Saturday, December 31, 2011

It Feels Like Home...

Everytime I leave Barcelona and come back, it feels more like home. I think its the familiar to the unfamiliar and back again that makes it feel that way.

I don't have to think about getting to my friend's house- I just get on the metro and autopilot takes over. I don't have to think "I wonder if they'll have this, or that, at the grocery store"- I know they either do or they don't. Street signs and packaging are easier to read, the money is simple to use (unlike forints which are a weird conversion). When I go away, I miss bravas. When I come back, I know where to go to get them (and I know who to take to sample tortilla while I indulge in the spicy deliciousness). I feel at home in my room, even though I wish the walls weren't stark white- it's filled with my things, and I've already re-arranged it!

These are just a few of the small things that make me know that this place is truly special to me. Don't get me wrong, I miss Canada more than I can say, because I miss the people and the food, but for now Spain is where I'll stay. It's a lifestyle decision.

On that note, I'm glad to say: I'm home from Budapest!

Sunrise from the plane...

Good morning Mediterranean Sea!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


People are so nice when they know that you're sick. I've been shown more love and hospitality, and given more words of encouragement in the last 12 hours than I have in the last month all-together!

Let me start at the beginning:

Yesterday started much as any other day has here in Budapest: me waking up early and waiting for everyone else to be up and lively.

Once our group was ready to go though, we headed off to the thermal baths in City Park. The walk there was only about 20 min, and lovely. (We stopped on the way for some questionable chicken schnitzel sandwiches). Once there, we bought tickets and headed to the changing rooms. (But not before we took the opportunity for photos of the hot outdoor baths. Huge changing areas with nifty watchband locks, showers, hairdryers: the works.

 The walk to the bath, along Andrassy Ut

Heros Square in City Park

The Museum of Fine Arts

We came across this pond that was steaming! (likely because there are hot springs under the entire city...)

Mysical :)


I just liked this one, so I thought I'd share!

And this one..

The outside of Szechenyi Spa

The sign above the door

Alaska, Montreal, Toronto (another one!), Madrid and I can't remember where he's from..

Toronto, Me and Alaska! You girls are awesome!

Outside, we ran straight from the warm building, into the cold winter air, and into the steaming water of the first bath we came across. The girls had agreed to meet the boys, however, the sheer size of the place meant that we didn't meet them until much later. The girls spent about half an hour soaking in the swimming-pool-sized bath with hundreds of other people, standing over the air jets, and taking a tour from the lovely, Montreal. We decided to try the indoor pools, so we made a run for it to the sauna. The saunas in this place can fit anywhere from 10-30 people; sweaty, sweaty people. The heat was so extreme that my necklace was starting to burn my neck. We met up with one of the guys at this point, and made another run for it to the indoor pools. There were probably 15 different rooms, each with at least one pool, all with different temperatures, and different features. Some were sitting pools, some were swirling pools (the one we tried was COLD so two of us backed out while Montreal took the plunge!) And some were exercise pools.

We met my friend, Toronto, who was supposed to be having a massage. Apparently you need to specify when you want a specific gender massage-therapist.. He didn't want a dude massaging him (wimp!) Outside again and into a hotter bath than the first one we tried (the first was 34 degrees, and the second 38, and the 4 degrees made a world of difference!) This bath had a waterfall type feature that meant that the entire pool was covered by a misty steam that made it near impossible to see more than a few feet in front of you. It was starting to get dark by this point, and the lights were coming on. It was really quite lovely.

All in all, the thermal baths were well worth the 3200 HUF (approx. 16 euros) to go in. We probably spent a good 4 hours there and it was a lovely, relaxing experience. I now know why people stay in Budapest. (Not that I didn't before, but its much more evident now!)

I think my mom would really enjoy the baths, once she got over the idea of sitting in warm pools with hundreds of people, anyway.

Shower, change, bundle (but not too much inside because your body is still so hot from the baths). We headed back to the hostel in two groups, checked out an all-you-can-eat buffet on the way and decided that 16 euros was far too much to pay for the evening's meal. We got another recommendation for another Hungarian restaurant in the area. At 7pm, I lead the group to Barladino Which was only about two blocks away.

Some people asked the server a million question before ordering, and we were pretty sure she hated us. Goulash again for most of us, chicken strips with wildberry sauce and croquettes and Hungarian pasta with mushroom sauce was what I got (split with another person). This was about the time the sickness started to set in. I ate my whole bowl of Goulash, but it took me a while. After that came the chicken and all I had to do was look at it to know that it wasn't going to go down well. Its that feeling of impending hours of ill that comes just as you smell something that normally would be delicious. Not today. I must have visited the washroom 5 times in the hour and a half that we were there. (I only gagged the last time). By the time the bill got to us, I felt a light sweat coming on, and looking at the bill was just confusing.

At the hostel, I laid down for a while, watching a movie with some other people, but a bed is much better than a couch, so I went to bed around 10:30. Everyone else was headed out, so thankfully there wasn't much noise in the place.

Details are clearly not necessary, but I will say I woke up at 1:38 and made a run for it (which is actually quite impressive that I made it, considering that I'm on the top bunk!)

After that, I went upstairs to get some hot water and try to relax some more. I ended up settin up in a small room with only a small couch and a tv: Just me, my water and a garbage can. Cozy.

In the hours since being sick, I have been offered water probably 30 times, tea, electrolytes (which I accepted), blankets, back rubs, a pillow, ear plugs, my cell phone, and various offers of shout, or message me if you need anything. Oh, and a kiss on the cheek from Alaska before she left this morning. All of these offers of kindness are very much appreciated. I've moved from my cozy bed this morning as little as possible, writing this post on my BlackBerry between catnaps. I should probably move to my bed at some point...


I did move from my bed, and visited the world's second largest Synagogue with Toronto. It was lovely. I was a little slow moving today, obviously, so we didn't spend alot of time walking around, but we spent enough. I took pictures of him so that he could show his family what a good Jewish boy he is.

The Jewish Synagogue


Good Christian Girl at the Synagogue. God still lives there, right?

There is a mass graveyard outside the Synagogue in the garden and this sign, along with two signs each with a couple hundred names on them are in the garden.
Never Again!
Dinner was tomato soup at a local restaurant. Now to relax, grab a shower and wait for 3am when we'll grab a cab to the airport in order to make it back to Barcelona.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Buda. Pest. Boxing Day.

So I guess I should add a pre-cursor to this blog and let you know that I'll be adding pictures once I'm back to my own trusty laptop in Spain, so if you're reading this post, come back in a few days and there should be pictures added.

Boxing day started a little frustrating for me, if you hadn't guessed by my post yesterday (and the fact that some people seem to need more than a few hours of shut-eye before venturing out for the day. I mean, really, why can't you go for three days on eight hours of sleep??) it took forever for things to get going!

Anyway, so once we got everyone up and moving around, we went to the Free Walking Tour. Only, we missed the tour by about ten minutes, so we toured ourselves. One of the guys from the hostel had showed us a few places that they would be taking us on the tour, so we went there ourselves. It wasn't a very nice or clear day out yesterday (and it isn't today either) so we skipped the Citadel where you can get a view of the whole city. No point in looking out over Pest from the highest point in Buda when you're not going to see more than you can from The Castle. We got pictures of Parliament and The Castle, and the Chain Bridge which we walked across, and a few of the buildings and statues. We saw the Opera House, but we didn't bother taking a tour. We tried to go to Terror House (which is a museum of two of the worst periods in Hungarian history- the Nazi regime and the Communist period) but the museum is closed on Mondays. We'll do that later today.

A Lamp Post. :)

The Basilica



A statue of a police man.. clearly had to get a photo with him!

I think this was a University.. I could be wrong.

A statue by the University

First picture of The Chain Bridge

Pretty sure this is Mathias Church in Buda

The Chain Bridge with The Castle behind it


The Duna River between Buda and Pest (they are now one city, but this river divides the halves and they are still lightly referred to by their former names)

The Citadell in Buda

Part of The Castle

The Chain Bridge from the Buda side.


A Statue at The Castle

The Parliament Buildings in Pest. I believe it's the largest in Europe, but I could be wrong.


Another shot of Buda (notice that Pest is flat, and Buda is hilly)

Another statue- they are very proud of their hunting days!

Woof. :)

The University all lit up!

The Chain Bridge all lit up!

This is a wall of chains outside the Terror House. Its a museum of horrors based on the Hungarian experience of the Nazi and Soviet regimes. We didn't get to go, but I really wanted to!

We decided to try a recommended little place for some traditional Goulash.

It. Was. Delicious!

For those you who don't know what Goulash is, it is a tasty beef and vegetable soup type dish. The guy who was serving us in the small restaurant tried to tell us it was spicy. Maybe to Hungarians paprika is spicy, but this Goulash wasn't spicy at all. One of the girls, we'll call her Alaska, asked what the difference was between Goulash and Beef Stew. His reactions was: "Well... Everything." She asked about the Fish soup and he then proceeded to try to explain that the fish soup is pureed. "You won't find any carrots swimming around in there". Really? Swimming? HAHA! Such a funny moment in my life. We were all dying with laughter on the inside while trying not to offend the man or embarrass him by laughing out loud, lest he decide to really spice our Goulash or add some extra flavouring of his own. Speaking of spice, we also had Mulled Wine. It is also a tradition in Hungary, and reminds me of something similar to hot cider. It has a few spices in it, but isn't spicy either, and it is essentially hot wine with some fruit in it (imagine hot sangria with some spice).

After dinner, it was back to the hostel to find out what everyone else was up to. It turns out that there was another night of drinking in store. Cheap drinks too. We got directions to the place and decided to chill for a bit and play some Foosball before going out. Brazi's vs. Canadians. (The Brazi's schooled us, but they did it nicely... and at least the one guy kept his shirt on this time!)

Out at the bar there was karaoke going on... enough said.

I didn't sing, of course, but I sang along while other people did. We got a bit of a dance party going on, and in true Bethalona fashion, I managed to allude a few of the drunken gentlemen to whom I must have looked as drunk as they were (otherwise I can't see why they would think I'd be down to make out with them in a dark corner).

On the way home the group of us decide to stop at MacDonald's. Double cheeseburgers at 3a.m. are the same in every country, and the fries ended far sooner than they should have. I definitely did not have enough to eat for a day of walking and dancing yesterday.

Once back at the hostel, none of us were tired yet, so we stayed up chillin in the lounge area. There was a bit of a water war going on and some of us got drenched (it's okay, we got the others back just as bad!). There was also an M&M war, but I stayed out of that one (I do not believe in cruelty against M&M's or wastefulness when it comes to those tasty treats). Finally around 5a.m. the party wound down and we all went to bed.

I've been up this morning since 8:30 (yes, three hours of sleep) so we'll see how the day goes. We haven't done anything yet, but we're planning on visiting the Thermal Baths and walking around City Park.We'll try to make it to the Terror House and the Synagogue. ... Yes, you read that right, I 'm going to a Synagogue. My friend is Jewish and he'd like to see it, so we'll go. It's the second largest Synagogue in the world, so I guess if I'm going to go to a Synagogue, this would be the one to go to! 

Well, I suppose I should get off the computer and hope that the girls we're meeting come back from the train station soon!

Buenos dias!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Budapest Christmas

Merry Christmas (actually, its Boxing Day, so I hope you're all out shopping and getting those great deals at every and any store possible, and not getting trampled by the crazy people who just have to shove you out of the way to get that brand new controller for their wii).

I'm in Budapest! You may be wondering why I'm in Budapest and spending time to blog.. Well, it's because my travel companion (along with many of the others who are staying at this hostel) is still sleeping. I'm assuming he had a late night last night as when I went to bed, most people were still up watching movies (or out partying). I was falling asleep to Hook at 1:30a.m., so I went to bed.

Let me start from the beginning and tell you what's happened so far:

Friday night I spent hanging out with some friends in Barcelona, spending a little quality time before I'd be gone for 5 days, so I cabbed home at 2:00a.m. and didn't make it to bed until about 2:30. I slept fitfully, waking up ever 20 minutes, either to a BBM message from the friend I had just left who was apparently also not sleeping, or with a start thinking "OMG did my alarm go off?! Did I miss my flight?!" I finally got up at 6:15a.m. to get ready, finish packing and head out to the airport. I left my house at 7a.m.Once at the airport, I kept having tiny panic attacks that my bag would be too heavy, or too big and I'd have to check it. Thankfully, no one even looked at my bag, even as I boarded the plane. I slept most of the way on the plane, simply because of sheer exhaustion, but as we were descending, the pain in my head was too extreme to sleep through.

As with the other countries I've been to, once you're off the plane, you need to navigate your way through the airport and to whatever train/bus/metro will take you where you need to be. In some places, the signs in the airport or train terminals are in two languages (typically, the language of the country, and English). This is not the case in Budapest. The signs are only in Hungarian. Being that I've never had to read a Hungarian sign of any sort, this posed a challenge for me. I exchanged money at the airport and found out where the train station is. I boarded the train that would take me into Budapest and arrived at the station. From here, I was on my own. The people in that area were somewhat sketchy and I wasn't sure I really wanted to make myself known as a lost tourist, so I walked with purpose with my bag strapped to my back, feeling heavier and heavier by the minute. I finally had to give in and ask someone where to go, because there were no signs pointing to ANY streets, let alone the street I wanted to be on. I had looked up directions and put a map in my phone so that I wouldn't get lost. The person I asked directions from didn't speak any English, but he was able to point me in the direction of the street, so I am thankful for that.

I walked about six blocks and then found my hostel. I won't post any pictures of the front of the hostel, because I suppose the first floor of this particular building is actually a sex shop. I'm not sure what the words say, but the articles in the windows suggest a Hungarian version of the Stag Shop. I was a little hesitant, but I rang the hostel and was let up to the 4th floor. The hostel staff are great. They're very friendly and very helpful. There were quite a few people in the place when I got there, because it is actually the Hungarian Christmas on December 24th, so they were preparing Christmas dinner with 3 other hostels in the Carpe Noctem family.

I put my things down in my room, met a few people and signed online to let my family know I was here and safe. There were Christmas movies playing, so I joined the people watching them. We played games (well, I watched) but the headache I got from the plane ride got too intense for me to stand it, so I went to siesta around 5:30p.m. Mike was to arrive around 7, so when he got there, we both napped for about an hour before heading back upstairs to the common room. My headache was much better by now, so we chatted with everyone before dinner at 9. I was first in line for dinner (I hadn't had anything but a peanut butter sandwich since waking up, so I was hungry). They piled a plate FULL of food, of which I probably ate half before I felt like I was going to die of over-consumption. We drank hot wine (a Hungarian tradition) and got ready to go out. I found out that the two Americans I had met from New York were staying in my room as well, as well as two Aussie boys, one of which had been attempting to chat me up earlier in the night, and the other of which was giving his friend approving looks. No thanks :).

We went to a bar about a ten minute walk from the hostel and danced the night away. I didn't drink too much, but shared my friend's drinks, which he was kind enough to share with me throughout the night. The bar was smokey because people are allowed to smoke indoors in this country. It's been a while since I've been exposed to second hand smoke in a closed in space, so I felt my eyes starting to water and my throat getting tighter as the night went on. Later, we walked one of our hostel staff back to the hostel because he was so drunk he was walking into walls. He kept saying how much he wanted a kebab. Or MacDonalds. Or a Kebab! It really was too funny. (I found it a little strange that the guests were making sure the staff were getting home, instead of the other way around, but as my friends in Spain have quickly found out, I'm the mamma bear who takes care of everyone, so taking this drunken aussie back to the hostel was not abnormal for me.) Once we got there, we stayed up and ate leftovers in the kitchen for about 45 minutes and eventually, I decided to go to bed.

Christmas morning I woke up and showered. The showers at this hostel are hot and wonderful. Its been a while since I've had a hot shower with decent water pressure, so I made sure to enjoy it and really scrub my hair. Besides that, I knew no one else was waiting and hardly anyone was up, so drying my hair after my shower would have to wait a bit anyway.

We all got ready and then had to wait for the staff to be ready to take us to Mongolian BBQ, the restaurant we'd be spending the day at having a buffet and all you can drink. Why we went to a Mongolian place in Hungary, I'm not sure, but it was good food! I tried goat. It was actually quite good. I also had potato doughnuts and pasta with goat's cottage cheese. Delicious. I had some wine with lunch, but I wasn't in the mood to be slamming back drinks, so I proceeded to watch pretty well everyone else get drunk beyond reason. (in the last half hour of being there, everyone started drinking anything that was on the tables and getting really really drunk).

Toronto and I at lunch. He's so cool with his wine! haha

The staff had a Secret Santa thing, and the one guy dressed up like Santa...

The New Yorkers... and our roommates!

We moved on to the next place after 5p.m. when the Mongolian place closed. We got a little lost on the way there because the staff that was leading us was drunk. Of course. If you haven't guessed, we're staying in a party hostel. This was the suggestion of my friend (by recommendation of his friend) and I don't mind too much except that I don't drink that much and would rather not spend my money on getting drunk at night and sleeping the days away in a hostel.

The National Museum. We were going to tell people we went there, but clearly it's dark out, and clearly that would have been a lie. But the building is nice..

I ended up leaving the bar around 8p.m. and heading back to the hostel with a few of the other girls. Movies, table futbol and more movies. People slowly started to come back to the hostel in varying degrees of drunk, and would either pass out in their rooms, or join us in the common area and pass out on some sort of bean-bag chair or the couch or even the floor. I again, went to bed somewhat early in respect of everyone else. I went to bed around 1:30 because I was falling asleep.

I am hoping my friend will be up by the time I am finished writing this blog as I'd like to get the day started. Its now noon and I've had two cups of coffee, a cold potato and four cookies. I'd like a real meal and to go on a walking tour of this seemingly wonderful city!

I should also mention that I've met some interesting people here, some of which I will talk to again, many of whom I probably will not. I'll stay in touch with the Americans, and one of the Brazilians I've met. I wish them safety and happiness on the rest of their travels!!

More to come later... have a great Boxing Day!