After dinner, it was time to get on our overnight train and head to Zagreb. We thought at the time that there would be no need for us to reserve beds (mistake!!!) and that we would just be able to camp out on the couches of the compartment. So we get on the train, and start looking for our compartment number. Well, lucky us, our compartment is located in the darkest, creepiest car. We were surrounded by compartments filled with sketchy Croatian men who were all sitting in the dark. WTF? We get to our compartment, walk in, and it is about a billion degrees in there. One of the scary Croatians decided to explain to us that there was no way to turn the heat off. So, we opened all the windows and the door, as well as the windows in the hallway to try to get some air circulation going. Well then, the Croatian men thought it was funny and started hanging out of the window and calling to us and trying to get us to go into their compartments. NO. At this point, we did not know what to do but laugh because the whole situation was too surreal. We had a little freak out, and then regrouped. We decided we would sleep in shifts so that one person would always be up watching over the sleeping people as well as our stuff to make sure it wasn't stolen. Vanessa went and found Monty (who was on our train too) and had him come and sit in our compartment for awhile. We talked really loud with him and made him walk around the hallway so the Croatians would think we had a boy with us. We all hung out for awhile talking and playing cards. Kara and I fell asleep, and Monty and Vanessa stayed up awhile longer. At around 2 am, Monty left, and we officially began sleeping in shifts. Kara took first shift so V and I could sleep. I think I got a couple hours, but the seats were really uncomfortable and the train was loud, so I was pretty restless. I got up around 3:30 to start my shift. Kara woke up at 5 again, and then we decided it was safe enough for us all to sleep. The Croatians had left! At 6, we all woke up and got ready to get off the train in Zagreb. We arrived at 6:20, and were officially halfway to Budapest! In Zagreb, we said goodbye to the rest of the Emerson students and got on our next 8 hour train to Budapest! We slept for about half the train ride. I woke up just as we were crossing the border into Hungary when border control came in to check our passports. After 24 hours of traveling, we finally got to Budapest! I do not know how that is possible, since the two countries border each other, but it was ridiculous!
In Budapest, we found our hostel called Carpe Noctem, on the Pest side of the river. It was in this really old apartment building, and we had to climb all the way to the top floor. The inside of the hostel was very nice and very clean. The owner, Suzi, greeted us along with a bunch of other people. Suzi explained all about how to get around the city and things to do, which was nice, but we didn't really know how to react to the people at the hostel. We quickly found out that they all stayed at the hostel all day smoking cigarettes, and they were expecting us to hang out with them.
It was a little awkward. We got some food after arriving, and then decided to explore Budapest a bit by night. We saw a few of the sights in Pest, including the Opera House, St. Stephen's Basilica, and the Parliament. We also looked across the Danube River to Buda, where we could see the Hungarian National Gallery, the Royal Palace, and the Citadella all lit up. It was beautiful. We got some breakfast for the next day at a supermarket, and then headed back to the hostel really early where we collapsed and immediately fell asleep.
The next day, we left the hostel around 10 and tried to catch a free walking tour. We missed the first one, and then could not find the meeting point for the second, so no tour for us. Instead, we got lunch at a traditional Hungarian restaurant, which was delicious. After lunch, we decided to check out St. Stephen's Basilica. St. Stephen is the patron saint of Budapest, and the basilica was built to hold the his right hand, which is a precious relic of the city. It was a beautiful basilica, and we got to see the hand, which was super cool! After seeing the inside of the basilica, we paid 400 Forint (which is about 2 dollars) to climb the dome, from which we could see all of Budapest. It was incredible!!!
We stayed up there for awhile enjoying the sights. The next stop on our itinerary was the Dohany Synagogue, which is the 2nd largest synagogue in the world. It was stunningly beautiful. I had never been to a synagogue before, and I was really glad that I got to see this one. The tour of it was very interesting. Our tour guide explained to us that when the Nazi's occupied Hungary there were about 800,000 Jews in the country. After the Holocaust, there were only 200,000 left. She also told us that in 1 in 3 victims at Auschwitz was a Hungarian Jew, and 1 in 10 Holocaust victims in general was a Hungarian Jew. Those numbers were mind blowing. We also learned from her that the Synagogue was used as headquarters for the Gestapo during the occupation, because they knew that no one would suspect them there, and that even if they were found, no one would risk harming the temple. That was crazy. In the back of the synagogue is an area called Memorial Park, where there is a beautiful monument to the victims of the Holocaust.
It is a huge weeping willow made out of stainless steel which is in the shape of an upside down Menorah. The leaves all have the name of a victim written on them. It was beautiful. There is also a mass grave on the side of the synagogue where 30,000 Jews who died in the ghettos which surrounded the synagogue were buried. It was a really eye-opening experience to go there, and I am really glad I did. After the Synagogue, we decided to go to a museum everyone had told us was a must see. It was called the House of Terror. Let me explain: When the Nazi's occupied Hungary, they used the building at 60 Andrassy Ut as a headquarters where they would interrogate and torture people. Then, after WWII when the Communists took over, they used the same building, which they called the House of Loyalty, as a headquarters where they would spy on the public, and anyone caught going against the Communist regime would be brought there, interrogated, tortured, and executed. Nowadays, it is a museum, and every book or person we talked to raved about how it is this great memorial to the martyrs who died in the name of a free and equal Hungary, bla bla bla. False. All wrong. It was awful. We walked up the street, and from a block away you can see this building which has TERROR written on the outside awning in huge letters. You walk in, and it is dark and the only light is from dim candles illuminating 2 memorials: one to the victims of the Nazi's, and one to the victims of the Communists. Then you enter the lobby where you buy tickets. Now, when we got there, it was an hour away from closing, but we thought since it was so heavy we would not want to spend a long time there and an hour would be fine. We get our tickets and begin the tour, only to realize that we are the only ones (except for the creepy guards) in the museum. And then it begins. There are little or no lights anywhere in the museum, and they blast this super intense, scary music. There are all sorts of special effects going on, including floating Nazi uniforms, and cars lighting up and crazy shit. Nothing is in English, so we don't understand anything that is going on, all we know is that we are terrified and surrounded by Nazi and Communist torture devices.
It didn't help that the whole time, the scary guards were stalking us and trying to get us out faster. At on point, one of the guards says to me, "Its 5:20, now you must go to basement." I was like "NO! We are not going to the basement!!!" But you have to go there to get out. It was awful. In the basement are the cellblocks where they used to keep the prisoners. There are various torture instruments hanging on the walls, as well at a gallows where they killed people. And you walk into the cells, and they have pictures of every person who was killed in the cell you are standing in. Mind you, still very little light and still terrifying music. We left this museum feeling like we had just been in the scariest haunted house of our lives, only it was real. I felt like they were honoring the people that did the torturing more than the victims. As Vanessa later said, "We left that place shaking and looking like we had each just puked 5 times." And it is so true. After that awful experience, we got cake at a cake shop to cheer ourselves up. Hungary is famous for cake, as it should be because it was delicious!
Then we went back to the hostel for a bit, where we met our other roommates who were 2 german guys. They were really chill, and felt the same way about our hostel as we did. That night we went out to a bar called Szimpla, which was awesome. We had a really great time. The next day we got up and tried to get a tour of Parliament. We wound up having to wait in line forever, but we finally got tickets to a tour a 2. We got some lunch and returned for our tour. It was really cool! The Parliament building is gorgeous, and the inside looks like a palace! I loved it! We also got to see St. Stephen's Crown, which is the national symbol of Hungary. After that tour, we checked out of our first hostel, and made our way to the Buda side of the Danube, where our second hostel was. The Backpack Guesthouse is the hippy dippiest place I have ever been in.
There are hammocks and tents in the backyard, and every room has a huge mural painted on it. It was crazy, but cool, and the people were much more normal than in our first hostel. After dropping our stuff at the hostel, we booked it to the Gellert Baths because we had been waiting for that moment since we got to Budapest. We were finally going to some Roman Baths. The Gellert Baths are the most famous, and they look like they are in a cathedral. We got in and immediately went in the thermal baths. It was so great! I loved it! There were thermal baths, and then a huge swimming pool that bubbled so it felt like you were swimming in champagne. There was also a steam room. They were great, but it was a little weird to see some women swimming naked in the women only areas. Awkward question, but why is it that the people that choose to be naked are always the ones that should remain clothed? Oh well. I still loved the baths!!! We got dinner after that and then went back to the hostel. The next day was our last day in Budapest, and also our best! We started the day by exploring Buda. We started with Fisherman's Bastion, which is a beautiful castle-like structure that gives amazing views of the city. It was so gorgeous. Then we saw St. Matthias Church, which was cool, even though the outside was being renevated.
The inside is covered in beautiful frescoes everywhere. It was awesome. After that we continued our day by seeing the National Archives building, and Mary Magdalene's Tower. We decided to go into the Buda Labrynths, which was another scary mistake. It was dark again, and they were playing more scary music, only this time we were surrounded by cave paintings and dark cave tunnels. We had to wait to go in with some guys from Florida we met in line because we were too scared to go alone. It was not cool. After that we made our way to the Hungarian National Gallery, which was beautiful. We didn't go inside, but he outside was stunning enough. Then we continued along to the Royal Palace, which is in the same complex. The whole area is beautiful and picturesque like a fairy tale.
We liked Buda way better than Pest. After the palace, we climbed the hill to the Citadel, which was pretty much like climbing a mountain. It was worth it though, because from up there you get the absolute best view of Budapest. We ate lunch up there and then, had to make our way back to Pest because Kara and I had to find dresses to wear to the opera we got tickets for! We (shamefully) resorted to H & M because we had 2 hours before the show and nothing to wear. We each found an outfit, and I love the dress I got even if it is from there. Then, being the classy ladies we are, we went into a cafe's bathroom nd changed, emerging in our opera attire.
We went to the opera house, and checked out shopping bags full of our day clothes at the coatroom. Haha. The Opera House was AMAZING. It was covered in gold and decorations, and even though we were in the very last row, we could see the stage perfectly. We saw Puccini's Tosca, and it was the first time I had to try to understand an opera without translations, since it was translated into Hungarian on the screens. It was fun and cool to try to follow the story. After the opera, we went to a cafe and got some coffee and cake. It was a great way to end our last night in Budapest. We made up for all the struggles we went through on that day. The next day, we began the trek back to the Netherlands. We went on a bus, the metro, a bus, a plane, a bus, 3 trains, and another bus to get back to Well, and yet it still didn't take as long to go across Europe as it did to get from Croatia to Hungary, which like I said before, border each other.
Curious. Anyway, we were exhuasted when we got back, but really happy to see everyone at the castle again and hear what they did after Croatia. We are all BFFLs here now, and I love it. So, now I legit do have to study, and I will write about Prague soon. And if you thought Budapest sounded cool, just wait for Prague! I loved it! Bye!
Ok, I just returned from Prague last night, and I have midterms this week, so I want to get this blog entry out of the way and get caught up before my life gets any crazier than it is now. So, the Croatia Excursion officially ended at noon on the 14th of October. Vanessa, Kara, and I were all heading to Budapest after that for 5 days. Now, to get out of Dubrovnik you have to take a 4 hour bus ride to Split, and then you can get on a train there. So, a whole bunch of Emerson kids were on this bus traveling back up the Dalmatian Coast. It was a little frustrating, because the bus kept stopping for really long periods of time. We also got stopped by the Border Control in Bosnia, which was a little weird. But, we finally got to Split, where we got some dinner with Gabe, Lauren and Louise. It was a great time.