Budapest Entry- From Vienna!

Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tuesday October 10? 2006

Long walk after dinner to see the city in the dark. Am still contrasting to Bucharest- here there are streetlights, broad avenues, large public buildings with spotlights making them gleam in the night. There are happy pedestrians laughing on their way to and from events, apartment lights shine out (some have great chandeliers) and a few die-hards still linger at outdoor cafes (this most likely is the last week for that due to the cold). I do a few miles, covering what I think will be route tomorrow. There are more homeless people visible at night, mostly sheltering in doorways with their scraps mounded on top of them.

Bad nights sleep. Perhaps it was all those naps yesterday? Or perhaps the fact that I broke my cardinal rule and thought about my future? Mind racing; where to live, what to do? I fell asleep around three.

Wake up call at 8:30, I turned on the tv while I tossed on my baseball cap and jeans to go down to breakfast. Now, here is my dilemma. The station is in Magyar. I see a commercial and people are happy, they are dancing around what looks to be a train or trolley, a word flashes on the bottom, avon, is it Magyar? Is it another language dubbed in Magyar? What does this word mean? Is it a noun or a verb? They're all happy. Could it be a product they like? I know 'avion' is a root for 'flight' in some languages (including ours) but, groggy with lack of sleep, I at least know there is no 'i' in this word. The picture sorts out to be women, happy women, dancing around the tram/train conductor- are they all going somewhere? Maybe they just got off the night train from Bucharest and are just friggin happy to be alive: nah, they look too fresh and snappy. It could be a verb relating to train travel. "Allon" in French means 'to go' (in my rough translation; perhaps this is a Magyar derivative?)- baseball hat in hand (I wear my 'Grumpy' hat, not that anyone here will know what that means either- but I wear it as a warning in the mornings for those who can translate) and I stand stupidly waiting for the commercial to end. A glossy magazine falls to the feet of the conductor and then enlarges- on the cover, a pretty woman's face and a lipstick- blazoned across the top "Avon". It's a commercial for Avon Cosmetics. I sigh. This is how my days go. At least I know in Magyar that avon means


[Yesterday, while touring Budapests' greatest sights, I was tortured for hours with the theme song from "The Nanny" in my head- broadcast dubbed in German with Magyar subtitles, the only thing that stuck was that damn song- The ancient crown of the Magyar Kings "...the father finds her beguiling, watch out CC, the kids are actually smiling, such joi de vivre", St. Matthias Church "...she's the lady in red, when everybody else is wearing tan", I toured Budapest with "...that flashing girl from Flushing, the Nanny named Fran!" running over and over in my head]

Breakfast is lunchmeat. I don't know the types, some look too much like what we call 'head cheese' for me to try- I have bologna, mild pepperoni, something with cucumbers and spices (like Pickle and Pimento loaf?), crusty bread. The omnipresent yellow peppers are there next to the cheese. I don't bother trying to translate anything written on the butter or jelly packet- Avon has tired me out.

I try getting online in my room- the only wireless near the hotel is a closed system entitled "Get.your.own.fucking.internet"- I think this is pretty rude personally- but the sentiment is quite clear, in English. Sometimes, when leaning the computer just right on the edge of the windowsill, I can get a free wireless connection to something called 'Netgear'- no such luck today- so I'll have to try and find a wireless outside (means schlepping the computer) to book Vienna; I'm running out of time with all of Europe to see. Somehow, I have to make peace with the fact that this trip will end- I know I'll never get to see two great goals: Istanbul and St. Petersburg. I was not even going to bother with Germany, now I think I must at least see Berlin however briefly. And Cologne (poor Neuschwanstein, I can't make it, and Oktoberfest has tied up all of Bavaria for right now). I ponder a lot the swiftness of time and the fact that what was once 'now' (feeding donkey in the hot sun) that seemed so real and permanent, is already a distant memory. Time goes too fast and even trying so hard to be 'in the now' is no help. I use aids like pictures and notes to grab as much as I can- but everything slips through my hands so fast. Never to be a charming memory, the emotions and thoughts of Bucharest are already gone- irretrievable. Now, with more than half the trip behind me, the future looms; almost as frightening as a night train on a dangerous route; beset with bandits and border guards.

Also going to try and figure money today- I have a little over $13,000 florint left- still no idea how much that means. I am giving up on getting rid of my lieu from Romania, might as well use that as toilet paper (speaking of which, while I used to think it decadent, I now would give all my florint and Lieu for some Charmin Ultra Soft). I don't want to be stuck with Florint in Vienna if I can help it. Has taking out $20,000 Florint emptied the bank back home, am I completely broke with two weeks to go? I wish I knew!

Hhhmm, well, today was a lesson in the pros and cons of 'planning' and 'not planning'. Originally I booked this entire trip through a travel agent and then cancelled most of it, opting to go it alone for the second half of the trip and not be tied down to a schedule. In many ways this has worked and allowed me to flex around dates and places (and fit more places in, like the fascinating Bucharest portion). Conversely, I spend time (lots of it) looking up hotels, booking train tickets and the like. Which way is better? Perhaps you would prefer one over the other? In the end, I prefer this, for the most part, the freedom and frisson of it all is part of the adventure for me. Perhaps you crave certitude? I normally do too, and know that I miss out on time to see things doing it my way, but, in my way, I see other things (not the tourist things perhaps, but other, everyday things that are part of making life work). Anyway, today that backfired a bit.

I started out headed to the Metro but took a side trip to the large central market. Unlike Aix, this one is enclosed- and enormous. Hundreds of Aix's could fit in here. It dwarfed Reading Terminal in Philly and was beyond the size of most train stations I have ever seen. Filled with veggies and fruits, the air, being enclosed, was a wonder. What made it interesting was that along with fresh meats, there are many that are salted and 'sausaged' so that the air, while being full of fruit and vegetables, had a strong salty air. I walked around, looked at mounds of chicken feet (what do you do with them?) and pigs feet, tripe. The meats looked better here, the fruits and veggies less so. Was it the lack of sunlight? I just wonder what it's like to shop here for food each day rather than in cold (aint they always cold?) supermarket where everything is hard and preserved?

Anyway- off to the Metro. Thank god I have learned to do a 'dry run' the day before each trip. I got SO lost on the Metro. Magyar is TOUGH and I was soon shuttling all over the city (without backpack thank god) getting varying directions each time I asked. And of course, had a 'duh' moment when I realized that Budapest has several train stations- I was getting different directions to a different station each time I asked. I was grateful I wasn't running late for the train. I sorted it out eventually and made it to Keleti at last.

Oh, fashion update for Dick. Um, here, it doesn't matter if you are wearing contrasting plaids. Or plaids with polka dots. Or three different plaids (yellow and purple plaid with green and red plaid and then striped sweater- all cool- toss on something with polka dots, and you're really styling). I also note that paisley headscarves are always in style (or, the ever fashionable black). Still, long shot from Bucharest (which will be butt of my jokes until I find someplace worse). Overall, people are not trendy here, but they are 'ok'. London or Paris it is not. One thing that confuses me though, all t shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps are in English. What does "Scotts Turf" have to do with anyone here??

Anyway- in the maze of Keleti trainstation, after many false starts, I found the ticket window for 'International' trains. Frustration was great. I stood in line for over 20 minutes and the person being served never left- the ticket agent left- came back, left. I pondered my new karmic view that any line was fine- and like a lane of traffic, the moment I switched, it would open up. After half an hour, I moved. Only three lines were open and all moved slowly. I was in line behind a gaggle of American teens. Each of whom ordered the same ticket, to the same place, in cash- and each transaction took 10 minutes. People behind me, and next to me in the old line, were impatient. The Aussie (I think) behind me commented that he thought Americans were smarter than this. He had been ahead of me in the other line and moved behind me- he had been there half an hour longer than I! We crawled slowly to the window- and a sign appeared that it would close at 2 (this was at 10 after 2). We groaned- the Aussie missed his train. I think he smelled, then I thought to myself "You aint done wash since Aix, don't talk, it could be you."

Got my ticket at last- glad I had no where to go. Back to Metro, re learned (and wrote down directions in my moleskin- thank you Jay) and back to Kalvin Ter.

Bottom line- almost three hours arranging train ticket- pros and cons??

I wanted to go to the Basilica of St. Stephen (found on my walk the night before) and set out. Now, I have a giant book of Europe- every country- no country specific guides (too heavy) and it says things very very briefly about each city- so I know I am missing much. Typical entry "National Museum of Hungary- relics and exhibits"; now, come on kids, a line or two would help- there are 10+ museums in this city! Doesn't even mention the Basilica! So, to the Basilica.

Basilica all gilded and amber and soft. A huge pile of a place that I wandered about. Best part- they have St. Stephen's hand! Yup, got to see it. Founding saint of Hungary- after he died (1046 I think) they chopped it off and there it is- if ever anyone needed to soak in Palmolive! Kinda cool to see. I lit a candle for a friend from whom I heard today- all is bleak in his life; do candles help? I wonder. From there, I walked towards Parliament.

Now, I was iffy about coming here because of the huge protests and when I got here, promptly forgot about them. When I got to the Parliament, there they were.

A tent city has sprung up around the building and day and night protest speeches are being broadcast. I got an earful (in Magyar) and wandered around. The big demonstrations are after work, so I was lucky to be there while they were just 'keeping the crowd going' and putting up another stage. It was fascinating. The mix of people was hugely diverse- mostly older pensioners and students while I was there. I tried talking to some- this was not a multi lingual group. I bought a t shirt (more on that later) and hung out- taking in the atmosphere of democratic protest (Oh America, what has happened to YOU?). Hungarian flags were everywhere- patriots can dissent- they had erected a large one with a perfect circle cut out (see photo), the meaning of which I couldn't understand despite some well intentioned efforts by the protesters. After a while, I looked for the Metro (feet hurt- been walking non stop since 10) and, of course, got lost. While I wandered the blocks around Parliament, and I kept running into police and Army units pulling up in huge wagons full of riot gear, but overall, everything seemed peaceful.

So, back to the area I know and to an Internet café. Now, here, there are few Internet café's as I know them- most are big monstrositymetalhulks set in a corner of a bar, built much like an ATM, where you drop in change- hard to use. So at a real café I sat down to book my hotel in Vienna.

Vienna is full. There are no hotel rooms.

Two hours of frustration, and I won't go into details, I still am not sure I have a room. A total of five hours this date on travel- hhhmm, would you do it differently? It's the worst thus far and I hate the idea of arriving with nowhere to go.

The guy who runs the café and I were chatting, and I showed him my t shirt I bought at the protest (no one there could tell me what it said- language barrier). I held it up and said, 'can you translate to English'? He actually jumped out of his chair. "It is, um, protest about Prime Minister" "I know that, what does it say? It's in Magyar." "They are angry" "I know that, what does it say?" "It is angry" "Ok, what does it say?" [Gentle reader, close your ears.......] he truly hesitated and said "Is bad. It say 'You fucker, you cocksucker'". Hmm, not wearing this in Hungary, guess only in the U.S.- and hopefully no one will know what it means!

Got some goulash and wine and heading back to room- I fear it will be a long day tomorrow what with searching for a room in Vienna- erggh.

Back at room- BBC reporting on plane crash into a building in Manhattan- not terrorists but still- the memories it evokes. I can't think about it. Still too close to me. On top of that, train crash in France, (North Korea is setting off bombs). Protests in Greece have stopped all public transport. Turkey protests accusations of genocide against Armenians and accuses France of genocide. Hungarian news is awash with the huge protests of this evening: the pictures I took earlier today are mirrored on the news tonight (and I hate to say it, but I look for myself in the footage). Bush says reports of Iraqi civilian deaths are exaggerated.

Being out of touch can be good in some ways- but when you catch up- wow.

It's a lot to digest in one sitting (actually, four minutes). I hate thinking about 9/11- too close to home.

October 12, 2006

On the train to Vienna! Made it here with no problem- changed the last of my Florint at the station- $3,000 Florint got me $5 Euro- with florint in change- used the last florint for a bottle of water. Sharing a compartment with Evelyn, a nice Israeli lady who explained that there is a huge tennis match in Vienna and that is why all rooms are booked- she had trouble and works at the Embassy! She thinks her hotel has rooms, I took down the name (it is way out in the boonies but available) as a back up. She is glad to be speaking English with me as she finds Magyar difficult as well. She asked if I was going to Vienna for business or pleasure, I explained I am simply traveling Europe for a few months; "Mid life, huh?" is her response!

Hhhmm, time to ponder and people watch. Realize that my impressions of places are directly tied to the friendliness of people (New Yorkers take note). I hear Vienna can out French the French in being snooty- quote "they live in the most beautiful place in the world, and know it". People dress differently depending on where you are (like, duh) but overall, plaids aside, women uniformly wear roughly the same type of clothes and have the same hairstyles. Men are pretty much the same- hair is usually short (but long hair is far more common on all ages). Americans stick out (self included) by some indefineable way- I can spot them a mile off and as I get close, hear the accent. Europeans seem to try and be more chic, using what they have

Train ride was fascinating- Evelyn and i struck up a conversation and within minutes were on deep topics that happen only when strangers talk. She asked that i not share, and i shan't- but it was wonderful (and in some ways life changing).

Arrived at train station- went to Hotel desk for help. They called my hotel, full up, never bothered to let me know. So, after some dialing, here i sit at the Hotel Zipser (I think its a good location, have to get my bearings) but expensive at $100 Euro a night- but its a bed and there will be plenty of time to 'repent at leisure' when i get back.

Starving- out to find a coffeeshop and food!
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