Weeks Four and Five: The Budabest of Times
STOCKHOLM — <<< See that? <<< To the left? That’s a dateline! Because I’m reporting to you directly from Stockholm, Sweden!
Technically I’m at an airport on the outskirts of the city. But the important thing is that I’m traveling through Europe! Like, the real Europe. Not England, where they refuse to be recognized as part of any system at all, be it geographical, political, or economic, except for their own.
I’m on Fall break, which is a five day switchover period between class schedules. We had our first finals of the semester last week before the break began, which is why I haven’t been posting regularly. I was studying, guys.
Naturally, every single student in the programme takes advantage of the all-too-brief respite by booking flights through the mega-cheap and inhumanely cramped (at least for a giant like me) RyanAir, and giddily gallivanting through Eastern Europe. The bros go to Amsterdam for the Red Light District and cannabis, while the biddies go to Paris and Florence for the architecture and charming, chivalrous men. My friend Lauren (she is also writing an abroad blog) and I decided to take the road slightly less traveled and venture to Budapest and Stockholm.
I just arrived at a Swedish airport that looked strikingly similar to the third best seafood joint in the fifth best beach town on the North Shore of Massachusetts, so I haven’t done or seen much yet. But for the first three days of the trip, Budapest happened. And man did it happen.
We stopped by our hostel to set up before doing anything of significance, and it got weird real fast. We spent three nights in a 4-room-stoner-loft-turned-hip-party-hostel. The owner of the place was a 28-year-old movie buff (he claims to have watched 2000 movies in the last year) named Zoltan who was so insistent about helping us figure things out that I was afraid he was going to ask us for some sinister favor in return later in our stay. But with his help, we found some crazy nightlife and spectacular sights without difficulty.
Because we arrived at night, our first move was to inspect the local pubs. We quickly found a “ruin bar,” which was by no means as dark or depressing as its name implies. Ruin bars are giant club-like nightlife venues created out of the remaining frames of abandoned buildings in the city. They had several dance floors converted from what felt like dungeons, and an infinite amount of bars converted from what I think may previously have been, well, other bars.
Though we acted like hip youths at night, we inevitably became obnoxious tourists during the sobriety of day. We visited Buda Castle, and the Citadella, two historical venues so massive, that I dare not try to describe them with my meager words. But in a few: Buda Castle is the royal palace where Hungarian monarchs used to live, and the Citadella is a U-shaped fortress on the top of a hill that has ben a pivotal structure in several major wars.
Having seen these locales and learned of their history, I’m now going to be a huge Budapest snob. Buda and Pest — which is pronounced “Pesht,” get it right, dammit — are actually two locations separated by the Danube River. If it’s hilly, you’re in Buda, if it’s flat you’re in Pest. I think it was an inside joke among tour guides to insert that tidbit of geographical identity into every single monologue they give.
To cap off our stay in Budapest, We arose with the sun this morning to spend some time at one of the city’s famous bathhouses. You know how medium-sized towns in America sometimes have public pools? This was a lot like that, except it was more like an interactive museum experience dedicated to pools. There were at least 15 different pools of varying temperatures just begging to be waded through. Indoor hot tubs, outdoor whirlpools, even one with lanes for swim training.
OH! And there were hundreds of old, fat, rich men in speedos! Hundreds! Just stewing in their own filth and lazily mumbling unintelligible syllables at each other. But that didn’t lessen the fun on account of how hilarious it was. And we didn’t have bathing suits, so we just stuck with our underwear, which still gave us more coverage than any of those droopy, floating leatherbags. But since we had to rush to catch our flight immediately after, I decided not to dry my skivvies or stuff them back into my backpack still wet. Instead, I just left them in the middle of a changing room. Hungary, you will always have a piece of me.