Overland to Eastern Europe: Budapest

Day 3-4: Budapest

I’m staying in the catchily-titled 4YOU Citycenter Apartments, actually in the company’s old converted offices on the fourth floor of an inner courtyard. There is a pull-up bar on the door, tea in the cupboard and a gift chocolate bar on the table from Gabor, called Balaton Bum.

I sleep until noon and am overcome with the strongest feeling NOT to venture out into a new and strange city. I just want home comforts and familiarity of which there is none here – the light switches flick up for on, the doors open outwards and the language is impenetrable.

“It’s Finnish,” explains Gabor.

“Ah,” I say, feeling like a bemused jetlagged Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.

It is also unseasonably cold and raining. “This is a tragedy,” says Gabor, with stereotypical Hungarian pessimism and woe.

I spend the day running for cover to places recommended by the always good Spotted by Locals app: Soos Foto (10 old Hungarian photos for a florint!)…

…Café Noe for melt-creamy square-stacked Jewish pastries, the BP Shop for BUDA FCKN PEST t-shirt designs, Retrock for some (actually really nice) vintage designer clothes…

…the Hotel Gellert’s thermal spa (“like bathing in a cathedral”), the No2 tram for a cheap 15-minute riverside tour…

…and finally Semmi Extra for burger and beer supper in a converted cinema whose name translates as ‘No problem’.

The Fitbit hits a record 23,000 steps.

The next day is fretful. It is half taken up sorting out my onward ticket to Belgrade – engineering works mean the daily Avala train is leaving from Kelenfold suburban station not Keleti – meanwhile Booking.com has also decided to glitch and not accept payment for a future booking and is going to cancel it. I end up hanging on a customer service line to the Netherlands and burning all my phone credit.

The afternoon doesn’t improve much. I’m looking forward to relaxing in the Szechenyi Spa but I’m in the water less than 30 seconds when a Hungarian silver fox called Steve says “You have nice body”, “You want a massage?”, and then follows me into another pool where British stags are pointing out a spray of suspicious brown bits floating in the murky green water.

The place feels icky after that and I bath-hop an endless series of pools watching the watchers ogle, running away from Steve and feeling dispirited.

Four days without a decent conversation is wearing thin. Do I still enjoy this solo travel thing? I guess. But Budapest does not fill me with that feeling of “THIS IS IT! There is NO PLACE I’d rather be right now and nothing else I’d rather be doing.”

I settle my bill with the every-helpful Gabor and we arrange that he will buy a Hungarian Lottery ticket with my tip – if we win small, we’ll give it all to the homeless; if we win big, it will be spent on “cancer solutions” and buying a Budapest apartment to rent out that he will manage. I love how the idea of a Lottery win connects people across the divide and decide to buy random Lotto tickets for others I meet on the trip.

(Gabor emails me the ticket as proof. We don’t win.)

Day 5: Budapest to Belgrade

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