From the Czech Republic I headed out to Budapest in Hungary. Of course I picked the hottest day of the summer to travel and the train ride was miserable. No AC on the trains and we were all just melting to a puddle on the train. I got to Budapest and spent the afternoon trying to cool off and relax a little at my hostel. The hostel was on the Pest side of the city. I hadn't realized it but Budapest is actually 2 different cities on either side of the Danube River. The west side is the Buda side and the east side is called Pest. I visited the St. Stephens Basilica the first afternoon and then played it easy for the night, trying to sleep in the hostel with no AC.
I decided at the last minute to take a walking tour of the city as a way to get a feel for the area and I am glad that I did. I got the chance to walk around the city, learn some history, and get my bearing for things I wanted to do the rest of my time in Budapest. The tour took us all around seeing Hero's square, the Szechenzyi Baths, the Old Jewish Synagogue and then over to the Buda side to see Castle Hill.
The old synagogue
I visited the synagogue one morning and it was quite impressive. It is the second largest synagogue in the world behind one in New York City. It also houses a museum on the history of Jews in Hungary and a memorial to Hungarian Jews that died in the Holocaust.
Very impressive Parliament building
When in Hungary (and when it is as hot as it was) do as the locals and tourists alike do and go to the thermal baths. I went out to the one east of the city that was massive. There were more indoor baths than one could sit in during a visit as well as a large outdoor pool and two large outdoor thermal baths. The baths were all different temperatures and I just hopped from one to the other. When one got to hot, I went to a cooler one, etc. Then I relaxed in the sun for awhile in the outdoor bath before my skin got too wrinkled.
Old men playing chess at the baths
I guess they do this most days. They played the entire time I was there. I didn't bother to show off my chess skills!
Caving in Budapest
I really liked Budapest. It is a really nice city with a lot of history and a lot to do. I stayed an extra night to go caving about a half hour outside of the city. I had seen it advertised a couple of weeks before getting to Budapest and thought that it would be a lot of fun and it was! There were about 15 in our group and we all donned helmets with lights and coveralls and set out down in the caves. We descended about 15 meters and then followed our guide. We started with some small spaces where we had to crawl on our stomachs or go feet first through some narrow passages. Then we went into some really narrow spaces including an area called the "snake" because you have to crawl through like you are a snake or an area called the "birth canal" because you come out feet first out of a hole and land in a larger section sort of like being born (I guess). Then the finale was a section called the "Sandwich" where we were the meat between 2 rock sections and we had to crawl up hill sandwiched between these rocks, with no room even to move our helmeted heads! Really cool.
I decided to get away from the city and went to Eger which is east of Budapest. It is a small winery area and a nice relaxing city. The city had a nice town square and a castle that is on the top of the hill with great views of the city below.
I spent an afternoon sampling the local wines. They are famous for their Bulls Blood wine which is a very light red wine. I made sure to sample that as well as some of the other reds and whites. The vineyards are in the surrounding hills and then there is an area with caves cut into the side of the hills where they produce the wine and store it in the cool of the caves. Visitors can buy a sample deciliter for between 25 and 75 cents.
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