Saturday, November 12, 2011

Just in case you had any doubt, Hungarians think I’m more refined than George Negus…

(6th October 2011)

It’s a big call I know, but I have it on good authority that it’s the honest truth.

Given the clue in the title, you can probably guess that I’m in Budapest now; I flew from Venice to Budapest this morning, on Carpatair, the official airline of Hungary. Going just on the name I really didn’t know what to expect. Would it be a flying carpet? A former Soviet-era rust bucket barely able to get off the ground?

It turned out to be a Dash-8, one of those taxi-cabs with wings that service the Canberra-Sydney leg so reviled by Public Servants. I’m not a huge fan, but at least they don’t go high enough to cause any real anxiety. It proved to be sound of wing, and as an added bonus the very friendly staff gave passengers a bar of rather nice chocolate as we all exited the plane. So, so far Budapest was impressing me (it really does only take a bar of free chocolate to make me happy).

Searching on the internet a few weeks ago, I choose the Hotel Gellert, built in 1911 at the height of the Art Noveau movement and home to the city’s renowned thermal baths. Entry to the baths is free for all hotel guests, everyone else has to pay.

So I was quite looking forward to my sojourn there, a spot of thermal bathing being rather appealing.

So I presented myself at the reception desk, only to have my hopes dashed. The hotel had double booked itself and mine was the short straw that had been determined to be shuffled off to one of the chain’s other hotels. I was assured I wouldn’t be charged anymore and would be given a bigger room, and that I would still have free access to the thermal baths, and that the two hotels weren’t very far apart, so I didn’t make a fuss.

The concierge then went to get me a taxi (courtesy of the hotel) to take me to my new digs. There was a bit of a wait so we got chatting, he asked where I was from and on being told Australia, he became very animated.

“We had the Socceroos stay with us,” he said excitedly, “they were here with George Negus. Do you know him?”

“Not personally but I know his work very well,” I replied of the veteran Australian journalist.

“Yes he is very funny. But,” said he said in confusion, “You don’t sound like him, you don’t say ‘G’day mate’. Why don’t you sound like that?” he asked, as if I was trying to deny my heritage and sell out my country for 30 pieces of silver.

I briefly considered explaining my ‘travel voice’, where I make a big effort to speak more slowly and enunciate more clearly, just so I don’t sound like I’ve just escaped from an episode of Kath and Kim, but I didn’t really want to get in to it. “I travel a lot,” was the simplest explanation I could come up with. He accepted that and went on to tell me about an ice hockey team he follows in Newcastle. Not the UK one, but the one outside of Sydney! I do love the surprises this trip keeps throwing up at me.

So here I am in my replacement hotel room, I’ll be honest it’s not a great hotel, but the bed is bigger and it’s in a much quieter part of town. I was a bit cranky at first, the original hotel is on the Buda side of the Danube, but near to the bridge that takes you the main Pest district. This hotel is even further from the bridge so it takes a good 45 minutes to walk to the start of Pest, and then even longer to the main attractions are.

But close by is a really beautiful park with a large duck-pond, and it is very pleasant to sit there and watch the sun go down.

Of course I did walk for six solid hours today, so I’m sure sitting on a stationary army tank would probably have done the job too if one had been handy.

I did have fun today though, and I’ve been fulfilling my mission: to single handedly solve the European debt crisis, armed only with my credit card!

I’ve come to the point of my travels, eight weeks in, where I am heartily sick of all the clothes I have with me. And quite a lot are already replacements for the clothes I ORIGINALLY bought with me, and abandoned weeks ago.

I don’t regret packing light, I’ve lugged my suitcase up and down so many metro steps and Venetian canal steps, that anything more that the week’s worth I have, would have killed me. I’ve kept my suitcase to an even 22 kilos the whole way, although I did cheat a bit. The suitcase I started with, the one that British Airways lost for a day and then delivered to me with a broken extendable handle, became a health and safety issue.

I’ve been dragging it by the top handle since Paris, it’s been frustrating and difficult, but with three weeks of being just in Santiago, it was doable. That is until I got to the Santiago airport on Saturday.

The top handle finally gave way, it was inevitable, the handle was not designed to be used that way. I managed to get it to my hotel in Madrid but knew it was time to say a sad farewell. I bought a new suitcase and although I felt like a traitor, I kind of fell in love with it. Its lighter, moves better and fits more, and it didn’t take me long to get over the feeling that I was a cheating on my old suitcase. The bruises where it constantly ran into the backs of my legs are still present as mementos of our time together.

I knew I’d made the right decision in Venice, where my new travel companion was a joy to manoeuvre up and down mossy canal steps.

And because it fits more, that naturally means…more shopping. So that’s what I did today; after all, Europe needs me to shop! And to be honest it’s not just in the interests of their economy, it’s going to be awhile until I get to do another clothes wash, and my walking shorts and the striped T-shirt I bought in Barcelona might attract an anti-biological warfare unit if I put them on again in the near future.

So I bought a new T-shirt to replace the stinky one and a new denim skirt at an outlet shop. I haven’t quite got the hang of the Hungarian currency but even with my dodgy calculations, I didn’t spend more than 10 euros combined. Bargain! I LOVE Budapest! (we can now add ‘bargain shopping’ to the short list of things I need to be happy. It’s right after ‘free chocolate’)

Hmm, I may have to try harder at this ‘single handedly saving the European economy plan. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow!

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