It was dark by the time I landed in Budapest, and I’d already researched the cheapest way to get to my hotel, so I took the bus from the Airport to the city. We rarely talk about the benefits of the internet, but the ability to research and plan your travel is so easy today from the luxury of your laptop. When I think back to the way travel was when I first started doing this in 1980 I realised how different the entire experience really is. Like everything there are pro’s and con’s for every situation, and this makes me grateful to have experienced both. On the one hand you can truly create our own holiday and make the majority of decisions based on the information we discover before leaving home.
This freedom of choice and the opportunities it gives us with relative ease is quite mind blowing when I compare it to travelling in 1980. In those days, everything was done through a travel agent, and you were only able to choose information based on whatever was being offered by them in the travel brochures. The way to have more choice was to visit different travel agents and thereby gather different information.
Another source of information was guide books or asking others who had already been there, but that rarely gave you up to date detailed information. Of course, there was always the pre organised tour available, which satisfies many people, but for me I find nothing more enjoyable than having the freedom to explore new places on my own, spending as much or as little time as I desire.
This freedom for me makes the difference of being a traveller, and not a tourist. Being able to avoid the tourist traps and discovering places as if you lived there is what really inspires me to travel. When you get the opportunity to experience the vibe of a city just like a local, you feel the mood of the inhabitants, eat the food they eat, and experience the rhythm of the place, which allows you to connect and enjoy your journey in a far more intimate and memorable way.
In the time pre internet, it was super exciting, and the exhilaration of every trip came through the journey and the surprise of discovery. If you travelled independently everything you did was new, exciting and an adventure! It was also extremely expensive to connect with your loved ones, so communication was limited to letters and perhaps a quick phone call for your birthday or Christmas. In those days it’d take 2 weeks for a letter to go from Europe to Australia by airmail, so if you had any questions, this could take up to a month to get an answer! Even though everything was slower in those days, there seemed to be more time to actually savour everything, and you could relive the experiences every time you had the opportunity to communicate with your loved ones.
This rarely happens today with social media as you put it up online and it’s finished with and something new appears. Often there is little real communication with this form of correspondence. On the one hand, people see pictures of what you’re doing just after you’ve experienced it, but the magic of your experience is rarely shared unless you discuss it with your loved ones. Again it’s definitely easier and inexpensive today to call, but everyone is so busy, that making the time is the problem we all face.
This trip was exciting and a first for me on two levels. It was the first holiday I’d taken alone since I travelled Europe in my late teens (some 30 years ago) and it was the first time I’d been in Budapest Hungary. The trip into town was pretty unremarkable, but once we entered the city the excitement pumped through my veins. The incredibly beautiful old architecture and buzz of people in the city had me spinning with excitement. I absolutely love discovering new places.
Although it was cold and dark, I was completely absorbed in my new adventure and took my time wandering the streets to my hotel. The city was well lit up and although it was the middle of winter, with snow covered footpaths, people were wandering the streets and alley ways. The smells of hearty winter meals wafted in the air as the doors to restaurants opened, and the smell of fireplaces and the sound of music attracted strangers through their doors.
As I walked across the bridge to the Buda side of Budapest I could clearly see the magnificent Art Nouveau building of the Danubius Gellert Hotel. It stood on the banks of the Danube River at the foothills of Gellert Hill. The Gellert Spa Baths are housed in a beautiful Art Deco building and the natural thermal spring waters have been healing people since it was built in 1912. In actual fact, the geo thermal waters have been recorded as healing humanity since the 12th Century at Gellert Hill. It’s large imposing glamorous style immediately swept my imagination to a time of beauty and classical elegance. I felt excited to stay in a building with so much history and as the doorman cloaked in his long red velvet robe opened the door for me to enter I felt like I was a movie star on a scene from a 1930’s movie.
I was excited to get a room overlooking the Danube on the very top floor where I could watch the city below and look across the river at the city. I spent hours watching the boats plying the river, and a stream of people walking over the bridge to visit the Gellert Spa Baths, or back towards the city.
Although the room didn’t exude the glamour of the foyer and exterior of the hotel, it was clean and comfortable, and the view was awesome.
Waking up to snow on the balcony and birds swirling and settling on the rooftop with the sun peeking above the neighbouring buildings, I was eager to start each day with a delicious buffet breakfast in the hotel. From there I would wander and explore this vast and architecturally dramatic city. Hiking up the Gellert Hill in the snow was exhilarating.
I aborted my first attempt, as the city was covered in fog, but the next day I was greeted with sunshine and clear skies. It’s an uphill walk and has a clearly marked path with plenty of places to sit and take in the beauty of the city. It’s definitely worth the view once you reach the Citadel and Liberty Monument. She’s the symbol of freedom, a woman holding a palm frond in her outstretched hands. It was erected in 1947 as a tribute to the Soviet soldiers who died freeing Budapest in 1945, but after an oppressive communist regime, the Liberty Monument was given a new translation “To the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary" .
This is a very picturesque and rewarding walk. There are so many places to sit and watch over this magnificent city from so many different angles, with views of magnificent buildings in varying architectural styles, yet walking through the forest on the other side of the mountain felt like I was out in the country. Once back down to the bottom of the hill the Chain bridge will take you back over to the centre of the old city.
I loved the little gypsy caravans scattered around the city selling used books, cd’s and records. It created such a unique atmosphere, all it missed was the music, and I suspect that would be everywhere when it wasn’t so cold outside.
There are so many incredible buildings, and churches to explore in this city. If you love architecture, this city will have you mesmerised. I planned nothing for my week there, I just followed my nose, and explored as many places as I could. It’s so intriguing being open and taking the time to discover and enjoy all the treasures you find when you don’t know what’s around the next corner. It’s a true testament to the incredible artistic souls who designed and built all these architecturally intricate buildings. I often wonder what has happened to us as a species, when so many ugly soulless buildings have been built since that time.
After hours of walking, I would go back to the baths and sooth my tired feet and body in the incredibly healing thermal waters, and I’d finish each visit to the spa in the upstairs, outdoor pool where I’d enjoy relaxing in the warm waters, while snowflakes fell on my face and eyelashes. Then I’d go into the Finnish sauna and once it got too hot, I’d immerse myself in the outside freezing cold water tub. This process was the most extreme, rejuvenating and refreshing way to complete each day! I can highly recommend this incredibly exhilarating experience!
It was a rather surreal experience travelling alone, having the time to do whatever I wanted whenever I felt like. Having no plans, and no time limits was such a liberating experience, and I think it’s something every person (especially mothers) should experience some time in their life, to understand and experience such a foreign and invigorating feeling of freedom. Budapest was definitely the perfect place for me to visit. It had the exact mix of intriguing culture, beauty, history, food, music, shopping and relaxation to cleanse my soul, enrich my mind and rejuvenate my body. I looking forward to visiting this beautiful city again one day when it’s warmer, with my loved ones.