Brrr in Budapest – Budapest, Hungary

I skipped Hungary on a whim the first time I was in Europe in favor of the floods (Czech and Germany 2002), so I thought I would give it another go. The airport people were helpful but couldn`t give me the information I needed. I had the location of the hostel in my email but since there is no internet at the airport, I was out of luck.

Driving into the city reminded me alot of home, if only because we are on the verge of winter here with all the naked trees and frosty windows. I went to an internet cafe on what seemed like a main street but they didn`t take credit card and I had no forints (hungarian currency) on me. It was Sunday so there were no banks or foreign exchange open. I tried the bank machine but my card wouldn`t work so I sat down with my head in my hands looking for a solution in the floor tiles.

The sweet girl at the counter took pity on me and gave me an internet card that someone had left behind. This was all I needed to boost me in the right direction. I learned that the hostel I wanted was merely steps away so I was set.

What I noticed first and foremost was how dark it seemed. The sky was overcast and altho it was only 3pm it seemed like night was coming quickly. The streets were quiet with only a few people ambling past me silently as I made my way past the tall 8 story bldgs sandwiching the narrow streets. I inhaled the crisp fresh air and crunched the fallen leaves under my feet. It was so much like home on a typical October day except that all the signs were in Hungrarian.

When I walked into my hostel one word smashed me in the forehead…cozy. It`s in an apartment like building and is small enough to feel like home. Small kitchen and living room where you can watch Hungarian tv curled up on the couch. What really did it for me tho is how warm they keep this place. They have an Australian theme happening and it seems like they try to keep the temperature consistent as well…nice.

I went out in search of one of the many bakeries that I had seen along the way. I ran into many fast food joints which seem to landmark every major corner and heaps of non-stop stores which seem to be their version of 7-11. I was really impressed with how clean the streets were and how cosmopolitan Budapest seemed to me.

Matt (bartender from Cintsa, SA) showed up later from Slovakia where he was hanh with his family. We caught up on the past few months over goulash in a nearby pub. I ordered some strange meat platter but it turned out to be really tasty, if not just a tad spicy. Most of the people here are not fluent in English but usually with patience, you can get your point across.

There are steps going underground to pedways at major intersections so that you don`t have to wait for lights and such. I thought that was pretty nifty as lately I have taken to testing my luck at sprinting across heavy traffic…memories of Frogger. When it`s this chilly and I just don’t have it in me to stand still waiting. So truth be told, we will never know how many times these well placed undergrounds saved me from becoming Hungarian road kill. It`s a nice break from the elements and you can do a little shopping at the same time or if you have just had enough of walking, go even deeper to the metro.

Personally, I think its a fun time to play the grinning game at random unsuspectings all the while listening to the buskers playing Christmas tunes inhaling the aroma of freshly baked pastries. I did smile at one lady and she turned around and grabbed me rambling off something in Hungarian. I think she was asking why I had smiled at her or made eye contact with her…did she know me? she seemed to inquire impatiently. After we established that I was just being friendly, the startled shock turned into pleased surprisedness. This was an isolated incident.

I found that it is very very hard to get these people to smile or even look up from the ground for that matter. This was going to be a hard nut to crack…but where there is a will, there is a way. Even if that way contains some, er, unconventional tactics.

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