY), but the panoramic view of Budapest from the top was definitely worth it! At this point, the Benedictine girls (Kieran and Hannah) had to go to meet their parents, so we said a bittersweet farewell and went our separate ways. For dinner, everyone but Anna and I had leftovers from the market, so we went to McDonald’s since it was close to the hostel and cheap. My first McDonald’s in Europe resulted in lots of mixed feelings: wanting to not eat American fast food in historical European cities while also wanting to not spend a lot of money and time searching for another “authentic European” restaurant while also having the feeling of indigestion because McDonald’s. That night we stayed in, exhausted from all of the activity of the day, and planned to get up early in the morning to do the last couple of things on our list before leaving Budapest! Sunday morning we packed up our things, left the hostel and headed out to experience Budapest’s famous Turkish thermal baths! (Don’t worry, not the nude ones!) We chose to go to the Sychezeni baths, and honestly did not know what to expect! There were three outdoor baths, the first being moderately warm and having a whirlpool/jacuzzi in the center. The next one was a lap pool, which we did not go in. The last and of course the best was like a gigantic hot tub. There were no jets, but that hot water was divine. If you can get over the mental knowledge that you’re basically taking a bath in a giant pool with a bunch of strangers, the baths are really, really enjoyable. It was a wonderful last activity in Budapest!

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One of my favorite moments was when I was buying a mug at the market, the woman I was buying it from began talking to me in English, asking me where I was from and how I was liking Budapest. I cannot tell you how much it meant in that moment for her to take an interest in my life and who I was (not in a creepy, stranger-danger kind of way) and to reach out to me by speaking my language. It was such a fleeting moment and a brief conversation, but I carried it with me the whole day. And of course, as per usual, I found some awesome tiny plants.

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          After leaving the baths we boarded the train for the ride home to Gaming. While it was wonderful to get out there and travel, it was beyond good to have a home to come back to. With it being our first time booking trains, traveling independently and exploring a new place without an itinerary, of course things went wrong and lessons were learned- but that’s all part of embracing the journey! Buda, you were the pest- I mean, the best. (See what I did there???)

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