Tuesday, May 7, 2013

BudapeSHt: pools and parties

Budapest (pronounced boo-duh-pesht), built around the river Danube with long, beautiful bridges, is an eclectic place. Although the locals complain about the remaining vestiges of communism, notably ugly buildings and some bureaucratic government processes, there were many gorgeous and classic architectural surprises, such as sculptures above the mailboxes in our otherwise-plain apartment complex, and a modern cinnabon-style cafe that we frequented every day of our visit.

We enjoyed the food choices we tracked down thanks to HappyCow, from awesome vegan pizzas to streetside falafels. We found Budapest to be a bit more affordable but offer many of the same advantages as other European capitals.

As has become customary, we checked out the key sites of the city on a free (tip-based) walking tour. Although we didn't understand 100% of our guide's "Hunglish" -- Hungarian is an extremely difficult and unique language -- we learned more about the history of Budapest, which went through many undesirable political situations. Hungarians explained that this dismal 'public' life prompted them to focus on 'private' life, which explains their excellent food, bars, and relaxation!

We got to visit one of Budapest's "Ruin Bars", which are large bars based in crumbling former apartment buildings. It was really cool to see how people had repurposed such an uncreative and sad space with art, music, and games to fill it with life and inspiration.

Budapest is also apparently famous for old-fashioned Turkish baths, which really made us feel like we were in an ancient Greek palace party for the huge and lavish grounds, very impressive! We were surprised to see a pretty ingenious technology implemented quite effectively, a plastic 'watch' given to all visitors to time their stay that also opened and closed lockers available to store your things. Maybe I haven't been to a public pool lately but they should all be looking into a system like this!

Overall, it was a nice visit and a place I'd recommend to travelers around Europe.

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