It really felt like we were travelling into the unknown. We knew nothing about Budapest or Hungary, had no contacts, spoke no Hungarian, and had only the little Berlitz book (which as a guide I do not recommend) to give us any sort of orientation. But we'd vowed to remember that the point of this trip is to feel at home everywhere.
When we arrived, getting through customs and getting our packs was a simple matter, and then we were on our own. We changed our remaining pounds into Hungarian forints and parked the gear next to a phone so we could find a place to stay. It was really warm, the warmest we'd been on the trip so far, and the airport was not air conditioned. We quickly started to regret wearing jeans and boots with wool socks as we broke out in a steady sweat. I started calling several phone numbers, starting the conversation with "Do you speak English?". Everyone who answered did, to varying degrees. The woman at the information desk had given us the numbers for two youth hostels. One number worked and they had space in a student dorm, the other number gave me an answering machine. I assumed it was the Association's main office, but as the message was in hungarian, I couldn't be sure. One place that sounded nice in the Berlitz book was called the Citadella, an old fortress up on Gellért Hegy (hill) with a great view of the city. I had called there first and they said they had no space, but we should call back in half an hour and they would know better. When I called back, they told me they had space and we could have a private room. We arranged to get a "mini bus" from the airport into town, which was the recommended way to do it in the guide book. We bought out tickets and sat down to wait, but we didn't really know what we were waiting for. It took us a while to figure out that drivers were coming in, picking up a sheet from the counter where we got the tickets, and then calling out a destination. Finally someone called out "Citadella" and we were off. The "minibus" turned out to be a full-sized van. We had the whole van to ourselves, so it was just like getting a taxi, only much cheaper. Paul and I each sat near the windows to maximize our exposure to the cooling breeze.
The Citadella was built by the Austrian Hapsburgs after the revolution of 1848 as a fortified lookout. The Germans had their army there during WWII. The first thing you notice going in the front door is the huge chunks of stone and masonry that appear to have been blasted out of the wall face, which of course is exactly what happened during the fighting here during the war. We lugged all our stuff in and put it down in front of the very imposing reception desk. The young man behind the counter told us that he did indeed have a room, but it was "very bad". What did he mean by this we asked. Well, there is a disco right next to the room which runs until about 4:00 in the morning, and it's very loud. The man handed us the key and told us to go have a look. The Citadella is a squat cylinder, with a hallway running all the way around, and rooms against the outside wall and against the open center of the cylinder which contains a courtyard. Our room turnout to be one of the ones on the inside. It had very spartan accommodations, 4 single beds, a small table, a closet and a sink. The room had 15 foot vaulted ceilings, cream-colored masonry walls, and a large window, the bottom of which was 8 feet above the floor. When we climbed up on the table to have a look, we found we had a magnificent view of the courtyard, which contained a bar and tables and chairs, and little else. When I looked at the Berlitz book again, I realized my mistake: it said "some rooms have magnificent views". Ah. We hemmed and hawed, and then decided that this was probably as good as we were going to do for under 4,000 forints (about $20 US), so we decided to take it. We figured we'd go out, have a few drinks, come back late and then just sleep in. No problem. How bad could it be? We dropped our stuff in the room, changed clothes and headed down into town. We ended up walking down the steep hill though a delightful park covering the entire slope, with stone staircases coming down on either side of the statue of St. Gellért. At the bottom is a beautiful waterfall. Gellért was not a Hungarian, rather he was a Venetian born in 980 who came to Hungary when King István (St. Stephen), the first King of Hungary, who was crowned on Christmas Day, in 1000 AD, was converting Hungary to Christianity. Gellért wrote Hungary's first religious writings and became a bishop. When István died, Christianity fell out of favor and Paganism resurfaced. During a revolt in 1046 against King Peter, István's apparently less-than-capable nephew, Gellért was put in a hand cart and pushed off the top of the hill that now bears his name by the "Ungläubigen Babaren" (unbelieving barbarians) and cast into the Duna (Danube River) below. In 1083 he was canonized for his trouble. Gellért's monument is really beautiful, especially when lit up at night. From the bottom of the hill, we crossed the Danube via the huge, white suspension bridge, Erzébet Híd (Elizabeth Bridge) into the Pest side of the city. Budapest is really two ancient cities, Buda and Pest, that merged in 1873 to become one city. Buda is on the West side of the Duna and was named for Attila the Hun's brother or brother-in-law, and Pest is on the East side, it's name being the Slavic word for lime furnace. Downtown Pest is where all the restaurants and nightlife are, so that's where we went. We really had no idea where we were going, as we had no real map, but moved almost by instinct into a long pedestrian zone heading North from the bridge, parallel to the river. Later on we would disdain this part of town as being to expensive and too touristy, but just then, after dark and not knowing of anything else, it was great to stumble into this lively, crowded,brightly-lit street, with ice cream vendors, musicians, bars, cafes, night clubs, and one playful resident who was shining a flashlight laser onto the sidewalk form a second-story balcony and getting a small black dog to chase the red spot around and around. it felt very friendly and reassuring. We walked around like aliens acclimating to their new assignment on Earth, just soaking everything up. Then we left the bright lights of the pedestrian zone to seek out the Kárpátia restaurant, which the Berlitz described a "tourist must-see". It was really wonderful. The decor is all deep-stained wood with big, heavy tables and benches with high backs so that each table is in a kind of private booth. Our waitress always bent very close to us to speak as if she didn't want to intrude on anyone else's experience while we talked. The walls were painted in very colorful hues, not bright and gaudy but certainly lots of colors - typical turn of the century Hungarian decor for large spaces. The patterns were reminiscent of Eastern and Celtic designs, with knots, vines and strange animals all woven together. No two walls were alike yet it all hung together. The prices were great, the menus looked lovely, and the gnocchi and mushroom au gratin that we ordered were beautifully presented. And we had some Dreher beer (Hungarian) which was quite good too, light and summery but not too wimpy. After dinner, we walked back into the pedestrian zone with the idea in mind that we would get a drink somewhere and soak up some atmosphere. Paul wanted to go to the Jules Verne cafe, which is decorated like the interior of the submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it was so hot that we opted for an outdoor venue. We picked a nice cafe in Vörösmarty Ter (square), which has a cool lion fountain in the North-East corner and a huge monument right in the center. Teenagers make out on the foot of the monument, and little kids play with the water which jets out of the lions' mouths, squirting passers by. At night, its full of people and we shamelessly watched them as they walked by and discussed them all. There appeared to be an inordinate of beautiful young women, dressed in short, tight dresses, heels and all made up, hanging on the arms of older, scruffy-looking guys in jeans and t-shirts. Were the women just out for a good time on the relatively wealthy foreigner's tab? Almost all the young women there were tall, thin, leggy and beautiful. The all had on very short dresses or skirts, although minus the "half-moon look" of half bare cheeks that was in vogue four years ago. I find it hard to believe that that fashion trend was popular in Poland and Czech but failed to migrate to Hungary. Anyway, there were all leggy nd beautiful. It's a bit daunting, but Paul and I discussed them all anyway. We even discussed some of the men.
I don't know what time it was when we left. We walked back up the hill, which was much easier than I'd expected, and at the top we were engulfed by the pounding, incessant beat of the disco roaring out of the entrance to the disco. In our room, overlooking the inner courtyard, we had to raise our voices just to hear each other over the din. We occupied ourselves for a time the way married couples do, then, as the noise continued unabated, we decided to read until it quieted down. Shortly after 2:00 I looked over to see Paul sound asleep with his book open on his chest and his glasses still perched on his nose. How I envy his ability to go to sleep anywhere! At 4:00 I turned the lights out and waited expectantly for silence to fill the night. And waited. The guy at reception was unfortunately wrong. The music continued until after 5:00. Its not like the room was made for sleep anyway, because the whole top of the wall above the door is a window looking out into the hallway, and the lights in the hall stay on all night. I don't know what time I fell asleep, but I know it was entirely too early when we were awakened to the sounds of bottles being collected and dumped into trash cans.
We got off at the wrong stop that first day, because all we had was an address, so we had to guess. We had to walk one stop up with the packs, so we stopped for a coke along the way. Finally we arrived in Paradise, which is really what it was. We were given a huge key and a flimsy little magnetic strip card that granted admittance to the gates of heaven. Our bungalow was about the size of a sleeping compartment on a train. There was just room for the bunk bed, a tiny table propped up with a stick, and a closet. It had a little porch that we shared with the bungalow next door, a triple. Here is where we would eat breakfast, work on the journal, and hang up out laundry after washing it in the sink. It was wonderful. We we only a short stroll from the shared bathrooms and showers. The campground, called Római Fördü, means Roman Baths in Hungarian. It was situated on the site of an ancient Roman bath that no longer exists, but there are ruins from some of the ancient Roman city of Aquincum nearby. Instead of the old Roman baths, they have an enormous swimming complex, with three pools and an huge double water slide. It cost 300 forints ($1.50) to get in and about a quarter to go down the slide. It very quickly became our habit to spend the mornings there sunbathing and swimming, and then go sightseeing in the afternoon. We are both acquiring great tans and Paul's hair and eyebrows have gone all blonde. In the mornings when it is less crowded, topless sunbathing is the norm, but once the place filled up, everyone got modest. Although it's all relative, because nearly all the men, no matter how flabby or stout, wear tiny, tight little Speedos and all the women, no matter how flabby or old, wear bikinis. It's quite a sight. I saw one man with a huge gut hanging out over his little bathing suit, and he had a sunburn, but only in half moon on the top of his belly. Paul's considering getting a leopard print Speedo and I'm looking into a thong.
We had dinner at the restaurant at the campground. A mushroom pizza for one was 600 forints ($2.00) and they also had Dreher beer on tap. The wait staff seemed to know four or five languages and tried to use as many of them as possible in each sentence. It was really effective though. The only downside was the entertainment, which consisted of a guy singing and playing a Cassio keyboard. He favored the Carpenters, Phil Collins, and did a stirring rendition of "Where have all the flowers gone?" in a rich Hungarian accent. I think he only knew 6 songs, though he did play a few without singing, which was nice. Each night he played the same tunes, just changed the order.
The WC (bathrooms) in the basement of the place were typical of public bathrooms in hungary. There was a woman outside who charged 30 forints and held out a tray of already torn off sheet of toilet paper (three sheets per person) for me to take in. At the campground, there is no toilet paper in the bathrooms, you bring your own. Everywhere else you were either handed TP or you had to take it in front of the attendant, presumably in an attempt to guilt you into using as little as possible.
From the market, we walked to the Tourist Information office, where we acquired a decent map of the city (225 forint), an advertising brochure about Budapest (free), and an excellent little guide book in German, chock full of information and also free. We asked about an Internet cafe, and were directed to Matav, the national phone company, just around the corner. At the ground floor they have a desk for phone service, mobile phones, and selling telephones and cables. Upstairs, they have a phone service where you can pay to have a long distance call placed for you. In a little room an the side, there is a desk where you can look through phone books for the entire country, and there, printed on a sheet of paper taped to the computer monitor, is a little sign which lists prices for Internet usage. It cost 300 forint for 30 minutes and they have 6 terminals crammed into a little cubicle. The terminals all use modems, so we just paid for a terminal and then unplugged the phone line from their modem and plugged it into ours. We ended up eating ice cream in Vörösmarty Square. The citron (lemon) sorbet had real bits of lemon in it and was the best thing I'd ever eaten of such a hot day in my life. I had a cone of it every chance I got.
We then walked to St. István Cathedral (St. Stephens), and arrived during the time after the ticket window had closed but before they had closed the gate, so we got in free. The church itself is quite dark and gloomy, but impressive none-the-less. It wasn't completed until 1906, and for being that young, it's incredibly dirty on the outside. It's obvious they're trying to clean up and the towers are yellowish sand stone again, while the parts closer to the earth are still badly blackened. Unfortunately the side chapels were closed, so we didn't get a chance to see St. Stephen's right hand, his actual right hand, the so-called Holy Dexter, which resides in the St. Leopold Chapel. Apparently it's been there since 1971. So is it in a jar of formaldehyde? Creepy. After St. Stephens, we walked over to the big Synagogue in the Jewish quarter. It was closed, but in the courtyard they have a fantastic memorial to the Hungarian people who were killed by the Nazis. Its a silver weeping willow tree with silver leaves, each leaf bearing the name of a person or family who was killed. I was quite moved by the symbolism, how out of sorrow and tragedy there can be hope and new growth.
All in all a successful day. We went back to the campground and attempted to have a picnic outside in the grass, but were thwarted by mosquitoes. We ended up back inside on the top bunk having our picnic.
When we finally found Fö Ter, it was a big letdown. luckily, we'd stopped on the way and had drinks and chocolate pastries, or it really would have been a drag. It's just a square, with some restored buildings and a lot of hotels and cafes. Very disappointing and a hollow victory at best. From there, we went to Margrit Sziget (Margaret Island), which is named for St. Margaret (1242-71) of Hungary, who is not to be confused with St. Margaret of Scotland (who married Malcolm III). Margaret was the daughter of King Bela IV. When she was 11 years old, Bela put her in the Dominican Convent on the island, in fulfilment of a pledge he had made to God that if he survived the Mongol invasion, he would give his daughter to God. Seems kind of cheap to me to offer someone else's life in thanks for your own, but there you go. Margaret stayed in the Convent her whole life and never left. It's unclear why she was made a saint. Lots of royal children were sent to be nuns and priests. Margaret must have been very, very good.
The island is beautiful and appears to be devoted entirely to pleasure. The first thing we saw was a waterfall flowing over a building and into a lovely pond. Paul spent quite a lot of time trying to determine the source of the flow. It turned out to be a natural warm spring that had an old building built around it. Cars aren't allowed on the island so there are pedal bikes and pedal cars all over the place. We walked up the water tower, built in the 1800s, which had exhibitions of Czech artists at each level. The ruins of the convent where Margaret lived were great. Excavations are going on now, and we saw one roped-off pit which contained a set of human-looking bones, just lying there. There are statues all over the island of famous Hungarians, like Bela Bartok. Some pedestals were empty and presumably those statues had been removed to the statue park. (Rather than trash all the socially and politically unacceptable statuary, a tourist park has been created, where you can go to view them all. Capitalism is definitely catching on.) There is also a 12th. C. church, St. Michael's, on the island, and a Franciscan Church, but the rest is all devoted to fun. There's a pool complex, thermal baths, gardens, etc.
We went into the Centrum for lunch and had little sandwiches at a coffee bar. Then we popped over to Matav to check the email. We only used it for a few minutes and no one seemed very keen to take our money so we just skipped out. We figured we'd make up for it when we went back to upload photos. Then we headed home a loafed for the rest of the afternoon.
We went to cafe Gerbaud in Vörösmarty Ter and had coffee, tea and chocolate croissants. It was quite expensive, but the atmosphere was lovely. Its a beautiful building from the Art Deco period, with wood and glass cabinets which display the hundreds of different desserts. The WC downstairs charged 40 ft, but they trusted you with the TP in the stalls. Quite an honor. I stayed at the cafe and watched people, wrote postcards and worked on the journal while Paul went off to Rudas to soak.
Paul: When I went in to the bath house, they charged me 400 ft., though I had no idea what that was for since the menu of fees was entirely in Hungarian, and no one there seemed to speak any English at all. I went in and an attendant took my ticket and handed me a square piece of cloth with two strips attached. It looked like a very small apron. The another attendant waved me in and led me down a row of changing rooms, and directed me to a free one. Inside, I got undressed and tried to figure out what I was supposed to do with the apron. I figured the best fit was to tie it around the waist so it hung down in front, marginally preserving my delicate sense of modesty when viewed directly from the front, but leaving me entirely exposed from the rear and acutely aware of even the slightest breeze. Once I had the small square of fabric as well placed as possible, I boldly stepped out of the changing room, leaving all my stuff inside, and looked to the attendant to gauge his reaction, figuring that an outburst of laughter would be a strong indication that I had incorrectly interpreted the purpose of the small piece of cloth. Well, he didn't laugh, and instead came walking over, locked up the little changing room and handed me a heavy, old-fashioned iron key, maybe four inches long. I stood there stupidly holding it for a minute, wondering just where I was supposed to stow it, when the attendant indicated with a quick gesture a small loop hanging on the side of my little apron. Seeing the rust stain on the loop, I quickly figured out how to loop it over the ring on the key so it would hang relatively unobtrusively against my upper thigh. I made a note to be careful not to move too suddenly and get the key swinging around too much. From there I was directed in to the baths. There I found showers (just a room with shower heads on the walls), a dry sauna with three rooms, the hottest of which was 80°C! It was damn hot - so hot you couldn't stand on the tile floor in bare feet. The showers and sauna were to the left and right immediately as you walked in, and I was quite relieved to see that everyone else there was as ridiculously attired as myself, though given the view this afforded me, this was decidedly a mixed blessing. Beyond the dry sauna and shower room was the big bath room. This has a large central pool surrounded by four smaller pools against the walls in the four corners. The water enters from one side, and there are open arches in the other three. It was one of these through which I entered. Overhead there is a dome, the whole thing made of stone some hundreds of years ago, and set in the dome are small openings filled with thick, colored glass, about 10 inches in diameter. This admits some sunlight, and creates a very soothing atmosphere without need of artificial light. It was pretty cool. There were probably about thirty men, all wearing these ridiculous little aprons, sitting around on the steps in the pools, up to their necks in water. It was not until this moment that I considered what the standard costume must look like once it gets wet. There was nothing for it but to push on, so I headed for the large pool in the middle, which had a little sign stating the temperature to be 36° C, just about body temperature. The water felt great, and I soon found my self blending in, setting myself down on the steps, closing my eyes and relaxing. It was really great. After soaking for ten or fifteen minutes, I went to explore the other two arches. Behind one was a steamy sauna, with two rooms at 45° and 55°. These felt even hotter than the dry sauna, and I could only stay in the hotter one for about 5 minutes. After that I went out and found the massage room and the cool water bath through the third arch. I jumped right into the cold water, right after the sauna. It was quite a shock. Then I went back to the pools, and tried each of the side pools from coolest (28°) to warmest (40°). Then a few sauna/cold water cycles and finally a long soak in the big pool. There was also a little fountain on one side where you could drink the water. It was hot and salty, with just a hint of sulphur. It was the only water in the place though, so I had quite a bit to replace the water I was losing through sweat. There were also two "beds", which were big slabs of stone that you could lie on, with a raised "roll" of stone on one end for a pillow. By the time I was ready to get out, two hours had passed, so I went back to the changing rooms, wandered about a bit until I found the towels, then got dressed and headed back to meet Johnna. I was wonderfully relaxed, and as I walked back across Elizabeth Bridge, I felt like I was just floating over the water, and the wind was blowing right through me.
Johnna: When it started getting crowded back at the cafe, right before I was supposed to meet Paul, I left the cafe and went to sit by the big statue in the center of the square, which I found I had to share with several amorous couples making out. I soon relocated to the lion fountain which was our designated meeting point, and there I found myself barraged with water sprayed from the fountains by children who thought it was really funny to make the fountains squirt out into the square. They didn't have very good control though, and frequently sprayed themselves and people next to them. I actually yelled at one German boy, but I really had no right to be so upset. I was the one in the wrong place, not he. I realized that some kids in the cafe had been annoying me as well. No overwhelming maternal urges yet.
We decided to have a day apart, just in case we needed a break from each other, figuring a little distance on purpose was potentially a preventative measure against future conflict. I went through all the feeling of abandonment, and felling like Paul didn't want to be with me, even though I'm the one who usually wants time alone. Then I got over it and decided it would be fun to just go wherever I wanted to without having to discuss it with someone first. We rode the tram downtown together, and I got off at the funicular railway, which runs up the cliff to the castle, paid my $2.50 and climbed into the overly warm car with four Spanish teenagers. It was a very short ride to the top, and the tiniest bit disappointing. I wandered along the wall facing the river and took a few pictures, all the while avoiding as much as possible the "flyer brigade". These were hordes of people at the top of the funicular handing out flyers for all the other tourist attractions in the city. I headed toward the South end of the castle, mostly because I heard the music of violins, and because a lot of the area was shaded. As I walked down the steps, I heard the voice of a young American guy, talking about how he'd brought 35 rolls of color film and two rolls of B&W. Of course B&W was his medium of choice, but... I can only assume from his incredibly pompous tone that he was a college kid on a "short" trip thinking he ha seen it all. A man of the world. I fled in horror. There were musicians in every nook and cranny, mostly students, but also a few men playing violins. Some were quite good.
The castle as such no longer exists - it now houses three museums. I was disappointed; I'd been looking forward to seeing how the royalty lived in Hungary. But the old town attached to the castle is fun. It's pretty touristy, owing mostly to the fact that the Hilton has had a hotel there since 1976. They took over a Dominican Church and added on an ugly modern addition, complete with horrid, concrete towers. The Berlitz calls it a clever incorporation of the church. I couldn't disagree more. Cool things on Castle Hill: the plague statue, full of saints and cherubs and put up by the survivors of the Bubonic Plague in the early 1700s; Fisherman's Bastion, a turn-of-the-century folly built into the castle walls, looking more fairy-tale-like than any other part of the castle. It's touristy, crowded with Americans and old ladies selling embroidered tablecloths, but it's really cute. St. István's statue: he's handsome and strong, riding his horse, and just to the left of St. István, the coolest of the cool, the St. Mátyás (Mathias) Church. I know I said I was churched out, but this is my kind of church. Like Kárpátia, the church has murals and designs painted all over every inch of wall. It's spectacular. All he murals feel like fairy tales, sot of bringing Jesus into the Middle Ages at least. The altar is all gold and shaped like a castle with spires. We got a little book about it, poorly translated into English, but I haven't had time to read it yet. So it goes...
My funicular ticket proclaimed itself to be "extremely valuable" and strongly advised me no to throw it away when I got to the top because it was good for admission into the Labyrinths beneath the castle. SO I decided to check it out. It seems that there are kilometers of caves connected by passages in the hill under the castle. The cave have been created by the flow of water from the thermal springs. It sounded cool, but I didn't know if I could keep myself from feeling claustrophobic for the length of time to tour would take. Also, there were weird exhibits in the different caves. Like "authentic copies" of cave drawings. I sat down in the cafe (where it was nice and cool, 16 meters underground) and had coffee and a toasted cheese sandwich to think it over. When I pulled the money out of my neck pouch to pay the waiter, he saw that I had American dollars and excitedly asked me if he could buy one from me. I complied and even made a little money on the deal. When I left, he was still holding it up to look at it with evident delight. It was so cute. I went back to the kasa for the caves (you had to walk quite a ways to get to it) and flashed my valuable ticket. I was then informed that it was only good for a discount off the admission price. With the valuable ticket it would be $5.00 instead of the usual $7.50. Then I saw the sign that said "Do not attempt to do this tour if you are pregnant, claustrophobic, or have a bad heart!". At that, I decided Labyrinths weren't for me and climbed back up to street level.
I walked back out of the castle, down the ramps and stairs back to Buda and then took a tram out to the Jewish Quarter. I wanted to see the Synagogue, which was being renovated, and to drop off Dr. Sushner's dollar. It felt like the right place to do it. (Background: Dr. Sushner, my orthodontist, and also Jewish, and upon hearing about my trip, he gave me two dollar bills to take with me, telling me that there is an old Jewish tradition that when someone goes on a journey, you give them two dollars, one to give away along the way, and one to carry all the way back.) I tried in vain to find out from the people there if the custom was a universal custom or not. The girl at the desk, who charged me $4.00 to get in, wasn't Jewish, and she directed me to a man who was, but didn't speak a lick of English or German. So I went in, put the dollar in the nice wood and glass box for donations, and sat in front of the altar for a while. It was very beautiful, all dark wood and Eastern-looking painting and designs on the walls. I bought a postcard to send to Dr. Sushner on the way out.
I stopped into the English language bookstore and was heartened to see that prices were about the same as in England. I also saw that they had a Lonely Planet guide to Central Europe, which we procured the next day. Then I went to the pedestrian zone, had a lemon sorbet cone and went home. I sat on the "porch" reading for a little while before I looked up and saw Paul. He looked beautiful striding across the lawn and my heart leapt at the sight of him. I had fun on my day apart, but it was great to be together again.
Paul: As far as Johnna knows, this is what I did during our day apart. I spent the morning running some errands: going to Matav to check the email and upload some website material; going to Malev (the Hungarian airline) to change the time on our flight to Warsaw so it was not so outrageously early in the morning, and in so doing I had to push it back a day, which was fine with me; and stopping by the bank to get some more cash. After all that I got myself a Herald Tribune and headed out to see one of the many caves in the hills above Buda. They had a tour with a guide, and I really enjoyed it, though much of the tour was lost on me and a British couple that was there because the tour was almost entirely in Hungarian. However the caves were really cool, and I had brought my flashlight with me, so I hung back and poked into side passages and all the nooks and crannies as we went. The caves were formed by the movement of the heated waters rising up from the thermal sources far below ground, so the caves had a distinct odor, like sweat mixed with incense. After the tour, I hung out at the cafe by the caves, had a beer and read my paper. It was a very relaxing day, and I must say I did enjoy being able to just decide to head off to something without having to check with someone first. I was very happy to see Johnna when I got back, with the light behind her as she sat looking down into her book, right before she looked up and saw me. I was also very glad I had a good story which explained the funny smells on my clothes and the alcohol on my breath.
We went back to the bungalow and got dressed to go out. Of course, given our limited wardrobes, this meant khakis for Paul and a wrap skirt for me. It was starting to feel like it would be fun to really dress up and go out, but nothing like that is well-suited to the packs - no irons, no dry-cleaning, and no extra space. Paul was trying to convince me I'd look great in one of the extremely short dresses the Hungarian girls wear. I argued more on the side of practicality - being able to sit down, etc.
We'd gotten an email from Paige and Jimmy Dean that day telling us that they had fallen in love at a place called Okay Italia. That was all the email said, so we went to Matav to look it up in the phone book. As luck would have it, there were two listed, but one was in Obuda, which Paige had also claimed in her email to know nothing about. So we chose the other one, on St. Stephan Boulevard and headed out. It was quite a long walk, especially since we figured it must be near St. Stephan's Church. But it turned out to be a really cute place with outdoor seating, great dog watching and an incredibly vast and cheap menu. We ordered way too much food (I had risotto as an appetizer and it was as big as any normal plate), took pictures to send to Paige and Jimmy Dean and then went on our way.
We picked two places out of the Lonely Planet guide book, A Made Inn, which was supposed to have good Latin music, and Müvésy, the cafe where all the artists and intellectuals are supposed to hang out. Both places were sort of a bust. The Inn had a DJ playing music with a thumping techno beat (that brought on flashbacks to our night in the Citadella) and the cafe was very tiny, packed, and quiet. We did have a drink at the Inn though. What was great about the place was that they had a large outdoor porch running around the building with huge trees growing right through the roof. The DJ was down in the cellar, so we sat outside at the bar and had a pair of Coronitos with lime. It was very nice, especially since it was so hot, even after sunset. When we left, we realized we were very near Hero's Square (Hösök Ter), so we walked down to have a look. It's a huge paved space, with a great monument, also built in 1896, commemorating the millennial anniversary of the Magyars (hungarians) conquering the Carpathian Basin region. There's a big block on which all the Magyar warriors are depicted astride their horses, looking proud, bearded and victorious, an behind them is a wonderful wall laid out in a semi-circle, filled with statues of Hungarian heros throughout the ages - kings, saints, poets, scientists. It was really beautiful, all lit up under the night sky. The square itself is a big backpackers hangout. Maybe there's a hostel nearby, or maybe they just sleep there, I don't know. Paul and I are in a weird category of travellers because we're willing to live primitively (and therefore cheaply) but not in youth hostels that only have segregated dorms and not in dangerous places. So far, that's usually meant bungalows in campgrounds. So we don't really know much about the hostel scene. There were people lounging near the Magyar monument sitting and lying on their packs, smoking cigarettes and watching a wacky version of the game statues. The rules seemed to be that you stayed still until you engaged someone in pantomiming with you, using only verbal cues. then the two would dance a silent dance that was spontaneous, awkward and beautiful, like white cranes in South East Asia. We couldn't tell for sure whether it was a game or performance art. Paul wanted to join in, but I was too chicken, afraid of doing something "wrong".
In our searches for a night spot, we rode the földalatti, the first subway in Europe, which opened in 1896. It was great, very quaint, but with modern trains. I understood why the Vörösmarty Ter shook when the trains came through, as the trains run just barely below the surface. We ended up begrudgingly at a cafe in that very square. It looked like a real tourist hangout and there were kids there with their parents - the death sentence for a real night spot. We had a couple of drinks and went home. We had intended to take a night bus back, but we just missed the one we wanted, and they only run once an hour, so we availed ourselves of one of the cabs which was cleverly waiting near the bus stop. I worried the whole trip back about getting ripped off or attacked. (The Lonely Planet warned us that you should never hail a taxi on the street, as you are likely to get a mafia taxi that way, but it was quite reasonable and safe - Paul made sure the driver knew how much we expected to pay before we got in).
At noon, we got dressed (right on the lawn like everyone else, with a towel over the lap) and headed downtown to check the email and upload one last time before we left for Warsaw. Unfortunately, Matav is closed on Sunday. We had seen two Internet cafes listed in the Lonely Planet, so we sought out the nearest, InfoShop, but it no longer exists. By now we were really hot and sweaty. We stopped at then only open shop around and got Coke and Schweppes Lemon. I think we sweated them out as fast as we drank them. We decided the email and upload wasn't worth it and headed to the lion fountain to cool off. On the way there, we passed a thermometer - it was 38° C (100° F). No wonder it seemed do hot. We took the HEV back to the campground and sat on a bench with some more cokes waiting for reception to reopen at 3:00. When they opened up, we retrieved our packs and called the LRI minibus, but they claimed they were all booked. I think they just didn't want to come all the way out. We considered taking our packs downtown on the tram and getting the minibus at one of the big hotels, but it was too hot for all that walking with full packs, so we called a cab. It arrived almost instantly. I worried about how much it would cost, but that was silly. The real danger was heat stroke. Even with the windows all they way down I was sweating profusely. I was only slightly cooler in the airport, and I'm pretty sure the AC was on, though it didn't make much difference. We settled down at our gate (26) next to a power outlet where we could plug in Tamino. Then we needed drinks. Paul went in search of some and came back to report that the only drink source was a little cafe, and they served the drinks there in glass glasses, so you couldn't really take them away. Also there seemed to be no way to go back out of the secure gate area. We were trapped. So we unplugged Tamino and walked over to the cafe. It was one of those hold-overs from the Soviet era, with little tiny tables and chairs and nowhere for you feet to really fit under the tables. We had 500 ft. left, so I got some cheese baguettes and two ridiculously priced and severely undersized sodas. The cost $1.50 and were served in juice glasses. We yearned for the lion fountain and all that free, yummy water.
The flight and customs were all uneventful (we are experienced world travellers after all). At the airport in Warsaw, we went into the Orbis Tourist Info (gov't owned) to see about getting a hotel. We had decided that since the flight got in so late (7:30) we would just spend the money and get ourselves a regular hotel, just to make it easy. I didn't realize it, but Paul was actually thinking about getting a real, American hotel. He was leaning toward the Radisson near the airport, while I was looking for a more Polish experience, or I was thinking I should try to give him a more Polish experience. We ended up going with the Polonia Hotel downtown, but maybe we should have gone with the Radisson. They were comparably priced at about $95 a night (The Marriott was out of league - even with the special summer rate that brought it down to a mere $195). The Polonia is a wonderful (by Polish standards) old, turn-of-the-century hotel. Of course, like everything else, it was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt. But this is crucial, it had 2 twin beds in the double room instead of a double or queen. I forgot that anything other than a twin-size bed has to be imported. And that was one of the main reasons for getting a hotel, so we could sleep together, instead of in separate bunks, and not have to share a bathroom with 300 other people. We pushed the beds together and it worked out pretty well. I was transfixed by the TV, which had BBC News and German channels as well as Polish I got caught up in a stupid American film (dubbed in German) about a girl who kills a cheerleader. I couldn't help it. Maybe because the last time I was in Poland, German TV was my salvation. Tom and I were addicted to it. So much of my time four years ago was spent being misunderstood, not understood, and not understanding. It was a pleasure to escape with "Little House on the Prairie" in German. Paul checked the email (a phone right in our room!) and then restlessly waited for the movie to end, so we could go down and investigate food possibilities. It was one of the few times he was hungry and I wasn't. It was 10:00 and the restaurant in the Hotel served until 11:00, so we headed down. It was a beautiful room, with white carved rams' heads all around the walls, in Victorian style. I don't know what the ram's heads were about - I've noticed them in other places - but it was beautiful. The room was built like a theatre, with a second floor balcony running around the first floor dining room. Probably the really expensive tables were up there, and then a musical performance was held on the main floor during dinner. Paul ordered chicken soup and a salad with tea and I had black currant juice. My throat was sore, and I knew I was in for a cold. Step one for letting a lot of stuff go. The food was great (I had a nibble or two) and reasonably priced. Apparently "Polonia" is a term used to refer to Poles living outside Poland. I don't know why they'd name a hotel that (or a TV station for that matter) but I always wondered what it means. Go Lonely Planet.