Budapest, Day 1

The downside of being a nomad is that you’re always saying goodbye to someone, some place, or some opportunity in the place in your rear-view mirror. The upside of answering the call of wanderlust is saying hello to the unknown. The unknown, unvisited, yet-to-be-met roads all beckon me to find them, no matter how much I tell myself to stop being so restless. Or nosy. Does the sun not rise over every city and set the same way around the world? Do soap operas not occur in every family, no matter the culture? How many castles does one have to storm before they all look alike? I know, crazy rhetorical questions to any reluctant traveler, but for any true road warrior the conclusion is always the same. I just want to see what the sunset looks like over the Danube. I do not tire of seeing sisters having a drawn-out fight in a language I do not understand, or making up five minutes later in the universal language of a smile or hug. And so far I’ve visited about fifteen castles. They do not all look alike just because they are all hilltop and damp. The answer is simply that the call of the unknown is too strong. And I must go see.

I’d actually planned on visiting Istanbul this time around, but the political unrest that began to brew around the date of my departure got in the way. So a quick detour to Budapest ensued. And what a treat it was to see Budapest in the clutch of an impending flood, especially as it slowly gave in to the rising waters over the course of three days…

One of the most fun things to do on the road is testing your own tolerance level for dealing with the unexpected and… unknown. Sure, with the advent of tools like Tripadvisor, google map, and translation apps on your phone, you can almost tackle foreign travel in your sleep–with the exception of one thing: public transportation. A good way to just throw yourself into a new city is to get lost with the crowds without the benefit of a GPS in a rented car. Now if you know me, you’ll know that I avoid public transportation in LA like most other Angelenos. We barely acknowledge pedestrians, and tourists are to be avoided in general. But when I’m in any other country, I rely on the kindness of strangers to help a (lost) tourist decipher the local subway/train/bus/tram system and have never been disappointed. It’s the best way to get the vibe of the city, straight from the street.

Now back to that comment about castles above…when you are in Budapest, you see that the Danube cuts right through Buda (the castle and hilly side) and Pest (the flat, more metropolitan part of the city). From the base of the castle hill, you can take a funicular straight up–I know, it’s a very touristy thing to do but I have a soft spot for these things:

Plus it’s a quick zip up so that you can take in these great views of the city below and of the castle while you still have the energy. You’ll need that reserve for the long walk around the castle grounds and back down the hill:

I should say that the whole castle district is quite huge, and if you are into museums and history you could spend a couple of days in this area alone. I don’t have that kind of time luxury so I carefully chose to visit the Labyrinth of Buda Castle (Budavari Labirintus), or a cave system under the castle:

Once you pay the admission fee, you are given a lantern to navigate yourself through the dark tunnels.

And by dark I mean pitch black. Whether you have night blindness or not, it is literally pitch black. You also have to adjust to the heavy humidity and any creepy crawly feelings seeping in from the claustrophobia. And if you survive all of that, you’ll make your way to a fantastic photo exhibit of incredible other caves around the world (that I desperately want to see). It’s just all very cool to look at photos by lantern light while listening to water dripping from who knows where right next to a tombstone you just saw around the corner. Cool and uneasy. But see what I mean about places beckoning you to visit them? They just jump out and taunt me no matter where I go!

So I didn’t quite get a photo of the sunset over the Danube, but here it is over the castle gates…

as I make my way back into the maze of the city in search of some phở. My parents had told me a few days earlier that there was a Vietnamese community in Hungary, so I had to look for it (thanks, Tripadvisor!):

Let’s just say if you are looking for a good bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup in Hungary you might end up hun-g-ry (insert laugh track here). I’m going to stick to good old Hungarian food from here on out.


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