30 September 2012

hungary at the last minute

I've started a "places I'd like to see" list since it's under six months till I'm kicked out of the country.  So with a week's notice of a four day weekend I decided I should go travelling.  I opted for a quick trip to Budapest, Hungary.  Now I really don't know much about Hungary but this is the reason I wanted to go...

Just in case you are unaware, Gellert is my surname and it's not the kind of name you're likely to see places. So it was a real novelty to book a few nights at Hotel Gellert and I giggled randomly throughout my time there seeing things that had my name on it.  I didn't actually go for the whole weekend as they were booked out.  I went Sunday, 16th September to Tuesday, 18th September.  It was a long journey there though the actual flight was only just over two hours from London.  I was up at 3:30am to get ready and start making my way to the airport on time.  It was nice to arrive though and wait for my ride which I'd prebooked to take me straight to my hotel.  It was fun anticipating the reaction as I checked in and gave my name.  The receptionist asked how I spelled it so I spelled it out for him.  "Oh, like the hotel," he responded amused.  Then he gave me a free upgrade because of it.  Woohoo.  He he he.  I settled in to my room, relaxed,  giggled when I turned on the tv and it said "Hello, Ms Gellert..." on the screen, slept a little,and then headed out.

I roamed along the streets (and browsed a little in the tourist shops) as I followed my map to what I hoped was the right location to start my segway tour.  The street I walked up was small and back-street-like with construction work going on.  But at the end where another street met it there was the tourist shop I was looking for.  Turns out I was the only one booked in so it was a personal tour.  We spent the first bit with me learning how to use a segway.  It was my first time and like any such thing it takes a little while to get a feel for it.  It's odd to make it go forwards and backwards just by leaning and turn by twisting the handle.  But happily it only took me a few minutes.  My guide was very informative but most spoken information doesn't stick for long with me unless I find it intriguing or I make the effort to specifically remember.  Like the fact that most of Budapest isn't that old as about 70% of the buildings were destroyed in WWII and then rebuilt. The surrounding photos of the tour are me at a piece of the real Berlin wall, Hero's Square where there was some traditional horse races going on, the Castle area as night came in, Parliament House surrounded with scaffolding (also nearby were two very different styled but grand buildings which were apparently the runners up of the architect competition to design the parliament house that king decided to build anyway) and me in front of St Stephen's Cathedral.  It was fun scooting around on the segway though my feet got sore as you really just stand still for two hours.  They can go quite fast if you want them to as well.  It was a nice way to see the some of the city.  After my tour I walked back past this special bread making stand we'd stopped by briefly on the tour.  I don't remember what it was called but it smelt delicious and the tour had been during my normal tea time and I'd not eaten so was rather hungry.  The reminded me of damper (a simple aussie camping treat) as they wrapped dough around a barrel, glazed it and roasted it spit-like over coals.  I bought a vanilla one which is the classic flavour.  The sticky glazed shell is sprinkled with vanilla sugar and I ate it warm.  It was sooooooo delicious.

On Monday I got up early and went down for my buffet breakfast which was satisfying and then headed off to market.  I went to the Big Market Hall which was an interesting building in itself.  The tiled roof was all patterned. Inside it was a grand space filled with food and grocery stores on the floor.  There was loads of paprika hanging and I noticed quite a number of paprika designs on the tourist trinkets too.  The second level with it's balcony and walkways were lined with tourist stalls selling all sorts and often repeated items.  It took me a bit to get my head around the prices as the Hungarian Forints were quite different.  I had to keep thinking through conversions to understand the cost of things.  I had exchanged at the airport in London at the not so great rate of 300 forints for 1 british pound.  I then ventured up the main shopping street in town as well searching for the right article to add to my collection for a price I was willing to pay.  I noticed they seemed to have a few different coloured plastic bags that they put people's purchases in and it made me think of the bagging system in Indonesia.  There the bag they give you when you purchase an item tells other shopkeepers whether you were an easy, average or hard bargainer.  I didn't bother trying to bargain and my first purchase was a funky little tote with "Budapest" on it so I just stuffed the other things I bought into that so no one would know if my theory was correct.  I liked the folkart on plates and other items. So detailed and patterned it was pretty impressive.  I didn't buy any but settled on a picture.

After I was satisfactorily loaded up with tourist trinkets, I made my way back to the hotel.  My room was not so fancy and splendid but it was pleasant and a nice size for one with a proper bathroom.  The hotel itself was a little more fancy.  The lobby gave a nice welcome as you entered and made you feel like you were staying somewhere where you felt like a special guest.  Not as fancy as the hotel in Vienna but certainly not that expensive either.  They had doormen and porters which was fun to experience I walked across a "Hotel Gellert" mat to enter through the revolving door.  The reception was helpful with various things other than just checking in and out like posting letters and having a packed breakfast for me for my return journey.  The stairwell was had panes of stain glass windows depicting historical stories or legends. At least that is my guess as the writing was all in hungarian so I obviously couldn't read it.  After I had unloaded my shopping and rested my feet a while, I decided on some more Gellertness this afternoon and started with lunch at the Gellert restaurant downstairs.  It was a lovely, warm sunny day so I sat outside and easily chose what I was going to eat.

My first course was delicious!  Pork tenderloin Gellert style with grilled vegetables.  I'm not sure what the Gellert style was but my guess would be straight from the pan. Ha ha.  It was deliciously topped with yummy chunky sauce of some kind.  I then followed this with Gellert pudding.  That wasn't very nice though I still ate most of it.  It was a mix between vanilla instant pudding and plum pudding.  I don't enjoy instant pudding anyway and the flavours were weird together for my tastebuds.  I wasn't convinced I would like it when I asked what it was but I had to order it just because of the name.  I took my time enjoying it all though and appreciating the summer warmth and looking out over the Danube River and Liberty Bridge which I liked.  When I was satisfied I moved on to my next "Gellert" adventure.

A climb on a sunny day....up Gellert Hill.  I'd heard of Gellert Hill and seen it on the map but I must admit it was bigger than I was expecting.  It stands at 235m.  I walked up the first path and hair-pinned back round to see the cave church.  I stuck my head in but you had to pay to go and see it properly so I didn't bother with that.  I continued up because I wanted to visit the statue on top and also see the view.  There was a network of paths weaving all over the hill so I was glad I'd brought my map with me so I could figure out which paths took me to the top.  It was a nice walk along bushy paths and I managed to find my way.  I hung around for a while taking some photos and checking out the view.  Couldn't read the writing on the statue--hungarian naturally.

Buda                              and                               Pest

Buda used to be the capital of Hungary.  In 1873 Buda and Pest were officially merged along with Obuda to become the one city.  Buda, on the west of the Danube, is hilly and more expensive and formal and Pest, on the east side, is the main shopping area with more affordable and regular living.  As I was heading down following the road on the other side of Gellert Hill I realised the statue I'd just seen was not the one I thought it was and I was still yet to see the one I'd climbed the hill to see.  The one I'd just been to was called szabadsag szobor on my map which I have now discovered translates to Statue of Liberty.  So following my map with better reading of it I made it to where I intended.  The statue of Saint Gellert.  There are a few versions but the basic story is that King Stephen wanted to convert the country to Christianity and sought the help of the italian Bishop Gellert.  In 1046 the hungarians revolted against Christianity.  Seizing Bishop Gellert, they carted him up the hill, put him in a sealed barrel and pushed him off the edge to his death allegedly from where his statue now stands.  He was canonized in 1083 and is now the patron saint of Budapest and the hill was named after him along with other various nearby places.  Just a note this saint: He was italian and in italian his name is San Gerard Sagredo but in Hungarian it is Szent Sagredo Gellért.  And Gellert is pronounced the same way I and my family say it.  I was pleased to hear that.

Back in my hotel room I changed into my bathers, donned the bathrobe and went downstairs to find the spa reception.  Even though I'd seen a number of other people doing it, it felt a bit strange walking the halls of the hotel in a bathrobe.  I found what I was looking for, stupidly stuttered through my sentence that I was entering as a hotel guest (wish my brain and tongue would cooperate better) and entered the Gellert Baths.

The Gellert Baths were built in the early 1900s over eighteen generous hot springs with pools.  Sounds like a lot huh?  But Hungary is covered with them.  More than 1000 and 80 beneath Budapest alone.  There are numerous baths in Hungary and it's a leisure tradition that the hungarians take quite seriously apparently.  The Gellert is the Taj Mahal of baths.  It's decorated lavishly with stained glass windows and mosaics inlaid with gold.  I went a bit later in the day than I had planned to and though it was still sunny and warm the nearby buildings and trees cast their shadow across the outside pools.  I went in the wave pool first but the waves weren't on.  I paddled around for a while waiting.  From what I could figure out from the men swimming slowly looking at the bottom and from a few gestures, one of them had lost his ring.  I thought they might turn the waves on eventually but I ended up getting too cold to wait any longer.  The outdoor hot spring pools were really quite busy so I went inside.  I went into the shared pool in the what felt like the grand hall.  It's pictured on the left below.  Men and women could swim here.  I thankfully had read in my hotel notes you need to wear a shower cap in this pool (which I was given for free as a part of my free guest entry).  Good thing too as there was a lady asking people to get out if they weren't wearing a cap.  This pool wasn't that warm either so I went and found the ladies only hot spring pools.  Nice and warm.  After soaking for some time I noticed the pool on the otherside (see right picture below) was a 38 degrees compared to 36 degrees one I was in. So I switched.  I just soaked for ages in the wonderful warmth.  It was very relaxing.  It is also believed that the minerals or such in the water benefit the body and aid in relief of ailments.  I was happy to make sure I gave it a good chance.  Not sure of any noticeable results...

I got out in time to go and get ready for my cultural evening out.  I thought this would be good but it ended up being so different from what I expected.  I had booked this "tour" online before I came, had even called to confirm what time my pick up was but felt unsure what was going on as I went down to the lobby.  That feeling remained the whole night.  I waited for a while in the lobby and then thought I'd go wait outside.  They may not come in to fetch me but I should recognise a tour bus or something.  After about 10mins the doorman came over to see if he could help and I told him I was waiting to be picked up and showed him my voucher.  He made the connection and led me to a waiting taxi.  A taxi?  This was unusual.  As we drove along I noticed the metre counting.  Umm, I hope I don't have to pay.  The pick up was a part of the booking.  I actually asked when I arrived and the driver said I didn't have to pay.  Phew.  One of the waiters came over to greet me and lead me inside to a table...by myself.  Errr, ok.  This is when the last flitters of hope vanished from what I assumed this night would be.  You see, I booked this tour partly to experience some hungarian culture but as a sole traveller it's nice to share such experiences with others.  I had wrongly assumed I would be going with a group to have dinner and see a cultural show.  I feel so odd sitting down in a nice restaurant by myself.  For lunch is not so bad.  It's more casual.  But for dinner?  When you eat by yourself, the meal is just....to eat.  To fill the stomach and maybe relax for a while.  It was weird to sit around waiting for the next course to come and having no one to talk to and share the meal time with.  And I quickly realised the 'show' was just musicians playing--who were good and interacting with customers and serenading and entertaining--with the occasional singer who joined in a few songs and the couple who did some low key dances every now and then in a small space made amongst the tables in various hungarian costumes.  Not what I'd call a show.  And they'd listed on the tour site that it was 4-5hrs.  I managed to stretch it to 2.5hrs but mainly coz I wasn't sure what was going on.  I was disappointed about all this.  I was just a girl eating out at a restaurant that happened to get someone else to book it for me.  *eye roll*

Well, aside from let-downs it was a pleasant evening even if it was weirdly lonesome.  I was amused by the fact that I ended up with four drinks--water, a red wine, a white wine and I don't know what that I didn't really like--all of which I drank randomly and not any in their entirety and that I was brought four different dishes throughout the evening of traditional hungarian food and had not a clue what I was eating.    Well, at a good guess the first one was probably beef goulash but I don't know what the rest were exactly.  In fact, I wasn't even sure how many courses I was getting.  Even when dessert had gone I wasn't sure if there was something else or not.  I actually had to ask the waiter, explaining that I'd booked through a tour agency and I was unsure what was next.  They rang a taxi for me and it was the same deal to get back to Hotel Gellert.  Anyway, thankfully each course of whatever it was I ate was tasty. I took my own photos to remember the experience though I find this a bit embarrassing in this sort of situation.  One lady randomly approached me and offered to take a photo for me.  That's the one above of me at my table.

The music I enjoyed.  Classical I'd say though I'm not sure if it all would be classed so.  It's always entertaining watching musicians play.  Two violins, actually I think one may have been a viola, a double bass which I always enjoy and a hammered dulcimer.  Had to google that one.  I've not seen one before.  It was fascinating and I had a a table right near them so could easily watch them play.  The violinist was the lead guy and he would occasionally go talk to a table group and then start up a song for them.  He commented to me frequently since I was so near the main playing area and by myself but it wasn't till near the end that he came over with the double bass and viola in tow.  When he found out I was from Australia he showed me his kangaroo badge on his tie and then started up Waltz in Matilda.  Shortly after was when I had a taxi called.

Back at the hotel I was distracted by my camera.  He he.  Gotta keep practising my self portraits.  As a sole traveller it's a good skill to have.  Even though it was now late I was still determined to pack before I went to sleep.  And just as I travelled here so I returned.  Going to sleep at midnight when I had to get up at 3am.  So I farewelled the Gellert zone in Budapest, Hungary and wearily travelled back to London.

Remember you can click a pic to flick through them all at a more viewable size.

No comments: