And I...live by the river! etc.
Anyhoo, we're back in London, and on our last frantic day of shopping and meeting people before we fly out tomorrow night. Our sojourn is almost over!
The good news first is I checked my bank accounts and I got a nice whack of interest come through on one account which means I have cash! I can now buy my brother all the Von Dutch T-Shirts he's been barracking for! ;)
I will talk a bit about Budapest, considering I got cut off so quickly when I was in a net cafe over there.
We got up a 4am to leave Glasgow on a 6am flight. Greg, Debbie (his sister) and Julie (her Scottish flatmate) and I were all a bit bleary-eyed, and I was still a bit worried about my labyrinthitis. Luckily I was OK, just the normal sore head I get with airports and planes.
We flew down to London Luton, from where we caught our flight to Budapest. We had to wait a few hours at the airport, and Greg and I actually left a bag in storage so we didn't have to lug it around Budapest! At every castle we visited, Greg bought the guidebook, so consequently we have one very heavy bag!
Budapest was lovely. Quite a big city, with a population just under 2 million, about one-fifth of Hungary's overall people-count. It's very very smoggy though, with many older buildings black with pollution. Budapest was formed in 1873 when the towns of Buda and Pest, on either side of the Danube, merged to form one city. Most of the sight-seeing stuff is still on the Pest side.
The first day we climbed Mt Gillert on the Buda side. Gillert was priest made a saint for trying to convert the pagan Hungarians around 1000. They thanked him by putting him in a barrel and rolling him down the hill! Hence the hill of Gillert. It was a big climb up, but we were rewarded with good views of the city and of the Statue of Liberty on top. It's a giant bronze woman holding a palm frond. It was put up by the Soviets to celebrate their liberation of Budapest from the Nazis. After the communists left Budapest in 1991, they thought about tearing it down. But they changed their minds and left it there to now symbolise Budapest's freedom from the Soviets!
On Tuesday we headed out first to the Synagogue. Over 600 000 Hungarian Jews died during WWII, most in concentration camps. They have a memorial statue out the back of a steel willow tree, with the names of victims on the leaves. It was actually paid for by the American actor Tony Curtis, whose dad was a Hungarian Jew who died in the Holocaust.
We needed some cheering up after that, and boy did we get it. We walked along the Danube on the Pest side, past their impressive Parliament building, currently being cleaned, and across to Margaret island. It's a long island in the middle of the river. The first thing we came across were converted golf buggy-type mini cars, available to rent. It only cost about £3 each so bugger it, let's do it!
We rocketed around (well, as much as you can rocket at about 7 miles an hour) that island for an hour. It was the best fun. We've got some great bits on video, including when Debbie, Greg and I clambered into the buggy and took off, leaving a hapless Julie chasing us! It was great. I don't remember much else about the island but the buggy sure as hell will stay in my memory! My parents are actually going to Budapest in about a fortnight and I strongly suggest a buggy ride!
Tuesday we also decided to visit the baths. Budapest is famous for its hot springs, and there are numerous baths around town. It was a bit of a debacle because no one spoke English at the baths, and we were trying to rent towels and lockers with hand gestures! We also discovered we needed bathing caps to swim, so we had to buy them in the end, as it was cheaper than renting them? Bizarre.
The baths were lovely, and we felt refreshed. So we took off and grabbed the furnicular up to the castle district on the Buda side. We went into the labyrinths underneath - there are miles of caverns naturally carved through the hill by hot water thousands of years ago, and then used and maintained by locals. It was fun, because we had to take a gas lamp with us to see by - as in the evening they turn the lights off down there! They'd also put in for some reason, a fountain that flowed with wine! I think it was to signify the rich history of the early Hungarians. Or something.
Wednesday we took ourselves of on a 'Hammer and Sickle' T0ur. It was about 4 hours of communist talk. Our guide, Czaba (pronounced 'Chubba'), was really interesting. He was about 30, and had been lucky enough to visit Australia when he was 15, while Communism was still in place. It made him a bit of a rebel at school, following his father's footsteps. His father had been a sportsman so had been able to travel the world and see the cool capitalist stuff the Hungarians weren't getting. He was very against it, and it caused clashes with Czaba's grandfather, who was a very committed communist party member and local leader.
Anyhoo, we visited a communist era flat - just a sitting room, bedroom, small kitchen and bathroom, and narrow balcony. There are loads of big ugly concrete blocks still all over Budapest.
We also visited statue park, where famous soviet statues are now kept. It was funny seeing the statues with no artistic value - just propaganda!
Crap! My net time's out again...will write soon!
Hi to everyone, and sorry Clare and Briony for missing your birthdays! I'll try and pick you up something festive!