Since most of my time was spent in Pest perhaps I should say Pestbuda?
02.06.2009 - 03.06.2009
I felt rushed here for the first time this tour. Krakow was small and easy. Pestbuda is big and metro feeling. Too big for just 2 free afternoons. My socks barely had time to dry. That and yesterday I did feel just a skooch off. Tired, a touch crabby, back hurt a bit (soft bed), had to hit my emergency power bar to keep from killing people but I was still snapping. Bettie and Mary are slightly picky eaters. They wanted pizza for lunch yesterday and that sounded good to me too...I had seen a place on our way to the market hall. So I walked us there. They checked out the menu, then checked it out some more, then started discussing options. I suggested "Perhaps we would all be happier to be making our choices sitting down in the restaurant!" They giggled, told me I was being crabby, to which I agreed we went down to the pizza hall (in a basement) so we could all make our selection and organize a satisfactory lunch.
I re-visited a park our group had been to that morning. I was kinda tired of new new new and wanted to review and savor some places I enjoyed. The familiar, when you are traveling so much is actually appreciated. I took the metro out and enjoyed an afternoon stroll...mercifully free of tour groups. The square we had been to was choked full of them that morning...by late afternoon they were gone. It's a beautiful park with what the locals call a "Disney" looking set of buildings in one corner. Very charming and photogenic. The park was cool and lush. I absorbed its tranquility. Unfortunately I couldn't hang out indefinitely...we had a boat trip organized that I had to get back for.
The evening/night river cruise was really quite neat. The lights for the bridges and buildings actually came on as we were traveling on the Danube. Spectacular. Our whole group was on the roof of the boat raising hell - I think I mentioned they were loud. One thing was very interesting. The boat had a giant LCD monitor mounted in front of our seats. Mind you were were on top of the roof so open air. And in front was this video screen. They played and showed shots of things we were looking at. I suppose the dramatic readings and whatnot were for effect...but I thought audio would have been sufficient? Then they kinda did the nose cam thing (planes now have nose cams when you take off you can watch the runway and takeoff...pretty cool). So you saw the water in this boat nose cam. Kinda weird.
I felt a whole lot better by evening. I went out after our cruise for dinner that evening with a core "group" of couples that have been traveling together. They were a fun bunch. The restaurant and staff were great. Accommodating 9 folks easily and amusing us and we them. Italian food...delicious Italian food. It was at this dinner I proclaimed my "disappointment" with the Rick Steves Eastern Europe book. Literally GASPS rose up. I said "Sorry, but I have used better books. I feel like this one is half assed." Then I gave my reasons. No real maps. No maps with street indexes. That and if you take public transportation his book doesn't tell you what metro/tramstop. That and his referrals lack reference points on a map. Almost no pictures. Plus he has discussions in multiple places with multiple crude maps. I explained that Is my primary beef. I know you can pick up maps where you end up. But I have kinda gotten used to the DK and TimeOut books...and though I do very much trust, like and seek out his recommendations I don't find his book the ONLY book I would travel with. Especially after it BEING THE ONLY book I'm traveling with for this leg of my journey and me wishing I had others (I have my DK Vienna, DK Top 10 Vienna and my Time out books all in my bag for Vienna so I'm set). Well lord you would have thought I would have taken a big o' poo right there on the table. Shall we say Shields UP! Everyone got defensive and starting saying how much they loved his books blah blah. I was like "...yeah. But the maps suck. I navigated all over Paris with my DK book it gave metro stops for the various attractions and suggestions etc" They were like "okay, yeah...but you are to do research before you leave" I was like "no, most folks don't have time for that BS. Your book should have at the very least coordinates for their recommendations" Then there was talk of "Well I think if you buy the specific country books you get more" I was like okay. I'll accept that as a possibility. The deciples defended their leader, I smoothed their extremely ruffled feathers giggling to myself that I got them all so riled up. In the end all was well with the world.
The woman next to me leaned over and whispered so her husband couldn't hear "The DK books ARE magnificent"
Woke up this morning definitely catching a cold. People have been hacking around me. One douchbag sat in the last row of the bus (I usually stake out the next to last) on one of our legs a few days back and coughed and sneezed and hacked and trumpeted - all without the slightest attempt to cover his various orifice which was spraying sputum, mucus and contaminants all over the place. Jerk. I wanted to slap him. Especially when I overheard they sat in the back to "protect the rest" But LORD KNOWs he is old enough, he should know better cover your mucus holes with SOMETHING when they are venting! So I made sure fresh air was pointing over my head to staff off the germs. But I think I got it. That and he isn't the only illin' person. Bob woke up running a fever. Joe has been coughing the entire trip. It's like a convalescent van!
In Budapest I am stopped and asked for directions by Hungarians in Hungarian. Budapest is a beautiful city. Gorgeous buildings all over the center. My interactions with the locals were very pleasing. Very similar to Paris...on a smaller scale.They have developed some very lovely pedestrian boulevards and centers and are in the process of developing more. The street in front of our hotel being one...many streets were torn up as they reduce the car traffic and put in more tram lines and pedestrian blvds. interestingly our guide told me when they became a republic everyone thought they would own a car. So they tore out some tram lines, removed sidewalks for parking ect...they are now reversing that realizing it's impossible for such a large city to rely on car only. So they are expanding their metro and tram lines and making more ped friendly streets.
So needless to say I once again wasn't feeling great when I went on our tour the next morning. The "Castle" (which is a misnomer as it's really just a municipal complex and museums - the inside was long ago gutted of any value/beauty) has this enormous banner on it that I imagine says "If you lived here you would be home" or maybe "Office space for lease."
The Hungarian language is beautiful to listen to...impossible to grasp in a couple days. Most of us in the group can barely say thank you or hello. (just about the time you are getting those 2 simple greetings we leave) When you do manage to get them out you get smiles and giggles from the locals because we mangle them so badly. Anyhow...I digress. I'm finding the tours informationally interesting and expertly done. Lot's of history that give meaning to what you see.. I don't want to spend an hour in another freaking church. I don't wanna! But I do cuz the group does. I would have rather not "RUN" across the chain bridge (I swear we walked faster across this bridge than this whole group has walked anywhere) and taken some pictures in the morning light. Argh. The pitfalls of tours. So when I am forced into a church or some other dull place I amuse myself by taking pictures of people I don't know. Trying to "steal" pictures without them knowing - or getting caught and smiling and waving. Taking pictures of textures, paint, floors. Photographing cops. Finding the obscure things most people miss. Like I was looking at this crypt today because we were given time to "enjoy" the cathedral. Some crypt of some dead king and queen or something - at this point it was all blah blah (they know they were queen and king cuz their bones were tall or something) anyhow I'm looking at this crypt. It's your average king type crypt. Marble, Dude in armor, Lady in gown. Side by side forever, Feet on lions or dragons or some such fierce beast. I'm looking at this crypt thinking "oh lord...another one" and I see this pair of feet on the floor beside it. I'm like "what the hell! THIS Is interesting" So I became engrossed with the adjacent marble feet no-one mentions AND it seemed nobody noticed. It's funny when you point your camera at something and take some time...it attracts other camera people. They horn in like boy dogs sniffin each other "oooh what is he taking a picture of..." I don't think any of them saw the other pair of feet their cameras were all pointing to high. Dorks.
After the tour we are usually cut loose. At this point I notice another interesting "tour group-izim" Everyone scatters once a tour is over. If I don't attach myself to someone post haste I'll be left as everyone scampers off with their travel companions to "do their lists." I have given up on lists. No lists. I just stand and look around and walk in a direction. Our group didn't do the usual scatter. Most were following the guide at this point. I was following him because I told him I may need some cold meds and it's likely easier to get them here than in Croatia...he agreed. So the group caterpillared along. Several times nearly severed due to inattentive street crossing. I cut off at the pharmacy to get my meds.
Another interesting thing about these countries who have 3 zeros after the cost of most items. The ATM Machines only spew out gigantic bills. For example when we first crossed the boarder I got out 50,000 forins...only about $250. ATM's only give these giant amounts to you in increments of 10,000 so I got only 5 bills each 10,000. However NOBODY wants to take them. When you do try to use them there is always a whole lot of grumbling, eye rolling and sighing when they realize 1. you have no idea what they are saying to you as you look at them your eyes showing how enamored you are with the lilt of their beautiful language 2. it's the only money you have and NO you don't have the odd "cents" to make it an even paper dollar amount from their cash drawer (Which I might add is always abundantly overflowing with rainbows of bills).
I got my meds and realized I was in a hunger crisis. We had dropped a segment of our caterpillar at a cafe on the way but I thought going to the market would be "more fun" AND I could check out something in the "antique" shops to buy from pest. Turns out I wasn't in the mood for either shopping OR "let's have fun ordering and getting food" I just WANTED FOOD NOW" I went into a single antique store and realized my eyes were seeing things but my brain didn't care. I went to the market walked the market a couple times realizing I was aimlessly going nowhere AND didn't want any hassle. My brain had locked on the charming cafe we had dropped some of the group off at and I decided there is where I must be - no matter it is NO WHERE NEAR where I am. In my zombie food needing state I wandered to the Cafe.
I must say this Cafe was EXACTLY the tonic for my food weary soul. It was shady and cool. French in style. I spent nearly 2 hours taking my lunch. When I first arrived the group we had dropped off were just leaving (so even though it felt like hours had passed barely one had). I was so zonked I ordered a cappuccino right away. Then made my food choices. All through lunch the business guys next to me had papers that kept blowing off their table at me. One of them left and the remaining guy said as yet more paper flew my direction "they sure like you...they really do" I'm not sure what that meant - REALLY - but it was cute. Feeling fortified and rejuvenated I went back to the shops I was trying to enjoy before.
I entered one I have had my eye on since yesterday afternoon. The shop keeper was outside chatting with other shop keepers I recognized from the market the day before (I don't know why but sometimes I DO lock onto faces). When I went in the shop he soon followed. His shop was mostly porcelain with paintings on the wall. I was thinking to myself I'd be surprised if I saw anything of interest. The shopkeeper said "Please...Don't be shy...If you want to look at something please do...if you need me to take something out of the case, please ask" He said this in a genuine way. Not a "I need to sell you something way." Then I saw it. A porcelain beetle. It was great. Easy to pack. Perfect condition. From the 30's. A great memento. So I ask the guy to get it out of the case. He thrusts his arm into the case with gusto somehow missing everything (clearly he has done this before) and fishes out the beetle. He insists I take it out to the street to look at it in the light. I'm not a barterer but he quoted a fine price. I gave a long pause. He then quoted another lower price and discounted it if cash. I paused. He said "You go think about it. If you want it, come back." This seemed reasonable. So I thanked him and left. I stopped into a few more shops. The shop keepers in the other shops were off-putting and desperate. They annoyed me and I saw nothing of interest. After looking around for some time I couldn't get the beetle out of my head. So I hit the cash machine and began making my way back to this first store. They guy was, where I noticed him yesterday, sitting at the neighboring cafe enjoying a drink. I walked up and said "I want to buy the bug" he was like "Sit down, you want a drink?" I declined the drink but said "it's good to sit" We sat and talked for 20 or 30 minutes as he watched his shop door. We talked a bit about Budapest. The bug I was going to buy (from the northern forests). He talked a bit about his shop. He has been in the same place for 17 years. Owns the shop. He said "if people want to buy something they will, I don't need to force them, if they don't, they don't. It does not bother me." He doesn't want to do online because he realizes pictures always look better online than in real life and doesn't want the hassle. He buys on ebay and whatnot but doesn't sell online. We continued to talk until someone walked into the store so we had to follow. He greeted them and then set about the business of wrapping one beetle. The other customer left. He handed me my beetle now cocooned in paper and bubble wrap suggesting I put it in my bag if there was room. I then paid for it. I saw pictures of what I assumed were his wife and child behind the counter and asked if they were. Indeed they were. We had talked about his family earlier. As we were concluding our transaction I asked "Do you have a card?" he smiled and said. "You know, I'm out of cards. Ran out yesterday but I have one in the car. Let's walk to my car and I'll get you a card." I was like "Oh goodness, no I don't want to take you from your shop" but he insisted. So he locked his shop up (this is in the middle of the afternoon) and we walked the block to his car. I realized we didn't have any introductions so I said "I'm Jason by the way" He said "I'm Robert" I was like "that's not a Hungarian name" and he then talked about how his father was German and his mother was Hungarian. He mentioned a special name for his father I'll have to ask our guide what the name was. But his father was a German who re-immigrated back into Hungary after the war. We got to his truck, he retrieved a card. At this point I was like "do you mind if I get a picture with you. You have been THE NICEST person I have talked to here in Budapest" he was like "absolutely"