The second leg of our trip in Budapest, Hungary was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for our experience en route from Prague to Budapest. The havoc began the day we bought our tickets--our 3rd day in Prague.

We researched online for the best and most cost effective way to Budapest from Prague. Many forums suggested we take a night train (10 hours) and purchase a sleeper car. We thought this was a brilliant idea because we could save money by not paying for another night in a hostel and we wouldn't waste a day. All the sites said that we'd pay about 55 euros and a little extra for a sleeper car which was still cheaper than any other option (plane, hostel, etc).

When we got to the train station, we were helped by a lady who apparently spoke English (although, now that I look back, her nods were not nods of "yes, I understand" like we had hoped but rather blank nods with a plastered smile). Although she originally told us that all four of us cannot sleep in one car because there are only 3 beds per car, she later said that we were altogether (red flag number one). When we were confused about this obvious contradiction in facts, we asked her to confirm about 5 times that we were altogether in one car. She nodded (that darn nod) and we were satisfied. Red flag number two came when we had to pay for the tickets. It only came out to be 14 euros a person. Odd, we thought. However, Prague was significantly cheaper than France so maybe the sites were outdated. Oh how foolish we were...

After a day full of activities, it was time to make our way to the train station around 8:30 pm on Monday night. We were nervous, excited, anxious and curious about this night train. None of us had done anything like it and we really had no idea what to expect. When it was time to board, we went to our appropriate car and immediately noticed that there were only 3 beds to a car; our friend Alexa was unfortunate enough to have the odd ticket. And to make matters worse, there was a huge red sign plastered on each door saying, "No sharing beds." We decided that we'd figure it out later.

Ten minutes later, after laughing at how small the car was and making delirious jokes about scary things happening on the train, the conductor comes by to collect our tickets. We show him our tickets and he says, "These are not tickets" in German. Alarmed, we insisted that they were our tickets and that we had already paid for them. He kept saying something about reservations and what we had was not our tickets. As you can imagine, at this point, we began to panic a little. Then, a Canadian woman boarded the train and had her ticket checked. He said "OK" and let her pass. We asked her what she had that we didn't. Thankfully, she spoke English and told us that we paid for the sleeper car but we didn't pay for a ticket for the train. In other words, the 14 euro was supposed to be on top of the ticket price. Thanks, ticket lady.

The conductor said he'd come back in 10 minutes after he talked to another official. The lady next door (who was Alexa's carmate) told us, "Hold your ground, girls. He won't kick you out. Be strong!" Wearily, we agreed but inside, we were absolutely frightened. He came back 10 minutes later and told us that it was 50 euros each and that we could pay now (mind you, this is ALL in German. Don't ask how we understood because we don't know. Apparently, German is similar to English? Who knew). We didn't have any cash on us and we didn't have enough time to go to the ATM. He said he'd come back 10 minutes later. Meanwhile, the lady next door got locked in her room and she started yelling, "Someone help me!!! I'm locked in!!!" This was all too much to bear in a period of 20 minutes. Our nerves were through the roof and we had no idea what was going to happen.

Before he came back, the train began moving which was good and bad news. Good because this means that we weren't left behind but also potentially very bad because we could be dropped off at one of the next ten stops. He finally returned and told us that when we arrive in Budapest, he will take us to the ATM and we have to pull out 50 euros each. We agreed, thanked him too many times, and all crammed into one car for the rest of the night because we were too frightened to do anything else. At one point, I had to go to the car next door because I left my planner in there and I found our lady friend in a nightgown, drinking a 40 oz. of beer.


Anyway, after an unsettling night of sleep, we FINALLY arrived in Budapest at around 9:30 am. Sure enough, the conductor met us at the door, led us to the ATM and put the cash in his pocket (hmmm, wonder where that money went). Lesson learned: in a foreign country where you don't understand the language, don't settle for ambiguous details. QUADRUPLE CHECK EACH DETAIL.

An hour later, we made it to our wonderful apartment (similar to Prague Apartments). This apartment was much more homy and lived in. The mother of the owner of the company welcomed us, showed us where the food, towels and linens were. She took out a map and gave us suggestions of where to eat, what to do, where to shop, etc. for about 30 minutes. She was so kind which was exactly what we needed after our train adventure!

[The front door; kitchen is to the right]

[Living room]

[Bathroom with a washer :)]

[Kitchen sink]

We took a 2-hour nap to rejuvenate and then, explored the city a little. We went grocery shopping to stock up on food for the next 4 nights. We made it a pretty low-key night because we were so exhausted. The next day, our friend Shaye met up with us and we went to the spa. Budapest is known for their natural spas since 3/4 of the city is built over hot springs!

[Hungarians love their Paprika!]

[Delicious looking market food]

In the morning, before meeting for the spa, I walked along the Danube river, got a cup of coffee and enjoyed the beautiful weather. A couple hours later, we all met up and spent about 4 hours at the spa, enjoying the hot baths and saunas. It was so, so, so relaxing--what a true vacation should be! I don't have pictures because we couldn't bring cameras in but here are some pictures from the spa's website.

Doesn't it look amazing? Well, it was! As you can imagine, we worked up quite the appetite after all that hard work of moving from hot bath to hot bath. Around 7 pm, we made our way to Paprika, a restaurant recommended by Susie (the apartment owner's mother) that serves no-frills Hungarian cuisine at low prices. Shaye and I ordered the beef goulash, Alexa and Deepti ordered the chicken paprika with dumplings and Emily ordered plum chicken. It was so, so, so delicious!!! My goulash was hot, beefy and spicy with paprika sauce. And the chicken paprika was so tender and yummy. Emily's plum chicken was amazing too--it was sweet and savory and it melted in my mouth. Plus, the portions were HUGE.

[What my beef goulash came in]

[Sorry it's a little dark]

We went home happy, full of good food in our bellies and totally relaxed. We all knocked out at around 10 pm.

On Thursday, we went to the castles across the river on the Buda side (old town). The Pest side is considered new town and that's where our apartment was located; it is near the university and all the downtown shopping. The day in Buda was absolutely beautiful. The changing leaves were breathtaking and I couldn't get enough of the beautiful trees. We walked around for about 4 or 5 hours, taking it all in. We, then, separated and did souvenir shopping, more exploring and museum visiting. We then met up at the apartment for dinner and cooked ourselves a delicious stir fry.
[Walking across the bridge]

[The furniculaire we took to the castles]

[In the furniculaire!]

[The view from the furniculaire!]

[Alexa, Emily, Me, Deepti and Shaye]

[The being grand]

[Hello, Budapest!]

[Modeling. Being "fierce"]

[Beautiful, beautiful trees]

[Alexa's delicious lime meringue]

On Friday, Alexa, Deepti and Shaye went to Momento Park (where they hold all of the communist statues, including Stalin). Emily and I just walked around, talked, had coffee and discovered a thrift shop. I bought a very much-needed warm coat for $25. It's a total steal!

Later that afternoon, we hung out at the apartment, relaxing, talking, drinking tea and then, went out for dinner at another delicious restaurant. This time, I had dijon chicken, Deepti had the beef goulash (she was getting sick), Shaye and Emily had the chicken paprika and Alexa had a chicken and pumpkin dish. It was a beautiful night with great food and wonderful conversations.

[Emily, me and Alexa at dinner]

I'd have to say that Budapest was much more relaxing than the first half of our trip. Prague was filled with activities, from morning to night, and it was tons of fun. But by the second half, we were all exhausted and Budapest was exactly what we needed. I decided that I liked Budapest a lot more. The energy of the city suits me better-- it's livelier, the people are much friendlier and it is more spacious. The two parts of my vacation complemented each other perfectly and I couldn't be more grateful for such a wonderful experience in Eastern Europe.

If you would have asked me where I was planning on going during my stay in Lyon, Eastern Europe would not have even been on the list. With little to no information on the region, I just had no desire to go. But more often than not, the unexpected pleasantly surprises me, making life just a bit more exciting.

It definitely feels good to be back home in Lyon. It feels even better to say Lyon is my home. I have so many things to be grateful for and I'm taking these next 10 days or so to just soak in the beautiful life that I've been blessed with. I get to look out my window and see the beautiful changing leaves every morning. I get to explore my neighborhood and find a new favorite spot every time (yesterday, I found a small park that overlooks ALL of Lyon!). I have my favorites now and I'm just loving it.

In a short week and a half, Mark arrives. Then, we're off to Dublin to visit my good friend Claire. A week later, my friend Emily arrives and we're off to London for Thanksgiving! It's going to be a busy month so the time that I have here at home, I'll definitely be taking it slow ;-)

Until next time, ciao. Love you and miss you all!


Susan said...

After experience like that, I doubt there's any situation that can intimidate you. Sounds like it all turned out and you had a blast.

songbird said...

This is a test.

songbird said...

Wow, finally.

I couldn't remember how to post comments. Finally got it.

Your last post was really something. I'm in the midst of translating a spy thriller drama which has a lot of scenes in Budapest so it was nice to your pix.

Heard you'll be back on the 24th and that we're having a Korean Christmas dinner. Then your dear mother tells me they're all going to Mammoth and returning on the 24th as well. Am not sure how that Korean dinner is going to happen.

Just kidding. Come H-E-double hockey sticks or mhighwater, we'll put on a Korean feast to put all the fancy meals you've been enjoying to shame.

I do find it funny that you get to gorge on all this wonderful food but your mind is on a meal two months from now.

Aunt Mary