I visited Budapest on my 2005 tour. It is not close to Venice – it took nearly twelve hours of travel to get here.

I arrived around 1 pm yesterday, checked into a large, impersonal hostel, and went for a walk. The weather is still quite damp, but it’s definitely getting warmer – a vest and jacket seem to do the trick. Budapest is really large, and feels oddly like an American city (one with really confusing street signs). There are used book stores (I’ve seen about 20 bookstores, and only one movie theater), used clothing stores, Blockbusters, gyms, Burger Kings on nearly every block, T-Mobile stores, etc. The people are generally fair, though many of the men look like Al Bundy. There is a quick subway system and numerous buses. Every meal I’ve had has been huge – the pastry is excellent, everything else just okay and in large portions. I ordered chicken stuffed with peaches and brie yesterday, which wasn’t great, but I’ll look for a new recipe when I get home – the combination seemed to have potential. Maybe it needed a good balsamic vinegar sauce? 

I spent yesterday wandering Castle Hill, and powered through several museums this morning. ***The Museum of Fine Arts was shockingly good. I had very low expectations, and was blown away by the collection, especially the the sculptures – Rodin’s Eternal Spring in particular. Next up was the **Jewish History Museum and synagogue. I took a tour, which was quite informative and tough. Our tour guide was the daughter of a local Holocaust survivor, and cried throughout the presentation. I found the experience really upsetting and very valuable at the same time. 

I spent the majority of the afternoon in the ***Gellert Hotel Spas. As much as I loved the museums, I think it’s worth traveling to Budapest just to experience the baths. This one (one of the most famous in the area) has a swimming pool, hot tub, sauna (that was so hot it hurt to breathe), cold water tub, and two huge pools that were slightly above and slightly below body temperature, all in a beautifully tiled and vaulted building. The basic idea is to shuffle between the various pools until you’re as limp as a noodle, which I did. If I could do this every day, I’d be an entirely different person. It was interesting to observe the other women (the pools are segregated). About half wore swim suits, probably 60% were over 50, and the majority appeared to be local – or could at least speak Hungarian. People tended to arrive with a friend, and viewed socializing to be an important part of the experience. 

I cruised through the Hungarian History Museum and Central Market Hall after, but didn’t manage to process much.

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