Friday, April 19, 2013

Day 1 in Budapest, Free Walking Tour

I woke up early for another early morning train, today's destination, Budapest, Hungary.  I left my hostel by 6 am after asking for directions to the main train station from the man at the front desk.  I got to the train station around 6:15 am and the departure time for the Budapest train was not yet listed on the board, I stopped at a bakery in the station and bought a ham and cheese croissant for breakfast.

My train left Vienna at 7:03 am, I found the first class car, after an announcement in English.  First class was at the back of the train, I had to sprint to be sure I boarded the train before it departed.  The train only stopped briefly in Vienna, it arrived just after 7 am for the 7:03 am departure.  First class was nice on this train, leather (or leather like) reclining seats and plenty of leg room.  I showed my ticket to the conductor and settled in for the ride.

Lynnae on train to Budapest
I got my computer out of my backpack, there was wireless on the train to Budapest.  At some point, I realized the folder I had tickets to my other destinations in Europe was missing, I checked my backpack again.  I had not left my backpack unattended, I went through my mind, what could have happened to the folder with my tickets. I last remember seeing the folder at my hostel, I took it out of my backpack when I talked to the man at the front desk.  It is possible I forgot to return the folder to my backpack and left it on the counter at the hostel, I have no idea.

Luckily, I have my Eurail Global Pass, all I have to do is re-book my trains, only problem, how much of my itinerary do I remember.  Losing my tickets could be a blessing in disguise, I may decide to change my trip, extend my stay in some places, have paper tickets, mentally tied me into a fixed schedule.

The WIFI went out halfway through the train ride to Budapest.  I realized after the WIFI went out that I did not have directions to the hostel in Budapest, these were in my folder.  I repeatedly tried to get online, I decided I would figure it out when I arrived in Budapest and worst case, I would take a taxi instead of the metro, which is what happened.

I had interesting conversations with Hungarians after arriving in Budapest, my first conversation off the train was about race in America.  A Hungarian man asked, Blacks and Whites are different in the US, aren't they?
I was not sure what he was talking about, he clarified, he had watched TV and saw Blacks were mistreated in the US, he said he felt badly about it, as always something was lost in translation.  I gave this man one of my CIA/FBI cards and we had a conversation about CIA corruption, he was not surprised by my story. He was very happy to get one of my CIA/FBI cards and repeatedly thanked me for it and offered his support.

I took a taxi from Budapest's main station to my hostel and I paid the tourist price, I was fleeced, even with a  metered "official" cab.  Even with the tourist tax the cabbie added, he did not drop me off in front of my hostel, he left me close to it but in the wrong place. The cab driver said the hostel was on a street inaccessible by cars, turns out he got the location wrong, most cab drivers in the US, even when they rip you off, get your to the right destination.

I got to my hostel about 15 minutes before 11 am, I got directions to the hostel from the multiple tour guides lining the streets of central Budapest.  My hostels was not far from where the tourist fleecing cabbie dropped me off.  I also got information on the free Budapest tour offered daily at 11 am and 1 pm.  I got to my hostel and did a preliminary check-in, the official check-in time was 2 pm, my room was not ready so I left my luggage in the locked luggage room.  I decided to charge my computer battery and do some research into lost train tickets, try to book my train ticket to Zagreb, and wait until 1 pm to go on the free Budapest walking tour.

At 1 pm I went on the free Budapest walking tour, led by a Budapest native.  Most of the tours I have gone on in Europe have been led by people from countries other than where the tour is being conducted, they are good tours, but always nice to get a native's perspective on his or her city.

The tour group was small, four tourists, plus the tour guide.  The other tourists were three American college students studying abroad in Madrid.  We started the tour with the tour guide explaining Budapest is comprised of two cities, Buda and Pest, our tour started in Pest.  We went to the Budapest opera house, our tour guide explained the architect was instructed to make it smaller than the opera house in Vienna, we went past several churches, I cannot remember all the names. We went past a statue near the Danube that brings good luck if you touch its knees, double good luck if you touch both, I touched both knees, I am in need of good luck.

We crossed the Chain Bridge into Buda, our tour guide gave us more history on the background of Budapest and the bridge, I was tired and zoned out during some of her lectures on Budapest's history  We saw Buda Palace and walked up a hill to the top of Buda.  We had beautiful views of the Danube, the House of Parliament and Pest from this vantage point.  We walked to the President's residence, our guide explained the President does not live there, only uses offices there.  We saw the guards standing outside the President's residence, they looked like the guards at the Prague Castle.  There is a changing of the guards hourly at the President's palace, we missed it.

Lynnae with Guard outside the Presidential Residence

We walked around Buda and our tour guide gave us more information on the area, too much for me to remember it all.  We ran into a Soviet Trabant car while walking around Buda, the last time I saw one in person was at the International Spy Museum's Trabant Parade in Washington, DC a couple years ago.

Me with Soviet Trabant in Buda 
After the tour, the tour guide collected her tips and pointed us to a bus that would take us to the square near our meeting point.  I have noticed the walking tours never end where they begin, maybe the tour guides end them in a location convenient to their homes, I do not know.  Our tour guide  told us we needed tickets for the bus, but ticket inspectors rarely are seen on that bus line.  In many European cities, you buy a ticket and you only use it if a ticket inspector asks to see it, this has only happened to me once, in Berlin after going to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

I did not like the idea of trying to get a free ride on the Budapest bus line, I asked a driver where I could buy a ticket, he directed me to tourist buildings.  I asked a couple of people who worked in shops, nobody was selling bus tickets and I could not locate the building they were directing me to.  I decided to walk back to the hostel, I had a map and the route we took from Pest to Buda was straightforward. 

On my way back, I walked around Buda some more, I asked a man to take a picture of me, we started talking and I told him I was former CIA, he said he was former CIA too.  I have never met a former CIA officer outside of DC, I certainly was not expecting the man taking my picture to say he was also former CIA.  Our conversation was interrupted when some Spanish speakers asked me to take their picture.  I walked around Buda some more, took a few more pics, crossed the Chain Bridge and headed back to my  hostel. 

Me on Chain Bridge
I easily found my way back to the hostel, and checked in around 5 pm.  I was the last person in my room to check in and I got stuck with a top bunk.  None of my hostel mates were in the room when I arrived, this evening I met two of them, both from Ireland, they were sleep but woke up when I came in the room.  We did not talk long, they are college students on Spring Break.

I went to get dinner after checking into my hostel, I was starving, had only had the ham and cheese croissant this morning for breakfast.  I knew I wanted to try Hungary's National Dish, Goulash and I remembered passing a restaurant that served it during the walking tour earlier today.  I found the restaurant, asked the waitress what Goulash was, sounded good so I ordered it.  Goulash was not what I expected, I thought it was a creamy, hearty stew, it was a soup with a thin broth, but very good.  The Goulash was served with a container of paprika spread and two slices of white bread. 

My Hungarian Goulash Dinner
After dinner I returned to the hostel to relax.  I went out later this evening to buy some water and Haribo Gummy candy from the grocery store down the street.  My plans tomorrow are up in the air, I do plan to sleep as long as I want, then get up and explore Budapest some more.

Budapest Day 1 Photo Album 

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