Escape of the Week: Budapest

Sometimes, being solo and traveling is hard. You see something so breathtaking, so amazing, such an example of the beauty of the world before you … you turn to convey your joy of the moment … and … nothing. The space beside you is void of anyone.

There are times when solo travel is exhausting. It’s cold. It’s rainy. You hurt from falling on your ass. Hard.

And, then there are times when solo travel is exactly what it is meant to be:

Exhilarating.

Awe-inspiring.

Beautiful.

This photo was not one of those awesome solo travel moments. It was the other one. But, shortly after this photo was taken, I snapped out of my funk, met some great travelers, and was on to my next spot, Romania.

I love this picture because it echoes how I was feeling at that moment: dreary, muted, and yet, peaceful.

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Romanian sunsets, Hungarian mornings and Polish afternoons

I stood outside at 22h 40 (I know, very European of me), backpack strapped tight to me, messenger bag slung across my front and purse on my arm.

Whew.

It was time to depart Cluj and head to Krakow. Via bus. Back to Budapest.

When Arpad first told me I had to take a bus to Budapest in order to get to Krakow, I immediately tried for other options.

“Why don’t you want to stop in Budapest?” he had asked.

Aside from backtracking, Budapest and I were still at odds. Only a little, but still. I would have rather trekked from Ukraine like I had originally planned.

But, bus to Budapest it was.

So, there I stood, in the dark outside of a hotel, looking for the bus that would whisk me back to Hungary and then on to Krakow via an Orange Ways bus at 6 a.m.

I was actually a bit bewildered.

I didn’t see a bus. Anywhere.

“Miss, miss,” called the cab driver who had dropped me at the lot. “Here, follow me.”

I picked up step behind him as he walked me away from where I was standing and towards a tiny cluster of people smoking outside of an overgrown white minivan.

“Here,” he said, gesturing for me to stop at the van.

Right. This isn’t a bus.

“Hi,” I said to a man standing at the van door, who seemed to be the driver. “Budapest?”

“Yes, yes,” he said, motioning me to follow him to the back of the van. “Luggage?”

I took off my backpack and placed it on the ground.

Where was it going to go? The van wasn’t like a bus that has the storage underneath.

Then, I saw it. The U-Haul-esque attachment to the van, hooked at the back. My luggage was going to go in there.

“Thanks,” I said, handing him my backpack and keeping my other two bags as pillows. I got in the van and grabbed a seat, trying to fathom the next five hours of driving to get back to Hungary.

Once we departed, I noticed there were only six or so people riding, so I took over two seats, trying to balance myself on the cushions that seemed a few inches too short, and trying to keep the arm of the  seat out of my back.

I slept on and off as we drove through the still of the Romanian night, waking up when I got too hot, when we stopped and at the border.

When we arrived in Hungary at 4:30 a.m., I was glad. Only seven or so more hours of driving until I could get to a bed and catch some real sleep.

The bus to Krakow from Budapest was nothing like the van ride.

Orange Ways is a machine. They pipe in movies. They have wifi (although it wasn’t working on my trip). They even have coffee and hot chocolate. And, they have packed busses. Packed.

I sat in the second to last row of the bus on the aisle, ready to pass out. I could feel the exhaustion seeping into my body, my head growing heavy, my eyes fighting to stay open.

And, that’s when three drunk-from-the-night-before Brits walked onto the bus, past my seat and sat behind me. Smelling like a bar and lots of liquor. Ready to party.

I heard beer cans crack open and ignored it.

I listened as they talked on and on about partying and then put my headphones on to drown them out.

Then, they decided they want to have a party on the bus. So, they opeedn up their laptop and put on some techno for everyone to listen to. At 6 in the morning.

Now, I’m a pretty chill person. There are very few times I will ever ask anyone to stop doing something. Those times are:

– Having sex in a dorm room. C’mon on. I don’t need to hear/see it.

– Talking loudly in a dorm room in the middle of the night when everyone else is sleeping. It takes two moments to go outside.

– Playing loud and crappy techno at 6 a.m. on a bus with a captive audience.

When I could hear the thwackthwackthwack above my music, it was time to turn around. Luckily, they were cool about it and turned it off.

About 30 minutes later, they were all passed out.

And, six hours later, I was walking through the streets of Krakow.

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D vs Budapest: The down and dirty recap


I departed Madrid with such apprehension. I wanted to stay, but knew it was time to head out and keep traveling.

Budapest was the destination, but I wasn’t too excited, despite the marvelous things I have heard about it. I loved being with my new friends, and heading to Budapest meant a departure from my comfort zone.

Perhaps my frame of mind upon leaving set me up for the numerous bouts I had with the city, or maybe it was just time for me to practice keeping my wits about me.

Either way, Budapest and I went mano y mano and in the end, well, I think it is safe to say I didn’t go down without a fight.

Round 1

I got off the bus and headed to the train to get to the city. Of course, I speak the equivalent of nothing in Hungarian, so when I handed the woman at the ticket counter 1,000 FTs, she told me it wasn’t enough for the train.

I handed her more. Then, I looked at the sign. Clearly, the ticket I wanted was marked as 320, not 1,000.

“Wait,” I stammered. “I gave you 1,000.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Don’t I get change?”

“No.”

I didn’t know how to argue in Hungarian, so I gave in.

Budapest: 1    D: 0

Round 2

After successfully navigating my way to Unity Hostel in Pest, I rang the door bell, thankful to be putting down my pack and looking forward to getting some food.

I buzzed. And buzzed. And buzzed.

No answer.

So, I buzzed a different number.

“Hello,” said the voice … in Hungarian.

“Hi, hostel?” I asked.

“No.”

“Let me in?”

“No.” Click.

Well, shit.

I pulled out my cell and called. A Spanish recording came on, explaining something to me (guessing I couldn’t make calls).

I spun around, looking at the buildings around me, seeing if I could just yell up to someone in the hostel to let me in.

Nothing.

Fight or flight, right?

I decided to fight. I walked up to a girl checking her messages on her phone and explained to her my situation and asked if I could use her phone.

I dialed the hostel.

No answer.

Panic began to creep into my mind. My heart began to race.

Shit. I have no place to sleep, no map of the city.

Budapest: 2    D: 0

Round 3

“Do you know where I might be able to find a hostel?” I asked the girl.

“Yes,” she said, beckoning me to follow her down another street. “Go down there to the second main street and there is one across from the post office. You will see a sign.”

Thank god.

After about 25 minutes of wandering through one of Buda’s main streets, I saw the sign for the hostel.

I buzzed.

They let me in.

“Hi,” I said, saying a silent prayer for a room. “I don’t have a reservation.”

“That’s OK,” said the receptionist, sitting down in her chair. “How many nights would you like?”

Budapest: 2    D: 1

Round 4

At Interflat Youth Hostel I met two girls from America and we headed for food. The three of us craved pizza so we did what any Americans craving pizza would do, headed to the nearest Pizza Hut (shhhh, no judging).

Pizza was mouthwateringly perfect.

We got the bill.

Really?

The server had added a 25 percent gratuity.

Budapest: 3    D: 1

Round 5

I hadn’t gone out for a few days and my inner conversations were growing stale. I tried to convince a girl in my dorm to come out with me, but she wanted to stay in.

A bar, Instant, was recommended to me by the hostel, so I decided to take a walk on over there for a drink.

I walked in and it was such a cool bar. A packed, cool bar.

There were no seats, so I did a lap through and decided I wasn’t in the mood to stand in a corner, eyeing people and conversations jealously.

So, I proceeded to another bar, one less crowded and a lot less cool, and grabbed a beer. Then, I headed back to my room to catch up on some writing.

Draw

Round 6

I had been in Budapest two nights and had met no one and decided a change of scenery was necessary.

I made a reservation and headed over to Back Pack, a hostel in Buda packed with hippie flavor and general awesomeness (and recommended by Lonely Planet).

It was a rainy and cold day in Budapest and by the time I arrived to Back Pack, my jeans were soaked through and I was chilled to the bone.

But, I had made it. I was immediately let in to the hostel and given a room with a comfortable bed, unlike the last hostel where I was oh-so Princess and the Pea and could feel every spring in the mattress.

To add to the glee, I hadn’t had to validate either of my travel tickets, so I rode for free on the tram and bus.

Budapest: 3    D:2

Round 7

The rain continued on Monday, but I was determined not to let the water drown out my day.

I stood outside of the hostel, OAR (Of a Revolution) playing on my iPod, and began walking down the stairs.

Then, my foot was slipping and my ass was connecting with the slick stairs and I was sliding down to the bottom.

Pain shot through my entire back and my arm. Tears filled my eyes.

For the first time during my trip, I wanted to go home. To my parents. To sit with my mom and have a good cry.

Budapest: 4     D: 2

Round 8

I stood up, fighting back the urge to burst into hysterics. Then, I looked behind me. Was anyone rushing to make sure I was OK?

NO.

I looked at my back. Soaked. I looked at my arm. Scratched. I looked inside of myself. Bruised, but manageable.

I brushed the dirt off of me, sucked in some fresh Budapest air and headed out the front gate and into the city to explore.

Budapest: 4    D: 3

Round 9

At that point, I decided there was a chance Budapest was going to kick my ass. It was time to get traveling, so I headed to a ticket office to purchase a bus ticket to Brasov, Romania.

“I’m sorry,” the woman said, cautiously looking at me and the frustration that was spreading over my face. “There are no buses to Brasov this week.”

“What about a train?”

“I can call and see how much it is,” she offered, and I graciously accepted.

After some back and forth, she gave me directions to another office to go and purchase a train ticket.

An hour later, and a little wetter (it was still raining in Budapest), I held in my hand a second class reserved seat to Brasov, leaving the following evening.

That night, I finally met some people in my hostel, Scott and Heidi, a fabulous Aussie/Kiwi couple and we enjoyed some drinks together.

Finally. My first good night in Budapest was also my last night.

The next night, I boarded my overnight train for Romania for some time out of Schengen Europe. Just in time to start crazy new adventures in Brasov …

Budapest: 4     D: 4

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The upside of traveling solo is the same as the down

I stood, lost in thought at the taco counter in Pest.

“Are you OK?” asked the young man at the counter, in English seeping with a beautiful Hungarian accent.

I jogged back into the moment.

“Oh, yeah,” I said, grabbing my metal tray containing a junior burrito and large beer. “Just thinking.”

And I left it at that.

The truth was, I was OK. But, only kindasortanotreallymaybe.

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Taking it off in Budapest

The thick blanket of clouds hovering overhead in Budapest stood in stark contrast to the sunny blue skies of Madrid.

Was I really only in Spain one day ago?

I stood, alone, at the ticket counter at the Szechenyi baths.

“Just one please,” I told the attendant.

I wish I had company.

She handed me the watch with the microchip, which would serve as my entrance into the baths and the key to my lock, and I walked into the gorgeous bath house.

Outside, three pools of varying temperature were filled with people of all ages, enjoying the sunless day in Budapest.

I headed to the locker room.

Women were disrobing everywhere.

Um, what?

I clung to my bag, which contained my bathing suit.

Nope. There was no way I was going to take it all off right there, in front of strangers. Hell, even if it was people I knew, my outgoing personality was no match for my modest, keep-my-clothes-on-in-public attitude.

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