Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Budapest - Christmas markets, hot baths and, for some, the end of the road

Travelled out and too tried to do our own research any more, we tagged along to a free walking tour our hostel offered. The tour was packed full of interesting facts about Budapest. For example, Budapest has the largest Synagogue in Europe and fifth largest in the world. The Dohany Street Synagogue in District 7, and next to our hostel, seats over 3000 people. During the Second World War the area was known as the Budapest Ghetto where Jews were forced to live. Luckily it was only 3 months after it was set up that the Nazis surrendered Budapest to the Soviet Army and the Jews incarcerated there were released. Closer to home, several structures in Budapest have connections with the London. The Szechenyi Chain Bridge over the River Danube, connecting Buda with Pest, was constructed by William Tierney Clark and Adam Clark. William Clark designed the first ever suspension bridge to span the river Thames (Hammersmith Bridge) amongst others. The second connection with London is the a Parliament buildings. The building is remarkably similar to Westminster's Houses of Parliament (which was in part the inspiration for the design) built in Gothic Revival style and in an imposing position on the river Danube. 

Hungarian Parliament Buildings on the River Danube

For more sightseeing motivation in Budapest we also adopted stalking tact. We'd listen in on people's conversations of what they planned to do and then copied the things we thought would be interesting. We did this with Roman and Joseph, two Slovakians on a gentleman's weekend from Brataslava. They had told us about a Jazz evening and we went to investigate, enjoying a good glass of wine and some great music.

The hostel we were staying in was busy and the dorms full. Guests were there to enjoy the Budapest night life. When we came back from our night of Jazz at 1 am we were the first to return that evening. The rest of our dorm rolled between 6-7 am. The usual pre-Christmas colds were going around and disease was festering among the hostelers. The following morning James came down with something particularly nasty and could only be dragged to the nearest cafe in the morning.  It was a Sunday and there we watch a man order two vodkas and a beer for breakfast.

I left James in the hostel and headed out to investigate the baths Budapest is so famous for. I went to the beautiful Szechenyi baths in the City Park a short metro ride away. The baths comprised of two huge outdoor pools and dozens of indoor ones, all different temperatures, as well as saunas and steam rooms. It was fantastic and I must have spent 4 hours there at least.

Back at the hostel James's man flu had not improved much but the following day, not wanting to miss out, he managed to accompany to the same baths.

We had rushed to Budapest in the hope of catching up with Helen and Jamie (our travel stalkers who had travelled the same route as us from Chengdu, China) one last time. Budapest was the end of the road for them and Jamie's parents had come out to meet them. We met at the entrance to the St Istvan's Cathedral, where the steps led down to a bustling Christmas market. Warmed with mulled wine we chatted to Jamie's mum who had travelled the hippie trail from Australian to the UK through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, amongst other places, in the 70s. She talked of meeting fellow travellers along the way, one of which she still keeps in touch with today. It would be nice to think that the same would be true for us with Helen and Jamie.

With Helen and Jamie, esteemed Silk Road travellers, in a Budapest Christmas market

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