Happy September people! September is one of the best months in my opinion. Why? My birthday. I’ll be turning the big 2-1 soon. That’s a shock. Not sure yet how I’ll celebrate but I’ve got a few weeks to decide still. School has been back in session for two weeks now. Not gonna lie, there’s one class that I’m still a bit nervous about but overall I’m loving all my classes so far. My favorite though might have to be Intro to Comm. The professor is AMAZING. We spent a good chunk of today’s class watching and dissecting Robin Thicke’s song Blurred Lines (as well as the recent VMA performance) and the presence of gender privileges and rape culture in our society. It was really interesting. Alright, I’ll stop talking about that and move on as I’m sure that could spark a whole debate (and kind of has in the news lately).
So, for anyone who bothered to read the title of this post, it’s not about Ireland. Wait, whaa? This was the first weekend trip that my friend, Bridget, and I took while we were studying in Ireland. This trip was unique for several reasons, I think. The first being that it was the first trip of the semester that took us out of the country to a place that neither of us had ever been and didn’t know the language or culture or anything. Second, going to Ireland was Bridget’s first time abroad ever, but I’ll talk a little more about that further in. And lastly, I have to tell you guys how we came to decide on Budapest.
How many of you guys know or have heard of a man called Rick Steves? I’m going to pretend that some of you are either raising hands or shaking heads. Well, for those of you who haven’t heard of him, he’s like a big travel guru. He’s basically built a career out of being a professional tourist. How cool is that? He’s got videos, travel guide books, luggage, and podcasts all focused on helping you to have an easier, more enjoyable trip. We used a ton of his stuff when we took our family trip a few years ago. Dad, Jared, and I were all tired of hearing his name by the end of it but his stuff was really useful. Anyway, I mention this because his son, Andy Steves, began his own business, Weekend Students Adventures (WSA) a few years ago. The concept is similar except that Andy’s is geared more toward college students either based in Europe or studying abroad in Europe. Andy actually came to NUIM and gave a presentation during our orientation week and handed out flyers with some of the different trips listed. Bridget and I talked about it and decided to take a look and decide which ones we’d be interested in doing. It seemed like a good choice for our first “solo” trip together by which I just mean that we wouldn’t be with our families or Roberta. It also seemed like a better idea since all the places we were considering were countries where neither of us spoke the language or knew anything about. We looked at Barcelona, Prague, and Budapest. Obviously, we ended up going with Budapest. I’ll put links to Rick Steves and the WSA sites at the bottom but each WSA trip is roughly 200 euros per person but that includes the hostel, food, and local transportation so it’s really not too bad. We used Ryan Air to fly to and from Hungary. Each WSA trip also has it’s own guide for each city. Our guide’s name was Bogi and she was pretty cool.
Alright, so what did we do? Um..lots. We walked around both Buda and Pesh. What I didn’t realize until Bogi mentioned (and I’m sure this applies to some you too) is that Budapest is actually two separate areas. Buda is up on the hill and is typically described as “the rich” part of town while Pesh is at the base of the hill and is more for the average citizen. At least, that was how I understood it. We got to see the Opera House, Moulin Rouge (someone should inform Paris that there is an imposter on the loose), the Hungary Walk of Fame, St Stephen’s Basilica complete with St Stephen’s right fist on display, the Castle District, Fisherman’s Bastion, Hungarian white house, Hero’s Square, Jewish District, and of course, the famous baths. So like I said, lot of stuff. But the baths….oh my. So as part of the tour we got to spend an afternoon at one of the bath houses. Lordy, talk about heaven!! It was so cool! There were a few pools of varying temperatures outside and then inside you could find everything from various types of saunas to smaller hot tubs with different temperatures or types of water. It was awesome. In season, there is also something called a spa-party, that some of the hostels offer and that you can buy tickets to. Bridget and I didn’t go but basically it’s a giant party at a bath house. It sounded like it would be fun for the first hour or so given that most people would be drunk. Now, if you’re into that kind of thing, good for you. We however, were not too keen on getting drunk in a foreign country so we opted to check out one of the nearby ruin pubs with some other girls instead. That’s another thing many hostels offer is a pub crawl on certain nights. We went on one that was offered with the WSA trip and that Andy and his girlfriend actually went on with us. We had dinner with them and started the pub crawl afterwards.
We walked through the Jewish District to get to the first ruin pub on our stop which was cool. We got to see the synagogue at night as well as the memorial that is next to it. We also found out something that I’m not sure anyone would have thought existed. And no, this has nothing to do with the Jewish District and is not in the Jewish District, it’s just a store that we passed on our way. Bogi stopped us at one point and pointed to a store across the street and said that it was a second-hand sex shop. What?? Not the fact that it’s a sex shop, it’s a second–hand sex shop. None of us could believe it so, of course, we all had to take a picture of it.
Not long after, we arrived at the first ruin pub. These things were so cool! You might be wondering why I keep referring to them as ruin pubs instead of just pubs. Well, my friend, they’re called ruin pubs because many of the buildings that they are in are old, so these buildings were either bombed or just buildings that were abandoned at some point or another. Then, in the last ten to twenty years (I think) these buildings have been turned into pubs often with a very eclectic theme. I loved these pubs. A lot of them had a theme. One that was just around the corner from the hostel had an owl kind of theme. We officially kicked off the pub crawl at one of the best ruin pubs out there. No seriously. Szimpla Kert was voted the third best bar in the WORLD. WSA don’t play around. It was so cool! The lights and decorations and plants everywhere. It’s definitely an experience. They even had a hookah bar in the back room for those who were interested in that. Most of our group was. Bridget and I personally didn’t partake but that was our choice. Basically our group split into two smaller groups in regards to the partying and such. Bridget and I, one of the girls from Limerick, and the three girls from the Netherlands were more up for chill drinks while the five girls from London, the one guy in the group, and the other girl from Limerick were more into the heavy partying scene.
Alright, so do you guys remember me mentioning towards the beginning of this post how coming to Ireland was Bridget’s first time abroad? So this trip was an eye-opener for both of us because I think we realized that we freak out in different ways when we are adjusting to a new environment. Personally, I get really shy. The first night there, we got in late and hadn’t eaten dinner. It was dark and we didn’t know our way around so I didn’t really want to forage out because I just kept thinking “bad idea, bad idea”. Dark+foreign country+two girls+no clue where we are=BAD. That’s basically what was going through my head. Now, we went out and found a small convenience store and got food to bring back to the hostel and I was fine. Bridget’s freak out came in regards to the language. She couldn’t get over the fact that everything was in a different language and we didn’t know any of it. Thankfully though, after this trip that wasn’t as much of a problem. I think it was just a shock the first time.
Souvenir shopping was fun too. Have any of you heard of a Budapest magic box? Well. These things are pretty cool. They’re wooden boxes that are painted various colors and have really cool designs carved into them. What makes it magic Rachel? I’m glad you asked reader. These boxes are magic because there’s no key. Just kidding. There is a key but you have to find the key and then find the lock so that you can open it. It’s basically a big puzzle. When Bogi explained what it was, I knew I had to get one for my brother. He loves puzzles. He was given some rubix cubes from our uncle and he would fiddle with those a lot. He got pretty good.
I know that there’s so much more I could say about this weekend but I also know that this post is getting long so I’ll tell you guys about one more thing and then call it. Any parents reading this post (or students) are probably wondering about the cost. How much did it cost? What was the exchange rate? What currency do they use in Hungary? I can answer almost all of those. First of all, no, Hungary is not on the Euro. Hungary has its own currency called the forint. I may be wrong on this but I think that most of the Eastern European countries use their own currencies. At least the ones that we visited did.The exchange while we were there was great. Eastern Europe is pretty cheap. That probably means tons of inflation but the dollar to forint ratio wasn’t bad at all. Here’s how Bogi explained it to us: take the last two zeros off and then divide that by two and you get approximately what the US dollar equivalent is. For example, 5000 forint would be about $25. We ate breakfast for about 2 or 3 bucks apiece. Now, as to how much the weekend cost in its entirety really just depended on the person and how much they spent souvenir shopping. Like I said earlier, WSA trips are about 200 euro apiece not including airfare but the plane tickets weren’t really that expensive.
So there you have it. Bridget and I’s WSA trip to Budapest in a nutshell. Or, I guess in this case, a blog post. A good time was had by all. The links below are to Rick Steves and Andy Steves’ websites:
Rick Steves: http://www.ricksteves.com/
Andy Steves (WSA): http://www.wsaeurope.com/
http://www.wsaeurope.com/about-wsa/the-wsa-team/andy-steves/ (about page on Andy. Fun fact, he went to Notre Dame!)