The Luxury Leg: Part 2...Eastern Europe...

Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
1
23
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Trip End Oct 11, 2008


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Where I stayed
Park Inn

Flag of Slovakia  , Bratislava,
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Budapest, Hungary was our first venture into the much-feared Eastern Europe. More like Central Europe, but still. Our first experiences could have been better. Our first experiences went something like this:
1. We were grunted at by a large, buzz-cut man probably named Vlad when we tried to buy a toll road vignette at a Hungarian gas station.
2. We were nearly killed by crazy Hungarian drivers hurdling down streets packed with cars on all sides (not to mention the trams).
3. We found a parking spot, and apparently disturbed a crazy-looking Hungarian bum from his "bum nest" (Ryan's word, not mine).
4. We did NOT find our hotel. Instead, we wandered around an eerily deserted shopping mall that bore the address for the hotel. We walked up, down, and all around while passersby watched us suspiciously. This continued for about 20 minutes.
5. We walked right outside of the mall (to the street where we had been originally), looked left, and were practically slapped in the face by a huge Marriott sign. Oops.
6. We checked in and told the desk clerk that we had had a hard time finding the hotel. He looked at us quizzically and said in his thick Hungarian accent: "Hm...But we have ze beeg red carpet outside ze door..." Sure enough, a giant red Marriot carpet was plastered on the sidewalk outside the door. We have all felt smarter in our lives than we did at that moment.
7. While Mrs. Hayes and Ryan settled into the room, I went to look for the laundry room, took a very wrong turn somewhere, ended up locked in a staircase on the 11th floor, walked 11 flights of stairs, ended up back in the friggin shopping mall, and had to go by the desk clerk again, with no coat and obviously a little lost. The laundry room was right next door, and you guessed it, had a big sign on the door that said "Laundry Room."

BUT, we didn't let those mishaps (or the very cold and rainy weather) keep us down. We had a wonderful dinner with real Hungarian food and great Hungarian wine, and slept wonderfully in our huge Marriott apartment (complete with HBO!! Ryan and I watched movies in ENGLISH!). The next day brought more rain and clouds. To warm up, we went to Budapest's famous thermal baths -- a completely new and very bizzarre experience. After milling around the lobby and trying unsuccessfully to read Hungarian (a completely indecipherable and unpronounceable language), we entered Europe's largest bath house. I don't know about you, but I don't frequent bath houses. I prefer to bathe alone, but apparently, half of Budapest feels differently. Actually, everyone kept their suits on (thankfully). Ryan, Mrs. Hayes, and I milled around in many different pools of different temperatures, with various degrees of minerals and healing properties. We saw swirling pools, hot pools, cold pools, outdoor pools (surprisingly warm, despite the rain and chilly air), saunas as hot as one could stand, etc. We weren't quite surrounded by bronzed bathing beauties, but it was fun (and definitely a one-of-a-kind experience). Later that day, we explored St. Istvan's Basilica (another very pretty church complete with a mummified, bejeweled saint's fist). We had a relaxing dinner of pizza and pasta, and enjoyed our last night in Hungary.

The next day, we headed to Bratislava, Slovakia. Just the mention of this place conjures images from the movie Eurotrip. If you haven't seen it, it is a hilarious movie and you should rent it. Basically, here is the scene set by the movie: concrete Soviet-era apartments, dog with severed hand in its mouth, man bathing in his front lawn, etc. When one of the characters asks a local if a train is  coming soon, he answers, "Oh yes. Very soon. They are building it now!" This is not too far off the mark. Our first sight of Bratislava from the highway was... rows upon rows of depressingly gray and uniform "apartment buildings," though they looked more like jails or barracks. The freezing, rainy weather did not help, I'm sure. The center of the city does, thankfully, have a few pretty, old buildings, but a gray, Soviet-era cloud lingers over the area.  We spent one day driving around tiny villages with Mrs. Hayes as she successfully tracked down her Slovak roots (in the form of a stocky, adorable, only Slovak-speaking babka named Ludmilla who gave Mrs. Hayes hugs and kisses and gave us homemade pastries and a huge bag of apples from her back yard).  The most notable things about Bratislava were the delicious authentic Slovak meals that we enjoyed there. Of course, we saw a couple (surprise! haha) churches while we were there, but the food was definitely the highlight of our stint in Bratislava. Yum.

Now, we are in Prague, which is architecturally gorgeous and very vibrant, but we will wait until we have experienced more of the city before we write about it. More soon! I cannot even begin to say goodbye in Hungarian, Slovak, or Czech, so I'll just stick with plain old BYE for now!
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