Pearl of the Danube

We arrived in Budapest, Hungary in the afternoon and made it to our hostel on the Pest side of the city with little trouble. Although people have lived here for probably two thousand years, the modern city of Budapest has only been around since Obuda, Pest, and Buda were joined together to make one city in 1873 as the capital of Hungary.

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Later that evening we strolled down to St. Stephen’s Basilica to see the Christmas Market. Wooden stalls and cabin clustered around the square, a small ice skating rink in the middle for children. Vendors sold everything from Hungarian sausage to scarves to trinkets for tourists. Everyone wore hats and scarves, sipping on glugg or apple cider. Christmas music played in the background, and we admired a nativity set on display on the steps of the church.

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St. Stephen’s is named after the first king who united Hungary into one country. Although King Stephen (975ish-1038) was a good king, the first to embrace Christianity and spur Hungarians/Magyars toward a European culture (rather than Asian or Middle Eastern), he didn’t do anything miraculous. After his death, however, his right arm naturally mummified. Well, that was enough for the Catholic leadership, so they declared it a miracle and canonized him. Today the church has his hand. The rest of the arm was cut up and gifted/forcibly taken to other parts of the world.

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After enjoying the Christmas spirit and a delicious cup of cider, we went on to Szechenyi Thermal Baths. Someone had told us that there’s nothing more Hungarian than sitting outside in a hot thermal both watching snow fall around you. Well, there wasn’t any snow, but we decided to check it out anyway. Szechenyi is one of the grandest, most beautiful baths in the city. Because of that, tourists flock, and therefore locals don’t visit. But all the locals recommend tourists visit, saying it’s worth the experience.

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In the past, traditional baths had women and men segregated and people would bathe naked, like in most other bathing places. However, mixed is becoming more popular, especially for tourists, so swimsuits are required. The Lonely Planet guide calls it “like bathing in a wedding cake.”

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It was dark and below freezing when I visited, and the steam from the hot water misted around everyone, making it difficult to see the person next to you at times. After a few days of hard travel (we walked 40 miles in 4 days in Russia–I kid you not), I just relaxed in the thermal waters.

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Budapest sits on several thermal springs, and even the ancient Romans enjoyed the spot for the rejuvenating mineral waters. Finally, when I had enough, I showered and joined Jordan to return back to our hostel for the night.

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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