Monday, May 7, 2012

Budapest Day 1!

On Thursday April 26, I hopped on a night train to Belgrade to go off to Budapest! This was to be my first trip out of the Balkans since September (as well as my first trip alone since then as well) and I was excited!!!

I had heard that the trains were bad and slow and I shouldn’t take them-from the locals, but from the internationals, I heard they were fine and I should take them. The options were either a 10 hour night train ride or a 6 hour night bus ride. I choose the train- more leg room, actual sleep, locking compartment door- all major pluses for me to choose the train over the bus. When I bought the ticket, the lady told me 8pm, but the schedule said 8:45; I decided to arrive 10-15 minutes before 8pm. Luckily I did because the train left at 8:10 on the dot (its scheduled time, by the way). I had to pay a little bit more to have a sleeping compartment, but it was worth it! The train was really clean, and the compartment steward was really nice.

The train goes north to Serbia, and it takes about an hour or so to reach the border. When we got there, something that I had secretly been hoping to happen did! I have been to Kosovo twice, and have three stamps from there. Now, as you may know, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a country, but rather a wayward province that needs to give up on this silly independence idea and get with the program. The International Court of Justice has stated that when Kosovo declared Independence, it was legal, with Serbia responding that it will Never recognize Kosovo independence. According to Wikipedia, Kosovo had gained 92 diplomatic recognitions as an independent state (90 out of 193 UN members, 22 of 27 EU members, 24 of 28 NATO members). The US does recognize Kosovo as a state. Now, I had heard that Serbia would annul the Kosovo stamps. But this hadn’t happened yet. But this time, they came in and asked for my passport, glance at my name and went to stamp me in. Then he saw the Kosovo stamps, flipped back to the front, looked at my name and looked at me, then back at the Kosovo stamps. Then he said “Just a second, problem with stamps Kosovo.” I just said ok and waited for him to bring my passport back. They drew two lines over them and wrote “anule” (which by which I think he meant annul, but I digress). This ended up striking up a conversation with the guy a few cabins over, because he was all- “what was the problem with the Kosovo stamps? I have them?” Then we got to talk in Macedonian for a bit. When I actually have to use the language, I seem to remember more than I give myself credit for.  [There was also a customs guy carrying a battery operated drill-I’m not real sure why they needed that, as there was no where to open with a drill in the cabins. More on this later]

A little bit later, I promptly feel asleep. It wasn’t great sleep, but better than nothing or what I would have got on a bus! When I woke up in Belgrade, I went in to buy my next ticket. I thought I was going to have to wait about 2 hours, but low and behold, the online schedule was incorrect! There was a train at 6:50 to Budapest (well technically Prague, but it stopped in Budapest, so who cares!). Hopped on the train, grabbed my seat and promptly fell back asleep for a bit. I always have this internal debate- do I stay awake and force myself to see this new scenery or do I take a much needed nap? I usually choose the nap- because then I won’t be cranky later.

I did get to see about an hour or 2 of scenery in Serbia, it was flat. No joke, the flattest country I have been in since August! Lots of pretty fields and small houses. I got some reading done that I had been meaning to do since last May (sorry Dr. Ely! I promise the book is interesting and I’m enjoying it, just a bit hard to get into…). All in all a peaceful, easy journey to Budapest. At some point this little old lady got on and she just gave me the heeby jeebies. I swear she was trying to smuggle stuff into Hungry. She walked back to the bathroom with a bottle of alcohol and came back empty handed. The border crossing took about 2 hours though. SO long, and they turned off the A/C and didn’t open any windows. Very hot. And they came on with drills again. But this time I heard/saw them unscrewing the compartments in the bathroom areas. Then the customs guys walked through with about 6 bottles of hard liquor. So maybe she was smuggling something…They passed by me with no incident.

When I arrived in Budapest, I went to the Tourist Information Center to buy a Budapest Card. This came highly recommended to me, but I can’t do the same to you. Unless you are over 26, the card doesn’t save you any money. You can buy a travel pass that does the same thing, but lesson learned later. I also bought a ticket to a folk dance performance and dinner cruise. Then I adventured off to find the hostel. Let me tell you- Hungarian is a very difficult language. I couldn’t pick up a single word while I was there. It is basically its own language family. It is connected with Finnish and Estonian, but they are not mutually intelligible.  All I knew was that I had to look for “Sventi Ivanti” or something like that to get off this trolley bus.

But there was construction and my directions from the tourist info center included “Go to the Burger King Street.” I wish I could make this up. I walked out of the train station (much less the train station itself), and wanted to just stop. Within eye sight there was a McDonalds, BK, Mexican restaurant, subway, trolley, tram, buses, people, big buildings and more. I felt overwhelmed and a bit like a country bumpkin. This city life was way faster than the Skopje life I had gotten used to over the past 8 months. But I followed the signs to the trolley bus and using a little guess work found the right one. I almost got on the wring one, but the guy said something in Hungarian and pointed at the one in front of me. So I picked that one. It is amazing to me how much you can understand about a language or communicate without understanding a word. Gestures and facial features and tone of voice are so much more important than the words sometimes. I figure this out when there is a bit of words and then a hand gesture and I think I know what they mean. Even in a language I have never studied before. I did make it to the hostel after getting to see a lot of Budapest on the way. The lady was super nice and told me where the National Dance theater was so I could go try to get a ticket to the ballet that night.

After unpacking a bit, I headed downtown to try to visit the National Ethnography Museum. The day was beautiful- warm and sunny (and it stayed that way the whole time!!!)  I got to the museum about an hour before closing time and asked if it was enough time- the lady said “no, but you can come back tomorrow.” So I decided to go in. The building itself was breathtaking.  I’m not sure what it used to be, but I’m sure it was a palace or mansion of some sort. I always get like a little girl at times like this and picture myself walking down the stairs in a big ball gown all dressed up for the ball. But the beauty aside, the museum houses nearly a quarter of a million artifacts, 2/3 of which belong to the Hungarian collection. “Its primary concern, however, remains to impart knowledge of traditional Hungarian culture: how the peasants and craftsmen who formed the bulk of Hungarian society lived under the circumstances typifying the period prior to the advent of the modern industrial age.” It also shows a bit of global culture as well- there was a Amazonian and Greenland exhibit. The lady was right- you needed about 30 more minutes of time to see it all. If I had possessed a map (which museums here don’t seem to believe in), I would have picked to see the rest of the Hungarian exhibit rather than the one about the Amazon and the melting ice caps. But all in all a great museum. And you could take pictures!

After this, I grabbed an ice cream cone and walked towards the bus stop to go up to the castle area where the Dance Theater was. We passed the most colorful church I have ever seen, more on this later though. As I got off of the bus at where the hostel lady had said was correct, I was lost. There were no signs to anything. And the national Dance theater was the least of their concerns. But I had about 45 minutes, so I wandered through this little handicraft market and fell in love with this way overpriced jacket that I didn’t end up getting. But I did figure out what I wanted to get from Hungry!
Then I kept walking in the general direction of the theater and actually found it. I was able to get a ticket to the performance of Romeo and Juliet for that night! There was a dance fest going on and the tickets were a bit cheaper than normal. But I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. This age old story was totally rethought and very modern. I couldn’t tell who Romeo was until he killed himself at the end. (I don’t remember that Juliet actually went on and killed herself too, but apparently she does.) the way to tell these two sides apart included green kitchen sink gloves, and red arm bands. No joke. And this weird monk guy who went back and forth. The dancing was beautiful, although modern, and engaging. You were just watching the stage the whole time, and you couldn’t take your eyes off of them!
View from the Buda hill to more of the Buda side.
After this, I hopped on a bus. This nice guy tried to tell me that the bus wasn’t going where I wanted it to go, but I didn’t understand until it didn’t actually go where I wanted it to go. lol. But that was ok, I was able to hop on a metro (after finding it- they hide it with the littlest signs ever!). I tried to go eat at this one vegetarian place recommended by the  map, but it was  closed, so I headed to the next place only to find that it too was closed (this time due to the time of night and not the state of the restaurant. ) This is when I realized that it was 21:45 (or 9 pm) even though a Friday, most places were closing at 22 (10). I had walked past a few Chinese restaurants, including a take out one. Since it was so late, I decided to just grab some stuff to go and head home! I’m also very glad that other people learn English- because traveling would be so much more difficult if they didn’t.  Note: I don’t expect them to at all, it is just a nice surprise and relief when they do, especially in countries where the language is like Hungry!

See you around the globe!

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