I made my first venture into Eastern Europe. It was not warm. For most of the weekend the temperature stayed in the negatives, meaning that I spent most of my time wearing roughly 15 layers of clothing and whining about how I couldn’t feel my phalanges. Despite the freezing weather, and thanks to copious amounts of hot wine, my friend and I did manage to tough it out and explore a lot of the city. Budapest is divided in half by the Danube river, with the Buda side being older and more residential, and the Pest side being the more modern downtown area. Both sides are lovely, full of old beautiful buildings and lots of trees, I was very impressed.
We took a couple free walking tours where we were able to learn a lot about Hungary, especially in comparison to what I knew before, which was pretty much nothing. Did you know that Catholic churches ring out 12 chimes at noon because it was an order from the Pope to celebrate the Hungarian victory over the Muslim Turkish invaders? I did not. Did you know that aliens in movies are often speaking Hungarian? I did not, but I’d believe it, I’ve never been able to make less sense of a language.
Like I said before, we quickly learned that the key to surviving winter in Hungary involved alcohol, and lots of it. We found ourselves ducking into a lot of bars to refuel with a mug of hot wine, but this was nothing compared to the way the locals drank. In the time it took me to finish two mugs of mulled wine I was shocked (and actually pretty impressed) to see the older woman at the table next to me drink 3 beers and 6 shots of Hungarian “rocket fuel,” and continue chatting quietly like it was nothing more than orange juice. Unfortunately, I also ate the worst meal in all my traveling history. Worse than the chicken foot I found in my soup in Ecuador, worse than my plate of raw meat in Argentina, worse than the roasted Gushers-like bug I ate in Thailand, this one wins. After a delicious lunch of dumplings topped with what tasted kind of like ratatouille and slow roasted pork, I was pretty excited about my food prospects for the weekend. However, for dinner, instead of being brought the chicken sandwich I thought I’d ordered, I was served an entire heaping plate of mayonnaise containing little pieces of corn, with a side of two fried chicken skins. And yes, I ate the whole thing.
I think my highlight of the trip was our visit to the Turkish baths. Located in the middle of a big lush park, the baths are in a yellow building which must contain at least a hundred different pools, both indoor and outdoor, of all different temperatures. All of the signs inside were in Hungarian, so any instructions for medicinal purposes were lost on us, but we still enjoyed it. My favorite one was the giant outdoor pool. We were the only fools running around outside without shoes or a towel, but once you made it in the pool you could relax in warmth and let the fountain massage your back, while watching the men play chess through the steam.
I returned from Budabuda to find that, almost in mockery, the Guindalera (my neighborhood) had burst into bloom. All the trees are covered in little yellow and pink flowers, and I was able to sit on a park bench wearing only a light jacket and watch a bird building a nest, que lindoooo. So, spring has sprung, this week three of my best friends in the whole world will be coming to visit all the way from the good ole U.S. of A., and some of the little girls in the 4th grade class created a song and dance routine for me called “Alycita la Delgadita” that made me smile the whole bus ride home. Life is good.