Prague and Budapest: A Recap

I’m now safely and restfully back at home in Los Angeles, but I want to finish my reflections on my European trip with some final thoughts on Prague and Budapest. If you haven’t been to either one, go now. They simply are amazing.

Before I left the USA, I mistakenly believed: a) That Prague and Budapest are near each other, and b) That both are inexpensive. Prague and Budapest are 6 hours from each other by train, and they are separated by one whole country: Slovakia (the former Slovakia in Czechoslavakia). Slovakia is a mostly rural country except for its large capital Brataslava, which I saw from the train window. The other rumor is that these two European capitals are cheap. That may have been true five or ten years ago, but no more. The cities are bustling with tourists, driving up the price except for beer which still remains solidly at a dollar or under for Americans. But yes, it is decidedly cheaper than London or Paris which have become unbearably expensive except for the most wealthy.

Both cities are remarkably beautiful, especially by night when the lights of the castles, palaces and bridges light up the city and the rivers that run through them. I instantly fell in love with Budapest. I had fewer expectations of it than I did of Prague, but it exceeded every one of them. I was greeted at my hostel by a really cool dude from Vancouver — the first person who spoke fluent English in a while — and then I headed out for a day in the city. It is a very compact city, so it’s possible to walk everywhere that most tourist want to go. It also is a city known for its cafes and coffee, so of course I was right at home. I basically saw a site, had a coffee, saw a site, had a coffee. You get the idea. And oh yea, there were the desserts that were fabulous, and I’m not even a dessert person.

There were two highlights of Prague for me: The Gehlert baths and The House of Terror. The Gehlert baths are one of several historic hot water baths in Budapest, so I had to see what all the fuss was about. I first dipped in the largest hot tub you’ve ever seen, surrounded by tile, columns and gargoyles, and then to the steam room, then a quick dip in the freezing cold pool, then into the regular pool, then the whole thing all over again. I’ll have to say that I was pretty relaxed after two hours, but I can’t tell that anything happened to heal me of any ailments as it was supposed to do. I’m still the same crazy guy with a painful knee. I was very moved by the House of Terror, which is a museum dedicated to the activities and torture of the Nazis and Communists in Hungary. It is housed in the former office of the Secret Police, and the tour ends with a walk through the former torture chambers in the basement. It is a harrowing and moving experience that I won’t soon forget, and in fact it deserves another column in the near future.

Then it was on to Prague, the last stop of my journey. I’m glad that it ended here because it was certainly the best. If I were forced to choose, I would say that Budapest is a bit cleaner and nicer, but Prague is a bit more magical and fun. Even Hitler thought that Prague was so beautiful that he would not bomb the city, so the buildings and bridges are still in place that date from the 1300 and 1400s. It is like a walk through a modern medieval city with history on every side. It’s also a bit more racy and sordid than Budapest, with enough evil to keep the devil busy for a while. In just a few short hours, I was propositioned by several prostitutes, both guys and girls, in the streets. Funny thing was that they were pretty hot and normal looking, not having that stereotypical “whore” look. Though it is legal in Prague, I of course “didn’t inhale”. 🙂 I guess one should feel honored to be asked. I evidently was either cute enough or look wealthy enough for some hot prostitutes, so there is something to be grateful for I guess. Despite avoiding a few temptations, I did manage to have a lot of fun in this city, met some cool people, and found a city that I know will become one of my favorite places to visit in the future when given the opportunity.

And so five weeks, many walked miles, and seven countries later, the trip ended and I flew home to Los Angeles. I had a trip of a lifetime, but it also was good to be at home. I of course waisted no time in turning on my cell phone, and the silence and reflection of five weeks came to an end, and it was back to living life, but this time more grateful and rested than before I left.

Many thanks to Pepperdine University, The Lilly Endowment, International Christian University, Starwood Hotels, mom and dad, and the support of so many friends who made this trip possible for me.


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