Antlers make it very unsafe to walk down the street…

As promised, we are back! Today we recommence with daily blog posts. And on an unrelated (and by that we mean completely related) note, this morning we left Budapest. We packed up and loitered around while everyone else got up. We weren’t the only ones leaving today and when you combined that with the Sunday morning hang-over the mood was rather melancholy. Goodbyes always suck but we have Facebook to keep in touch, so we set off for the train station excited for the rest of our trip!

Our train ride was 9-1/4 hours long…without any changes…just 9hrs 15min straight on a train. It was long… We passed the time in the usual ways: reading, writing emails, blogging. However, the most popular activities of the ride seemed to be staring out the window and sleeping. Even Kristin caught some Zzzz’s. And seeing as she has snapped & included photos of Justine sleeping more than once, Justine thought she’d return the favor…the only problem is that, while Justine always looks so cute & peaceful in those photos, Kristin looks like this:
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Yikes! She’s never claimed to be an attractive sleeper…more the mouth-hanging-open/drool-all-over-your-pillow type.

Eventually we ended up in Ljubljana, aka the most impossible place to pronounce of the trip. It is located in Slovenia and involved crossing through Croatia to get to…at least Kristin went through Croatia. Telus texts us every time we enter a country to tell us about phone & text rates. Kristin recieved texts for Croatia, Justine did not…maybe just Kris’s part of the compartment passed in? Anyway, it was late by the time we got in so we just went to the hostel.

This hostel had an original hook: it used to be a prison. We stayed in one of the original prison cells. It still had the original barred door inside of our other one (barred doors don’t leave much privacy). It was a little jarring to see when you first walk in. The room is also stark white & minimalistic, so it looked like it could be a cell…but then again hostel rooms are often decorated like that, so it’s not saying much for accommodations on this trip. Check out some photos of our own little jail cell:
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Not too long, but that’s all for today!
Love, Luck & Lockdown,
K&J

Ima snake…

It is a little known fact that Budapest is a black hole super nova of awesomeness. We had originally added it to the itinerary as part of the pathway to Greece. We had kept it on the altered version because everyone said it was beautiful and we still wanted to hit up a good Eastern European city. However, the plan was a quick day and a half stop over. When we checked into our hostel & Montana (aka the girl working there) commented on this and everyone told us we would stay longer. They said everyone stays longer…stays longer or comes back a second time… We kind of inwardly rolled our eyes. We were so naive. Our quick stop turned into a four night stay…and what an awesome four days it was!

Shall we start with the city itself? Budapest is home to over 20% of the population of Hungary. In this country you either live in the “city” or in the “country”. The city began as the royal town of Buda, in the hills on one side of the Danube, and the small village of Pest, on the other side at the beginning of the Great Plains. It was only in 1873 that these two towns were merged to form the capital of Budapest. It is absolutely beautiful, with that nice “lived in” feel. Over the course of our time there we were able to take part in a guided walking tour and then do plenty of self-guided (or completely at random) wanders. Budapest has a lot to see, as opposed to things to do, so it’s the kind of place you just need to walk through and get lost…this wasn’t a problem for Kristin since, even with 4 days to get to know the place, she never knew where she was…Justine on the other hand could always get herself back to the hostel…

We took the free city walking tour on our first morning. It’s always nice to have help getting orientated. As usual with free tours, the guide was spectacular. He was from Budapest but had impeccable English. There was not a single story told, question answered, or sight spotted that was boring because Andrew was the most animated person we may have ever seen. He was hopping onto walls & rubbing statues & trying to get us all to speak Hungarian…which is rated as one of the most complicated languages in the world. It’s actually the language aliens usually speak in movies because it sounds so odd. The tour set up was also very good. It was very “Ra Ra we heart our city” (but all of them are) and also very “here’s how to best see our city”. They were very focused on your ideal experience and making sure you knew the little tricks to get better service or not getting stuck in the tourist traps. And then at the end the took anyone interested to a cafeteria-style lunch place. It was so cheap & incredibly delicious and not somewhere you would ever find on your own. To get in you go into an unmarked building through a big wooden door that only featured hand written hours of operation. That’s it! We ate a wonderful traditional dish that involved boiled potatoes & meat stuffed peppers.
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We talked about Parliament last time, so the other major sight of Pest is St. Stephen’s Church. This church was built to honor the first King of Hungary who became a patron saint after his death. Nice and creepy, they have his mummified hand in a back room of the church. It’s black & shrively. The rest of the interior was beautiful. It was more remeniscent of some of the palaces we’ve seen, with red & green marble lining every wall and golden accents everywhere. The wall mounted candelabras were a sight all in their own; if only we could have seen them back in the day when they dripped with real candel wax and flickered with fire light.
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There are many bridge that cross the large Danube river that splits the city in two. The most famous of these is the Chain Bridge. There is a fun story associated with the bridge’s building. The engineer who designed the bridge was so cocky that he had created the most impressive, perfect creation ever that he told people he would jump off the top of it if anyone could find a single fault. No one did until one day a little boy looked up at one of the four lion statues that flank the entrances on either side. This child glanced at the lions open, roaring mouth and noted it had no tongue! Even for this minor detail the engineer was true to his word and jumped off the bridge. Ok, maybe that wasn’t a “fun” story persay, but still interesting. Although it is featured on the cover of every tour book/pamphlet/website of Budapest, we hardly found it the most impressive site in town. Still though, it was a nice bridge.
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Once across the bridges you enter Buda. It’s most noticeable attraction is the Castle. The Budapest castle was destroyed during the Second World War but was rebuilt to look the same…kind of. The exterior matches it’s predecessor, except for the few areas of ruins you come across which are either unrebuild parts or remains of even earlier castles. Also the interior remains white and plain. There is nothing to see inside except a couple of museums. We did wander around to see some of the outside and catch some great views of the city from this height.
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After our climb to the castle we climbed the even bigger hill to the Citadel. This large hill stands out on the Buda side of the river with the large Lady of Liberty Statue on top. The statue was built by the Soviets to honor those who died liberating Hungary in 1945. The people of Budapest liked the statue so much that, after the Communist left, the statue was covered for a couple of days, the cyrillic letters were removed & the statue was renamed, and when she was uncovered she was a brand new statue.
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It was a weirdly fogging day and even being so high above the city we couldn’t see very far in any direction. It looked like the world only extended so far before plunging off and leaving only a mystical white blur. Luckily all of the cities main sights fell within the limits of our vision. Parliament & St. Stephen’s stood out as the only “hills” of Pest and the castle dominated the majority of our view of Buda. The fall colors we rather magical as we looked down at the city…as well as on the walk up and down the hill 🙂
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A group of us walked up to City Park one afternoon. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but there are some cool things contained within the park. You enter (when coming from the south like us) through Hero Square. This is an open square with arches & monuments around the perimeter. It looked very similar to places we have loitered already on this trip, as that is one of our favorite pastimes. As you continue inwards you come across the castle. This was originally built out of cardboard for an art exhibition, but the government liked the look of it so much that they commissioned the building of a permanent model. It is very eclectic looking, featuring peaks & turrets that range widely in architectural styles. Also located in the park is the largest thermal bath complex. Budapest lays on a fault line, which means that hot water, supposedly with restorative properties, can seep up through the cracks. There are several baths throughout the city, but this one was supposed to be the biggest & best. We didn’t go in (not really our thing) but everyone who we talked to that did really enjoyed it…so we would still suggest for another traveller to try it out. We did however go to the market. This collection of tables & stands is set up every weekend and sells a little of everything. There are antiques, clothes, CDs, gas masks, toys, fake hair…seriously everything…. There was a large number of tables that looked like they had boxes from our grandparents auction sale emptied onto them. For those of you who understand what that means, you realize how random/junky/insane this place was. The park provided a great place to just lay about and enjoy the sunshine. There were ample dogs to pet, fallen leaves to kick about & trees to climb.

We also got to experience two of Budapest’s best night activities (Remember in the last post when we mentioned that the hostel organized an event every night? We took advantage of these). First would be the Jewish Quarter ruin bar scene. After the horrors of WWII much of the Jewish Quarter was abandoned. And with the communist era setting in, ownership rights were never really established for them. By the time Budapest was rid of the Soviets these beautiful old buildings had fallen into various states of disrepair & no one was jumping to claim them. They became the homes of various squatters & artists. Eventually the money making opportunity of creating bars in these make-shift art houses came up and the ruin bar was born. Even if one is not looking to party these are worth a look. Many of the buildings themselves hint at former grandeur and the interiors are packed with creative & artistic decorations…including minimalistic rooms littered with blinking tv screens, bicycles hanging from the ceiling and invasions of taxidermy bunnies. As a side note, one of the Hungarian shots of choice is tequila…not what you would expect, eh? But instead of using salt & a lime, they chase it with an orange slice sprinkled with cinnamon. It pretty much makes you want another shot just so you can have more orange.

Our other stellar evening was a river boat cruise. The boat floated up & down the best section of the river, affording great views of the landmarks. As per usual with European cities, the sights were all dramatically lit.
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And those were just the things to see & do when you left the hostel. But you were never bored back at home base either. There were always people to talk to and groups to join for going out & about. The whole setup really encouraged you to be social. For example, there was the previously mentioned carpe diem (day) & carpe noctem (night) activites…what a fun play on the hostel’s name. But the staff would also organize things like communal suppers where everyone just chips in a little money and you all eat together. They say it’s the people who make the place though, and here was no exception. Montana, Sarah, Will & Moose were the most entertaining hostel staff we have ever experienced. They weren’t just a person behind a counter, but part of the group…the leaders of fun, if you will… They hosted some spectacular events, made some delicious meals and were super accommodating about us (& everyone else) extending our stay. But we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg; there are still the other backpackers: the rougishly handsome & utterly ridiculous Josh, the sweet & oh-so-dreamy Peter, the advice-filled Vixen Maggie, the cute, charming & slightly crazy Jon and the exceptionally wonderful Alberta-girl Katie…just to name a few… This cast of misfits made our time in Budapest truly unforgettable! However, amidst the fun, we did forget to get photos with them…oops…

Anyway, tomorrow we travel onwards…and get out of this black hole of awesome that has swallowed us up…aka we will actually start writing daily again…

Random Observations:
– Hungarian money is fun…you feel like such a high-roller…or like you’re playing with monopoly money. Until you’ve been there it’s very hard to imagine holding a 20,000 bill in your hand…so many zeros!
– Check out this door:
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There are no guards, no major locks and only 4 simple & in-plain-sight cameras (unpictured). Beside the door there were big windows thrown wide open. Basically it is a lower security place than most American high schools. Can you guess what this door opens into? It is, in fact, the Hungarian President’s office. No one wants to kidnap the Hungarian president.
– In Australia, bangs are called fringe. Australians also say H weird…with an extra “h” sound at the start.
– Justine has a super red spot on the tip of her nose. It is not sore or itchy, but is so bright red that she looks like Rudolph.
– Bras are not made for slithering..the underwire will pop out…
– No one outside of North America knows what pumpkin pie is.
– 24 hour McDonalds in Hungary have late night bouncers…you can be rejected from a Hungarian McDonalds…and it will be a low point in your life…
– You cannot make a man out of leaves.

Love, Luck & Laughter,
K&J

If they don’t stop *beep*ing honking I’m going to *beep*ing smash in their *beep*ing windshields!

Are you feeling hungry? How about Hungary? We sure are!

We got up this morning and slowly got ready. Our train wasn’t until ten to nine, so we were able to leisurely eat breakfast while sitting around and chatting with a nice couple from Manitoba. They own a wholly organic farm and were kind of like old hippies, so they were enjoyable to talk to.

Our train ride to Budapest wasn’t very eventful, especially because we didn’t switch trains. That had been our plan, switch in Vac, but our train was running behind & didn’t get to the station until after the other one had left…grrr… Luckily our train was still going to Budapest, just to a different station, so we didn’t end up riding to some unknown location. When we arrived in Budapest we though, oh it’ll be easy to get to the station we originally meant to arrive in…we still wanted to go there because our hostel was only 2 blocks away from it. We couldn’t have been more wrong! We only needed to take one bus that went directly there, but due to construction right in front of the station & lack of signage we wandered about forever before someone was finally able to point us in the right direction.

The bus ride was only about 10 minutes when we finally found the bus and dropped us off just a couple blocks from where our hostel is located. Arriving at the hostel was an experience too… It sits on the top floor of an apartment building that apparently won’t let them put up a sign. There is just a little sign next to their buzzer number to let you know it is indeed the right building. Once they buzz you in you have to walk up the 5 floors of stairs in this gorgeously old, but slightly delapitated & under loved building. There is only a small sign by the hostel door on the top floor & you are starting to wonder what the heck you’ve gotten yourself into…. Then the door opens & you’re greeted by a bright, open typical looking hostel with super friendly staff. It has turned out to be a great place to stay, even if you felt like you were walking into the start of a horror movie when you first get there. The girl who checked us in walked us through everything there is to do on the city map and gave us advice on what to do based on interests, where to eat and pretty much anything else you’d want to know about the city.

Ok, we think it’s time for the Hungary history lesson, you in? If so, read on… If not, then skip ahead a paragraph…
Hungary was first inhabited by the Romans, until the Huns defeated them around 500AD. The nomadic Hungarian tribe arrived a few years later and in 1000 King Stephen was crowned, founding the Hungarian Kingdom. Medieval Hungary encompassed the lands of present day Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Croatia. The Ottoman Turks arrived in the 16th century and Hungary was ruled by the Ottoman’s until the Habsburgs helped evict them. The lands of Hungary now became under Habsburg rule until the end of the First World War. When the Empire was dissolved and the Republic of Hungary created, the country lost over 2/3 of it’s previously held land. The Hungarians were not happy. The country entered the Second World War on the side of the Germans but realizing their mistake switched sides. They were liberated by the Soviets only to fall under Communist rule for the next 40 years.

We took our newfound knowledge and hit the street for a bit of an orientation walk. We followed a main street to the river and walk across the bridge. We then followed the river along the other bank, taking in the view of the Parliament buildings and the Chain Bridge. You can also make out the castle and citadel statue on the hill. It was really beautiful!
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We crossed back over on the Chain Bridge and went for a closer look at Parliament. The building is so nice! First of all, it’s huge…the second biggest in Europe to be exact. It has a very gothic style that is very reminiscent of Westminster (in London). All of the points & detailed patterning at the roof lines make it look quite intimidating & almost church-like.
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A competition was held to find a design for the Parliament buildings. Obviously the winner was picked & their design created, but there were so many excellent submissions that all of the buildings on the square around parliament are built to match other submissions. It is really an architecture nerds paradise!

We went for supper at a place recommended by the check-in girl. It had a dark-lit, cozy, local sort of feel…aka it was really cool but really comfortable. Justine had a beef stew with potato noodles. Kristin had pork medallions fried in potato pasta with garlic sour cream. It was all really, really good and made us wonder (and not for the first time) why we don’t eat more potato noodles at home?
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Our hostel is called Carpe Noctem…which, for those of you who don’t speak Latin, means seize the night…so that’s exactly what we did. The hostel organizes an activity every day & every night, so we joined in with the pub crawl going out that night. Much fun was had & much ridiculous ensued 🙂

Love, Luck & Lemonade with dinner,
K&J