After the we got home from the wedding at 5:15 on Sunday morning, we desperately needed to sleep! We finally crawled out of bed at 11:30, just in time to throw some clothes on and grab one last lunch with Selma and Elliot before they headed to the airport. We recounted the hilarious dances, the amazing food, and all of the fun we had the night before.
We said goodbye to our hosts that afternoon and rested for the rest of the day. That is, until Shaun and Courtney came over! Surprise! Our friends, Shaun and Courtney Swensen, who we stayed with in Amsterdam, we in Budapest for the holiday weekend (Pentecost was Monday, and basically all of Europe has the day off). They came over for some drinks from about 10pm until about 3am - there's that time warp again! I'm not sure how we stayed up considering we were running on around 5 hours of sleep! We made a date to play the following night, Monday, to attend the Ruin Pub Tour.
Jake and I basically did nothing until our plans with Shaun and Court that night. We had them over for dinner (pork roast and onion bread leftovers for everyone!), and then took off to meet up with the Free Walking Tour people to check out the ruin pubs. About 15 years ago, bar owners took over abandoned buildings and turned them into bars. None of the buildings were renovated or restored, the pub simply moved in with whatever furniture it had (all old and none of it matching) and started pouring drinks. They range in size from itty bitty to multi-level with laser lights and loud music, and are all located in the Jewish District of Budapest. While they're mostly visited by tourists now, ruin pubs still get a lot of business from the locals. The free pub tour showed us three pubs, going from very small to the biggest ruin pub of all, the founding father of ruin pubs, Szimpla.
The four of us headed out to the meeting spot at 8pm, ready to see what this was all about. Jake and I had heard about these pubs for two weeks and were excited to finally see them, and to see a part of the city that we had yet to explore. Our group was pretty big, probably about 20 people, all eager to grab a beer. As we walked down the main street of the Jewish District, Courtney and I were in awe of all of the bars and restaurants, the lights strung up in the middle of the street, the energy of the place - this was a college kid's dream; tons of inexpensive food and drink everywhere, lots of people to talk to and dance with. We loved it already! At the first bar, a small, cantina-looking spot that looked quite normal (not yet "ruiny"), we met Hannah, a 29 year old engineer taking two weeks to travel by herself (go Hannah!), and Peter, a med student currently studying in Dublin in Budapest for the weekend. After 45 minutes, it was time to move on to bar #2 - a bigger place with 3 large rooms and 2 bars with mismatched couches and chairs; ah, there's some of the ruin-esque atmosphere we'd heard about. Our guide, Judith, told us we were building up to the grand finale, the biggest ruin pub of all. Court, Shaun, Jake and I grabbed a table near the bar and enjoyed our beers. It wasn't until Judith came to tell us we were leaving in 5 minutes that we realized no one else was around. "Where did everybody go?" we asked her. She told us that the whole group was sitting at a big table in the other room, together. "Oh no! Are we the anti-social ones?" She laughed, looked down, and said, "Yes, I think so." Oh dear. We don't want to be those people, so we wandered to the back of the bar with Judith and hung out with the group and headed to Szimpla together.
Szimpla was pretty awesome! There were several different bars - one for beer, one for wine, one for cocktails - many rooms for mingling and dancing, and the main "room" was open to the sky and surrounded by old brick walls from the neighboring buildings. There was old furniture stuck to the walls and sofas strewn about. I was surprised that the music was so loud because we couldn't hear it from the street! The pub was crowded with young people dancing, laughing, yelling. It was a sight! We settled in with our drinks and chatted with Hannah, Peter, and two more new friends, Sarah and AJ Richey. The Richeys are Americans who just spent the last few years living in Amsterdam and recently moved back to the US - clearly, they and the Swensens had lots in common! They decided to come back to Europe to see some of the places they didn't get a chance to visit while living over here, including Budapest. We had a blast getting to know them, and us girls decided that the three of us needed to take a trip to Miami and tear it up on the beach someday. Considering we’re all 30 and probably looking to have babies in the not-super-distant future, that Miami trip might have to wait awhile, but I'm in!
The Pub Tour was great - we met lots of people, including two French guys who reminded us, again, that Parisians are quite different from all other French people (reading between the lines, these guys were nice), and we got to see an interesting side to Budapest social life. I wish I could say that's where the night ended, on a nice high note. Unfortunately, there was a bit of drama. I was always told in college, and in Vegas, and at crowded bars in SF, and basically everywhere, to never set your drink down, and even better, keep your hand on top of the glass at all times so no one has the chance to drop anything in it. Well, I let my guard down, and my beer, and I'm pretty sure someone slipped something into my drink at the end of the night. A few minutes before we all headed out (me, Jake, Peter, Court, Shaun, AJ, and Sarah), we all finished off our beers. I remember everything up until the moment we stepped outside onto the sidewalk. The next thing I know, I'm at back at the apartment and I'm sick. I have no recollection of the 20 minute walk back. I know that I didn't consume an absurd amount of alcohol, certainly not any more than I'm used to drinking, and should not have been as drunk as I was to lead to a black out episode. I know that I don’t remember a significant portion of time, and my memory kicked back in when in after my body ridded itself of the toxin. I know that I was more hungover than I have ever been in my life and spent the entire next day in bed - even in my worst hangovers in college I could get up and be somewhat productive. This was the first time I had ever felt like this, and I kept repeating that night as Jake helped me in the bathroom "I've been drugged. I've been drugged." I don’t know when it would have happened, or who would have done it, but I'm quite certain that my drink was spiked.
I'm not telling this story to scare anyone, or to make anyone call the police and start an investigate (Mom, I promise I'm fine!) But this blog isn’t just to tell the sunny side of things. I want to document all of the big things we do and experience, the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, the bright side is, I'm fine, I was with my husband the whole time and nothing worse happened to me. The moral of the story is - stay vigilant! Always, ALWAYS, keep a keen eye on your drinks!
On Wednesday I was starting to feel a little bit better, and had regained a small bit of energy, so Jake and I took a short walk to Dohaney Synagogue and walked around the outside. Being the second largest synagogue in Europe, it took us a while to walk the perimeter! We did not go in because it cost a bit more than we would have liked, so we admired to detailed exterior from the sidewalk. Happy to be outside, we decided to continue our walk and headed off to St. Stephen's Basilica to explore the inside (free entrance, woohoo!). The church was beautiful - detailed mosaics with sparkling gold, red and blue marble decorating the wall, a brilliant shining dome that crowned the interior. We sat down for a few minutes to listen to a man practicing the organ before continuing to wander. Before we left, we popped into the small chapel where the mummified right fist of St. Stephen is kept in a little glass house. Pretty strange, if you ask me, but people love to come and pray next to the fist.
By Thursday, I was feeling almost normal (yay!) and we took a day trip to the tiny "bend town" (on the bend of the Danube), Szentendre! We took the train about an hour north and arrived just as the little town was waking up, around 9:30am. The main square is marked with a cross in the middle, signifying that the town was never harmed by the plague. Little shops filled with souvenirs and strange knick knacks dotted the few streets that stem from the square. We wandered up a small hill to a church and walked inside - this was, probably, the weirdest looking church I've ever been in. It was dusty and cluttered, and looked like everything was, I don't know, fake, almost cartoonish. Usually, statues and paintings and figures in churches have soft, but lifelike, features; angels are beautiful and saints strong and reverent. The figures in this church looked, well, silly. And there were flags on posts in the middle of the pews and dingy carpets at the altar. The whole site was not what I have gotten used to seeing in European churches. We walked out and said to each other, Well THAT was interesting." As we wandered back down the steps to the main square, we popped into a small hidden langos stand for a freshly fried langos with powdered sugar (per TripAdvisor, langos in Szentendre is supposed to be some of the best in the country.
I say it's hard to screw up fried dough, but anyway…) - this kicked the pants off of any donut or funnel cake I've had (ok except that one donut from Venice, THAT thing was absurdly delicious). We'd pretty much seen all there was to see in Szentendre and went to see about catching a boat to Visegrad, an even smaller fortified town up the river. We discovered that, not only would the boat ride take 2 hours (and even Rick Steves said there was nothing to do in that town other than visit the castle…not worth it), but the boat wasn't even running that day. So our day trip was turning into more of a half-day trip as we'd seen pretty much all there was to see. We had one last stop to make, though, before boarding our train back to Budapest - the Marzipan Museum! As I described in an earlier post, I love Marzipan, so we definitely needed to spend the 1000 forints (about $5) to see what this was all about. This place is strangest thing I have ever seen, hands down. It was a small house filled with busts, small houses, fairytale scene, and lifestyles replicas of Michael Jackson and Lady Di, all made out of marzipan! Do I know why Szentendre found marzipan to be so important? Nope. Do I know why they thought these sculptures needed a whole house just for them? Nope? Do I know why they continue to build these things in the kitchen of the house (that looks more like a lab)? Nope. But was it worth it? Oh hell yes! We had fun poking around all of these odd figures before dashing back to the train. I can see my TripAdvisor review now - "Szentendre - go for the langos, stay for the life changing Marzipan Museum". Oh but here's a big plus - I replaced my stolen scarf with a super cute one from a little store off the square! Slowly but surely I'm replacing my things.
I know what you're thinking, "How can this week get any crazier?! That Marzipan place sounds wild!". Well, it didn't really. I woke up with a cold on Friday, cough, stuffy nose, the works. I guess the lack of sleep and wild parties from the weekend prior finally caught up with me and my body said "No more!". So on Friday, we rested until Date Night! Yes, I know, when we're taking 10 months off from routine life, it probably seems silly to call it Date Night, more like Date Year, but I'm calling it Date Night. Anyway, we went to the movies and saw and English showing of Mad Max! We'd seen the poster everywhere, and heard a ton of overwhelmingly positive reviews for it, and decided that we just had to catch this one in theaters. And it was pretty awesome - the chase scenes (which is basically 90% of the movie) are outrageous, and Charlize Theron is pretty badass. To go all move critic on you, I'd say the film is more about her character than it is about Mad Max. I'll spare you the rest of my review and just say that we thought it was a really fun show!
Saturday we decided we hadn’t done enough shopping and headed back to West End Mall. Jake was on the hunt for shorts - it's starting to get hot hot hot - and I needed a belt for my striped skirt-that-is-also-a-dress. Success all around.
For our last full day in Budapest we actually decided to head out for another day trip, this time to Bratislava! We took the train about 3 hours northwest to Slovakia and spend several hours exploring the small town. We had originally planned to spend 3 nights there, but Selma said the town is very small and can really be done, and done well, in a day. I'm glad we took her advice because she was right! We arrived at 10am and got into the center of the old town just in time for a free walking tour. With our guide, Daniella, we wandered the town for about 2.5 hours, learning about how Slovakia actually has a great relationship with the Czech Republic after the split of Czechoslovakia (a rarity among Eastern European divides), that Bratislava actually voted FOR communist rule back in the day (yikes), that "the most famous picture of 1968" was mislabeled as part of Prague Spring - the man who bore his chest in front of a communist tank during the Velvet Revolution was actually in Bratislava, not Prague.
Other sites that we loved were the odd "Man at Work" statue - a copper figure climbing out of a man-hole, Michael's Gate - the only gate (of the original four) that was not demolished and still shows the rope coil for the draw bridge (I love that the holes for the ropes were not filled in and painted over - it's pretty cool to be able to see that far back into history), and the marshmallow-like blue Roman Catholic Church. Daniella had some other fun facts for us, as well: while the terrifying movie "Hostel" took place in Bratislava, it was not filmed there and the director had never actually been there, and backpacking tourism in the city dropped by 70% after its release; Slovaks and Austrians got to vote on the name of the bridge that connects the two counties - Slovaks wanted it to be called "Chuck Norris Bridge" (seriously), but they lost out to "Freedom Cycling Bridge". Boring.
For lunch we took the advice of our favorite travel podcasters, Travis and Heather Sherry at ExtraPackofPeanuts.com, and went to Flagship - a huge place made of dark wood with three levels of tables and chairs. On EPOP's list of favorite meals, Trav mentioned the potato dumplings with sheep cheese so we couldn't pass it up. Since I have trouble making decisions, especially when it comes to what to eat, we settled on a platter for 2 that had three things on it: dumplings (like little potato nuggets) with sauerkraut and bacon, dumplings (like potstickers) with sheep cheese in the middle and more on top with sour cream and bacon, and dumplings (those little nuggets again) with a sheep cheese sauce (kinda like Slovakian mac and cheese) with bacon (clearly this was the low fat meal). We washed it all down with Zlaty beer, a local lager. After the giant meal I was stuffed and sleepy! We walked around for another 30 minutes before making the call to run for the train - we had 25 minutes to get there and were a little over a mile away. We power walked our lunch off and happily made it back in time to board. I slept for 2/3 of the trip home (no one is surprised). We were too full to eat dinner, so we puttered around the apartment and reminisced on the last 3 weeks. How lucky we are to be able to be in Budapest, to be able to stay in such an amazing home and meet the most wonderful people! We love this place and will definitely return!
Our Monday was simple - we packed, I wrote this post, and Jake went to the office to try to get customs to release my computer that we should have received last week. If he's unable to get it, we'll have to make a day trip back to Budapest from Vienna to retrieve it. Hopefully Victor, who seems to know everyone in this town, can work his magic and we'll be able to get it! For now, I'm sitting in the living room of this gorgeous apartment, looking out the window at the tree-lined street with the museum in the background, thinking about how much I will miss this place.
On to the next adventure!