I figured this one was appropriate for my first real day in Hungary, as the most impressive sight (most is quite the big deal too, as everything has been amazing to see so far!) was the Royal Palace (Királyi Palota) up on the hill and the Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) connecting Buda and Pest across the Danube River (Duna). While Rome was beautiful by night it just cannot compare to the way these buildings look down over the rest of the city lit up in golden splendor. I love it - one night in and I think it’s pretty magnificent.
Today started a little late as mom and I intended. We probably ended up leaving the hotel room a little after 11:00. We wanted to just sleep off whatever haze traveling yesterday put us in. This worked for mom. It would have worked for me had we not had the 6 hour layover in Zurich (which was awesome and I would again trade a day dealing with jet lag for it), so I ended up taking a nap later in the day around 13:00 (gotta get used to military time again). I also woke up to a mild anxiety attack -what the heck am I doing here? Who in their right mind thought this was a good idea for me? Two years? Are you kidding me? I was pretty sure I’d be content just staying in that big comfortable hotel bed until it was time to move to my less big and probably less comfortable dorm bed where I would just waste away for two years (or they kicked me out early, probably). But, as I am an adventurer first and a coward second, I made my way from beneath my sheets and got ready to start my day.
We started our day like any good tourist does - by leaving the hotel and trying to find an ATM. This wasn’t such a big deal, except for there being 3 ATMs and the first one we chose worked only for people who banked with the branch we were using. It probably told me all of this on the nice sign above the ATMs, but as I am not yet fluent in Hungarian we learned our lesson from the nice message on the machine - in English.
So we just decided to use today to get our bearings on the city. So we just aimlessly wandered around the area our hotel is located in. Since our hotel is old and luxurious it should have come as no shock that it’s located right by Váci Utca (vaht-see oot-zah) - one of the most touristy as well as expensive streets in Budapest. It has long been considered the street where the elite of Pest do their shopping, today it’s where the elite of the tourist world do theirs (Nike, Lacoste, Puma, and other higher-end stores are only the low end stores here). It’s also considered to be the most Western cultural section of Budapest - with McDonalds, Subway, Burger King and more lining their streets.
After winding our way down Váci Utca we took a random right and ended up with our noses to the Danube (and thankfully not in the Danube, there are a few stretches where the railing bordering the Danube is no more and people just go sit with their legs dangling off the embankment. There’s no ease down to the water, just a steep drop-off). Hello beautiful view (hello resisting trying to waltz down the banks). The Danube is wide and punctuated by some beautiful bridges. We’re located between the Chain Bridge and the Elisabeth Bridge - so we walked down the Danube up to the Chain Bridge. It was sunny, there was a breeze blowing across the river. This is where all my tensions about being here wafted away (okay, not all of them, but it sounded a lot better than “here I felt a tiny bit better about leaving the safety of the US for two years for this country where I can’t even read basic street signs). This is also where we realized we were famished (and I realized I was dehydrated from the flights yesterday and that I desperately needed a nap - curse you jet lag!) So where did we eat? Burger King. Quick, easy, but not cheap.
Let me tell you something about Europe. Unlike America where Large is the new Small, when they say small here, they mean SMALL. We’re talking the size of a combined two Dixie Cups. And small is pretty much what most Europeans order. Their Large (or in some places, XL) are what most fast food joins in the good ol’ USofA considers to be a small. Just goes to show you how super sized we’ve all become.
After my glorious nap we wandered out the doors again and this time went to the right. Mom found a Lutheran Church (well, the oldest Lutheran Church in Budapest) and decided we needed to go in. It was pretty, no where near the magnitude of beauty and ornate splendor I’m used to from Rome, but it was cute. Very simple with a gorgeous altar painting. Then right next door to the church was the museum of Lutheran History. Complete with the original last will and testament of R. Martin Luther himself - written in his own hand. So that was neat. There were a lot of other documents and memorabilia, but everything was in Hungarian with no translations (except the will, there was a translation of that) and just a short guide book (that was written and translated by the people who run the museum, so it was pretty sparse and only talked about the things that were most prominence. It was pretty interesting to see all the bibles translated to Hungarian with all the ornate drawings and detailing.
We had dinner at a little place in the square by our hotel. Mom and I split a salad (with sun dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, and parmesan cheese) and a caprese pizza. It was quite delicious. Not too expensive, but in all honesty I’m not that sure. Money here is weird. For every USD you get about 200Ft. Which means something that costs $5 at home costs 1,000Fts. Wrap your head around that conversion. After dinner we walked down to the Danube again (still resisting the urge to waltz) and took some nice nighttime photos of the view. Even with how beautiful it was by day, its beauty was at least tenfold at night. They are in the midst (well, the tail-end) of a folk festival so there were little food stands set up along the river’s edge with music playing and people galore. Mom and I wandered down the little street, marveled at the food we should have eaten instead of pizza, and people watched. Oh my word, the smells wafting out of the tents of food were heavenly. I would have eaten six of everything if I had had the space in my stomach. I settled for some chocolate ice cream and just enjoyed myself.
I’m thinking I may just love this city.