Europe 2014 Part 1: Budapest

We began this journey as we seem to begin them all: by settling as much hash on the home front as humanly possible. We know too well the avalanche of unattended emails and many tasks unfulfillable from the road that are inevitable….

So we cleaned house and freezer; sent mails, packages and contracts; wrote bios and tidied web sites; cooked up plum coffee cakes, packed up snacks, cleaned out the refrigerator, and attended the neighborhood soirée; did small jobs, finished larger ones, and where overwhelmingly large, left them in as elegant a place as possible. We also had guests and talked long-range planning.

Then finally, after a few hours’ sleep, were driven to the airport by my mom. Though without the battery recharger for the camera. C’est la travail….

A few hours on Alaska Air brought us to LAX, where we waited in the squalid old terminal for the people of Air New Zealand to report for duty (their days start at 1:30 pm). A few last minute phone calls later, it was time to take our bags (small carry-ons only which is what made up all our luggage) up the funny stairs.

Strange how the security kabuki inside the US differs from that when one is bound for the UK. It’s almost as though it’s completely arbitrary. But still, how nice to go through a screening gate more or less unmolested. Even then, I cannot help but be amazed at the vasty variety of commerce on offer and the virtual impossibility of preventing mischief, if someone wanted to create some. And to be appalled at the wastefulness of “security”, whether the emptying of water bottles during a drought clearly visible from the air, or the small “security”-sized liquid containers in their own grocery aisle….

We love Air New Zealand though. Good people, kind service, and a degree of comfort pretty much unheard of in the US. Also? Really good movies. Venetia spent much of our trip to London watching ‘The Other Woman’, ‘Frozen’ and ‘Veronica Mars’. For myself, it was ‘The City of Ember’, the second Hobbit confabulation, and parts of several other films. Strange to see Bill Murray’s ‘Caddyshack’ Carl on one screen and his corpulent Mayor of Ember on the next, and a little sad not to be able to share films with Venetia en route.

But it was not all movie banquet and good gluten-free food. There was also air-sickness, and it hit Venetia hard. When we arrived at Heathrow, we asked for some help, and rode a mad beeping cart through the endless terminal to the bus stop, whereupon the infamous bus ride to Terminal 3 made the rest of our trip seem normal and calm. From there, we made it as far as the next security scan before Venetia collapsed. And rather than assuming it would just be alright if she sat for a while, we asked for the airport paramedic. Even as our request was being processed, an unspeakably handsome Dallas doctor appeared with the anti-emitics Venetia needed so badly. When the paramedic arrived a few minutes later (by snazzy yellow bicycle), Venetia was already recovering admirably. We popped her into a handy wheelchair, got the tickets for this part of our journey from the BA counter and headed for the bus and the ramp. Safely ensconced at last, we were asleep almost the moment we were airborne.

We awoke to see Budapest from the air, and a half hour later our shuttle deposited us at the Hotel Gellert. Venetia was quite taken with our room – upgraded to overlook the Danube. She spent much of her time not sleeping but sitting and writing overlooking the river.

1I thought we’d sleep a dozen hours – from 7 to 7. And we did. However because of our jetlag we enjoyed several glorious sunrises in Budapest, which we usually miss in the states.

2That first morning, after fulsome hotel breakfast, we fell back into a deep sleep, arising only when our last chance to use the Gellert Spa was nearly gone. We hastened downstairs in bathing suits, and sampled every pool and tub we could. It was glorious.

3The next day we rose, ate the hotel breakfast again (this time avoiding most of the curiously unsatisfying fruit and juice), and hastened through the spa and up the promontory across the street. A steep climb through a very shabbily kept park followed. We encountered a few joggers, and countless overgrown scenic views, bottles and detritus. It reminded me of the bad old days in Central Park…. But the views were lovely where they could be taken.

4Heroic statues, some religious, were on offer, but we hadn’t time for the abandoned fortress atop the hill. Instead we descended to the north and toward the amazing castle complex of museums and culture which ran counter to most everything we’d seen on the hill. Loads of new street and stone works were underway, blocking access to some of the refurbished (and likely new) buildings. As glorious as that area is, it is going to be even more astonishing by years’ end. The museums were closed (it was too early) but the walk and the views were amazing. It was nice to see a different view than most tourists get, all the behind-the-scenes of people waking up and starting work.

5We returned to the Hotel for the end of breakfast, gobbled up more corn flakes, bacon and water, and checked out. After which we wandered to the AirB&B apartment we’d rented in Pest. Or so we would have done had we been provided the correct address. The free wi-fi at the Starbucks allowed communication with our landlords, and after 40 minutes or so we’d walked back much of the distance we’d traveled. We met the landlords briefly, got settled in, and… passed right out. For the rest of the day.

(Though there were some glorious moments of consciousness filled with Julian May’s The Many Colored Land and a very comfortable bathtub.)

6The next day involved a comical journey to the train station. We ‘d tried to make all our travel plans in advance, but had been baffled by the Hungarian Rail system – Why couldn’t we book a trip online? Why would they need to mail us a ticket (for an additional fee)? It just didn’t make sense. Until we spent our hours in the train station of course. Only then did the bureaucratic horror of the thing really start to congeal. Hours of waiting in a curiously undifferentiated tripartite line for our number to be called “111, 703, 410, 704, 705, 412, 411, 112, 706” finally got us to the window of a lovely woman who riffled wrinkled time-tables printed on onion-skin. She messed up the first hand-written and carboned form but finally seemed to get the writing (and the proper stamps, natch) in order before telling us something utterly unintelligible through her teller’s window. When we suggested that we couldn’t hear a word over the racket of her adjacent tellers (one of whom made the Middleman’s Ida look a mere cuddly wannabe), she walked out to the man directing lines past the broken pick-a-number machine, and he in turn told us that our hours of standing in line were all well and good, but while we’d purchased international tickets, we now had to go stand in the Internal ticket line to purchase a ticket to the border itself. Time consuming madness, made all the more curious by the efficiency and excellent of their subway system. Old bureaucracies die hard….

7After our letters of transit were finally secure, we walked through the nearby Embassy Row, around the large 70’s sports arenas, back over the tracks and to the mall, that we might shop at Tesco and find a battery charger. On a day of transit foolishness, we were happy to put something in the Win column. Venetia was very taken by the ironwork she saw in doors and gates and mostly took pictures of those, although there are a few doors she regrets not taking pictures of!

8The next day saw us back on the underground, and moving to the northwest end of the most scenic tram line. Soon we were getting an excellent view of the city’s varied and beautiful architecture (a hotel called the “New York”, Gaudi one moment and Bauhaus the next, Baths and island waterparks). We hopped off when we crossed the Danube again and found ourselves back in Buda. A short walk on the waterfront brought us to the Gellert once more, and a long delightful day of spa pools.

3cSure, we missed the dozen other major spas in town, but victory is victory.  :D

3bThus we spent our last day in Budapest. The humidity of the two cities came as a surprise, but the spas, the architecture, and the bathing lived up to its promise.