Slovakia was cold, dirty, and silent on New Year’s day. I flew into Bratislava late Friday morning and headed for the station. The train station was busy, but unhelpful. I asked an employee when the next train was to Budapest, and she said she didn’t know. Eventually, I figured out that the next train wasn’t for a few hours, so I explored the city a little. (Lesson 1: Check all transit times before you go somewhere without internet)
One of the things that struck me most about Bratislava was the graffiti. The stuff I could read ranged from “Life is Porn” to “Nazis are Losers”. It started to snow as I sat and watched the trains arriving – large soft flakes that looked like they were trying to compensate for the grey, battered city.
Again, I must look more competent than I am because several people approached me to ask questions in various languages about train schedules and prices. I was unfortunately as unhelpful as the transport employees.
Thankfully, I got on the right train in a crowd of Asian tourists with facemasks and matching coats and several hours later I was in Budapest.
Hungary does not use euros. (Lesson 2: check currency). I figured that out from a McDonald’s menu that wanted “900” for a Big Mac. I went to a bankomat to get some forints. I was only going to be in Budapest for half a day, so I decided I would get a small amount of money. I didn’t really have a reference point for forints beyond the brief glance at McD, so I selected “60”. Wrong one for my intents and purposes. Money kept pouring out of the machine. Note after note of strange currency filled my hands. I freaked out at the thought of an empty bank account and an absurd amount of money that would be obsolete to me in 18 hours. I ran to the tourist office and asked them how much money I had because I didn’t have any phone coverage. They counted it solemnly. 60,000 forints. I was rich and broke at the same time. Turns out this was only about 194 euros which was more than I wanted, but not devastating.
Gladly I returned to the McD for wifi and food I could pronounce. I looked up directions to my Air BnB and set off down the dark streets.
Budapest is beautiful. The streets are lined with beautiful buildings and parks litter the corners. I spend several hours walking around marveling at the stunning designs.
After a good sleep, I woke early to explore Budapest some more. I like walking around cities in the pale light with no one but the street cleaners around. Because I didn’t know anything about Budapest, I bought a ticket for a hop-on/hop-off bus. (Lesson 3: I had scorned these before, but if you want to see all the iconic places in a city and learn some history, these bus tours are actually really nice. Plus, it was cold.) I rode through Pest and across the Danube to Buda and ended my time at the Old Market Hall with spicy goulash, strudel, and a gypsy band.
The train left from Budapest at 1:30pm, and I got to the station at 1pm. Now, in Ireland, train seats are scarcely, if ever, assigned. The train from Slovakia didn’t have assigned seats. This train did. If you had a ticket without a seat assignment, you were supposed to take any open seat in 2nd class or stand. I didn’t realize this until every single seat on the train was full. I had been wandering up and down the cars looking for a seat by an outlet not realizing that I would have been fortunate to get any seat. I ended up in the aisle by a guy from Australia, a fashion designer from Austria, and a couple from Spain. We sat on the floor or stood and tried to avoid falling over and being in the way for the three hour trip. Vienna was welcome for so many reasons.
Also, I can’t take pictures. Oh, well.