Grand Budapest Ho[s]tel

As part 2 of my Easter break, I took a bus from Vienna to Budapest to spend a couple of days in the original “twin cities.” I was pretty excited to cross another land border (the only other being Canada) but to my disappointment there wasn’t even so much as a sign anywhere denoting that we were crossing into Hungary, but it’s also possible that I missed it. I checked google maps every now and then to see where our little blue dot was and just after passing through what seemed like another toll both archway thing it showed we had crossed the border, so I’m assuming that was all it was.

Of course, first thing the next morning I head to the main square to meet up with a free walking tour to learn a little bit more about my new temporary home, and the first thing, and possibly most important, that I learn is that Pest is not pronounced “pest,” but rather “pesht.” Pest in Hungarian means “disease” so the tour guide half jokingly explained that we would make all Hungarians really happy if we didn’t refer to their beloved city as such.  We started in Pest, he taught us why all the buildings are the same height, the diverse effects of the communist regime, and then we crossed the bridge over to Buda where he showed us around the Castle (which is more like a little community on a hill), around the famous church, and through the beautifully blooming cherry blossoms.

The tour lasted until early afternoon so he offered to show us where to get real Hungarian food (and therefore less expensive than tourist food) in this incredibly hidden little cafeteria in the upstairs of a building on the Castle grounds. I decided to blindly point and see what I got and I ended up with little pieces of fried dough (that seemed to be the standard base), and some mushrooms in a sauce. Whatever it was, it was delicious. There happened to be another girl by herself, about my age, who asked if she could sit with me and I said of course. She was from France and was only in Budapest to take a standardized exam to get into a Business school, and we talked at great length about what we had thought Budapest would be like and what it actually turned out to be. That’s the wonderful thing about traveling is that even if you travel alone, you still choose whether or not to be alone.

I honestly can’t even tell you with exact certainty what I ended up doing that afternoon (don’t worry, I was completely sober) because I just got so blissfully lost in the beauty of the foliage and the history and the sunshine and the people. I definitely roamed the Castle for quite a bit, went up to the top of the Cathedral to get a better view of the city, and I must have spent a solid thirty minutes, maybe an hour, in one of the main parks just lying in the sun where all the other young whippersnappers (and their dogs) were hanging out. As I was laying there I also happened to overhear a conversation (in English to my surprise) where a young man sat down on some steps next to a girl maybe a little older than me and asked her if she believed in God. She replied that she was an atheist and he asked if she had read the Bible. She replied that she had actually studied the Bible quite a bit and had explored many beliefs but had settled on believing that there was no God, and even if there were, he left creation after he made it long ago. The man was clearly Christian and believed otherwise, but it wasn’t an argument, it was a brief and kindhearted conversation. I only wished that small instances like this weren’t such a rare occurrence.

I decided to walk through town a bit and I happened upon a little donut shop that happened to also be an bookshop (conveniently with books written in English). I decided to stop in and I got an apple pie donut and picked up Matilda by Roald Dahl. I ended up staying almost until the shop closed because I was sucked in by the story, even though I read it when I was little.

For dinner I went back to the Easter market in the square where the tour had met that morning and again I simply picked something and pointed to it. It was some sort of fried pancake thing with roasted vegetables and rice and again, it was amazing whatever it was.

The following morning I got up early to avoid the probable crowds at the famous baths, which was a good call, because the thermal ones were actually relatively small. There was a full size swimming pool (the morning was chilly so I steered clear) and two smaller thermal baths, and although it seemed no different from any other heated swimming pool, it was still quite relaxing. I spent a good long while just floating around, letting the notion sink in that pre-enroll was in exactly a week (the first concrete sign that my time abroad was about to come to a screeching halt) and enjoying the two things I rarely had the opportunity to experience at Cornell: doing absolutely nothing and being warm.

When I got back to the city center I had quite a bit of time before my next endeavor, which was at a set time, so I went back to the donut book shop, bought myself some coffee, and finished reading my previous day’s investment, Matilda.

After a while I went to what’s called the Invisible Exhibition. I happened upon it when randomly searching Budapest on TripAdvisor, and it had great reviews so I decided to check it out. It’s more of an experience than anything else, because a tour guide leads your group through various “places” such as a house, a street, a forest, a bar, etc. in complete darkness (they’re all just rooms though, we didn’t cross actual streets, don’t fret). It was moderately disconcerting staring into space and yet seeing absolutely nothing for about 45 minutes, but it was highly eye-opening (pun intended). We had to follow each other like ducklings, feel statues and try to figure out what they were (astonishingly I guessed the Atlas one correctly), try to distinguish different valued coins (result: impossible), and much more. There were a lot of small things that are very difficult to do without sight that hadn’t really occurred to me before. For one you can’t read and play music at the same time, you can’t really paint, and you can’t read. This last one sounds obvious and I know that braille exists but it had never seemed so real to me that some people can’t simply pick up a book and read it. And I love to read, so that made me really sad. Near the end our guide revealed that she was essentially blind, having lost her sight around the age of 20 (the same age as me). Although I couldn’t figure out how she moved around so easily, as I hadn’t noticed anything unusual about her when we met before the tour. I’d have to say, apart from exploring Budapest in general, this was my favorite part.

The next day I had a flight to Rome, part three of my Easter break, and after my Bolivia flight fiasco last summer and nearly missing my flight to Dublin in March, I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I was pretty hungry by the time I got there and they hadn’t even posted the gate number yet so I went and got lunch. Ryanair only tells you the gate thirty minutes before boarding, and their take off time almost always ends up being their boarding time (but they still arrive on time because they factor in so much extra time). That being said, I wasn’t worried at all about getting to the gate until I went and looked at the departure screen twenty minutes before boarding time (so only ten minutes after they even posted it), and it says last call. I panic for a hot second, and then take off across the airport trying to find signs to tell me where to go and silently cursing Ryanair for its shenanigans. Before I even get to the gate I encounter a line of people on the same flight waiting to even get to the gate waiting area. So of course, they haven’t even started boarding yet and I look like a crazy person dashing across the airport and completely out of breath by the time I get there. But hey, I made it.

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