There is a great deal I can say and write about Budapest, but let me begin with two little anecdotes from my days in the Paris of the East. (I’ll be adding a few more Budapest entries in the next few days.)
On my second day in Budapest, I had some extra food from a meal I couldn’t finish–if you like your meat with a side of meat then Budapest is your kind of restaurant town–so, since I am pretty much exactly like Mother Theresa, I decided to drop off my extra food with the homeless people who were sleeping in the metro station. When I came by with my goodies the homeless folks were all napping, so I left my little goodies by them in a bag so they would wake up and see the food and think, “Who is the great person who left this for me? He must be a tall angel wearing an Eddie Bauer rain jacket.” After I left the food, I got that warm feeling I get when I do something nice for someone else every ten years or so.
When I returned about two hours later, after walking to the top of the Fisherman’s Bastion in the rain which is still number one on the stupid things I have done on this trip, the metro station was crawling with police. My warm feeling was drenched. At first I didn’t think much of it, because Budapest is thick with police. You cannot get on a train without being checked for a ticket, on the train there is about a 20% chance someone will want to see your ticket, and there is about a 50% chance someone will check your ticket when you get off the metro train. In other words, Budapest is serious about making sure you have paid for your ride. (While in Munich I never had a person check a ticket ever…and I bought tickets every time like a sucker.)
As I walked by the gaggle of police and up the stairs, a strange thought crossed my mind, “I wonder if they are looking for me?” I did leave an unattended bag in a public place. I did it in a slightly suspicious way; I walked by, around, and then moved in for the drop. The bag was still on the ground, right next to a really big, scary looking police officer. The good news was that I made my way up the stairs and didn’t have to run like Jason Bourne through the streets of Budapest. (For the record, I think I could make it about 40 feet before twisting an ankle on the cobblestone streets in Budapest.)
The second anecdote happened about 10 feet from my first story. I wanted to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes buying a ticket to the airport, so I went into the “Help Center” in the metro station. I don’t like using these places normally because I like to think I am a pro and I don’t need help, but I really didn’t want to wrestled to the ground by Rudolfo because I didn’t have the right bus pass. I went in, pushed the little button that gave me a ticket so I wouldn’t have some Italian cutting in line in front of me, and was surprised to see that they were currently serving 171…I had the number 4. There were only two other people in the Help Center, so I stuck it out and before I knew it my number was called. It went 171–3–4…like one of the math problems on the SAT that asks what the next number is. I approached the helper lady and asked how to get to the airport. She took out a little map, “You go here. Then get on this bus. Then go to the airport.”
I asked, “Isn’t there a train that runs directly to the airport?”
“I thought I read there was one.”
“There is but it is with a different company.” Here is where I was tempted to say something sarcastic, but I don’t there is sarcasm in Hungary.
“Okay, can I buy the tickets from you or do I have to use the machine in the station.”
“You can do either.”
“Okay, I’ll buy them from you so I don’t mess up.”
She didn’t respond but started to click on buttons on her computer, which I assumed was to get my tickets together, but I wasn’t too sure and I had been in Budapest long enough to know that I wasn’t going to find out until she wanted me to.
“1250 Florians.” (This is an estimate, I don’t remember. I think that was the cost, don’t use this blog as a guide to do anything in the real world or you will be in trouble.)
I handed over a 10,000 Florian note and she looked at it like I had handed her a dog turd, “Do you have 250 Florians?”
I did! I reached in my pocket, got my change out and reached across the countertop to put the 250 on her workspace…big mistake.
“Do not do that! This is my space,” she indicated the space where I put the money, “This is your space. You put the money on your space, not mine.” She was not joking around, but I had a really hard time not laughing. The only person who talks to me that way is my wife. She handed me my change–in my space, and then gave me my tickets with the shortest possible explanation, “You use this for this, this is for this…good bye.”
I wasn’t about to ask for more information, I think I had already over-drew my information account and didn’t want to get any more lectures about anything.
I hope these two anecdotes can help illustrate how Budapest is different than other cities on the tourist circuit. Budapest has an interesting past with a great deal of oppression and so they are used to an abundance of police. (The police are friendly. The first person I met in Budapest was a police officer guarding the British Embassy. He gave me a great dinner recommendation and then shook my hand after I thanked him. “Welcome to Budapest. I hope you have a good visit.” That wouldn’t happen in Vienna.) But…the cloud of Soviet oppression hangs over just about everything in Budapest. The older people look about 30 years older than they are. NOBODY working in service jobs has any idea what, “The customer is always right,” means. During my three days in Budapest, I had some of the most awkward interactions with people who were there to help me…or not.
Categories: The Irresponsible Adult Trip