Monday, April 13, 2009

Budapest - a holiday to profit from

I was sitting in the office one day as an email came in from Lufthansa offering cheap flights (74€ return) from Frankfurt to various european locations. A few emails and a phone call or two to Bel later and I had booked 2 tickets to Budapest for a long weekend. A bit of quick searching on and we had a hotel booked (3 nights, 120€ in total) in the center of Budapest and the weekend planning was complete.

So the Friday of the long weekend comes around and we pile into the local S-Bahn to head off to the airport. A quick train change in Frankfurt later and we have arrived a Frankfurt Airport and go to the First Class Counter to check in (perks of being Gold Card holders).
Now, ordinarily the check-in process doesn't take too long, so I knew that something was up as this time it was taking a while. After a minute or so the check-in chick said "this doesn't usually happen to frequent fliers, but you are on the wait-list - the flight is overbooked." Ok, and now what? The check-in chick then told us that there is the chance to take a later flight (around 21:00 instead of 16:30) and take either a 350€ travel voucher or 250€ in cash per person as compensation. As we weren't in a hurry, we decided to take the 250€ cash each and wait...but apparently you can't just secure the vouchers at the check-in counter. We were told that we would have to go through security to the gate and ask there about the later flight. So off we go, hoping that nobody else takes them up on this offer before us, thereby bumping us onto the flight.

View from the Castle

Millenium hourglass
As luck would have it, it turns out that everyone else was in a hurry to get to Budapest and were hassling the girls at the gate about getting onto the flight, so they were very happy when we said that we would gladly accept their offer. :) We still had to wait to ensure that enough people arrived for the flight to make sure we "missed" it, which was luckily the case. So, with 500€ and a 20€ voucher for dinner at the airport in hand, we headed back through security and out to check our suitcase (we were going to carry it on, but couldn't be bothered carrying it around with us the whole time while waiting for the flight) and have some dinner.

About 4 hours later it's back through security again and off to board the flight to Budapest. After an uneventful flight and a crazy taxi ride we arrived at the hotel. Now, we didn't know exactly what to expect, as didn't give us the name of the hotel (special offers sometimes don't have a name associated with them), but the room that we got (with breakfast included) for 40€ per night was pretty bloody good.

Bel on a bridge
On Saturday we took our time getting up and enjoying our continental breakfast in the hotel. After that it was out to explore the city...or so we though until someone accidentally closed the door to the safe in our room without setting the code. After a few stressful minutes and a visit from the hotel manager with the default code, it was off to see the city without any real clue on where to go or what to see...and we headed off in the wrong direction... Once we had realised our mistake and consulted the map, it was off to the Opera House to see if we could find the first geocache that I had loaded onto our GPS...without success. We are pretty sure that a family had just found it and put it back where it came from, but for some reason we just couldn't find the bastard. :(
After the Opera House we headed off to St Stephen's Basilika for the second cache for the day. Just in case you are interested, St Stephen's Basilika is where you can see the mummified "incorruptable" right hand of Saint Stephen I, the first king of Hungary. Afterwards you most definitely won't be...hungry that is. :) We located the cache hidden away in the base of a lamp outside the basilika, being careful not to make it too obvious due to the couple not standing all that far away, and then headed off in the direction of the City Park and the Castle in the middle of the Park.

St Stephen's Basilika

Spooky looking statue
Approaching the location of the cache at the Castle in the Park, we noticed some familiar faces. Remember that couple at St Stephen's Basilika? Well here they were again. A quick exchange of "are you doing what we're doing?" looks we managed to locate the cache together, and then procede to explain to the Danes that were around that no, those are not really big mobile phones in our hands...they are GPS receivers. They thought that we must have been using them to geotag our photos, and we didn't bother correcting them...better just to leave it alone. Then on the way out of the Park we saw this guy with his eagle...
Sunday turned out to be the National Holiday in Hungary, and as one would expect, the skies decided to open up and rain on everybody's parade. So Bel and I took the opportunity to head to the busiest part of town - the Buda Castle on Castle Hill (heart of the celebrations). If only we had have known that this is where the celebrations were taking place we would have probably avoided it, but oh well...we got to hear people banging on about Hungary and how great it is (I guess) in Hungarian, and not understand a damn word of it. :)
Due to the rain, Bel and I decided to head underground to the "Labyrinth" - a series of underground tunnels and caves with old cave paintings and some newer art. While it was entertaining and interesting, it wasn't exactly what Bel had thought the "Labyrinth" would be, and was still wanting to head off to the hedge maze at the castle after we had left. Unfortunately there is no hedge maze at the castle...poor Bindy.

Parliment viewed from the Castle

Pest viewed from the Castle
Come Monday I was pretty tired and didn't really have that much energy to go out and keep looking around the city, so it was off to the baths. We chose the Szechenyi baths in the City Park, which are probably the less famous of the two in the City that we found in the Lonely Planet guide, but were the ones on our side of the river. After waiting in the queue to buy entry tickets for at least 20min we finally got in, got changed, and headed off to relax.
The first room that we entered had at least 5 different baths (pools) with different temperatures ranging from 28-38C. Initially...well the whole time I smelled kinda like eggs. Luckily you get used to it after a few minutes, but there was still the one pool that REALLY smelled like eggs, even after you got used to it. I guess the smell is due to the water composition, which contains "a significant amount of fluoride and metabolic acid, along with calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium and sulphate", and it was hillarious to watch the looks on the faces when new people came into the room - you know, that "GOD! Who farted?!?!?!?" kind of look. :)
In the next couple of hours we worked our way slowly through the 15 or so pools in the baths. There is even a pool there that is a permanent whirlpool where you swim around and around in circles in a pool that would be about 20m long and maybe 5m wide.
As it was still fairly cold, Bel and I decided not to use the outdoor pools, though heaps of locals and tourists had chosen to brave the cold and were rewarded with bathing fun in a really nice looking roman inspired bathing complex. I can imagine that it would be really nice out there in summer, though probably a little crowded too.

Castle in the park

A monument in the park to something
After the baths and a really delicious final meal in Budapest it was into the subway and then onto a bus out to the airport. We had originally planned to use this method to get into the city on the first night due to the exceptionally low price, but because we arrived later (with 500€ from Lufthansa in our hands) we decided to take the taxi instead, which I think was the right idea.

So thanks Budapest for showing us a good time, and thanks to Lufthansa for letting us make a profit on our holiday. If only you could bank on this and collect the cash every time... :)


PS: More pics here
PPS: This pic reminds me of me, for some reason...