I could tell something was wrong by the look upon the ticket agents face, but I had to wait all the while she discussed in Dutch with her colleague exactly how to handle the situation prior to discussing it with me. Like a fool, I actually caught myself crossing my fingers that something good would come out of their discussion. I should of been so lucky. “Sir, I am sorry but there is a problem. You are only allowed 20 Kilos of luggage and you have over 50.” Shit I thought, how much was this going to cost me? I asked her what could be done about it, and she apologetically told me that if she let it go as is, she would get in trouble. Then we had the whole discussion inquiring if I knew about the allowance and where was I coming from. I played stupid about the allowance and as for where I was coming from, not only did I not know what to say, but wondered its relevance. I would come to find out that traveling in the US, you are allowed twice what is allowed in Europe. If you are coming right off a plane from the US and catching a transfer, I believe they will let you slide provided you show documentation. Thinking of the ol’ adage that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react, I just remained calm. That was until she told me it would be 10 Euros (dollars) per kilo over the amount, in other words, $300+ dollars to go to Budapest and logically, $300 dollars+ to come back. Anyway, without going on and on with this story, she suggested I consider sending part of my luggage via cargo, on the same plane. Compared to the alternative, it would cost me about $100 dollars but I would have to pick it up a few days after my arrival. This was all crazy to me as it was going to be put on the same damn plane I was told…
So, as I said, there I sat on the pavement in front of the main airports entrance with about an hour to kill smoking my stogie. I opened my shirt and just laid on the pavement, absorbing the hot midday Holland sun. I was certain I thought, that years from now, when I am an old man with a head full of memories of my travels, that perhaps I would run into a young smart ass like myself who would be so anxious to tell me of his adventures. And upon his doing so, it would not be the $200 extra dollars it cost me to go from Amsterdam to where I am now in Budapest story I would tell him, but rather that of the one like I am about to share with you.
I had never flown the Hungarian Malev airlines so I was not really sure what to expect. We were to depart from Schipol at about 4:15 in the afternoon for a two hour flight, arriving in Budapest at 6:30. If all went as planned, my dearest friend Kriszta would be waiting there to meet me. I had asked her to do so as Hungary is a whole other can of worms when it comes to being a tourist. Not in a bad way mind you, but rather in relation to how few people speak English, or “American” as I will often ask them. I was fortunate to have been seated next to a young Hungarian girl who spoke fluent English, returning from England where she was studying in Newcastle. I had to chuckle as that is where the lovely couple I had met earlier in my trip is from and it gave me a chance to pick her unbiased brain about the city and whether I should put it on my itinerary. I tried not to bother her too much, but she seemed ever so eager to talk to me in addition to trying to teach me some basics about the Hungarian language in the process.
The flight was as nice as it was short. They served us a nice meal halfway through and we actually landed right on time, if not a little bit early. Would Kriszta be there I thought? Would my luggage arrive I thought? Well, within minutes I had the answer to the latter question as my bag was one of the first off the carousel. Whew I thought. Customs really didn’t amount to much, as there were a few different lines, some with a sign for all EU passports, and still others which read “All Other Passports”. I wondered why the man was looking at me funny as I approached his countertop for admittance into what I consider my homeland if you will. What? my face must of read to him. He pointed with his pen to a sign that read “Diplomats Only”. I quickly found myself straightening up to look all diplomatic and his expression changed to that of a smile. Its ok he said as he stamped my passport and waved me through with a grin. Out in the main hall, Kriszta was no where in sight. I told myself I’d give her until 7:30 and then find my own way in to Budoärs where I would spend a complimentary night at the lovely Holiday Inn. (see my I Suggest link…) As I was going through my luggage to try to find her phone number, a guy engaged me in a conversation for one reason or another. I told him a bit of my situation and he offered me his mobile phone as well as a ride to Budoärs (buda – ursch). Of course I was somewhat cautious as to his generosity, but when you consider he looked like Gomer Pyle, I really didn’t have to much to worry about I thought. One thing about the Hungarian people I come to both discover and appreciate and love is their pride and love in their country and their eagerness to help you out. This is not always the case, but more times than not it is.
I found Kriszta’s mobile number and my new found friend dialed her number only to give me the phone thereafter. “Hallo” I said as she answered the phone. She was just walking into the airport and before I could ask her where she was, she came into sight. She looked great I thought at the same time thinking how fortunate I was to have met her a few years ago and befriended her. (as I side note, being Father’s Day and all, I should probably mention that I owe my gregarious personality to my dad and only my dad. I can’t begin to tell you how often as a child I’d watch him engaging complete strangers in conversation. I know find myself inadvertently emulating him right down to his mannerisms and expressions. One of my favorites is after having made someone laugh, I (he) will often say, “You laugh. I used to laugh” Sitting here in this tea house just a few doors down from my new “home”, tears come to my eyes as I think of him. I came close to losing him this year, but by the grace of God, and only by the grace of God mind you, he is still with us.) She didn’t seem too impressed that the guy there would drive us to Budoärs for one reason or another. I told her it might be nice to get a bite to eat, if only for her benefit, and then if she could help me to the spot in Budapest where the Holiday Inn shuttle would pick me up for a ride to the hotel. We had to take a bus which took us to a station where there were lots of gypsies. Kriszta told me to watch my belongings as we passed one sidewalk vendor/bum after another. We found our way to the metro and within an hour of us meeting at the airport, we were sitting at the Soul Cafe on Raday street where we had had dinner last year on the night of my departure. I loved this street I thought as we walked past one cafe after another. It was Friday night and the patio tables were full of both locals and tourist alike. (little did I know that the next morning, I’d be moving into my flat which was just around the corner!) Kriszta ordered a beef or pork dish and I a nice one of pasta. I am pretty sure she doesn’t eat out very much and I am always so willing to treat her to a nice dinner as she helps me out so much. Unlike my previous visits to Budapest, this time she has a boyfriend and her free time would be limited she told me, which I totally understood.
After dinner we found our way to the bus stop and the rest of the evening was pretty uneventful. I had a scotch and my “last” cigar I thought before going to bed. Angela, the manger of the hotel, had requested I give her a call when I got in. She was ever so kind to have found the flat for me to rent which is in her apartment building. She wanted to tell me that she would have the shuttle driver drop me off special at her (our) apartment building on Köztelek street, number 4/a to be exact, fifth floor, flat #2. The next morning after a great breakfast, one of the best of my travels as for a hotel that is, I decided to go next door to a large shopping mall and pick her up some flowers and a small gift – the Norah Jones CD which I thought she’d like. Next thing I knew, I was on the bus, holding my breath the whole while hoping that my flat would be acceptable. It had to be I kept telling myself, Angela lived there… When we arrived, Angela came down to meet us. She looked great! Dressed all in white, she had a warm and friendly smile on her face as I handed her the flowers. She thanked the bus driver and we were off, me still holding my breath. I was under the impression that I would be meeting an older lady who owned the whole apartment building, but rather it ended up the lady just owned the flat I would be renting as well as the one two doors down. When we walked in, I let out such a sigh of relief as it was just beautiful! Right away, I saw that it had everything I would need, to include a TV which I would later come to discover would get both CNN and BBC news channels. There was such a flurry of conversation between the older woman, Angela and myself that I can’t remember most of it, but I do remember that one of the first things I wanted to get out of the way was the rent. I counted out 80,000 Forints in 20,000 increments on the table in what would be my dining room. I’d need 6,500 Forints in change I told Angela. The lady who would be my landlord name is Sule Gabriella, or something like that. She doesn’t speak a word of English, but she was so intent on showing me everything. The shower, the toilet, the stovetop, the fridge – with water and juice in it for me, and of course my sleeping arrangements. If I didn’t like the color of the sheets I was told, there were more in the large closet which took up an entire wall. She then made sure to tell Angela that she would be coming in once a week to clean for me and if I wanted some good Hungarian meals, just to knock on her door in the evening! You have got to be kidding thought. (the thoughts of the $200 dollars for the luggage were so far removed from my mind) After the initial introductions were done, Sule Gabriella left Angela and I alone for what would be a lovely visit. She loved the Norah Jones CD as it played while we looked at some of my travel photos. One of her most adorable features is that of her smile I thought as we sat there and talked. She has a means by which she will position her mouth in the mouth interesting ways when she talks, especially when she smirks. Anyway, within an hour of my arrival, I was all alone in my new “home” – and I loved it!
I had decided that this weekend would be that of a relaxing one before buckling down on Monday and getting my butt in gear to get some work and studying done. I have been putting off a Penile Enlargement web site for a Dr. back home and that would be the first thing on my agenda come the first of the new week. I unpacked my bags and before I knew it I was walking the shore of the Danube. It felt like home is all I can say. I stopped for a cappuccino at a cafe and engaged a lawyer and his wife in a conversation. They were from Phoenix and we shared some good laughs for awhile. When I left the Danube and meandered my way into the center of the city, I had a couple of objectives on my mind. One was to find an internet cafe and another was to buy a phone card and a monthly pass for the metro, trams, and buses. Don’t ask me exactly how it happened, but before I knew it, I had my own personal Hungarian tour guide named Andras. A guy about my age, he was ever so eager to help me accomplish all of the before mentioned and then some. I have no idea why he was so willing to help me, but he kept citing it would give him a chance to polish his English. Could that be all I kept thinking. We ended up at the main city library which was just beautiful I thought and would be perfect for my studying during the week. Little did I know that my flat would also be just around the corner as well. Andras and I walked for some time before ending up back at my flat where I shared some of my pictures with him and he shared some of Hungary’s history with me before we parted with the understanding that we’d meet next week for coffee or tea. As he left, I couldn’t help but to wonder if it was because he was a Christian that he helped me as he had told me as much earlier in our conversation. What a great guy I thought as he walked down the street in one direction and I in the other, looking over my shoulder occasionally as I found myself wondering about him.
I spent the night walking the various streets near my home, occasionally feeling sorry for myself as a big city can get quite lonely. That really is all there is to say about my first day in my new “home”. I slept very well on my pull out couch bed, occasionally being awakened by a scooter going by or some dogs barking off in the distance. I’d take a train to Keskemet the following morning I thought as I dozed off.
The next morning, this morning as a matter of fact, I got up a bit late but still decided to go to Keskemet to see if I might track down my friend Kata whom I had met last summer during my travels. Her cell number had been disconnected and even though I could of dropped her a card in the mail to tell her I was here, I decided to spend a day traveling there. It was a good decision. The train cost me about 2,000 Forints (there are 210 forints to a dollar) and only took about an hour and a half to get there. Once on the train, I felt safe enough to pull out my laptop and do some work on the penile web site. (you should see the before and after photos, and no, I am not going to exchange services on this job 😉 ) When I got to the town, I easily remembered my way to the small cafe where she was working last year. I had learned from Kriszta that she no longer worked there, but I thought perhaps a friend might know how to get a hold of her. No such luck it would turn out. My next option was to go to the home on the address she had given me. A nice hotel clerk sold me a map of the city and did his best to direct me to the number 1 bus, or busza as they say here. Within about a half hour, I found myself walking what was actually a rather nice neighborhood amidst what those of which were anything but nice as I traveled on the bus from the town center to its outskirts where she lived. When I got to her home, she was not there but the lady from who she rented was. Lets just say it was quite a comical scene as we sat at the kitchen table trying to communicate with one another. I left her a note written in English (American) for Kata, but also decided to staple a thumbnail photo I had left over from the previous days bus pass adventure to the letter so there would be no doubt who had left the note for her as I knew she’d have to have the the letter translated. I left with the assurance that she still lived there and would recieve my letter and photo.
I didn’t spend too much more time in town and decided to catch the train back to Budapest. Just as when I was coming down in the morning, I spent the trip on the way back working on my laptop. There was only one suspicious guy in the train car, and his curious stare was met with an intense one of mine. My dad has often told me that my size alone is enough to intimidate someone, and it is that that I try to remember (whether it is true or not) when I return the stares of guys in the various places I travel.
One of my hangouts near my flat, a tea house…
I got back to my flat (that sounds so nice) about dinner time and I could smell the aroma of the meals being prepared from the 1st floor to the 5th, where I stay. I decided to do a panorama of my flat and after it came out so nicely, I decided to invite my landlady over to see it. I was quite sure she’d be amazed at how it worked and she was. A young man who is a relative of hers and lives on the first floor had stopped by and through him I told her how appreciative I was for her letting me stay here. All of a sudden, she went to her flat only to return a few minutes later with a delicious home cooked meal. I of course for second time in as many days, planted big kisses on both of her cheeks, with her saying “Thank you!” in Hungarian all the while. I love people!
All of this brings me to where I am now, in my flat sitting half naked while watching CNN (not that you needed to know that). It is quite warm but pleasant for sleeping. I have a nice fan which continuously is providing a cool artificial breeze. It is almost 11 now and I will set my alarm for about 6. Tomorrow I have not too much planned except a walk to the Danube when I wake up, then I need to figure out how to get to the airport cargo facility and hopefully retrieve my backpack with my tent and camping gear I will need next week when I visit Lake Balaton in Hungary. I’m going to meet Kriszta at about one to show her my flat and discuss a money making strategy which if successful, will make both of us a nice income. I intend to go “door to hotel-door” selling my digital panoramas for 10,000 Forint each. I will give her 4,000 for each one, and keep 6,000 for myself. She will do my selling (in Hungarian of course) and I will do the technical stuff. I think we will make a pretty good team.