We awake Hungary (heh!) so I venture out to find food. Normally I have no problems remembering where I’ve been but the street names here are out of control. How about a city named Székesfehérvár? How would a person even begin to pronounce that? The spoken language here doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard. When you year someone talking you feel like looking around for the Chinese person that was speaking. It doesn’t really sound like Chinese but it’s closer to that than anything western. Anyway I made a map so I could find my way back but it ended up not being a problem. Next year I’m going to plan our moves between cities mid week because it stinks to have your first day be Sunday because there aren’t any businesses open. Just to play it safe I went to Subway and got 4 meatball subs. Outside of our taxi driver and Csaba our landlord I’d not spoken to a Hungarian before. The girl behind the counter spoke excellent English. I didn’t know it then but this would be the norm for the rest of the trip. So for the first time since we’d left America we had American fast food. Hungary is a very different place but not so foreign as say Turkey is. There is such a mixture of things here that it’s almost impossible to categorize it. On about every fourth street corner you have an American fast food restaurant, British clothes store or some other western shop. In between you have Jewish churches, Muslim mosques and Turkish kabob shops. The language sounds like it’s Chinese and the people look like blond Italians. By the end of the first day it was very apparent that a week would not be enough to even scratch the surface of Budapest let alone Hungary. We started walking toward the Danube since that’s the only thing we’d heard of before and ran into Vaci street which looked friendly enough. Later after we knew better we started avoiding this street because of it’s tourist centric nature. Since we knew nothing of Hungarian food we ate at an Italian restaurant. The waitress spoke Italian, the projector was projecting Italian T.V. And all the signs on the wall were Italian. Apparently there are Italians in Budapest too. Later we find just about every kind of restaurant including Mexican. Any chance of categorizing Budapest or even understanding it start to look minuscule at best. The Italian food was pretty good and familiar to us. We pay 60,000 forints for lunch. Quick calculations will tell you we just paid $30 for lunch. Not bad but not what we were expecting of eastern Europe. So far we’d been getting away with $15 lunches and $20 dinners. This lunch was double what we’d budgeted.
We find a bridge that leads to Buda with a giant hill so we cross it to see what it is. The hill has stairs which are virtually impossible to resist for a person that has been climbing inanimate objects since he learned to walk. Natalya tries talking me out of it but I assure her that we’ll take our time. There was a pretty fountain at the bottom and many landings on the way up to rest at. The hill has a sort of castle on it with some monuments celebrating freedom from the Nazis. Everywhere in this city are monuments celebrating freedom from someone. They been occupied and controlled by other people for about the last 1000 years. In the last 100 years they’ve survived several tyrannical governments. There is actually a law now that forbids statues to be erected in public spaces that depict tyrannical rulers. Since they used to have quite a lot of statues like this and nobody hates to let perfectly good statues go to waste they put them all in a park with a high wall so the locals don’t have to look at them. The park is called statue park and I hope we have time later in the week to go there.
Anyway we climb to the top and immediately get ripped off buying water. We’re learning fast about exploitation of tourists. The sign said 350 forints but she told me 500. Since I’m still translating all currencies in my head I’m busy giving her money while she’s smiling about her 50% markup. This was the last time this has happened to me. I now just put it back and walk away. We’re also avoiding the tourist traps completely. So we rest on top of the hill and take quite a lot of pictures. In the last year or more I’ve been keeping a list in my head of places I’d be willing to spend a month in. So far that list has only included one city – Paris. I’ve been to most of the big ones and many of the small ones but Paris is the only city I would actually want to spend that much time in. The reasons are simple, it’s pretty, it’s reasonably clean and you couldn’t possibly see everything in 30 days. Standing on this hill overlooking Budapest I realize that there may be a second city that will take a month to see – Budapest. From our vantage point we can see how large it is and how much of the city is comprised of old buildings worth discovering and it’s quite impressive. Churches, castles, parliments, opera houses, museums, restaurants and more. Westen Europe starts resembling Ohio for flavor after being here. That’s a strange feeling to have.
We take our time descending the hill and decide to walk to the freedom bridge (freedom from someone else no doubt) and possibly visit the Grand Market Hall on the other side. On the way there we happen upon the cave church which intrigues me to no end. They carved out a cave in the side of this rock mountain and built a church in it at some point. I don’t know a lot about it but every once in a while you’ll see a door in the rock or a window and an iron gate with path leading up to them. I’ve always dreamed of having a house carved from stone. The sun was too far down in the sky to get decent pictures of it so I decided to not even try. We’ll come back later for that. The Grand Market Hall was closed but at least we got to peak inside. It looks like an old train station similar to the one that Musee D’Orsay in Paris is in now. We find out later that it’s always been a market since the late 1800s. Our stomachs are talking to us again and nature is buzzing us on the other line so we head across to Burger King. After using the WC we decide to order some food. Jade has shrimp (yes shrimp), Piper has barbecue chicken drumsticks, Natalya had a chicken sandwich and I had a Mexican burger with corn chips and salsa on it. Yes, I did say it was a Burger King. Things are different here. One last long walk up Vaci street and we’re home to sleep once again.