~And let us pursue that most tempting of
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Budapest – Center of the Magyars
I was sitting in a pizza cafe in the transportation hub of Kovice, Slovakia, waiting for two things: Leslie to come back from the bathroom and our train to leave to Budapest. Leslie came back first, with a look of urgency on her face. “We have to go,” she said. “They ditched her.”
“What?” I asked.
“The Scottish guys,” she said, referencing the group of 4 Scottish college students that had been on the same public transportation as us since Zdiar. “Cameron broke up with Emily and they ditched her.”
I had forgotten there had been a fifth member of their group back at our last hostel in Zdiar, Slovakia. She was a girlfriend, and the only female. Turns out that Cameron had broke up with her 3 days before she was due to fly home from Budapest and they told her not to travel with them anymore. As a result, she had taken an earlier bus to Poprad, an earlier train to Kovice and had been waiting by herself for hours. She was crying when Leslie found her.
(disclaimer , Mom-inappropriate languange coming) Its understandable if you want to end a relationship, but ditching a 20-year-old female by herself in the middle of a foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language has to be the most immature asshat move I’ve ever seen.
We packed up our stuff, paid our bill and hustled to join to Emily.
The three of us grabbed a cabin together as we rolled down the tracks towards Budapest. The six hours passed relatively quickly, although one of the Scottish guys actually showed up to ask if they could borrow Emily’s cards. She said no and sent her now ex-boyfriend a “you’ve got some nerve” text.
When we reached Budapest, Cameron joined our group of three as they had to go through the logistics of the breakup such who has which tickets, what to do with the single room they had booked, etc.
The train had been running late, so it was dark and we were in a part of BP that didn’t have the safest vibe about it. We got subway tickets and stayed together until the first transfer, which saw the two of them head towards one hostel while we headed towards another. I kinda wanted to put her in her room because you never know when that guys going to bail and it didn’t feel safe to leave her alone in a strange city at night. We offered to help her find the hostel, but she said she was okay with her ex, so that was the last we saw of Emily and Cameron.
Tiger Tims was the name of our hostel, which was passable. It was a 12 bed dorm on top of a four story building north of the downtown core. The common room was upstairs, and although it had some character it was a bit messy and there was no breakfast.
Our first full-day in Budapest was also my 33rd birthday. Leslie helped me celebrate by pulling a gray hair out of my beard. We also spent the morning on the walking tour, where they brought us around the city, showed some cool parts and shared some history.
The guide was actually pretty funny. He explained that at the end of WWII, while the Nazis were occupying Hungary the people of Budapest were hoping for the US to come play the role of liberators. They got the Russians instead. The USSR did a great job of liberating the city from the nazis… they just forgot to go home afterwards. Nevertheless, they put up a big statue of Lady Liberty to look over the city. After the fall of the USSR they covered the statue with a big tarp for awhile, then uncovered it again, rededicating the statue. He also made sure we could pronounce buda “PESCHT”. The “s” in “Budapest” is like the Enlish “sh” sound. If you say it with the English “s” sound you are actually saying “plague”. They also hate it when you mix Budapest with Bucharest, which was famously done by some Atletico Madrid supporters who flew to the wrong city to watch their team play.
We attempted to find the Arsenal match that night, but instead found some pretty good truffle and potato soup and the formerly Jewish quarter. We followed it up with some questionable Serbian food.
The next day saw us make a classic mistake. We had seen a mall and had decided to just grab some breakfast on our way to the mall. We’ll be able to find palatable breakfast easily, right?
First, we found a Starbucks, which was rediculously expensive for Hungary. Second, we found a bar that had sandwiches. Finally we found a buffet that seemed pretty popular, so we went there. We got a crazy hodge-podge of “breakfast” food, including a gyro, pudding, eggplant salad and some pizza. Not exactly healthy, or what we were looking for, but it filled up our bellies.
We spent some time shopping, as Leslie had no shorts, and I wanted to get some light-colored shirts before we went into the scorching heat that I expect in the former Yugoslavia and Turkey. I also needed a new belt, as traveling has caused me to lose some weight. You could actually see the wear-marks in my belt in the three different spots. I was using the smallest slot, and the belt was too big. I considered fixing it with a hammer and nail, but decided to spend the $3.50 when I found a belt that fit right. Just to give you a taste of the math, that’s about 1000Ft (Hungarian Forint). Changing currencies so often is definitely sharpening our mental algebra skills.
That night, we went to a place called Paprika, which had been recommended by the tour guide as well as some people at the hostel. I had a traditional Hungarian goulash, which is actually a soup as opposed to a stew like we usually associate with goulash and some Hungarian beef fillets. Leslie ordered “beer butter chicken”, which sounded unique, but was actually, “beer battered chicken”. She’s not a big fan of battered meats. She also had a raspberry soup, which was cold, creamy and served with a big dollop of whip-cream topped ice-cream. It seemed more like a desert than part of a meal, but was quite good. We also had some Bull’s Blood wine, which is a unique Hungarian vintage.
The walking-tour guide said Hungarian wine was really good and the bit that we had seemed to back that up. He also said that very few people in the world know about Hungarian wines because they are terrible at marketing.
This third night we had to begin making hard decisions, as we have a flight from Istanbul to Bangkok in 20 days, and only a bit of time left to see a lot of Eastern Europe. The plan had been to head down the Croatian coast, making at least three stops. Then we checked Hostelworld and learned that Croatia is as expensive as Italy or France.
We almost decided to skip Croatia, but everybody who has been there has said it’s been one of their highlights, so we decided that we were going to do it. We also knew that sooner or later we were going to have to cover some serious ground going south to get to Istanbul. Travelers we’ve met, Lonely Planet and Grandma Wokich all seemed to agree that if you’re going to go to one place in Croatia, it should be Dubrovnik. Put all that together and we decided to bite the bullet and accept that it was time for a very long, and likely very difficult travel day. We booked the overnight train from Budapest to Split, Croatia with the goal of getting off the train in Split and immediately catching a three hour bus from Split to Dubrovnik.
Fortunately, this basically gave us another day in Budapest. We used it to go to the bath-house.
I didn’t really know what to expect when we went in, but first, they seperated the genders and sent us to the locker rooms to change. Then we came back together and emerged into the middle of the bath-house. It was HUGE. There were two extra-large hot-tubs with about 100 people in each on either side of an Olympic size lap-pool. One hot-tub had a large statue of a woman enjoying a goose a little too much with warm water spraying out of a fountain and a collection of men playing chess off to the side. The other had bubble fountains sprinkled around the pool and a circle in the center with current taking everyone in a circle. Sunbathers relaxed outside the pool and a raised porch by the entrance had a couple different restaurants on it. Inside the building were smaller pools, some hotter or colder, some with minerals. Some chlorinated, some not.
We spent most of the day hanging around the bath-house before heading back to Tiger Tims to pick up our packs. We settled up with Tim for the equivalent of $21 a night for the two of us and headed to the train station.
The massive travel day was upon us.
Unfortunately, since we had booked so late, we had beds in different cabins. We were hoping that we would find a single traveler in one of our cabins who would switch with us. Instead, we ended up in a cabin with some 20-year-old Brits…
Next stop, Dubrovnik, Croatia, and the former Yugoslavia.