4 Days in Budapest – Part One

As you know, I spent a few days in Budapest with friends last weekend. Despite the amazing weather and spectacular two-storey apartment, illness struck and I was unfortunately left bed-bound for around half the trip! Good thing our rooms had lush double beds, two baths, and a flat screen T.V…

Thankfully though, I did get to see some of Budapest’s most famed sites, and info from my friends means that I can report back any tips/tricks to those wanting to venture to Hungary’s capital.

On my first day out, we visited the Gellert baths. It was easily accessible from our accommodation; the tram stops just outside the hotel, and the baths are round the corner, all clearly signposted. For just over 5,000 Ft, we got entry to the baths and all the other amenities (various pools and sauna), and cabin usage. The cabins were a brilliant idea – they allowed us to change and store our belongings, as the doors lock automatically behind you.

Initially, we got a tad confused about the labelling of the various baths. There were signs pointing to lots of ‘male baths’ and ‘male steam rooms’, but no female ones! However, after enquiring with a member of staff, we learned that was an original feature of the baths 19th Century popularity. Back then, men and women were not allowed to bathe or swim together, so were separated. Nowadays though, despite the signs, men and women were free to mingle. This came as a delight to us, as the ‘male steam baths’ were around 4 degrees hotter!

According to the leaflet given to us upon arrival, it was no wonder I was already starting to feel better. I felt immediately refreshed once I lowered myself into the steaming pool of loveliness. The ‘certified medical waters’ contain calcium, natrium-magnesium hydrogene carbonates, sulphates and chlorides. Apparently, these are thought to help treat a range of ailments, including certain diseases of the spine, asthma, circulatory diseases and joint inflammation. We also walked through the large treatment room, in which you can get various massages (including a chocolate one!), pedicures, and mud packs. Private bathing is also available for the more extreme bather…I must say, I was tempted.

Next up was the sauna…and it was outside! We ran up the stairs onto the patio and shoved ourselves into a crowded 40 degree wooden box, with some man extravagantly whipping the sweat off his body and making unusual grunting noises (lovely image, I know). I’m usually a fan of saunas, but this one was far too over-crowded and just a little bit awkward for my liking, so we stayed around 15 minutes then headed for the outside thermal pool.

Of course, after being in a sauna, the pool didn’t feel as hot as it really was, but it was somewhat refreshing. The breeze on your face meant you never felt over-heated or trapped for air, which is what sometimes happens in a steaming bath. It was also nice to admire the surrounding buildings and the sunset just starting to set in.

We headed back to the apartment after this, however I wish we’d spent more time in the baths. You could easily spend 3 hours there, just alternating between the various services, and perhaps squeeze in a reasonably priced massage.

Just a few more snippets of info – the baths are open every day 6am-8pm, email is info.gellert@spabudapest.hu and website is www.gellertbath.hu. They also have a Facebook page – www.facebook.com/GellertGyogyfurdo.

My next blog post will feature The House of Terror, Central Market, and some advice my friends picked up whilst off exploring without me!

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Budapest Beckons

As I’m off to Budapest on Saturday, I thought I’d compose a list of a few things I’m most looking to forward to experiencing. Four friends and I are spending 4 days, 3 nights in the heart of the city, having managed to snag our own apartment for only £82 each (including flights) – bargain!

1. The House of Terror
Hungary was once home to the majority of Jews in Eastern Europe. However, after two terror regimes, this has drastically diminished. In 2000, ‘The Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History and Society’, purchased the building and turned it in a museum to pay tribute to the many victims who suffered through these campaigns.
It is said to give a chilling insight as to what life in Hungary was like, for people during these times. The museum website claims it ‘is a monument to the memory of those held captive tortured and killed in this building. […] also intends to make people understand that the sacrifice for freedom was not in vain.’
Having a keen interest in the Holocaust, I’m hoping that a visit to The House of Terror will expand my knowledge and also give a clearer view about the difficulties Jews in Hungary faced.
<www.terrorhaza.hu>

2. The Gellért Bath
Budapest is obviously famed for its many baths. However, when I saw the word ‘thermal’ in the description of the Gellért Bath, I knew it was the one I need to visit. It is also handily located near our apartment!
Opened in 1918, the spa/bath helped towards Budapest being aptly named the ‘Spa City’ in 1934. From 4,900 Ft (about £11.50), visitors can spend a full day in the baths with locker usage. Very tempting during the cold weather and to nurse our delicate heads after one too many cheap cocktails. They also offer various kinds of massages (it is a spa after all) and for much less than you’d be expected to pay in the U.K. Who says budget travelling can’t also be glamorous?
<www.gellertbath.hu>

3. János-Hegy
János-Hegy is the highest point of Budapest, and so obviously promises spectacular views of the city once you reach the summit. For those not keen on tackling the long walk up the hill, (guilty as charged) a very vintage-looking chairlift is on hand to carry visitors up to the top. Once there, ‘you can enjoy a breath-taking panorama of the city’, with views of up to 80km away. Some even claim that in certain conditions, you can see the peaks of the High Tatra Mountains!
I thought this would be a nice ‘non-city’ thing to do. Whilst it’s still touristy, it offers a different view of Budapest and beyond, and will definitely be more relaxing than the bustle of the city centre.
<www.welovebudapest.com/budapest.and.hungary/sights.1/janos.hill.janos.hegy>

4. Margaret Island
Sticking with the green open spaces, Margaret Island is a park literally right in the centre of Budapest, on the Danube river. There are walkways, a zoo, a musical fountain, medieval ruins and even an open air cinema/theatre packed on this tiny island.
Much like János-Hegy, I’m hoping the island will offer a peaceful recluse, whilst giving us a chance to observe typical Budapesti behaviour.
<www.budapestbylocals.com/margaret-island.html>

5. Szimpla Kert
After scouring reviews on Trip Advisor, I discovered that this open air cinema and pub was located literally round the corner from our accommodation! According to the website, ‘Szimpla defines itself as a ‘cultural reception space’’, offering concert, theatre shows and many other cultural events. It’s an old factory, which was rescued and renovated into a place where the people of Budapest could come together, have fun and bask in their leisure-filled glory. It offers a bakery, famers market and shop, vitamin bar, kitchen, grill, and much more. It seems like it could be a haven for local living and offer a quirky contrast to the historical side of Budapest. I can’t wait to go and explore what is on our doorstep!

Obviously, there is much more in Budapest that I am hoping to see and do. The city offers museums that are (mostly) free to students, so we’ll definitely be taking advantage of that. I also hope to visit some interesting restaurants and get my first taste of Hungarian cuisine! I’ll be sure to keep you updated with another post upon my return, informing you all of what we got up to on our little adventure in Budapest!

Book Review: Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson (1993)

For a good few years now, I’ve been a fan of Bill Bryson. Unlike some travel writing, he manages to capture the feel of an environment, whilst also providing insight into his sarcastic, light-humoured personality.

Recently, I just finished reading his novel about Britain – Notes from a Small Island. It tells of the journey Bryson took around Britain in the latter half of the 20th Century, using only public transport. His accounts take us from Dover all the way up to Inverness, before he (rather happily) returns back to his home in Yorkshire.

However, if you thought that this was going to be another propaganda piece, as to why Britain’s muggy fields and failing high-streets really are the place to visit, you thought wrong.

Instead, Bryson shows us the realistic pitfalls of travelling our humble isles. Late trains, irregular buses, unfriendly hotel staff and over-priced lunches all feature, something that we can recognise and sympathise with, even today.

And the rain! I found myself subconsciously counting the amount of times Bryson recounted horrific downpours and even slightly grey skies. Britain in October/November rarely features a clear day, and poor Bryson becomes victim to soggy shoes and dampened jumpers thanks to our delightful weather.

At the time of writing Notes from a Small Island, Bryson had been living in the UK – a small village in Yorkshire to be exact – for many years. However, being an American, he still finds himself reflecting on certain customs and conversation topics that we British are (shamefully) obsessed with.

One of the bits I found most accurate and equally as hilarious, was the section in which he talks about the British fascination with giving directions. He points out that drivers interrogate you profusely once you declare that you will shortly be travelling for over 3 hours – again he notes that in America this is an acceptable amount of time to go even to the shops. Being a foreigner, he finds himself bombarded with confusing ‘A-roads’, ‘M-roads’, service stations and obscurely named roundabouts. I found myself laughing along – whenever we have family up to visit, (or vice versa,) older generations spend a good 10 minutes discussing how the traffic was, what roads we took, and how long the journey was. And I’m sure, like Bryson’s encounter, they could easily spend much longer had specifics gotten involved.

It is refreshing however, that rather than grumble and complain the entire time about British behaviour and bleak towns, Bryson seems to accept it. Without our dodgy estates and failing seaside attractions, Britain would surely not be the same. Notes from a Small Island shows us how our densely packed island is truly unique, and something that we should celebrate. I loved that he picked out the fact that we did have too many Woolworth’s, and that every high-street looks the same. That B&B owners are usually rude, unwelcoming, and offer only over-priced rooms. That some areas of towns you really shouldn’t venture into, and that the government spend a measly amount on train travel each year, but still manage to offer (mostly) adequate services. Bryson ends the novel, returning home, with ‘I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I like it here. I like it more than I can tell you. And then I turned from gate and got in the car and knew without a doubt that I would be back.’ If American’s can learn to love our British quirks, I’m sure we can too.

Reference – Bryson, Bill, Notes from a Small Island, (Black Swan: London, 1999)

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Am I brave?

Ever since I discovered that I ultimately had ‘the travel bug’, people have been commenting on my bravery for venturing off across the globe. Just recently I was discussing my upcoming year abroad with a friend:

“I wouldn’t have the balls to do that, go away for a year. Let alone to two countries,” they said.

But I hadn’t even questioned it. In fact, I’d chosen my degree because it let me spend a whole year in two different continents. Pretty amazing if you ask me…

However, I’m slowly starting to realise that perhaps there is some kind of courage attached to travelling. When I booked my trek across America at 18, the main response was shock. (Although this probably had something to do with the fact I hadn’t told my mum, I just came downstairs one day and said that I was off to travel the states for 4 weeks next summer. Oh and I’ll be missing your birthday) A few people (feminists look away now) even asked what my boyfriend at the time thought about me spending my summer across the pond…madness, I know. He was treated to the same surprise as my mum.

Even when I got to the states, my young age did not go unnoticed. Much to my surprise, I was the second youngest of the 10 trekkers. This shocked me – the purpose of me starting working at 16 was to save and save and save and save for every holiday and city break around. I had an itch in my feet and was keen to scratch it. As soon as I had enough money for anything, off I went! However it seemed for some, choosing to embark on a long trip with strangers is rather a big deal, hence the older (perhaps wiser – they surpassed the America’s 21 drinking age) age group.

It does take a certain type of person to uproot themselves, even for a small amount of time. Take my decision to do the split year option for year abroad, for example.  So many people have said to me ‘but you’re going to have to leave new friends after a few months and leave for Australia!’ My reply – ‘Yes, but I’ll be going to Australia.’ Besides, I’ll be leaving after 8 months anyway, why prolong the goodbyes, however ‘cold’ that may sound?

Although I value my friendships and family alike (I can assure you I’m not a self-obsessed loner) it would never stop me from visiting a bucket-list destination and exploring new cultures, especially if (like year abroad) it is practically handed to me on a plate.

However – returning to my original question, ‘am I brave?’- I guess perhaps I am. Maybe every traveller is. I’d never regarded my passion or any trip I’d taken as courageous as such – heck, I’ve never bungee-jumped or sky-dived in an exotic location! Although maybe even stepping on that plane, alone with guidebook in hand, is guts in itself.

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a blog new world…

Welcome!

I recently decided to start a blog – I know, very exciting. Careers advisors and seminar leaders seem to be pushing this whole blog blog blog idea so I thought, hey why not give it shot? Even if I do end up talking to myself…

Here you’ll find all the details of my past and future adventures around the globe. I’m a student at the moment, so bear in mind that I may not be jetting off every month or so. Therefore, when my budget does unfortunately tie my feet the ground, you’ll instead be bombarded with other travel-related comments – trip planning, responses to travel stories, that kind of thing.

So far, I’ve been rather lucky in where I’ve visited and the experiences I’ve had – a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon isn’t something everyone can say they’ve done after all (yes, I’m gloating). I’ll be sharing all of this on here, and I’m also off on a year abroad to Tucson then Sydney in August…watch this space!