Budapest: New Year’s 2016

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Hi everyone, it’s been a while. Things have been busy since I last posted – busy in a good way. The Christmas holidays have flown by and uni starts again on Monday for my final ever semester at university; I cannot believe I just said that!

Not only have the holidays happened, but I have accepted an offer for Teacher Training starting in September to teach Modern Languages. I had originally intended to spend a year working in Spain but it turns out I will be sticking to South Yorkshire for a bit longer instead! Quite a few of my friends are making plans to do Masters programmes abroad, so it will be an amazing excuse for me to travel to new far-flung places in the near future. I also passed my Literacy and Numeracy Tests required for my course; passing the Numeracy Test was such a relief, as I had not studied Maths in over 5 years and calling my Maths skills ‘rusty’ was an understatement! I even found a place to live starting in July AND booked an exciting 4-week trip with my boyfriend to South-East Asia in the summer! It’s all a-go at this end as you can see, now I just need to keep my head down and get my degree in the run-up to all this excitement.

One word to describe my trip to Budapest at New Year would be: freezing! Well, it was more than that as it was below-freezing. It would have helped if it had been slightly warmer, but we knew what we were getting into when we were going. At least our hotel offered free hot drinks until 5pm, so we drank copeous amounts of delicious hot lemonade every day! We thoroughly enjoyed the trip however I must admit that it was not as good as my three weeks in Poland in 2014. Poland has a special place in my heart and I could not help but compare the two destinations. We also found that the locals were not too friendly with tourists; very polite but they would not go out of their way to make you feel welcome. Also, despite researching what to expect for New Year’s Eve, we were disappointed as we found very little had been organised (edit: nothing had been organised). We ended up returning to the hotel before 1am in time to watch London’s firework displays on the BBC! A bit of a disappointment? Totally.

Despite all this, what stands out in Budapest is its fascinating history and architecture in its two distinctive sides – Pest and Buda -it is great walking around the city and soaking up the grand buildings all around.

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St. Stephen’s Basilica, Pest

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Mattias Church next to The Fisherman’s Bastion

We especially enjoyed the Jewish Quarter for its mazing restaurants and visiting the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe. It is a beautiful building, however it is a harrowing place to visit; the Synagogue carries strong Holocaust links which are impossible to ignore. Next to the Synagogue is a cemetary which holds 2,000 victims from the Budapest Ghetto. The area where the cemetary now stands was originally intended to be used as a park where people could relax; the local community had such high hopes for the future and yet it would never come to fruitition, just despair and pain.

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Dohány Street Synagogue

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Night at The Opera (we went twice!)

One of the major highlights was going to the Opera twice (we love the opera) to see La Bohème and Die Fledermaus (The Bat). The Opera in Budapest is significantly cheaper than the one in London and was a major reason why we wanted to visit Budapest in winter rather than the summer. We have become accustomed to sitting at the very back, watching the stage, squinting our eyes through opera glasses, but in Budapest we were able to book our very own box for La Bohème and seats in the Stalls for Die Fledermaus – a luxury we had not indugled in until this trip! I was looking forward to La Bohème as I love the musical RENT which is based off this particular opera, but it was impossibly depressing, to be honest. Die Fledermaus was not my choice of opera as I did not know much about it, but it turned out to be the better of the two and was absolutely hilarious. The sets were so impressive that the audience clapped just for their grandeur – they were that good! It was also sung in Hungarian which was special as it is normally sung in German outside of Hungary.

The Terror Museum was our museum of choice after Buda Castle and I would recommend all who visit Budapest to come here to better understand the city’s difficult past. It is absolutely harrowing to visit and frustrating to learn that very little aid was given to the Hungarians before, during and after WWII. To learn about the insufferable misery and pain that the Nazi and Soviet occupations had on Hungary is difficult to take in. Post-war Europe was not ready or prepared to take on Russia after the war, and left the Eastern block helpless for decades of surpression. Each room provides A4 print-outs with detailled information on various parts of life in Hungary during the Occupations with many audio-visual documentaries and objects. The building itself is significant as it was used as the SS Headquarters during the War which then passed over to the Soviets for a similar purpose.

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After staying out late in the cold on New Year’s Eve, it was absolutely wonderful to go to the Szécheny Thermal Baths on New Year’s Day! However, it seems the entire population of Budapest had the same idea, so we were lucky to have pre-booked online or we would have been refused entry. The thermal pools were so soothing on our achey, cold bones. When visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, I had complained that I felt the changing rooms and seating areas were lacking as there was so much overcrowding – well, since going to to Szécheny Baths, I retract that statement and can confirm it was even worse in Budapest. Firstly, upon arrival, there are so many queues around the building and very little information as to what you are queueing for. As we had Fast-Track access, we had to join a smaller queue (thank goodness!), but were there signs anywhere for this? Of course not. I would recommend paying for the Private Cabins as you can change in privacy and keep your belongings in there instead of getting a locker, but you may have to wait a while for one to become available. Not only this, but there is no a one-way in and out system. So where everyone walks in with their muddy shoes, you have to walk back through in bare feet/flip-flops. Gross. Bring flip-flops! I really regret not bringing any. Walking around outside between pools was freezing as it was, and then there was the grit they had thrown everywhere on the floor which made it even worse! Nevertheless, you cannot come to Budapest and not go to the Thermal Baths. In the outside pool, we found a lazy river, and spent so much time whirling around in there which was fun.

On our final day we spotted a Cat Café where I accidently spent two hours with the cats. Great place; I turned out to be very popular with two particular felines and everyone on neighbouring tables was jealous as one sat on me twice!

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All in all, hats off to Budapest, a fascinating city and a great start to 2016.

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