Asia 2005 : Hungary

I mainly went to Budapest to have a bath.

Lest you think this was necessary due to a lowering in my personal hygiene standards over the past few weeks, the trip in question was to the famous Gellert Fürdo thermal spa. Apparently it's a good spot for picking up gay men, but I had more mundane problems: wandering around half-blind without glasses, losing my locker key...

As in Roman baths there are a variety of pools of different temperatures from boiling steam rooms filled with naked Hungarians down to the big cool effervescent pool. What really sets these baths apart is the magnificent building, with huge marble columns and water gushing out of dragons' heads: it has been likened to swimming in a cathedral! The only problem with visiting Budapest in November, bar the cold and the mist, is that the days are very short... it was already dark by the time I emerged very cleansed from the baths.

I climbed up the hill to Pest, where I came across a large group of families. Now the Poles I'd met on the train to Budapest had told me that Hungarian was completely incomprehensible, being unrelated to other European languages. However I could understand a few words of what they were saying, it dawned on me this was because everyone appeared to be speaking German.

I tagged along with the 'parade': the children were holding paper lanterns, and everyone followed a woman on a white horse. Every so often everyone stopped and sang the same song.

When we reached the ruins of a church, everyone put down their lanterns and exchanged paper tokens for a gingerbread man smoking a pipe. Very odd.

My final day I went on a quick tour of the Hungarian Parliament. This was free since I was an EU citizen, who says we never get anything out of the EU?! The building seems very much modelled on the British Houses of Parliament: a house of Lords, a house of Commons, connected by a central lobby. The passages to the debating chambers are lined with statues of peasants, to remind the members of parliament exactly who they were supposed to be representing.

In the middle of the lobby, since the year 2000 have stood the Hungarian crown jewels, including the famed crown with a wonky cross, which you can see on the Hungarian flag.

So that was it. At Ferihegy 1 airport I waited for the flight home to England.

It had been 85 days of non-stop adventure through two continents and 12 countries. I'd taken 539 photos and filled 3 notebooks with scribblings. I'd met people from all over the world who'd amazed me with their friendliness and generosity. I'd surfed for the first time, ridden a horse for the first time, walked along the Great Wall of China and taken one of the longest train journeys on earth. I'd seen giant pandas in China and elephants in Sri Lanka. I'd spent my last forints on a tiny chocolate cake. I switched on the radio. It was, bizarrely enough, the Pet Shop Boys.

(Together) We will fly so high
(Together) Tell all our friends goodbye
(Together) We will start life new
(Together) This is what we'll do
(Go West) Life is peaceful there
(Go West) In the open air
(Go West) Where the skies are blue
(Go West) This is what we're gonna do

Flying home

Matthew Mayer, 2005

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