Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Betaking Budapest - What A Week!

It's rare to have a major vacation with no major problems. It's even more rare to have a vacation that surpasses all possible enjoyment you imagined before you set out. That was Budapest for me. From the moment I set out for Brussels South Charleroi Airport to the moment I landed 8 days later, I had nothing but fun, fun, and more fun.

First, as I was waiting at my gate, I got to see a rendition of the Harlem Shake firsthand for the first time. Here's the link - I was off to the left of what you can see in the video. They did multiple takes and it was fun to watch.

After a short delay I flew, and after a bus and long metro ride, arrived in downtown Budapest to meet Kristine and Danielle, two friends and fellow economics students from Westminster who are currently studying at McDaniel College Budapest.

The girls in front of the Szczesny Baths

McDaniel College!

I spent the next week living out the life of an exchange student in Hungary - except for classes. While the girls went to class each morning I slept in on the couch, and when I woke up I explored the city alone a bit. I think seeing cities alone can be great because every step is an adventure, and you never really know where you are or what's around the corner. That said, having tour guides that know you, know what you like to do, speak perfect American English, and know the city like the back of their hands is priceless. And I was the ultimate winner because I got the best of both worlds: time to explore alone, and time to see Kristine and Danielle's favorite restaurants, parks, and baths.

The weather got kinda nice, so Danielle and Kristine show off their shades
We went to the zoo! I love zoos!
Budapest is full of bridges spanning the Danube
Kristine balancing
A tree with love locks
Statue near Deak Ferenc Ter
Statue at the castle
We called her "Leaf Lady"
My Hungarian friend calls her "The Can Opener"
At the Citadella

Not Brussels: the sun exists here!
Late night city tour starts with tram rides along the river
Smiley Kristine
Kristine on Margarit Birdge

View from the castle hills in Buda

Another awesome part of the trip was food. From classic Hungarian dishes to typical Turkish kebabs to good old fashioned American cooking, we did it all. And I mean we: even I helped out by chopping veggies and stirring pots and, of course, cleaning dishes.

Couldn't bring myself to try these... time I promise I'll try them
Eastern Europe apparently has lots of US chains
A "quiche" which is bread topped with sour
cream, cheese, ham, and pickles, folded once
A gryo, Kristine's (and Danielle's) favorite treat
From the Blaha gyros restaurant, best in the city
Danielle and I both like hot chocolate more than coffee
We bought a ham!
Danielle sliced it...
...plated it...
...and served it. How good does that look?!
One day we went to a fancy restaurant: Kristine got schnitzel...
...while Danielle and I both had salmon fillets.
Danielle gets her langos, a fried dough, sour cream, and cheese specialty
Kristine finishes up some chili that the 3 of us made for potluck
One of the other Americans brought these amazing
tomato-mozzarella hors-d'oeuvres with pesto!

Another part of Budapest I loved was the two big outings we took: one to the baths, which are hugely famous in Budapest because they are heated by natural hot springs, and the other to the zoo! The zoo was special not because the animals were unique - okay, except the baby elephant, who was undeniably adorable - but because the laws are so much more relaxed, and we were able to get up close and personal to a lot of the animals.

This was a failed attempt to capture me in midair

Outdoor baths
And indoor ones

Wrinkled fingers
Baby elephant! Asha, born on Valentine's Day!
Hungry turtles
Haven't met a Big Cat I don't like

For some reason Kristine went nuts about the peacock

This dude came straight at us, scared me to
death while the girls both stood there passively

Being part of McDaniel Budapest, Kristine and Danielle take classes with, and often hang out with, lots of other Americans. I saw them a few times, but most memorable was when I went to join/observe their salsa class!
Danielle with instructor #1

Kristine with instructor #2 (who happened to be #1's husband)
Steph and Joe
David and Kristine

The best part, though, without a doubt, was the "chill time." It felt like we were back home, just sitting around in North Village after a class, chatting with friends, watching tv shows, and eating root beer floats.
They Have Root Beer!!
So I made floats!
Game of Thrones! Season 3! A drinking horn!
Skyping Matt
Snapchat with Kyle

I did about a million other things, the girls showed me so much - hiking the Buda hills and finding the cave church and exploring the labyrinths and taking trams and walking to school and shooping at Spar. I don't have time to talk about even half of it. Suffice to say it was a great vacation, one I won't forget soon.

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