I am going to have to commence this post non-chronologically because yesterday I had such a chronically frustrating day that it deserves first spot, and thence forth I can move onto happier times.
So I wake up on Tuesday morning, my last day in Budapest, with ambitious plans. I had been there for two and a half days at that point but hadn’t yet got a proper feel for the city, so wanted to explore more, see more, and get a better sense of the place. I made a to do list (obviously). I wanted to see the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial, explore Heroes Square, visit the basilica, buy a slogan cap from the BUDAFCKNPEST shop (my trusty dusty pink cap is now just very dusty), and have an evening cocktail on a rooftop bar. But first I just needed to reserve a seat on my train to Serbia for the following day. (With Interrail some trains require a compulsory seat reservation; the train I was getting being one of them.) The station I needed to catch the train from was a little out of the centre so I set off from the hostel, hoping the whole thing would be a one hour round trip. A metro, a walk, a bus, getting off the bus too early (thus another walk, slightly frustrating) and one hour later I arrived at Pesterzsébet station. If you have had the pleasure of visiting this station in Budapest (which I’m BUDA FCKN SURE you wouldn’t have) you will know that it barely deserves the title of station. It is a section of railway with a little tin kiosk on the side. And that’s it. (Thank God I didn’t need a wee.) I though to myself – this cannot be right! Another look on my Rail Planner app, one singular click on the route from Pesterzsébet to Novi Sad, and I discover the stations prior to Pesterzsébet. This is when the frustration rapidly escalates from mild to hot hot hot. Two stops before PesterzFCKNsébet it goes through Budapest Keleti. “And what?” I hear you say. Well. Buda bloody pest Keleti is three direct metro stops away from my hostel, with the total door-to-door travel time approximating fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN FUCKING MINUTES!!! I am definitely going to catch the train from this closer station tomorrow (I might be exhibiting severe imbecilic tendencies but I do have some common sense). So I try to reverse the journey I had just made to the tin can station, and find that no buses seem to be going anywhere I had heard of, and the drivers of each, although eager to help, seem to have no idea of the destination I am trying to get to. (Long-term emigration to Pesterzsébet did cross my mind at this point. Maybe I could use my design skills to pimp up the train station a little.) Attempting to board what felt like the 20,000th bus (probably about right if you take into account the exchange rate), I pointed my phone at the driver once more, giving him genuine puppy dog eyes, pleading he would say he was going in the desired direction, he nodded, said something about the metro and pointed for me to continue to a seat. My Hungarian prince! I had no idea where I was going but at least I was leaving Pesterzsébet. About half an hour on this bus took me to a metro station, from which I could continue my journey to Keleti. I was back on track. Phew. However it was now 3 pm and I was hangry, so naturally prioritised getting lunch over getting the job done. I decided to re-visit a houmous-focussed Hungarian chain which I had frequented earlier in the week. This window of houmous heaven was the ONLY enjoyable part of the day. (But it was pretty enjoyable.) Houmous + aubergine + boiled egg + cucumber and tomato salad + pitta = (momentarily) happy girl. Chickpea’d up, I returned to the task in hand. I decided to walk to the train station as I’d already spent a lot of (unfcknnecessary) time on public transport and wanted to walk off lunch. A thirty-or-so minute walk brought me to Keleti. The station was big, making it even more ironic that I travelled all the way to the tiny cardboard box of Pesterzsébet. I found the Information and Tickets office, took a ticket and waited to be called. Nearly there now (I thought to myself (foolishly)). I got called up to the desk and asked to reserve a seat on the train to Novi Sad tomorrow morning. Simple? No! This was the domestic ticket office (signposted nowhere); I needed to go to the international ticket office. So I went to the international ticket office, took a ticket and waited to be called. Same question again. She asked to see my ticket for the train. I explained that I didn’t have a ticket; I was using an Interrail Pass. She needed to see my Interrail Pass. I explained that I didn’t have it with me, but they always check when you’re on the train so please could I reserve the seat? No. She must see the Interrail Pass. I offered the email confirmation of the Pass. No. I pleaded. I begged. Still no. After some heated words I buda fckn left, frustration levels now so high they came with a health warning. I made my way back to my hostel to collect my Interrail Pass and passport (and have a swift FaceTime with Mother Hubbard who made all the right noises and offered the much needed “what a buda fckn pest” towards the horrible ticket lady). I travelled back to the station at 5.45 pm, tickets in toe, not sure what time the ticket office was open until, but by this point I had lost the will to live so figured I may as well make my way to the station once more even if it was friggin’ closed. I arrived to find that luckily it was still open. I took a ticket and (you know the drill by now). I got a different lady this time. Third time lucky. Her response: reservation not required on this train. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! “But it says reservation is compulsory on this train?” She repeats said response. I HAVE NO FCKN WORDS. I leave the station, AGAIN, make my way back to the hostel (it is now 6.30 pm), lie on the sofa (a lovely corner sofa), curl up into a ball and fall asleep. Well that was a successful day exploring Budafcknpest.
Frustration over and out.
My first day in the Hungarian capital was super chilled. I arrived at the hostel at lunchtime to a very warm welcome, a parcel from my mum (the forgotten Interrail Passes…), and – as I’d stocked up on groceries en route – poached eggs and smashed avocado on toast for lunch. I spent the afternoon chilling (on the lovely common room corner sofa), chatting (on the lovely common room corner sofa), and composing my previous blog post about The Ginger Monkey (on the lovely common room corner sofa). (I do love a corner sofa.) The hostel organised a free family dinner each night (kerching) followed by drinks and a night out in the city. We went to Fogash, one of the large ruin bars that Budapest is known for. These ruin bars are basically old empty buildings (ex army accommodation and the like) turned into bars rather than being demolished. It was full of random, quirky objects and decorations, a maze of rooms with different vibes and music, and a large central courtyard teeming with locals, tourists, and far too many stag parties. We explored the rabbit warren of rooms and dancefloors, lost friends, found friends, cut some shapes and got a little sweaty. (Some things never change!)
The following morning (after an enviable eggs and avocado brekkie) I partook in one of the city’s free walking tours (something I was initially very sceptical about, but I’ve now become rather accustomed, and even – gasp – enjoy). Unfortunately on this tour I was under the guidance of wannabe comedian Lara, a short (even shorter than me) and loud Hungarian lady who insisted on repeating all of the (bad) jokes we had heard two moments ago at the initial briefing, including her imitation of Lara Croft every time she introduced herself. It was going to be an interesting couple of hours. Much more worthwhile that the tour itself, on it I met New Orleans based bar tender Nichole; a tattooed miniature bundle of joy who, in her mid thirties, had the energy and appearance of someone ten years younger. We tried out the aforementioned houmous bar (Hummusbar) for lunch and spent the rest of the day walking, walking and… walking. (Total distance covered was 0.2 km less than my most-walked day so far (which had involved a 25 km mountain hike).) Climbing up the hefty Gellért Hill we said hello to the Lady of Liberty before making our way to the beautiful Castle District, stopping for constant breaks to watch the Red Bull Air Race World Championship going on above (and sometimes below!) us.
It was soon the evening and time for a picnic watching the sunset with a group from the hostel. Stocking up on houmous (never too much houmous), bread, cheese, etc., we headed out to find a good spot to enjoy the scenery. And where better to take in the city and the Danube descend into darkness than from the ruddy great Gellért Hill. (My thighs got it good that day.) The view itself is pretty incredible, and watching it transform before your eyes from blue to orange to pink to black (while eating tons of houmous, bread and cheese) was preeetty spectacular.
For some unknown reason (maybe the walking had made us loose our minds) Nichole and I decided to meet at 7am the following morning to visit the famous Gellért Baths (this had been pushed back from 6.30 am in a moment of sanity). When my alarm went off at six thirty I wondered what I had ever done to deserve this brutal treatment, highly considering sacking the whole thing off for a couple more hours in bed. But then I receive a message from Nichole: “Morning!” Fuck. I can’t cancel now. I dragged myself out of bed, got my shit together and headed to the spa. And boy were we glad we went early. There was just a handful of other bathers – all over seventy, none annoying or loud – enabling us to explore the huge complex in peace, with no waiting, no screaming children, and no one from our generation to make us feel inadequate about our bikini bodies. We simply bathed. There were varying temperatures of pool, sauna, steam room; an ice cold pool; an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, an adventure pool… All with a backdrop of beautiful architecture and bright blue skies. By 9.30 am we had exhausted the indoor facilities and set up camp by the outdoor pool, a day of glorious sunbathing ahead. And that’s pretty much what I did. All day. For nine hours. It was great.
As I was walking out of the Baths I saw that they had a beauty salon. Aha! I needed to get a wax, I had the time, so I enquired. (You may be wondering why on earth am I writing – on the internet, for all to see – about getting a bikini wax. Well, dear readers, you are in for a treat.) She had availability for me there and then. I quickly popped to the toilet and on returning to her treatment room found another woman (client not beauty therapist) leaving her bags and then walking out. Hmm. A little strange. The beauty therapist explained that this other woman, let’s call her Claudia (she looked like a Claudia), had booked a facial but that she (beauty therapist (let’s go for Henrietta (she looked like a Henrietta)) wasn’t expecting Claudia to turn up as she had been a no-show yesterday. “Oh, ok, I see.” (Me speaking.) “Shall I wait until you’ve done her facial?” Henrietta assured me that it wasn’t going to be a problem; she was very quick. Hmm. Ok… So I get ready for the wax (i.e. trousers off, on the bed, area to be waxed…visible). Then in walks Claudia! “Just take your top and bra off and lie on bed” (Henrietta to Claudia) (there is a second bed) (less than one metre to the left of me). No explanation to Claudia regarding the stranger – ME !!! – lying, rather unglamorously, to her right. And then Henrietta just gets on with the wax. With Claudia lying right there! She does a bit, then moves over to cleanse Claudia’s face, then comes back to the business end to finish the job! All WITH CLAUDIA THERE! A very interesting twenty minutes to say the least. When it’s over I put my trousers back on and Henrietta is already doing Claudia’s facial, asking her how her day’s been, with me right behind putting my bloody trousers back on!!! She takes a break from the facial to take my money (I was tempted to ask for a discount seeing as it was basically – with the level of intimacies it involved – a couples treatment). I decided, though, that I’d had enough embarrassment for one day, gave her the money and left Claudia to have her facial. And you know the first thing I thought? Well that’s a ruddy great story for my blog!
The evening to follow was the usual free dinner, drinks and ruin bar (interspersed with regailing my embarrassing afternoon to much amusement). And that was the evening before the dreaded last day… I shall say no more.