Hello Virtual Travel Buddies! I’m sure you’re asking, “Where the hell have you been?” though, perhaps you didn’t even notice I was gone. When we last spoke, I was in St. John’s, Newfoundland, trudging through an April snow storm. It was nice to visit some of the places I’d visited on the very first Drop Me Anywhere trip, but somehow the town felt different. Or perhaps it was me who was different as I’ve experienced much since that first trip. Still, it’s a nice place which I recommend visiting sometime.
Since then, I led a tour on a riverboat (just call me Huck Finn) through The Netherlands and Belgium which, for various reasons was not nearly as enjoyable as I’d hoped. Heck, it began with the difficult task of trying to get from St John’s, Newfoundland to Amsterdam when the company booked my ticket from Saint John, New Brunswick. The trip continued on the same level and, after twenty-two days, I was happy to return to land, especially as that land was Budapest, where I am now recovering.
You may remember that I truly loved Budapest (read about the first trip starting here). Sometimes you need to return to visit an old lover to see if they’ve changed. Perhaps the memory is better than the realty; or perhaps you’ve grown in different ways. I’m happy to report that Budapest and I are back together. He’s just as friendly and lovely as I remember and our little fling has turned into a full-blown love affair.
While hanging with my lover I’ve spent some time writing, not for my projects, but for clients’ projects. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time figuring out where to stay. This has certainly tested my travel-without-a-plan skills as, well, I had a plan in regards to where to stay. Unfortunately, the best laid plans. . . well, this is why I work best without a plan. Because plans, like rules and hearts, are meant to be broken.
I’d planned to stay at a friend’s apartment. He’d bought it last year after reading my reports on Budapest and being inspired to come visit. A week later, he departed the city as the new owner of an apartment (and all I got was this lousy T-shirt). He rented it out for a long-term tenant who has since moved, and then hired a manager to get it ready for short-term rental. Unfortunately, the term “ready” is up for interpretation. After a night there, upon hearing my report, my friend graciously returned my money. He’ll now wait to rent it until he’s back in town to get it ready himself.
So, here I was, looking for a place to stay. Enter Airbnb, where I found a great place rented out by Eliane, a French-Hungarian woman who manages both, her rental properties and her brother Claude’s. After I contacted her she read the Drop Me Anywhere website, as well as Rebel-With-A-Cause, and realized that I might be an okay person, not too crazy, and have house and pet sitting experience around the world. She offered me a great deal on Claude’s place for the six nights it was available (still above my budget, but a great deal for the accommodation provided). The place was absolutely gorgeous with a wonderful bathtub (much appreciated when you’re location independent and not on a first-name basis with the Four Seasons). She then mentioned that she would be out of town for the final ten days of my stay here in Budapest and offered to let me stay at her place for free. Seriously Budapest, are you trying to compete with Ireland for the World’s Nicest People award?
Oh, and then, for the time in between the stays at Claude’s and Elian’s place, my friend Hajnalka, whom I met volunteering with Heti Betevö (where I returned to volunteer this on this trip), hooked me up with Ernö, another volunteer who gave me both a smokin’ deal on his rental apartment, as well as a few free nights. I’m constantly amazed by the people of Budapest, their openness, friendliness, understanding of, and participation in the world around them, and caring nature.
While I’d hoped to stay in one place during this month-long break, it was just not meant to be. I had all nights covered except for one, and decided to splurge and stay at the Danubius Health Spa and Resort on Margaret Island. I didn’t get to Margaret Island last time as it was February, and Margaret Island is a place best enjoyed on a fine spring, summer, or even fall day. Definitely not in the dead of winter.
This 2.5 kilometer x 500 meter (1.55 x .31 miles) island which sits in the Danube between Buda and Pest has its own personality. Just as Central Park can feel a bit like a mini-escape to the country from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, Margaret Island is an oasis of open, green fields and tree-lined roads which one can travel along by foot, bicycle, cyclo-pousses/bringo carts (the car-like bikes that hold two, four, or more people and are available for rent) electric bikes, rollerblades, golf carts, or a myriad of other electric-type vehicles. The one way you can’t get around is by driving, as all other motorized vehicles, except for bus #26 and police cars are limited.
I arrive via bus #26 (20-minutes from my place in Pest) and, upon exiting, walk past the carts selling ice cream and cotton candy (candy floss), and into the Danubius Resort. After entering my ninth floor room, and taking in my fabulous view of the Danube, I change into my swimsuit, throw on my bathrobe and head down to the thermal pools. This place is not just a hotel, but a health retreat which, besides offering four indoor and one outdoor thermal pools (the outdoor one is closed during my stay), offers services ranging from dental, to optometry, to cardiac health, to plastic surgery. Yup, this is one of those places a famous person might go to relax for a week-or-two and return looking ten-years younger. As I’m only spending one night, I hold no expectations that I’ll look any more than a week or two younger.
I spend the rest of the day and part of the next day relaxing in pools of varying temperatures, two of which are divided by a shallow walkway filled with icy water, with river rocks covering the bottom. The water comes up to my knees and is either meant to refresh your feet and make them grateful for the warm water of the other pools or is simply a reminder of what medieval torture was like.
Feeling relaxed after an afternoon spent in the pools, I head back to my hotel room following the signs to the Grand Hotel and, after a ten-minute walk through never-ending, narrow hallways, I find myself in the bistro area of the Grand Hotel. I quickly turn around and head back as, well, I’m not staying in the Grand Hotel (perhaps I’m a little too relaxed). Retracing my steps through the long, narrow hallways, I return to the spa reception desk, and ask for directions before finally finding my room.
After a shower and change of clothes, I head to the restaurant at the Grand Hotel (yup, this time I actually mean to go there) where I enjoy a nice buffet of a variety of dishes while listening to a small orchestra play classical music, followed by an after-dinner stroll along the Danube.
I spend the better part of the next day, once again, enjoying the pools before walking around Margaret Island for an hour or two. I find out that, besides thermal pools, bike rides, and Frisbee and ball games played on green fields, Margaret Island also has a cushioned running track which runs around the perimeter of the island, sports fields, a zoo, Japanese gardens, a waterpark, outdoor theatre and concerts and a musical fountain along the lines of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. When my friend Jenni comes to visit from England in a couple of weeks, we’ll spend a day here to enjoy more of Margaret Island’s offerings.
At 3:00, I catch the number 26 bus back to the city and arrive at my new digs just around the corner from the Nyugoti train station (designed by Gustav Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame). Today I splurged which is sometimes needed when living a location independent life.
Next, I’ll let give you a lowdown of some of the music and theatre I found on this trip to Budapest and also tell you about the various accommodations and provide links. Oh, and there might be a Big celebrity sighting in there.