Sunday, September 27, 2009

burning rubber on two wheels

Welcome to my second installment about our trip to Budapest. Sorry for the delay, but this has been a crazy week for Karena and me. You can read about what occupied our week here.

Anyways, so back to the virtual trip for all of my loyal readers...Friday was our first full day in the beautiful city of Hungary. We started off with the free breakfast that was included in our hotel rate. I love free breakfasts b/c they give you a great chance to stock up on food so you can keep the adventure rolling. Most breakfasts are the same, but our hotel stocked some delicious Hungarian salamis laid out on the buffet table. I know Karena had some of the b-fast foods, but I really don't remember anything else being present. Every day I ate about three to four slices of each of the four varieties available. I tried to even the health factor out with a couple of slices of cantaloupe and some eggs. I might have even been guilty of creating a fabulous sandwich out of salami, cheese, and scrambled eggs. Ahh but enough about the salami...I will tell yall a funny yet heartbreaking story in my last entry about Hungary.

I shouldn't have eaten so much at b-fast. I am a good American though and I think it is a genetic trait that we know how to punish free breakfast. After all, I wasn't going to be doing much walking today; we were scheduled to take a Segway tour through the Pest portion of the city. Segways operate two ways. The first way is that a user shifts their weight forward to go forward and backward to go back. The more weight you shift, the faster you go in either direction. To turn, all you do is rotate a little handle clockwise or counter-clockwise and you can rotate, 360 degrees, on a dime. SWEET!

The Danube River divides Budapest into two parts: Buda is the west bank and contains the famous Buda Castle District and Pest is the east bank and contains the famous Hungarian Parliament Building. I will tell everyone about Buda in my next posting. We left the hotel and walked around the corner to Discover Budapest which was going to run our Segway tour. It happened that we were going to roll around the city with five other Americans. I was a little concerned about this due to my past experience with other American tourists (see my experiences in Costa Rica); however, this group turned out to be different. The ones that talked were very friendly. So we got a 30 minute demo on how to run the Segway. I must have impressed the tour guide with my natural ability to shift my weight because I was asked to bring up the rear. This was a task of some importance as it was my responsibility to keep everyone in line and to make sure there were no stragglers. Monica (I think that was her name) even asked if I was a good skier. Hahaha...the joke was on her, I don't like the snow! So after everyone could roll up and down curbs we took off down Andrássy Ave towards Deák Ferenc tér. Before we even reached the first stop Karena glances her Segway off a pole. Oh jeez...this is going to be a long morning, I thought. Luckily, she was able to pull it together at the last minute and miss wrecking her transportation. The Segways moved at about walking speed, but you don't get any consideration from pedestrians or bicyclists on the sidewalks. The looks are divided between amazement by those jealous they don't have such stylish transportation and disdain by those who don't want to move out of the way as I plow down the street.
We rolled to Deák Ferenc tér and Monica gave us some good information about the buildings in the area, which ones were originals, which ones were reproductions, and which ones were built by the Communists (the last one wasn't hard to figure out). She also told us that Deák tér was a hub of transportation, having all three subway lines converge below it as well as the intersection of four to five roadways. We left and cruised down a small street and ended up at Vörösmarty tér which was very crowded with people sipping coffees and eating pastries from delicious Gerbeaud Cafe...we did not eat here, but were told it was good. I visibly sampled the offerings and they were delicious. We also saw this wierd building that looked like it was wrapped in a glass skin. Monica did not like it. She also notified us that we were at the northern terminus of Váci utca, the famous pedestrian shopping street. More on that later...we screeched off towards the Danube water-front area and were allowed to get off of our Segways. We stood overlooking the Danube as Monica talked about bathhouses, Turkish pillagers, and why we shouldn't patronize the restaurants in the area we were standing in. Apparently these restaurants have a problem overcharging non-Hungarians. It was refreshing to hear advice like that from a tour leader b/c she didn't tell us what restaurants to go to, just which ones to avoid. In my past experiences, "useful advice" has also been followed by "suggestive coercing" on where one should dine. We gazed our first glimpse of the Buda Castle District. I was struck by the size of the castle. I definitely didn't expect it to be so large...and this was even from across the river. It was more like an opulent palace on top of a hill...very picturesque and European. Who would imagine that a European palace would be found in Europe???

We hopped back onto our Segways. Monica had a surprise for us though...she told us that we could use the yellow "speed" key! Now, instead of moving at a walking pace we were moving a little faster than a running pace. Wahooo it was nice to feel the wind rush through my helmet. We drove down some apartment blocks and soon found ourselves in Kossuth tér, home of three fabulous Hungarian buildings: the Hungarian Parliament, the Museum of Ethnography, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Monica told us that all three buildings were designed for a contest where the winner would become the Hungarian Parliament. The three buildings top scoring buildings were considered so beautiful that they were all built...obviously the parliament (below) was #1. The Museum was #2 and the Ministry was #3.
So, we rested here for a bit while Monica told us about he 1956 revolution and the memorial commemorating those events. There is a Hungarian flag with a hole in the middle where the hammer and sickle was cut out. I noticed a lot of people taking pictures of this monument. Monica also described the Ethnography Museum as her favorite museum in Budapest...Karena and I decided that maybe it was worth checking out. I'll talk about that later. We fired up our Segways and jumped back into traffic. Call me crazy, but I preferred to drive these things on the street. You never knew what you were going to get with pedestrians. Some of them would just stand and stare and made navigating hard. At least the cars understood that they were not to run us over...unless they wanted to have some trouble with the police. We rolled down some more small streets and I gazed up at all the decorations above street level. If you have time, click through this woman's blog for some pictures of the stunning details that I have been talking about. Sometimes I think that apartment buildings in DC should incorporate some of these features. Some do, and they look old and nice and regal. My current residence, however, just looks like a jumble of yellow bricks. I digress.

Our next stop was Szabadság tér, home to the Soviet Freedom monument AND the current American Embassy. There was some construction going on, so we didn't spend much time here. We were made aware of approximately 20+ security cameras (not even joking) that surrounded the US Embassy grounds. There were lots of elderly folks out walking their dogs in this park. It was very shaded and the grounds that were not under construction were covered with a nice carpet of grass. It was about this time that we started to have serious problems with one of our fellow tour members. This gentleman was about 6'4" and had to have the handles of his Segway extended to the maximum. I guess the Segway didn't like this because the locking mechanism went out, so he had to hold his handles steady. If he let go, they dropped to the lowermost position. Since this had nothing to do with stragglers rolling away I didn't pay much attention. We continued toward our second to last stop, Szent István tér home of Szent István-bazilika, or Saint Stephen's Basilica.
The square was huge...not Tien'anmen size, but still pretty large. There were tons of people milling around in the cafes and restaurants that surrounded the square. The Basilica was also huge...but maybe not since my only other experience is the basilica at Catholic University. Monica told us about the Holy Right...or the right hand of King Stephen. Apparently the King was buried and left alone for a while. For some reason that escapes me the Hungarians decided to open up his tomb and the only thing left of the King's body was his hand...magically mummified complete with fingernails and jewelry. The mummified hand is Hungary's holiest treasure and a religious relic. I vowed to see it. I was first relic! So I convinced Karena that we needed to see this child-size hand that I imagined looked like an over-sized raisin. I will touch on this later. Now it was time to speed off back down towards Andrássy Ave and the Discover Budapest office. It was almost 1230 and our stomachs were grumbling. Who knew that shifting weight and rotating the direction handle was such hard work. We sped up the sidewalk and thats when it happened. For some reason, two Hungarian electricians were pulling wires out of a box in the sidewalk. Not sure what was going on here, but it did not look safe. I think one guy was welding out on the street and we were going to have to navigate our little Segways past these two. Well, everyone made it up on the curb slowly and around the thing I know one of our tour members turns at the last minute and crashes into a wall. It was hard not to laugh, especially when the man w/the broken handle followed into the wall after the first one. Then it was impossible not to laugh. I did slow down to make sure they were okay (they were) and then I continued on with the rest of the group. I know you all are thinking, "but Jamie, it was your responsibility to make sure that nobody got lost." And to that I will say that we were only two blocks from the street where the Discover Budapest office was. I yelled to Karena and Monica, but they were so far ahead of us that they couldn't hear me over the traffic. I figured they could make it back and they did. I even offered to take a picture of them with their Segways of Fire.

So to wrap this up I HIGHLY recommend using Segways. For the rest of the trip, Karena was commenting about how quick all of our walking would be on a Segway. They are a ton of fun and are easy to operate. That should wrap up this post on a city tour via two-wheeled transportation. In the next installment I will talk about the HOLY RIGHT HAND, the Hungarian Opera House, and Chinese food, Hungarian style. I hope yall enjoy!!

1 comment:

Paige@ Running Around Normal said...

Loove segways!! Sounds like they helped out a lot. Also sounds like you had an awesome trip. Thanks for posting the pictures!