Budapest Part 1# 2 September 2012
Budapest Keleti-Pu station was busy and a bit grotty at first glance. It didn’t improve when we queued up to be told that we were in the wrong queue (happens every time) and had to buy bus tickets from the sweet shop! A rattling bus ride put us near our hostel ‘Njoy Budapest’, close to Astoria metro station. We went out to the nearby Bali Café where I had an enormous ‘Bali Chicken’ which was a scrumptious chicken schnitzel covered in sour cream, champignons and mozzarella. The hostel had a massive TV and DVDs, and we laboured through about a third of Avatar before falling asleep.
Next day we missed the start of the morning walking tour due to my dubious directional skills. We did a bit of wondering and stopped at the worst café in Central Europe (‘Anna Café’) where we got horrendously overcharged for a weak lemonade and slapped with a compulsory 15% service charge mentioned in small print on the menu. The only satisfaction was paying with a 20,000 Hungarian Forint note (about €72) and shrugging at the suggestion we might have smaller change (we did). Sneaking into Burger King toilets was the way forward from now on.
We joined the afternoon walking tour with Zoltan (who said his name translates to ‘Sultan’). I have probably missed out several marks on the letters, there are 44 of them in the Hungarian alphabet. First, we learned that Budapest takes its name from the two sides of the city which are called Buda and Pest, separated by the river. Most of the city is on the Pest side (pronounced ‘pesht’) and he slightly bitterly dubbed the Buda side the rich side. After we walked across we saw what he meant, it looked more like Bruges than anywhere else with a lot of medieval cobbling going on. There was an amusing horse statue with shiny balls though. Local students used to touch them for good luck before some sort of city council grouches banned climbing on the statue.
We were also furnished with some useful information on Hungarian idiosyncrasies. If you give a waiter money in a restaurant and say thank you (‘kosunum’) without first waiting for the change you are saying ‘keep the change’! There was also a crash course in Hungarian humour, which Zoltan ruefully admitted is not exactly side-splitting. One of the favourites was rather long-winded: after World War I, Hungary had to cede territory on all its borders. The gist of the joke was that Hungary was the only place in the world in which you could cross the border and stay in the same country. Rest assured it has not lost much in the retelling.
I felt a bit bad that we couldn’t between our group name five famous Hungarians. Franz Liszt and Ernst Rubik (of the cube) were among them. My offering of Paul Erdős didn’t register (too much maths, computer science). Another great Hungarian joke was that all famous Hungarians were or are expats. The tour was sardonically amusing though and definitely recommended for getting a feel of the city and some recommendations about where to go (in an nutshell, avoid all touristy areas)