BOOK ONE: The Exotic Environs of Budapest.
Before commenting on first impressions of awe, let's rewind just a few minutes to the day before, which led me to begin my journey with approximately 1.5 hours of sleep in a 40 hour span. The day before my departure, I had several students, a night tour, and no time to pack. Since my flight was at 7am and I scheduled a group shuttle to avoid mass transit absurdity, I was appointed a pick up time of 3:30am... Ouch... I got home at about 12am, so the necessity to eat and pack trumped any delusions of sleep. And while I may have dozed on the plane for the previously stated 1.5 hours, my flight jitters prevented the full amount I really needed. I had a few hours to wait for my cousin in the airport, trying desperately NOT to pass out and give my bags away as hostess gifts to resident thieves. Once my cousin landed, however, we were perhaps bamboozled a bit by a taxi driver who claimed he was cheaper than the rest, but regardless of all, we made way to our sweet little abode for the next two days.
The hotel was cute and very central, perfect for the beginning of our whirlwind trip. First on our agenda was to see some of the sights, and as I will continue to mention throughout my detailed posts, I owe heaps and heaps to my dear Cousin, whose sense of direction far surpasses mine on every level. Not to mention her organizational skills (and no, we will not go into the fact that while entering the hotel, I had one of those cartoon lightbulb moments where I realized that I had left the train tickets to Prague in my Parisian apartment... No no, not going to mention that ; ) We wandered the streets, crossed bridges, and made our way up the funicular so that we could dine at a restaurant near the Fisherman's Bastion, which basically looks like my ideal of an appropriately poetic princess castle. Tragically, the restaurant had never received our reservation and there was a small wedding party taking place. While we had to forego eating lunch aside a spectacular view of the city, we managed to stumble upon one of many Hungarian restaurants boasting their traditional fare. Now, I don't care how touristy a place we may or may not have stumbled into (it wasn't crowded in the late afternoon but who ever knows), the food was absolutely delicious. Goulash, roast chicken and dumplings, followed by a sponge cake that was more a mouth watering chocolate and custard bread pudding of sorts. Yum, yum, and yum! The first of many amazing meals we would feast upon during the week. This restaurant was also where we learned our necessary bit of Hungarian vocabulary, which my cousin so pragmatically documented on her hand while we procured it from the waiter who I firmly believe was fast falling in love with us. Our favorite was the word "siya", which means hello in Hungarian, but of course in American "see ya" is just about the opposite. A fun trick to play when dealing with undesirable men in the vicinity.
Our highlight of the day, however, was planned to be the thermal baths, so prevalent around the city. We chose to visit the Széchenyi Baths, which are one of the most famous of the bunch. They are all fed by natural springs and are used for relaxation as well as a number of medicinal qualities. I was quite delighted that we decided to go in the evening, as the afternoon was very hot indeed and the baths sumptuously warm. We spent about two or so hours lounging in the serene pools of water, watching the locals as they enjoyed the time to rest and just be. We knew that circa 10pm in the summertime, these pools turn into raging night clubs and since I was on such a small amount of sleep, it seemed best to vacate before the transformation took place. Happily, as we wandered around a bit after for some late dinner, we happened upon a lovely outdoor restaurant overlooking a pond that my cousin had heard of before. It was delicious and gave us the stamina to see a few of Budapest's sights by night before landing our heads every so gratefully on receiving pillows at the end of a long and enchanting day.
Below I give you many pictures of our first day to peruse... So. Many. Pictures... Enjoy and TBC!