Budapest: The Delight of The Danube

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After my magical day in Bruges, it was back to London for the night before I was off to the airport to fly to Budapest in Hungary to meet up with Bec for my first European backpacking trip. After an uneventful flight with Wizz Air and a train ride into the city I met Bec and headed to our hostel, the fantastic Tiger Tim’s Place.

The next day Bec and I headed out for a wander around the city to take in the sights. First off we stopped at the beautiful St Stephen’s Basilica where you can visit the mummified hand of Saint Stephen, the first King of Hungary who died in 1038. Bit weird, but whatever. The spires of the church are of equal height to those on the Parliament building to show that the church and the state are of equal importance. No building is allowed to exceed the height of these buildings in Budapest.

The box containing Saint Stephen’s hand

The Parliament Building is located down on the banks of the beautiful Danube River which flows through the majority of the capital cities in Eastern Europe. The building is very similar to the Houses of Parliament in London and is in the Gothic Revival style that makes it an absolute delight to behold.

Nearby is a Jewish memorial which honors the Jews who were killed in that place during World War II. They were ordered to take their shoes off on the edge of the river and were then shot so that their bodies would fall into the river and would be carried away The memorial features iron shoes scattered along the promenade of the river.

Next we crossed over the river to the Buda side of the city (originally Budapest was three cities, Buda, Pest and Obuda) which is dominated by Castle Hill where most of Budapest’s medieval buildings are located. Here we saw Buda Castle, the former palace of the Hungarian royal family, the nearby Sandor Palace, the residence of the President of Hungary, the Matthias Church, and a statue of King Saint Stephen. From the top of the hill there are spectacular views of the city. I also revisited this area at night to see the city lights which was incredibly beautiful.

Buda Castle

Buda Castle

Matthias Church

Parliament Building

King Saint Stephen Statue

One of the highlights of our stay in Budapest was the trip to the Szechenyi thermal baths where we lazed about in several different pools at different temperatures and relaxed in the sauna. I even had a special Hungarian massage which was quite strange but enjoyable nonetheless. It was an afternoon of absolute bliss!

Budapest also has a bustling nightlife which we of course took the opportunity to experience. First though we’d get the party started at the hostel playing Beer Jenga with a great bunch of people also staying there. The owner, Tim, is a very friendly Irish guy who makes it part of his job description to ensure everyone has a fantastic night out and took us to some great places in town. We went to the very cool Szimpla where we tried some hookah, and also headed out to a nightclub called Pink which was quite interesting, the main attraction being a pole in the middle of the dance floor with a pink ball on top that kept us entertained for hours. We also went to a fantastic karaoke pub called Morrison’s Music Pub where they played fantastic music or you could try your hand at karaoke. Note: Learn from the mistakes of Rebecca Bruce – Tina Arena’s ‘Chains’ does not exactly whip the crowd into a frenzy when singing karaoke in a Hungarian bar. If only they’d had Daryl Braithwaite hey Bec!

The art of beer Jenga

The punishment for tower destruction

Hooked on hookah

Bec and the Pink pole

Making the most of happy hour at Morrison’s Music Pub

I absolutely loved Budapest with its gorgeous buildings and interesting history. The cafes and restaurants, the nightlife and the great people made it a fantastic experience. No trip to Eastern Europe is complete without a stay in this beautiful city, especially if you can get some amazing weather like we did.

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The Journey South

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From Mendoza, I took the bus back to Santiago where I was to join a tour group for a 5-day journey south (Pachamama by Bus Tours).

The bus picked me up early in the morning and we headed off. On the first day we visited the small town of Pomaire (not much there really) and Rapel Dam before stopping in Pichelemu, a small beach town that is famous for its great surf. I went for a bit of a wander around town and then the bus driver took us to nearby Punta de Lobos where we could watch the sun set. I’ve never really seen the sun set over the ocean before and it was incredible how quickly it disappeared below the horizon.

The next day we headed for Pucon. Along the way we stopped in the town of Santa Cruz where we visited the Museo de Colchagua. The museum is owned by a local man called Carlos Cardoen who made his fortunes in arms dealing and was at one stage one of the most wanted men by the US government. Here, though, he is a hero because he has funneled much of his fortune into the town, building facilities and creating jobs.

The museum was probably the best I have been to in South America. It includes a huge collection of prehistoric fossils and dinosaur bones, pre-Columbian artifacts, gold Conquistador work and much more.

The township of Pucon is similar to that of a European ski village. The town is built on the side of a beautiful lake with the peak of Villarrica volcano in the background. Here you can do any number of outdoor adventure activities, such as climbing the volcano, trekking, mountain biking, rafting, canoeing, horse riding etc. Unfortunately it rained the whole day we were there so we weren’t able to do any of these things. It sucked! In the afternoon it cleared up momentarily so we headed out for a wonder around town and down to the lake. In the evening we went to some nearby thermal pools, which was great – lounging around in the hot waters with the forest around us and a raging river right next to us. It was beautiful.

The next day we left Pucon and of course the sun was shining – a perfect day to do all those awesome activities I couldn’t do the day before. Not happy!

We headed for Valdivia where we stopped at the river to view the sea lions. Apparently an earthquake near the city caused a tsunami which washed a large population of sea lions into the river and they’ve stayed there ever since. It was quite bazaar to see these huge creatures sitting up on the pier in the middle of town.

The next day we headed to Puerto Montt, a small salmon-fishing town. We had an enormous seafood lunch and checked out the handicraft markets where I bought myself a flashy red poncho. Very stylish!

Then it was onto Puerto Varas where we were spending the night. The main thing I wanted to do here was to book onto a horse riding trip in the local area, which I managed to do, so stay tuned for more on that in the next blog.

Hasta luego.

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