6-15 April: Spring Break. Part 1.
This Spring Break, I did what every college student should do for spring break,
but with a twist. Instead of the normal drive up the coast of Cali, or across the great plains of America, we took the fact that we are in Europe to our full advantage.
We have heard so many great things about the country of Croatia, yet to get there is not the easiest task. Situated just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, the prices for crossing by ferry or plane were becoming very expensive. It was just a joke a first, driving to Croatia from Florence, but after my friend Al offered to drive, we put the plan into full force.
So, the plan. First stop Budapest, Hungry for a few days, then down the coast of Croatia, stopping in six seaside villages along the way. With no real schedule, aside from places to stay, it was looking to be one of the most beautiful and relaxing trips yet.
6 April: Friday.
We picked up the car in Florence and hit the road directly. Al and Jack traded off driving and I gave directions while JC and Jess slept in the back. This video shows man of the roads and weather we encountered during our drive:
During the eight-hour drive to Budapest, we stopped in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, for lunch. We looked around the center of the town, walking along the river and chose one of the cafes that looked over the river. It was a very cute city, full of beautiful buildings. It was such a quiet capital and very clean!
The border into Hungry was non-existent. There were no signs welcoming us, only the language changed on the signs. We did not realize we had crossed borders until we had driven 20 minutes.
I think the best part of our trip was the atmosphere at our hostel. If you ever travel to Budapest, you must stay at Tiger Tim’s Place. They offered many group bonding opportunities (games and guided pub crawls) while also allowing you to escape to the quiet rooms. I met two very friendly guys from Copenhagen and we had a good time sightseeing with them. One night, Tim (the owner and an Irish man) asked the five Americans (my group) if we would help teach and hold an international beer pong tournament. We did, and of course beat the Canadian and British/Irish teams. It was great fun to have the entire hostel involved in one activity.
Budapest is known for the “Ruin Pubs.” Located in the Jewish quarter of Budapest, the ruin pubs get their name from the once abandoned, post communist buildings they now occupy. The buildings have many rooms to hold the many activities that take place, including rooms for talking, dancing, and drinking, and each is uniquely decorated with a “thrift-shop” décor. The best part was that the visitors were not just students, but people of all ages! We got the chance to visit two such pubs during our stay. Szimpla is rated the best pub in the world and Instant had a very fun atmosphere and we all met some very interesting people from all over Europe.
7 April: Saturday
Today, we took a tour of the Pest (east) side of the city. Led by a local student, we visited all of the tourist spots, rubbed statues, and posed in front of the parliament building while hearing about the very recent communist history. Hungry is now a member of the EU and has an open border with the other EU members, but Hungry’s economy is not strong enough to support the euro and still uses the Hungarian Forint (250 HUF = $1). We walked along the Danube River to an Easter market and enjoyed local foods and crafts. The item I am holding -> is a typical “chimney cake.” Dough is rolled in a cone form, cooked over fire, and rolled in cinnamon-sugar. It is so hot, steam comes out of the cone like a chimney!
8 April: Easter Sunday
I visited St. Stephen’s Basilica for Easter mass. The interior of the cathedral was packed with visitors. This cathedral is unique compared to most Catholic cathedrals because they received permission from the pope to display a statue of St. Stephen above the altar instead of the crucified Christ.
The rest of Easter Sunday was spent relaxing at the Szechenyi Thermal Bath. This historical bath was built in the early 1900s with many interior mineral pools and two outside hot pools. The temperature outside was in the low 50s so we scampered quickly from our puffy winter jackets and into the warm pools. The sun was shining and we sat soaking away the grime of sightseeing and cobblestone streets. Two hours into our bath, a young man caught my attention. My friend Mik (the friend I stayed with in Copenhagen) was entering the pool with some of his classmates! How small our world is! We were just amazed that we would end up in the same pool in the same city on the same day!
9 April: Monday
Jack left early this morning to meet up with some people in Greece and the rest of us continued visited Memento Park before we hit the road. Memento park showcases the fall of communism in Budapest by creating a museum of statues removed from the capitol. As we wandered through the park, we were amazed by how large and dominating the statues of Stalin, Lenin, and happy workers were.
I was really impressed by Budapest! The atmosphere was fun and vibrant, the food was great, stuff was cheap, and the history was interesting! I would totally go there again!
Now, with gas in the tank, next stop Croatia!