Extreme European Adventure: Budapest & Vac, Hungary (June 30-July 2, 2014)

Monday, June 30, 2014
Kris and I woke up and took the local U to the Wien Meidling station where we caught a train to Kelenfoeld, Hungary before changing to the Budapest-Deli station. The ride was very pleasant, as we had a big 6 seater compartment to ourselves.

Loved the painterly effect caused by the rain on the window.

Somewhere in Hungary

It rained on our journey, but stopped before we got to our final destination. From the Budapest-Deli station, we had a 15 minute walk with our bags almost directly upstairs to reach our hotel the Hilton Budapest. Google Maps never quite tells you how uphill a walk will be...

Talk about a great hotel. I was able to get a great deal with a website called TravelPony, and the Hilton still accepted our gold status. The hotel is in a fantastic location right in the heart of Old Town Budapest, and it even incorporates part of an old monastery into the architecture. They upgraded us to an executive suite and immediately allowed us to check in. We were so excited to see the nice sized room with mini fridge and hear about our awesome amenities of free breakfast, free wifi, and a free executive reception from 6-8:30pm every night. The executive lounge even had free cold water, juice, and soda any time of day as long as it was consumed in the lounge. What a perk!
Our suite at the Hilton Budapest

Our suite at the Hilton Budapest

Part of the old monastery that is inside of the Hilton Budapest

Part of the old monastery that is inside of the Hilton Budapest

Reflection off of the Hilton Budapest

After freshening up, we located an ATM and the restaurant, the Rivalda Cafe, where Carol had made reservations for our group. The Currens were running late and had given us permission to order for them. I ordered an eggplant and zucchini salad for myself, and we ordered three plates for either the table or for Carol and Clark to claim since Kris would eat any of the three - prosciutto farfalle, steak, and a stuffed chicken with mushroom sauce.

After a very tasty and satisfying meal, we were ready for our tour. Due to being in Budapest for such a limited amount of time, Carol and Clark had booked a tour for Budapest and invited us to come along. Our tour guide was named Eszter and was very sweet and knowledgeable.
Budapest's "White House" - we saw the changing of the guards.

We started our tour with a history lesson about Pest and Buda at the Fisherman's Bastion area, which wound up being the area where our hotel was located.
Eszter gets us oriented.


Eszter showed us Buda Castle, the odd statue called "the father of Budapest" in legends, and we got a great view of Parliament - quite the impressive building.

Currently being excavated ruins in Budapest

Our next stop was the Gellert Baths. These are Turkish baths founded in 1918 that are heated by geothermic activity in Budapest. They are house in a building that rather hides the stunning stained glass and ornate ceilings inside. The baths themselves look rather luxurious.

Gellert Baths

Gellert Baths

Gellert Baths

Just across the street from the Gellert Baths is the Cave Church of Budapest. While Kris, Clark, Carol, and Eszter went inside, I stayed outside and conversed with a couple of Australian girls who had just come from the Gellert Baths and were waiting on later massage appointments. They had opted earlier in the day to escape the rain, and they enjoyed themselves so much, they didn't see reason to end their fun.

Cave Church

View outside of Cave Church

To give us a chance to see some shopping splendor, Eszter next took us around the Budapest Nagy Vasarcsarnok (or Great Market Hall). The market was really nice. It was well lit, very spacious, and still didn't feel imposing. It was an interesting cultural experience.

Carol and Clark tried to haggle for a crocheted lace table runner, but the price was just too expensive. They offered a small cash discount, but it was still largely out of the price point one would expect to spend on a souvenir.

While the Currens tried to haggle, Kris was busy salivating over Hungarian langos.

Our next stop was purely awesome and all thanks to Carol. Budapest has something popping up called "ruin bars", and we got to go to Szimpla Kertmozi, one of the most famous of them, thanks to Carol's research.  This is not a normal tour stop.

The premise is decorating with items that others have thrown away or considered trash, and the effect is really cool!
Our nutty group

There may not be kangaroos in Austria, but I found some in Hungary.

Oh Kris...

They have an autograph wall, and Carol and Kris each took a turn...so Queetar has been immortalized in Hungary.


While everyone else was busy learning about Hungary's important figures at our next stop (Heroes Square), I was busy watching and taking photos of a Hungarian dance troupe who were filming what I had to imagine was a dance video. It was cold, and they were in some skimpy clothes poor girls. They looked excellent though!

Our tour was over much too quickly, and we soon had to drop Carol and Clark off at their boat for their river cruise. Eszter gave us some bus passes and offered to take us back to our hotel, but Kris and I opted to walk back.

We walked across the Danube river by bridge and got back to our hotel to find we'd gotten turndown service and been left a free bottle of water and some delectable desserts. The Hilton Budapest treats their gold members really well!

We were hungry, so we opted to go to the executive lounge reception. They had enough of a spread that we were able to satisfy ourselves for dinner. There were finger sandwiches and salad, fruit, hot tiny bites, and, of course, beverages.

We had been told, by Eszter, about the Hilton Budapest now occupying the space of an old monastery and walked to go explore the remains. The courtyard is fascinating, and, while down there, we noticed it was like a golden glowing hour for how Parliament was illuminated.

We quickly ran to the Fisherman's Bastion to snap some photos of the magical glow coming from the buildings before eating dessert and calling it a night.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
We took a long walking tour across Budapest to the Budapest-Nyugati station to get to a small town called Vac in Hungary. Along the way, we saw a bus driving in the Danube.

The train ride to Vac is only 30 minutes from Budapest, and the big draw in Vac are some old mummies fairly recently (all things considered) uncovered. Unfortunately, we did not know that the museum where the mummies are held is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (everything I found online just said Mondays).

Regardless, it was really interesting to go to a small Hungarian town. It hadn't the wealth of Budapest, but the residents seem to have pride in their property. We got some reasonably priced, tasty gelato and strolled around the town and riverbank.

The prison in Vac

We wound up running into a graduation ceremony...seemed like almost the entire town was in attendance. I thought it odd that all of the graduates were wearing white gloves. Love seeing traditions of other places.

After unsuccessfully finding a place for lunch (they seem to only sell dessert in Vac), we arrived back to Nyugati station and decided to split a really quick lunch at the shopping mall attached. The only sign we could decipher was salad, pizza, and a drink for the equivalent of $7 or so. Since we could physically see the slice of pizza and types of salad in front of us, we opted to go for it. Hungarian is hard to understand!

Bellies full, we continued our walking tour of Budapest. First stop - one of the fanciest McDonalds ever. Seriously! Probably one of the fanciest in the world. This thing is built into an old train station. They use real silverware and have multiple floors.
This is a McDonalds!

The outside of McDonalds.

We continued our walk into the Jewish quarter which we had glimpsed with our tour with Eszter, Carol, and Clark. We opted to tour the Budapest House of Terror although we were half an hour shy of the two hours they suggest to go through it. The Budapest Museum of Terror is actually housed in the former headquarters for the secret police of the Nazi and Communist governments. The awning with the word TERROR inscribed seems quite appropriate. Hundreds of innocent Jewish people were executed in the basement of this building. We actually had to wait quite a while to descend into the basement via elevator. It turned out the wait was due to a three-minute video of a guard explaining the execution process. Needless to say, it was chilling....ominous...dark.

Kris got one photo of the basement.

They have a really nice memorial on the facade of the building with photographs, names, and dates to help remember those who needlessly suffered.

Not that everything we've done in Europe has been depressing...we have spent our fair share of time looking at playgrounds and marveling at the cool things inside. It sure is nice to see playgrounds where kids can still get hurt. Those are the best toys!
Thought this looked like fun

Tired, we opted to go back to the hotel, clean up, and relax in the executive lounge for a while enjoying free beverages and food when it arrived.

 After a solid amount of relaxation and photo/blog editing while we waited for dark to arrive, we walked around old town for nighttime photographs. Budapest really is a twinkling city.

The illuminated part you see here are bugs.  Kris did an extended shutter.  Cool effect.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Since we stayed up late taking photos the night before, we had a very leisurely morning and breakfast checking out late and getting the Hilton Budapest to hold our bags. We went to Hospital in the Rock (Sziklakorhaz Muzeum), a very short distance from our hotel, for an interesting tour of a facility that functioned as a secret emergency hospital and nuclear bunker during World War II until July 1945. It was reopened during the 1956 Revolution to treat wounded civilians and soldiers.

They don't allow you to take photos once inside, but it's worth going. The only real problem I had was that they don't cap the tours, so my being at the back of the line really hurt me. I often couldn't hear the guide or fit into the room she was speaking about until other people had seen the entire thing and left.
Kris sneaked a photo.

The website actually has a great summary of the history and some wonderful photos: http://www.sziklakorhaz.eu/en/tortenet.

After the tour, we headed to the local train station to pick up an all day transportation pass. While there, Kris got a ham and corn slice of pizza. He liked it, but he was definitely skeptical at first.
Corn pizza?

Then we got on the local tram to the Zero Kilometer statue (some math thing) before riding the tram back and taking an underground train to the stop nearest to Parliament.

Zero kilometer sculpture and our initials.

We walked over to get a better view of Shoes on the Danube - a memorial to Jewish people in Budapest who were mistreated by the Nazi regime. Eszter had explained the day before that they would tie a line of Jewish people together, take them to the riverfront, make them take off their shoes since they were made of nice leather, and then they'd shoot only one of the people in the line (so they only had to use one bullet) and push them into the river so everyone else would drown. It's a pretty powerful memorial with shoes of varying sizes and type.

We tried to go to the electric museum next, but, although we were there during open hours according to every source we could find, we couldn't figure out how to get inside. While there, a motorcycle rider rode up to the doors that said "Tesla" outside and pressed an intercom button. A person opened the doors and let them in. When I asked him how we could get in, he shouted at me in Hungarian and slammed the door shut. We decided we didn't want to give that museum our money anymore.

Hearing it had an interior worth seeing, we went to the Book Cafe where Kris got a slice of cake, and I enjoyed the interior and piano stylings of the house musician.

After another underground train ride, we wound up near Heroes Square again...but didn't even realize it. We were tracking down the Anonymous Statue...a math statue that is thought to be good luck on exams if you rub the pen the statue is holding.
The escalators in Budapest's underground station move quickly!
 It was found in a courtyard with some beautiful museums, complete with a protective dog.


Kris and the Anonymous Statue

We also found a nice park and some gorgeous flowers.

We relaxed in the park a while before getting back on public transportation to the Hilton Budapest to get our bags, get back on the underground, and get to the Budapest-Keleti station for our overnight sleeper train to Berlin.

Before boarding, I watched the bags so Kris could run in and grab beverages, snacks, and dinner for the train. I was obviously thrilled by the selection, but he really did the best he could in the time we'd allotted ourselves.

While on the train, I even took a shower. Let me tell you...that was a trick. The water runs less than 30 seconds before you have to press the button to make it run again...but it was a fun experience to shower in a moving train. It was definitely more fun to shower in the train than to try to sleep in the train which Kris seemed to do fine...but I did not. (I'll never figure out why I can sleep better sitting up in a seat in a train with my head bobbing than laying fully flat on the train. Mysterious of life.)
To use the shower, you move the sink over the toilet then press a button to get the water to come out in 30 second intervals.