Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Day 2 - Budapest, Hungary
I posted my first blog early last evening and things went a little bit strange from then on. The guy who owns my hostel, Alex, decided to take me under his wing and show me the sights and sounds of Budapest at night...
The old town is full of run down residential buildings with which the government can't quite decide what to do, and so locals turn them into underground bars. They're all over the city, but it seems that their location changes from time to time when renovation finally takes place. They generally consist of a makeshift bar, a DJ and a number of tables and chairs, none of which match each other. It was in such establishments that I spent the evening; drinking the local fruit brandy "Palinka" and talking to a mad Hungarian and a Finnish bodybuilder about how similar their two languages are, and that they are descended from the same Finno-Ugric roots. My newFinnish friends and Alex (who once worked in Ireland) eventually fell out quite spectacularly over the former's insistance on using the word "craic" and the latter's hatred of drugs.
The night ended in the driving wind and rain with my new Hungarian friend showing me around the city's sights at 2 in the morning; the locals call Palinka "liquid jacket" because after a few shots you don't need a coat - all I can imagine is that it doesn't really work on tourists.
And so I overslept this morning and didn't get nearly as much as I'd like done. Saw the Ignác Semmelweis museum, which goes through the history of medicine including Mr Semmelweis's discovery that it is necessary for Doctors to wash their hands in order to stop disease from spreading. It seems obvious now, but at the time it was revolutionary, especially as to admit that washing hands could save lives tacitly admitted that for many years doctors had been inadvertantly killing their patients.
From there, and with only a coffee inside me, I braved the driving rain again, determined to stop at the first possibility for food. It turned out to be a Subway - not a complete cultural disaster as I found that the Hungarian word for meatballs was husgomboc, and as any good QI fan knows, a Gomboc is also the name of the first mono-monostatic object, invented in Hungary. What that has to do with meatballs, I am yet to find out.
Anyway, it was getting colder, wetter and darker, so I decided to head over to the mineral baths. Apparantly Budapest is only bettered by Reykjavik as a capital city of thermal spas. Unfortunately I'd left my swimming costume in the hostel, so decided to try to buy one there and was horrified to find out that all I could do was rent some. YUK! Ah well, thermal baths are supposed to be good for skin diseases, so perhaps the two cancel each other out, I thought, and got involved with the Széchenyi Baths which is one of the largest bathing complexes in Europe, and the home of those pictures of old men playing chess while sitting in a swimming pool. The skin was very wrinkled by the time I got out, but anything that smelled that much like rotten eggs (all the sulphur) must've been good for me - despite the pair of second-hand trunks.
I include a picture of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge over the Danube. The story goes that János Marchalkó who made the sculptures was extremely proud and thought them perfect in every way. When he overheard people mocking them because he had forgotten to include their tongues, he was so embarrassed that he jumped into the river. The Danube is supposed to look blue and inviting in the summer, but no amount of embarrassment would have gotten me in there today.