Thursday, January 22, 2015

CNY 2014, Budapest: Nicer in Summer, perhaps?

This post won't be too long. I should probably have included it into the last post (on Salzburg), since although our trip to Budapest (in Hungary) was just a day trip, looking back at the photos I took, I have a gut feeling that I won't have that much to say. We did not spend as much time in Budapest as we did in Salzburg, anyway. For those of you who are familiar with my blogging and have noticed (from the year in the title) that this post is horribly overdue. I managed to finish off the Salzburg post on New Year's Eve, but gave up on putting out this post within 2014 (and yes, I spent eve at home typing- fun, no?). Without further ado, here's Budapest.

After another long and dreary journey by train, we got off at Budapest-Keleti Terminal. First impression- old and grim. The lighting didn't really help either (nice facade, though). Hungary is unfortunately not a member of the European Union (though I daresay that certain EU member states, and let's not forget Putin, would probably disagree with that), though they are part of the Schengen Area which means that- eh, hold on a minute. Hungary is part of the EU- what am I saying. Although they are an EU member state, they're still using their own currency, the Forint- apparently certain establishments do accept the Euro (though the rate isn't very good), but we didn't know that at the time, so the first order of the day was to get some Forints. We were immediately made aware of the existence of crime here, by some highly visible signage warning tourists that 'currency exchange on the street is illegal'. I immediately recalled one European movie about a guy who converted his life savings to Euros on the street, but soon after found out that the Euros he got were all fake. I'm not sure if that film was set in Hungary, though I wouldn't be surprised if it was.

First stop of the day, after a long walk through dark, gloomy, and gray streets. was the House of Terror, a museum cum memorial to the victims of the Nazis and Communists- Hungary was unlucky enough to have to play host to both. For some reason there was a tank parked inside- I doubt that actual Nazis or Commies would have kept one in the building, though I do confess to finding the thought of an armored battalion emerging from office blocks rather amusing. Photography is not permitted inside, a rule which I feel is enforced only for attractions that want to retain their mystique, knowing well enough that once photos end up all over Facebook, their ticket collections will dwindle by the day. Anyhow- besides the tank, exhibits included a wall of photos of victims, tedious videos, propaganda, uniforms, old photos, interrogation cells, a hangman's noose for short people, soap walls and an inexplicable papier-mache pig.

Tired of walking, we took our first subway ride in Budapest- through a ancient but somewhat charming station- the Opera station, if I recall correctly. Our first spot of trouble- perhaps due to language and tiredness. There was only one old lady selling tickets through a small counter- she gave us- or charged us for- one ticket less, something we only realized when it was too late. Having gotten used to stations in Munich and Austria with their seemingly total lack of security personnel, we decided to just wing it- and exited the station to find station guards waiting with tickets books and merciless on-the-spot fines. Not a pleasing experience. The rest of the day was spent wandering through town (on foot- we refused to take the subway after that)- over and past some large bridges separating Buda from Pest, through a drab looking market hall, a fancy public gymnasium with naked marble ladies standing around, and finally an early dinner in a small Hungarian diner- a fine break from schnitzel.

After Hungary, we had one more night in Vienna before leaving- though not much happened that I care to remember. To be honest- memory fails me here, but the lack of photos from that day is telling. Vienna's airport was pleasant enough, though the final waiting area was somewhat packed. Someone left a bag in the middle of a hallway, which caused a minor scare- as security cordoned off a large section while everyone else paused to gawk. Nothing blew up, of course. If it had I wouldn't be here slogging away at this post months later, would I?

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