Writing: on board the 6:50am RailJet train from Vienna to Budapest.
First of all, happy independence day to all of the Americans reading this. Oh, how I wish I had lived in Vancouver—celebrating Canada Day on July 1st and then driving 3 hours south to Seattle to celebrate July 4th.
So, where was I.
Oh, OK. Here.
My hopes that as night sets in my hotel room’s temperature will become more and more manageable, shattered tragically as I opened the hotel room’s door and entered what I, had I been blindfolded, would mistake for an oven. Shower didn’t help; upon drying myself, I became sweaty again. Unbearable heat, and when it’s humid, it doesn’t matter how dark you leave your room when you step out—humid air takes forever to cool off.
I really didn’t know what to do. I was so tired, and the inability to fall asleep made me miserable. I tried everything—even wetting a towel with cold water and using it as a blanket.
I just couldn’t fall asleep.
At 5:00am, I decided to simply stop trying. My hotel in Budapest was going to be the Hilton West‐End Budapest, a 5‐star hotel that I Priceline’d a while ago; I knew that I am very likely to have some decent sleep there so I decided to flee the oven and get to Budapest as early as possible, then beg at the Hilton for an early check‐in.
The earliest fast train on Sundays between Vienna and Budapest is the 6:50am train by RailJet, making it to Budapest in 3 hours. I got up, wrapped my belongings and went downstairs.
It’s funny that the hotel’s reception area is air‐conditioned. How stupid is that, a hotel in which one feels better staying at its reception than at the very room they paid good money (well… €55) for. Spent about an hour there blogging, then took the subway to Wien Westbahnhof (Vienna’s west train station).
A short overpriced breakfast at a cafe in the train station, and I went to the platform. Significant improvement over Wroclaw’s miserable Wroclaw Glowny station; now here’s a train station that is properly marked and signed. Found my train with no problem and entered the first‐class cabin.
You may remember me talking about the InterCity‐Express (ICE) trains in Germany, how nice the first‐class cabin is there and such. Well, regrettably, if this train that I’m on is of any indication for RailJet’s trains, apparently the ICE still has some way to go. This train’s first‐class cabins are super‐spacious, well‐lit, LCD screens all across, very clean—hell, it feels like you’re at the first‐class cabin of an airplane!
Attempts to fall asleep while on board have failed and therefore I decided to give up and wait until I get to the hotel.
Writing: in Crazy Cafe, a funky restaurant about 5 minutes walk from my hotel.
Oh, the difference that even some short sleep can do!
Arrived at Budapest Keleti‐Pu, which is Budapest’s main train station. Tired and weary, I walked along the platform to find the exit, sifting through the myriad of bums, crooks and other sub‐attractive life forms that appeared to have one and only one goal in mind: take my money. It came to a point that I actually had to tell them to go away.
I’m used to central train stations being the hub not just for transportation but also to those who would go to great lengths to take more and more money from you, but I think Budapest’s Keleti‐Pu station has set a standard that will be very hard to break. The situation was so bad—and it was a Sunday early morning!—that I almost stepped on some people trying to make my way out and to the city.
Hungary is a part of the European Union, and had its plans to join the EMU (European Monetary Union) as well but those plans have been postponed to some time between 2012–2014 (according to local politicians; that might as well mean 2120–2140). Another nuisance—get local currency. The local currency here is called Hungarian Forint; the exchange rate? at the moment it stands at around 286 HFN to €1. Somebody here had trouble keeping inflation at bay, I suppose.
Failing to find a bank machine at the train station, I decided that I’m too tired to look any further and just pay a visit to the Western Union stand there to exchange some Euro’s. Even as I approached the stand, somebody tried to sell me local currency for a rate that was better than Western Union’s but worse than the inter‐bank rate. As I had no interest in taking a risk for dealing with counterfeit bills while following the band, I completely ignored him; he didn’t seem to like it, judging by the tone of his voice while emitting what I believe was a curse word in Hungarian.
The short yet excessively‐unfriendly initial contact with the inhabitants of this place made me want to walk the 3.3km stretch to my hotel instead of taking a taxi. Started walking and immediately saw a few police officers questioning somebody; fuck it, I said, retraced, found a taxi cab with an half‐asleep driver in it and within 5 minutes we were at the hotel.
Now apparently somebody ripped me off as I find it hard to believe that a 3.3km taxi ride—about 5 minutes—came to just about €15. But you know what? I’ll treat this as the cost of my ignorance. Not in the mood for a battle, I departed the taxi and entered the hotel.
(In retrospect, I could have actually made it to my hotel via the metro, for the price of just about €1)
The thing I dislike most about 5‐star hotels—and unfortunately I have yet to find any 5‐star hotel anywhere that would be an exception—is that such hotels think it is reasonable to charge ridiculous money for Internet connectivity. They take the liberty to think that whoever is rich enough to book a hotel room in their establishment, shouldn’t be too concerned with paying €20 (!) for in‐room Internet access.
However, my argument against such hotels is not just about the stupid amount of money they charge for Internet access; Internet access, as far as I am concerned, is a utility that it’s just about damn time be provided for free (by, for example, factoring costs into local sales taxes). The Internet has become a facility so vital that I really can’t see any difference between it and, say, a highway that everybody can ride for free. Governments who don’t strive to provide Internet access to the masses (unfortunately, that amounts to pretty much all governments in existence; yes, including Canada) for free—essentially state that those who can afford it can become smarter and more productive, while those who can’t afford it—can’t.
Doesn’t sound to me like the perfect path to raising intellect within the population; having said that, it is a well‐known fact that it’s much easier to control and govern uninformed, or sometimes stupid, people.
Anyway, enough with the rants. I passed on the generous offer for in‐room Internet access for millions of dollars, which explains the delay in July 3rd’s post (please direct your complaints at the hotel); went to my room, enjoyed my newly‐found, air‐conditioned space and went for a shower.
The room I got was a twin room—two single beds that are attachable into one double bed. It has a shower as well as a bath. Strange, isn’t it. As if the room was designed for couples going through some rough times. After spending about a minute deciding which side of the couple I wish to be, I chose the shower and had such a superb shower, washing away the bullshit of the last couple of days. Then went to sleep on a super‐comfortable bed. I felt glad for surviving the trip so far.
The hotel, Hilton West‐End Hotel, is named that way because it is attached to a big shopping mall called “West‐End”. It is located about 2km away from whatever it is that’s interesting for most tourists to see in Budapest. There is not much to see at the immediate area of the hotel, however there are far less “tourist traps” here than 2km south where tourist traffic is significant.
Using Google Maps for BlackBerry (the single most important application you must install when you’re travelling. Without it I’d probably be missing quite a few concerts already. Forget RIM’s‐provided BlackBerry Maps; it’s pure crap) to look for places to eat, results came back with a few interesting opportunities. One of them was a medieval‐themed restaurant (“Sir Lancelot” something) that had fantastic reviews but was way too pricey; I ended up going to a nearby place called Crazy Cafe.
Well, there are many things I heard about Budapest in the past—but what I only recently learned was that Budapest boasts some very interesting dining options—food here is apparently great (generally speaking of course). Crazy Cafe, perhaps a bit of a tourist trap, is divided into four sections, each with its own “theme”. Very cool design for it all—went downstairs to what appeared to be a dungeon, then navigated through what appeared to be a cave into the “Jungle” section. They have plants there, some artificial waterfalls… everything to make you feel as if you’re having a picnic in a jungle. Very cool.
Now, I wouldn’t go too much into details about this place; after all, I was there to eat, not to experience a jungle atmosphere. Initially I made the assumption that I shouldn’t expect too much from the food here; if it looks like a tourist trap, it probably also tastes like one. However, reading the menu, I couldn’t avoid seeing some very interesting picks. After considering taking the Kangaroo Steak, I decided that I should leave something to look forward to while visiting Australia and opted, instead, for a delicious dish involving veal‐wrapped ham stripes, baked with mozzarella cheese and served with Gnocchi & parmesan cheese. Sounds good? I know. It tastes even better; as I am writing these lines at around 12:10pm in my hotel room (late checkout privilege… Woo‐Hoo) I’m seriously considering paying another visit there.
So, make a note of it.
A couple was sitting at a table next to me. Turned out they’re both Hungarian, but he has been living in Los Angeles for quite a while. Asking me the inevitable “so what are you doing in Budapest”, I had to give him the full story which he found a bit tricky to comprehend. He’s probably reading this blog entry right now—and, as almost always, I completely suck with names so I have no recollection of their names. Hey guys, nice chatting with you yesterday and have fun back in Los Angeles!
I had a few hours to kill. Neglecting any plan to explore the area, I decided to keep things easy and parked my butt in a Costa Coffee (interesting. I thought it’s a UK‐only chain) very close to my hotel, offering free Wi‐Fi. Some travel planning, catching up with the world… easy.
At 6:30pm, an hour and a half before the concert’s scheduled start time, I took the metro to the Sportarena. Budapest’s metro system is efficient, very simple to understand however looks a bit depressed if you ask me. Cars from the 13th century or so, and the ticketing scheme is quite primitive.
About 15 minutes in the subway (over two subway lines) and I arrived at the Sportarena.
The Papp László Budapest Sportarena (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Sports_Arena) used to be called “Budapest Sportarena” however on May 2004 was renamed after László Papp, a Hungarian boxer who died in 2003. Its maximum capacity is 12,500 and it’s the second largest hall in Hungary.
From the outside, the venue looks like a huge spaceship completely unrelated to the general view of Budapest. There’s a metro stop right in front of the venue.
The venue configuration for the concert was general admission at the front, and seats in the back.
At the markknopfler.com presales for this concert, buyers had the option to choose whether to get a general admission ticket or a seated ticket. I chose to be seated as I knew that I’m not going to line‐up for hours in the venue—I have never been to Budapest before and figured I’d like to use the time to explore the city for a bit. My seat, then, was slightly off the centre, to the left, at the sixth row on the terrace. Quite far from the stage; the soundboard was right below me.
The concert started about 5 minutes after the scheduled time (8:00pm).
As I was very far from the stage, I took very few photos and even some of those went out crappy as the combination of high zoom and low lights is very hard to cope with. Also, right in front of my face, a cable stretched from the ceiling to the soundboard. Not such a thick cable, but you know, once you realize its presence, you simply can’t ignore it anymore. Lets see if you can spot it in the pictures below.
The concert in Budapest featured a setlist one song shorter than the night before (Get Lucky wasn’t played). Wouldn’t say that this venue should be renowned for its fantastic sound—it shouldn’t—but fair enough.
People on the terrace taking pictures using their flash were immediately approached by ushers and instructed to turn the flash off; but at the general admission area… well, things were different there. As it was unlikely that ushers will sift their ways through thousands of people to locate a criminal, one thing that was very clear about that show was that it was video‐recorded by a lot of people. Take a look at the next picture, showing tiny lights at the general admission area…
During Mark’s explanation about the stool, as he was swivelling around waving his hand at the audience, he located one of those people who were filming the show.
– “Not so nice to see you… Get a life, join the rest of us”
He didn’t sound angry; he did sound, however, as if he really considers the filming individual to possess some pretty low IQ. Apparently Mark doesn’t think much of those who film him.
Marbletown scored the show’s spotlight (yes, again), a slightly shorter version than the now‐usual (the band has been playing an “extended” version recently, often with an extended outro).
The loudest cheers in the concert came once the last chord of Speedway at Nazareth was struck. The audience all over the venue—everybody—was cheering and clapping their hands at the extravaganza. Me?… I don’t know, Speedway at Nazareth was never one of my favourites although I started liking it a bit more during this tour.
Before Piper to the End started playing, I made my way upstairs and watched the last song being played as I was standing next to the exit—I knew that the masses were going to flock the public transport links and I had no intention to wait. The reward: fantastic view over thousands of people clapping their hands, cheering, bidding the band farewell.
After the concert, I took the subway to the city centre—that is, where everything that there is to see & do in Budapest takes place. Exiting the city centre’s metro station, I was faced with almost complete quietness; started walking the alleys and I felt as if I’m in some sort of a fantasy.
Maybe because it was Sunday night, but the walk along Budapest’s narrow, breath‐taking streets was a quiet, calm, romantic walk (well, as romantic as a solo‐walk can be. I admit to sometimes feel bad for not having someone to share these walks with; then again, it’s only sometimes).
There was a magical, almost surreal atmosphere. Very much unlike, say, the bustling city‐centre of Vienna at night, in Budapest everything appeared to happen in slow motion. For couples, I would recommend walking around those superb streets at night: if the couple is in “good state”, they’d be falling in love all over again; if the couple is in a rough patch, they could leverage on the fact that the streets here are narrow and winding and simply disappear one on another when they’re fed up with the other side’s crap.
Decided to sit down to eat before returning to the hotel, so I sat down in a tourist trap amidst what appeared to be a popular square. Restaurant sold Italian food and desserts, and consisted of, well, a terrace only (the entire restaurant was located in the square). Just outside the terrace, a funny‐looking man made money off passer‐byers by playing backing tracks through some speaker and playing the melody using a suspiciously small saxophone. I usually dislike these kind of things; but, as I approached the restaurant, I heard a very familiar backing track playing, and the man did a great job playing the melody with the sax. It took me over a minute (!) to finally recall what song it was: it was Roxette’s “Crash, Boom, Bang” from some time in the mid‐90’s, maybe before. What he played sounded better than the original, sung version; I am seriously thinking about coming up with my own cover version.
The huge pizza I ordered was just WAY too much for me to handle. Some leftovers and I went back to the hotel. A short walk ahead, and I noticed a nice pool surrounded by grass hosting the asses of quite a few youngsters.
I think that was the first time in quite a while since I’ve seen so many youngsters sitting together, often in circles, sometimes leaning upon each other, without screaming and yelling their souls out. The last time I encountered this was actually in Brussels last September, at the main square there at the city centre (whoever is familiar with Brussels may wish to comment and provide the square’s name; I believe there was a courthouse there?), and I remember being just as shocked.
Continued to walk towards the hotel. Sunday night time, and as you leave the tourists’ core area, people slowly disappear from the streets until you find yourself walking completely by yourself. Finally, arrived at the train station located next to my hotel; looked pretty so I took a picture.
… Or so I thought. As I returned to the hotel room and took a shower, I was looking forward to a great night sleep on the hotel’s super‐comfy bed. However, shortly after laying down, I started feeling strange. The room’s temperature was perfect, but heat‐waves came and went every minute or so. Got up to wash my face, and noticed my eyes being blood red.
Could barely sleep that night.
Remember what I wrote yesterday about the trip starting to take its toll? Well, I guess I know myself better than I thought. I guess I caught some cold.
The next day (July 5), the first in a four day offs sequence, I was scheduled to take a night train at 9:00pm from Budapest to Munich, then connecting to Trento, Italy where I will be spending about a week with my friend Daria and her sister. I was sick, having to wipe my nose every two or three minutes; I did nothing that day except for eating two big fabulous meals in “Okay Italia” (received great reviews in Google and TripAdvisor, plus it was recommended to me by the hotel’s staff; so I had to check it out), sit at Costa Coffee by my hotel and planning my Spain trip.
By the time I had to start making my way to Budapest Keleti‐Pu station, I was dead tired and looking forward to just lay my head upon the bed and sleep. I paid some good money for the cabin I was at—having to share with at most one person and I was told it has en‐suite facilities.
Bullshit. Well, I was alone in the cabin but the cabin itself was old, dusty, no facilities, the mattress was awful and the pillow was hard as a rock.
End result? A 32 years old male, sick, not managing to get any sleep. Over 48 hours, I slept maybe 6.
I am signing‐off this post on board the EuroCity train to Trento. A couple of hours left to go. Beautiful, superb views around as we cross the border from Germany to Austria. I am on the verge of starting to hallucinate; headache, runny nose and now my left ear appears to be in pain.
I am officially sick. Lets all hope for better times.