The not so scary East

Trip Start Jun 02, 2010
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38
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Trip End Oct 03, 2010


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Where I stayed
All Central Hostel

Flag of Hungary  ,
Friday, August 20, 2010

As I previously mentioned in my entry about Poland, nice thoughts aren't always associated with Eastern Europe.  Many people, a good percentage Americans, have this idea that anything East of Germany must be a dangerous, undeveloped, and dirty place.  Hell, many believe that anything outside the US is that way.  Obviously, not everyone believes this, thank God.  But I can't tell you how many people asked me, "Have you seen the movie hostel?!" before I left for Europe.  As if the movie Hostel were a documentary instead of a gory horror film.  I'm not saying there aren't some really messed up people in the world who live for other people's pain and misfortune.  But letting a movie like Hostel keep you from traveling is just stupid.  So with these thoughts in my head I decided early on that I wanted to go East. 

I had already gone to Poland, and been pleasantly surprised by it's beauty.  It wasn't all sun and rainbows, but it was an excellent experience.  However, I still wanted to check out more of Eastern Europe, partly due to what other's had recommended and partly because things were cheaper.  Luckily I met a girl in Munich, Tracy, who was going to Bratislava, Slovakia and Budapest, Hungary, which were two of the cities I really wanted to hit.  I have been intrigued by Budapest since my last trip to Europe when I met quite a few people who had been there and had loved it.  Bratislava I mostly wanted to visit because it is where the film we have been talking about, Hostel, was supposed to have taken place.  And being the smart ass that I am, I reeeeaaaallly wanted to stay in a hostel in the city of Hostel.  I will tell you right now: at no point during my stay was I drugged, tortured, or killed.

I met up with Tracy in the hostel in Bratislava after a loooooong day of trains.  I was coming from Italy and she was coming from Krakow.  The hostel wasn't any great shakes, but it had a nice common area, free Internet, and they sold 1.5 Liter bottles of beer for 2 Euro.  You can't beat that!  So Tracy and I caught up with all the hoopla that had happened in the 5 days since we had last seen each other.  Apparently she had a couple of very disconcerting experiences on the Polish trains.  One involved the train stopping at multiple unmarked stops where people just got off the train and walked into the nearest wooded area.  Talk about a horror film!  The other involved a shirtless guy with dreadlocks and a necklace made of what looked like human hair asking her if she would like to smoke pot with him and a couple of his buddies in the back of the train.  This was very upsetting for Tracy, but at least she was able to laugh about it.  For me it was very comforting to know that this kind of stuff doesn't just happen to me.

We only had one full day in Bratislava, but we found that it was just enough.  The main center of town wasn't overly large and there weren't really any museums that intrigued either of us.  So we mostly just wandered around, enjoying the sleepy town feel of Bratislava.  There was a lovely little crafts fair in the main square where Tracy and I both purchased a couple of trinkets.  We also made it up to the castle, which is situated on top of a hill overlooking the city.  It was fascinating to see the old town on one side of the city, with it's baroque and Gothic architecture versus the plain and efficiency focused architecture of the communists on the other side.  Both Tracy and I agreed that this was the kind of town one would wish to study abroad in.  There are plenty of things to see and do in and around the city, but you still get that small town feel where you can get to know the people and become a part of the culture. 

Our two night stay was thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing.  The only stressful moment occurred on the morning of our departure.  I had every intention of taking a quick shower that morning, packing up, and being on my way.  However, these plans were ruined when I woke up to find my towel was no longer hanging at the head of my bed.  I looked around at all my roommates, seeing who the culprit might be.  But they were all either asleep or packing.  All except the guy who was sleeping on the bunk above me.  He was nowhere to be found.  At first I thought he might have stolen my towel, which made me angry.  However, a few seconds later he walks in holding my towel, which made me even angrier.  So I get in front of him and say, "That's my towel.  Excuse me, but you are holding my towel."  The whole room goes silent as people watch the conversation unfold:
    "Oh, I'm so sorry, I thought this was a community towel," he says.  A very important note here: there are no such things as "community towels" in hostels.  There are towels that one might rent from the front desk.  But those are usually a plain white towel, not my special MAROON speed dry travel towel.  Idiot!
    "No, this one is my towel.  It was hanging above my head," I respond.  He handed me the towel, which was unnaturally soaked!  So much for taking a shower.
    "Here," he says, "take my towel, you can use this one.  My grandmother just cleaned it."  Then why the hell didn't you use it!?  I think to myself.  "It's actually the towel I use for the beach." This guy just keeps digging a hole. 
At this point I am so nonplussed that I can't even respond to this douche bag.  So I take his towel, go to the COMMUNITY bathroom and proceed to wipe the floor of the filthy shower with it.  That's right I did that.  You should never piss me off.

After this incident we left for Budapest, where I spent the next day trying to find a laundromat so I can wash my towel.  Unfortunately there are only two in the city, both of which are closed because it is a special governmental holiday this weekend.  Awesome.  Granted this holiday meant that we got to watch fireworks over the Danube river with Buda castle lit up in the background...but the holiday was still rather inconvenient.

My four days in Budapest were wonderful ones.  The first day Tracy gave me a tour of the city, since she had been here twice before.  We crossed the river to Buda and climbed up the hill to the castle and Matthias Church, which provided a wonderful view of Pest and Parliament.  Oh I should probably mention for those who don't know: Budapest is actually divided by the river Danube into two parts: Buda and Pest.  We then walked back down towards Pest, passing Margaret Island on the way.  In Pest we saw Parliament, St. Stephen's Basilica, and many other things.  I was immediately impressed by how absolutely beautiful the city is.  Like Berlin, it has risen from years of oppression to become a cultural center.  While there are still remnants of the Russian occupation all around the city, Hungary has also put forth the time, and money, to rebuild and restore many of their historical buildings.  The variety makes Budapest eye candy for any traveler.

My two favorite things we did while in Budapest were most definitely going to the bar Szimpla Kert.  it is one of the many cafe/bars made from ruined buildings.  When going there at night, one would barely see it.  It comes across as a hole in the wall and you can't hear anything from out on the street.  But once you step inside you find you are taken to another world.  There are three bars, two stories, a balcony, and a courtyard.  This provides you with lots of space and fresh air, something that is sorely lacking in many bars.  The place is decorated with a barrage of items one might find in a garage sale or flee market.  All the chairs are different, there are used bicycles hanging on the walls, barrels for tables, a cut out bath tub for a sofa chair, and there are even gutted out cars where you can sit in and have a beer.  The place is great because it has such a unique atmosphere and it comes across as a local hangout, which is always fun to find.  The only thing I didn't like is that it didn't have a dance floor.  Ah well.

My second favorite thing that we did was go to the spas.  Budapest is known for their spas because of the natural hot springs found around the city.  It was one of the reasons the Roman's decided to colonize the area and it has remained a favorite among locals and visitors ever since.  We decided to go to the Szechenyi baths, which is one of the largest bathing complexes in all of Europe and still operates "old" medicinal baths.  There are indoor baths, which were rather green so I stayed away from those.  They also have three pools outside: a cool, warm, and hot pool.  In the warm pool they have fun man made geysers that shoot up every so often and a whirlpool that forces you to become very friendly with strangers.  So we played and relaxed the afternoon away.  (It is also a great place to view many people who are VERY comfortable with their bodies.)

Overall I would have to say my treck over to Eastern Europe was very enjoyable. And at no time did I feel in danger.  I remember three years ago when I heard from people who had traveled to Budapest and stayed in hostels.  I thought they were crazy.  I never thought I could ever do such a "brave" thing.  But Eastern Europe is nothing, especially this part of Eastern Europe.  It is highly developed and has welcomed in the age of tourism with open arms.  I have not traveled very far into the east...yet, but what I have seen I love.  We cannot allow stigma and fear to keep us from seeing the world and meeting new people.  Now, I would never travel to a war zone or a place known as a center for terrorism.  But neither will I cower in fear over the bad things that might happen and miss all the good things that will happen.  So the east is nothing to be afraid of.  Just know where you are going, be smart, and have an open mind.  If you do these things you should be able to avoid becoming a character in an Eli Roth horror film.
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