My parents and I left for Budapest on the same day as the first major snow-storm of the year. Our flight was scheduled at seven in the evening, but the foreboding weather inspired us to leave for the airport at 9:00AM, reaching at noon. We ended up spending ten hours in John F. Kennedy International Airport on the first day of our vacation, boarding the plane at 10:00PM. Thus our vacation began.
Our seats in business class ensured edible food and substantial leg room; the quality of my dinner of crab cakes was surpassed only by the quality of my sleep, and all three of us landed in Budapest refreshed.
I had traveled to England, France, and Italy, but Hungary was the first Eastern European country I had visited and there was a marked difference between the streets of Budapest and the streets of Paris. The streets were deserted at night; the walk back to the hotel was disconcertingly quiet. The most crowded places in Budapest were the famed European Christmas markets that dotted the landscape.
The Christmas markets began at the hotel, where a woman was expertly creating pristine gingerbread houses, and continued outside. The only sign of life in the evening in Budapest was at the markets, where beautiful handmade trinkets were sold at every booth; hats, wallets, key-chains, necklaces, figurines, and food! For every three booths selling handmade baubles, there was a booth frying and selling rings of sausages, or a booth glowing golden with glazed bread rolls. The large vats of dough, oil, and sauce could be smelt from down the street, giving the air a thick, hungry scent, much to the dismay of our already-filled stomachs.
After a brief tour of the nearby Christmas market, my parents and I meandered across the bridge and down the west bank of the Danube towards the Gellaert Hotel, which coincidentally housed the Gellaert Baths.
Budapest is divided by the Danube River, into Buda and Pest. The flat plains region on the east is Pest, while the hilly area on the west bank is considered Buda. Buda’s hills were dotted with caves and topped with the Castle Hill, and, at the foot of the hills, were the famed Hungarian baths.
Since English was not in widespread usage in Budapest, navigating our way from the Gellaert
Hotel lobby to the actual baths proved to be somewhat difficult. Twenty minutes after our induction into the building, my mother and I found ourselves awkwardly stepping into a mammoth sized hot tub, trying to remain inconspicuous among the population of extremely voluptuous women bathing. This was a difficult task for two reasons: one, my mother and I were both among the slimmest women in the building; and two, we were one of the few who took care to cover up with a bathing suit. We were surrounded by naked women of unhealthy weight, in a collective literal pool of germs, and, while my mother felt the healing effects of the Hungarian baths, I felt as though I was sitting naked on an airplane seat.
We left Budapest after two days of site-seeing; we saw Hero’s Square (which strangely reminded me of Boston College), the third largest Parliament in the world, the Fishermen’s Bastion, as well as a full exploration of the nearby Christmas markets. Upon our departure, we were faced with a train strike and resorted to traveling to Vienna via bus, a picturesque four hour drive serving as a perfect transition for our vacation.
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