Vienna to Budapest

August 22, 2011 - 11:58 pm No Comments

Another amazingly smooth ride. It’s almost silent, except on turns, when it sounds like a dragon is being tortured underneath us. This particular train had screens with maps that tell you how fast you’re moving (140 km/h, or 87 mph).

All the travel coordinated by Tomi has saved us a considerable amount of time and stress. Along the way, we’ve met other tourists who agonize over train schedules and complicated bookings. It’s nice not worrying about any of that. My favorite part is when we’re riding the train and Tomi jumps up to save us from a ticket inspector charging through the car and barking at people in a foreign language.

We glided over the unmarked Hungarian border, past herds of giant wind turbines, through the hills of Buda, over the Danube, and into the business district of Pest (pronounced “pesht”), which in 1873 officially merged with Buda to become the larger city known as Budapest.

Taxi drivers and tourist operators were waiting for us at the door of the train to offer us rooms and rides. Lots of aggressive shouting by locals with darker skin immediately gave Budapest more of a Middle Eastern feel than any of the other places we’ve been to, which makes sense since we’re now a bit closer to that part of the world. From looks to language to food, there are shades of difference between each country we’re visiting, and it’s fascinating how it all blends together.

Budapest Keleti Railway Station

Outside, buses with wheels and swivel poles connected to overhead tram lines cruised past the station. Not sure I’ve ever seen that before.

Our hotel is weird. The Soviet-era design and functional but sketchy elevators made me feel like I’m a plant worker at Chernobyl. Toilets here are structurally similar to those in Austria – catch and release. The good news is that our room has AC.

We dropped our bags and visited the cash machine for some nearly worthless forints. Like Poland, Hungary is in the EU but does not use the Euro. It’s annoying trying to minimize ATM withdrawal fees and surplus pocket change when you’re zipping through countries with unique currencies. I can imagine how frustrating it must have been before the Euro was established in 1999.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Today was the hottest day yet, so in lieu of Tomi’s normally strenuous city orientation walk, we headed over to the Roman baths on Margaret Island for some refreshment and relaxation. It was quite a long walk. For the first time, I heard groans from other members of the group about the amount of walking we’re doing. Because my feet have been feeling much better over the last couple of days, I didn’t complain with the others.

An hour of soaking in the warm water was just what I needed. When you’re a dirty, tired backpacker, there’s something heavenly about having all of your dirty backpacker crevices filled with warm, chlorinated water and exfoliating your abused feet on the sandpapery bottom of the pool.

On the short walk from one pool to another, a gay American tourist tried to pick me up. First some smalltalk about how he has been living in Budapest for several months, then some discussion about the nightlife in Budapest (he recommended a bar called Szimpla), and then the awkward pause where I felt that he was waiting for our conversation to get a bit more personal. I thanked him for his information and excused myself to meet up with Tomi, who with his shirt off, is much hairier that I thought.

Party Bicycle

Chicken Paprika

Kirtan Sips Goulash

After a yummy dinner of goulash and chicken paprika, a few of us headed out for some nightlife. At the Soviet bloc train station, kiosks that dispense train tickets don’t take credit cards or notes, only coins. To purchase a day pass, you need an unrealistically large number of worthless coins. They don’t make it easy.

The Walk to Szimpla

We finally arrived at Szimpla, a “ruinpub”. It’s charming how the old, crumbling building is filled with party lighting, loud music, and booze.

Inside Szimpla Kertmozi

Over a few drinks, I had a philosophical discussion about travel with Kirtan. We agreed that the core value of travel is the opportunity to learn about yourself, and that seeing new places and having new experiences are a bonus. Given it’s power to make people more educated and worldly, and given that Americans are perhaps the most ignorant and insulated people in the world, I suggested that Americans might be the ones who would benefit most by traveling. If only there was a way to force them to travel. A mandatory exchange program with other countries? Send people abroad for charity work? A national “travel tax” for a compulsory year of travel subsidized by government? Tax breaks for travel expenses? Kirtan and I also swapped Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions. He’s got all the lines.

The most jovial cab driver ever took us back to our hotel.

A full day to explore Budapest tomorrow.

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