Europe Travel Itinerary, 1999-2000:
This itinerary is intended to capture the day-to-day activities and impressions of our trip.
Click on the asterisks * next to the day to go to that entry.
Thursday, September 23, 1999; Hungarian Border to Budapest: *
Friday, September 24, 1999; Budapest: *
Saturday, September 25, 1999; Budapest: *
Sunday, September 26, 1999; Budapest: *
Monday, September 27, 1999; Budapest: *
Tuesday, September 28, 1999; Budapest: *
Wednesday, September 29, 1999; Budapest: *
Thursday, September 30, 1999; Travelling to the Romanian Boarder: *
Wednesday May 17, 2000; An art show in Budapest: *
Thursday May 18, 2000; Movies and errands in Budapest: *
Friday May 19, 2000; Picking up my mother: *
Saturday May 20, 2000; Driving to Sirbi: *
Friday May 26, 2000; Touring Eger and goodbye dinner in Budapest: *
Saturday May 27, 2000; Dropping my mother off at the plane: *
Sunday May 28, 2000; Dropping my mother off at the plane: *
Monday May 29, 2000; Budapest; Egyptian Embassy and Reading Café: *
Tuesday May 30, 2000; Budapest; Picking up the Chrome and seeing movies: *
Wednesday May 31, 2000; Budapest; Baths and another movie: *
Thursday June 1, 2000; No go with the slides at Stevens: *
Friday June 2, 2000; Budapest Walking tour and the British Cultural Center: *
Thursday June 22, 2000; Arriving in Budapest from Bratislava: *
Friday June 23, 2000; Avoiding the Heat by watching movies: *
Saturday June 24, 2000; The Flea Market and More Movies: *
Sunday June 25, 2000; Baths and Roman Amphitheater: *
Monday June 26, 2000; Doctor appointment, Szentendre and TESCO: *
Tuesday June 27, 2000; Roman Antiquities, Egyptian Tours and leaving town: *
Wednesday June 28, 2000; Drive to Romania: *
Thursday, September 23, 1999; Hungarian Border to Budapest:
Woke to a beautiful sky which belied our troubled state of mind. We anxiously went through the motions of breakfast and using the beautiful Austrian toilets at our rest stop. At 9:55 we tried the BBC World service and found it again on band 3. We listened for five minutes waiting for the news to come on, but exactly at 10am, Radio Damascus came on over top of the BBC and drowned them out with their own English program. Another bad omen.
We left the rest stop and the line of trucks was gone. We saw a large parking lot full of lorries stopped near a cavernous building. There were Austrian police near the exit, but they waved us past. Then we rolled up to the border stop and noticed the gold stars on the shoulders of the passport officer's uniform. We told ourselves to be calm because this was only the Austrian border guard making sure we weren't wanted by the Austrian government. Then we pulled up to the second stop where another man in a similar green uniform was eating peanuts. Before we could come to a complete stop he waved us through with a casual sweep of his hand. Then we started to brace ourselves for the Hungarian side of the border. It was a kilometer before we realized that had been it.
As we whooped and hollered down the road, we felt a wash of relief, followed by a pang of sadness that we couldn't have seen Slovakia. We passed the rest of the trip to Budapest with Henry driving and Kathleen working on computer catch up.
Went and waited for Adam and Hajne (pronounced Hoy-nee) at her and her brother's place. Fixed the gas leak.
Visited and then were invited to stay at Feri's girlfriend Noami's flat for the weekend while they were at their parents. We put the van in a guarded lot for five days for 5,000 Hungarian Forint (Hf, and equivalent to about $20).
Went to dinner at a restaurant called the Jungle Book where the atmosphere was like a poor-man's Rainforest Café. For 10,000 Hf we had entirely too much food. The four piece band in the next room was playing fifties and sixties covers and did a version of a Beatles tune that fooled us all into believing it was a recording.
Got to the apartment at 1 in the morning. Slept on the foldout bed.
Friday, September 24, 1999; Budapest:
Woke to another beautiful day, though it was a bit more humid. Went to the US Embassy and met a local waiting for a Visa and a Hungarian Zen Monk who had just returned from 5 years training in South Korea. We exchanged e-mail with him on his Palm Pilot.
Had lunch with portions too large to eat -- again. Visited the US Embassy but they were of little help. We walked out sorely disappointed because we'd pegged a bunch of hopes on them. It began to dawn on us that there is nothing we can really do about it. Apparently this is a hard thing for us and we think it's because we're Americans. We're taught all our lives that we can 'do' something to make things better. And we're also told that we're entitled to have personal power in all situations. But that's just not the case here. Hard lesson to swallow sometimes.
Sought out an Internet Café to try and find out more about crossing to Romania. Found one interesting story from someone who'd crossed in a camper in 1996 and had to wait 9 hours at the boarder, then got waved through with no problems at all. We tried out several computers while we were there and were glad when we found one with an American style keyboard. The Hungarian style is the same as the one we found in Slovenia and the 'Z' and 'Y' keys are reversed, so Henry keeps typing his name 'Henrz.'
Got busted on the subway because we'd transferred without validating new tickets. We saw the transit authorities at the bottom of the escalator and walked right up to them since we'd cancelled our tickets like good citizens. Well the stupid fine print on the back of the ticket contradicts the sign on the ticket stamping machine that says 'tickets valid for 30 minutes.' Yes, they're valid for 30 minutes, but only for one ride. When you switch you've got to validate again. The woman asked for Henry's passport, and like an obedient citizen, he handed it over. Then he had to give her 2,400 Ft before he could get it back. It made us so mad because we'd tried to do what we were supposed to do and we'd gotten used to the system back in Rome.
At 4pm we met Hajne and Adam at her apartment and said goodbye. They were rushing around getting ready and we felt in the way at first. They kept reassuring us that we were fine so we kept hanging around. Adam gave us the two copies of The Artist's Way that he'd gotten for us. We were very excited. While we got e-mail we discovered that our website had been restored to some ugly state before we'd uploaded the Pavone and Venice pages. Kathleen called the internet café's listed in the Budapest guide and found one that would let us hook up. As we walked down the stairs to Hajne's condominium we decided to go there that night and get the website fixed.
Found the café and it was a pretty cool place on Vacs near the downtown. They let us set our laptop on the bar and ran the phone cord over to the one the bar uses. Seemed pretty awkward but they insisted it was fine and we weren't about to argue. In the back they had about a dozen stations in a dark room, most of them occupied by fanatical young gamers, some with an audience behind them. Reminded us of a darkened version of the café in Letterkenny.
Went to Fono, where they were doing the most amazing Balkan (Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian) dances. We bought two books from the vendor there and three pottery necklace medallions for gifts. Aside from the presence of vendors and the bar in the room next door, the scene was surprisingly like the dance scenes in the States. Fifty or so dancers crowded into a dance space that was too small. The top five or six of them always led the dances, followed by the top of the second tier of dancers who numbered about ten. People didn't interact outside of their cliques. We expected more interest in us since we were Americans doing their dancing. But even though we asked around trying to find a friend of Claire's, we had no luck making any real connections.
Until Henry went into the bathroom near the end of our stay. We knew we had to run right at 11pm to catch the last tram back to downtown or we'd be left with an hour's walk. The guy in the bathroom asked if Henry was a dance teacher back in the states. Henry told him no, and when the man asked what he did, Henry answered "used to do computers". The guy smiled, said "hold on" and ran over to the table with his friend. He fished his cell phone out of his bag and opened it up with the flair of someone who's about to show off their latest magic trick. He opened it up to reveal a tiny keyboard and a small LCD screen. He type "Hello Henry," put in the e-mail address and pushed the send button. Then he pointed "Look, Look". On the screen a tiny phone icon was coming off and on the receiver. It didn't make a connection right away, and Henry said, "That's great, but I need to go to catch my tram." Really he just wanted to listen and watch the last dance before we had to go. But the guy said, "No, no! Look, look." It was like the Cat in the Hat. Henry had to wait until the guy had shown him his webpage as well.
Meanwhile, Kathleen got to enjoy the last dance before 11 and it was wonderful. Henry managed to join her and by the end we'd both managed to catch it. We formed a small line of two behind the big snake of a line on the floor. Our moment of triumph came when another Hungarian there joined our line. Then the song was over and we saw a couple of others bolt out the door. We followed and stopped only to snag cash out of a machine. Then we literally had to run to catch the number 47 tram. Kathleen was the last on as the red light and buzzer came on warning Henry to clear the doors. We were glad we caught it, but when it got to the station, the yellow line was already shut down. So we walked the 25 minutes to the Hero's square. Locals of whom we asked the direction were amazed we were walking that distance.
Worked on some computer stuff because our minds were turning so fast. Henry took a long bath that was wonderful because the tub was so deep. But when he got out, his feet went 'splash' on the floor. The water was standing over his toes!. He looked around and the entire floor of the bathroom was flooded. Kathleen had to help him bail water with towels and a mop for almost a half hour before we got it dry. We never could be sure what caused the flood.
Ended up getting into bed in around 2am.
Saturday, September 25, 1999; Budapest:
Tried to sleep in to replace the sleep we'd lost. But we were awake by 9 and couldn't really re-achieve sleep. Organized our stuff a bit, prepared some more e-mails and Henry finished the Slovenia page. Kathleen retrieved some more clothes from our van (as well as eye masks) and made lunch. We blew a fuse running the microwave. We headed out for the Internet café on Vac street around 2pm. It was another beautiful day, though a trifle more humid.
The café was much more empty and cool than the night before. We spent an hour and a half there updating the page and surfing the web. Then we headed to a movie theatre to see Lacho Drom, a pictorial review of the major forms of gypsy music. We recognized some of the gypsy groups we'd seen in NY.
After the movie we got some groceries and returned to the apartment to drop off the computer and a gift bottle of wine we'd gotten. We found an unpleasant surprise. All the power was off except for the hall light. We struggled with trying to fix it but there seemed nothing we could do. With reluctance we left it and went out to dinner and dancing.
The dinner was a planned menu at a Hare Krishna Vegetarian restaurant. We'd picked them out of the guide not knowing they were Krishna, only that it was vegetarian. Everything was delicious and cheap. Then we walked a couple of blocks to the Hungarian dance. It was quite the young scene. A lot like Contra Dancing back in the states. It seemed to be a place where the sexes mingled and tried to meet and where established couples could come to show off their stuff. In the back of the room they had a couple showing the steps to people (we joined that group) and in the front, near the music, they had the better dancers doing their thing. It was almost all couple dances, with a few 'men only' dances and a double-couple dance.
We got tired out learning the steps, and with the recent rich Indian meal, we decided to retreat back to the apartment at 10:15. We walked through the pedestrian/tourist section of town to our subway stop. Back at the apartment, we found there was another circuit breaker high on the wall above the door bell. We threw the switch and Voila! The lights came on.
So we settled in for some brief e-mail and catching up on the computer. We both read parts of our Artists Way books. Turned in around 12:30
Sunday, September 26, 1999; Budapest:
Woke around 9:30 from the best night of sleep in the apartment yet. Those eye masks make all the difference. We putzed around the apartment until it was time to go to our movie fest. First we saw Deconstructing Harry at the Puskin theatre on Kossuth Lajos. We both loved it and thought it was another sign that Woody Allen hasn't lost his talent, though he's lost some respect from the scandals in his personal life.
Then we had a light lunch at a sports bar. We experienced again the phenomenon of establishments resenting our using 'big' bills. But it seemed awfully strange for it to be problem to pay for a 1,400 Ft lunch with a 5,000 Ft bill. After lunch we saw Henry Fool at the Muvesz on Terez. It was an intense film with two main characters that kept us engrossed in suspense until the final enigmatic scene. We talked about Henry Fool as we walked back from the Oktagon metro station near the theatre to our van.
There we picked up dinner sauce and returned to the apartment. Noemi had been and left us a note. Turns out Adam and Hajne won't be back until tomorrow morning, so we're on our own for tonight which is what we really wanted. Noemi'd put away the silverware and we couldn't find it for dinner. Finally we found some utensils locked in her dresser, but they still weren't the ones we'd used before. We had the ravioli we'd bought in Slovenia.
Then we walked to a phone box and called the photographer Steven Spindler who Claire had recommended we contact. We found him to be unreceptive to meeting us, so we'll see. Then we got a bottle of wine and settled down for reading of The Artist's Way.
Monday, September 27, 1999; Budapest:
Woke to a lovely autumn day. We boarded the subway for Deac and went to the Jewish Synagogue and Museum. Henry was moved to tears by the Holocaust memorial: it's a life-size weeping willow with a name engraved on each leaf and plaques with messages like "Memory will vanquish Evil" and "So our children will remember."
We searched for Steven's photographs at Madach Center, but were unable to find them. We did find a very helpful tourist information fellow who told us where we could find a store for maps. After hitting our Internet cafe to get and send e-mail, we found the map store and they did indeed have the detailed map of Transylvania, called Erdely in Hungarian, a 1:500,000, which is much better than our 1:750,000 map that we have, but much less than the lovely 1:200,000 indexes we used in England & Ireland. But because there's a lot of Hungarians in Transylvania, we could get this great map.
At around 5pm, we headed to the Scechenyi baths north of the city park, just 10 minutes walk from Nöemi's apartment. After having seen the ruins of roman baths, seeing the current day equivalent is quite wonderful. Like at Bath, England, these are heated by natural hot springs. The complex included a large heated pool outside where people lounge around in the warm waters, many of them couples of all ages. Children are also present, running around within sight of their parents. Our favorite sight in the outdoor pools went to the half dozen men engaged in three chess games on boards painted on a banister of sorts that seemed specially made just for the purpose.
We visited the saunas as well. They were quite intense and we only lasted a couple of minutes in there. The heart of the indoor spa is made up of three pools. The first as we came in was the smallest and it was full of frigid water. The second pool right behind it is full of warm water. To the right of that is a semi-circular pool full of hot water. That was where we spent most of our time, floating around in the five-foot deep comfort of the water.
Then we joined Hajne and Adam at their flat for a quick bite to eat (they'd eaten already). Hajne was going to take us to see the dance group that she's been a part of perform. Nöemi joined us as we went on several subways, trams and busses until we got to somewhere in Buda. There we found that the band hadn't made it and the performance was cancelled. After some wringing of our hands, we decided to take part in the Monday night Balkan dancing. A lot of the characters were the same, but it was a much bigger space and a bigger group. They also did Bulgarian dances that we knew, including Sestorka from Serbia that we did at our wedding. Kathleen knew more of the dances than Henry because of her Balkan dance class. We were amazed at how similar they were to what we'd learned in NYC. Nöemi left early, she'd wanted to go to a Blues music night, so she wasn't into the dancing scene.
We rode back on the tram and went upstairs to retrieve our computer (that we'd brought over for e-mails). Then we went back to Nöemi's apartment around 11:30. We realized we'd forgotten the digital, so we knew we'd need to go back early in the morning.
Tuesday, September 28, 1999; Budapest:
Woke earlier than we'd have liked. Henry went out to call Adam and Hajne, hoping to catch them before Hajne went to class. Adam was there and Hajne had left the camera before going out to do errands. Henry met Adam at Hajne's flat and Adam shared a little of the dynamics of his and Hajne's relationship. It was a nice bonding moment. Then Hajne returned from her errands and Henry returned to Kathleen at Nöemi's.
We called Adam back and invited Adam along on our errands, since Hajne was going to be working on her translations all day and Adam was going to be entertaining himself. He agreed, and we started our first ever set of morning pages (from The Artist's Way), but we were interrupted half way through. Together with Adam we went to the market near Lövölde ter. Bought a few things, including paying what we decided later was a kilo price for less than a kilo's worth of beans at some old lady peasant's stand.
Then Adam went with us to the area near the train station where we found a large western style grocery store. But many of the whole food items we take for granted in the West (such as nuts) were not to be found except in high-priced, small packages.
Adam split shortly after 12noon and we kept on in search of a bicycle repair place. We found none. Then we called Steven the photographer and agreed to meet a 5:30. Returned to the apartment and collapsed for a couple of hours deep sleep before we left to meet Steven.
Steven was much more personable in the flesh. He showed us his Transylvania photos. They all seemed to have been taken during one winter period in 1992. They were quite captivating and demonstrated for us that our choice of Transylvania is probably a good one for visual interest. We bought a package of post cards and a print mounted on black cardboard.
We rushed to meet Nöemi and her friend Alessandra at the apartment. Kathleen took Nöemi's pictures while Henry entertained Alessandra, then we switched people and Alessandra posed. She was a natural model and the roll was gone before the fun had run out. It began to rain and we listened to the cleansing sound of water falling. Sitting on the floor eating cheese, crackers and vegetables, we passed the evening talking in broken English about their lives and the movies stars we like and dislike.
We got to bed around 11:30
Wednesday, September 29, 1999; Budapest:
Timed the morning pages and found they took us between 30 and 40 minutes. Cleaned up Nöemi's apartment and headed to our van. The attendant there demanded 1,300 Ft (up from the 1,000 we paid when we had a Hungarian speaker with us) for the day, since we were beyond our original 5 days. We signed to him that we needed to go get money. He seemed quite nervous about it, but didn't keep us from getting into our van. We took down the bicycle to try and get it fixed again. This time we found the place, just beyond the Octagon, and there they gave us a new inner tube for about $2 and installed it for free. Refused any tip.
While downtown we called Steven to ask for recommendations on where to buy film. The place he recommended was in a ground floor apartment around a courtyard. Seemed strange to our western eyes, but apparently normal to the Hungarians. He was out of film, but gave us the address of another place. Turned out it was half a block from Hajne's flat. We walked back to the van, where the attendant seemed even more nervous than before. We locked up the bike and went to the photo supply place. It was well stocked and the Romanian/Hungarian man spoke excellent English (as well as French and Italian). We bought a good supply of film that should carry us until we can get an order sent from B&H.
Henry had to go for money from a bank machine while Kathleen stayed chatting with the guy about possibilities for printing if we return and set up in Budapest. Finally we were able to pay the attendant and wrote down that we'd leave at 5:30. We began reorganizing the van and worked at that for an hour until 12:30 when we called Hajne and Adam to meet them for lunch.
For lunch we got to meet Tony, an English priest with Hungarian roots who's returned to the country of his ancestors to take up in a small parish. We went to a Hungarian restaurant run by Russians. The waiter did not speak Hungarian or English, so we couldn't order tap water. There was generally confusion about our order. Tony kept jumping into the conversation and talking with force and anxiety. Adam and Hajne seemed to have some unfinished business hanging over them. The food took an hour and twenty minutes to appear. It was a weird lunch.
Adam and Hajne let us use their phone line for getting e-mail. Then we headed back to the van, the time nearing 4pm, to finish our packing. We were trying to reorganize everything so if customs asks us "what's this?" about anything, we won't have to say "expensive photographic equipment." We finally finished around 5. Then we went to the baths again, taking time to take pictures and staying until they began to empty the pools and scrub them down.
Finally we stoked the engine up and left the security of our pay lot. We headed out of town to the Auchan where we hoped to get nuts, saline solution and camping gas. The drive was hectic. The streets are not well marked for foreigners seeking the motorways from Pest to Buda to the south. But after an hour we found it, then we couldn't find the proper exit. It was definitely not marked. After considerable back-tracking we were able to find it. We had about 45 minutes in the store before it closed. During that time we determined that there was no gas exchange, the nuts were as expensive as in town, and there wasn't any saline solution that we could find. By this time it was 9pm and we'd hoped to drive to the boarder that night. The lunch had really screwed up our planning.
Our stress and anxiety were rising. It was dark and traffic was hard. We didn't have the things we thought we'd need, and we were running out of stamina. For comfort, we gave ourselves McDonald's fries and milk shakes. Sitting in the car we reflected on how ironic it was that vegetarians such as ourselves would seek solace in McDonalds at such a time of emotional need.
We had to drive around and around, even into Budapest, until we got on the right road to skirt the city (M0). There we parked at a rest stop next to another McDonalds.
Thursday, September 30, 1999; Travelling to the Romanian Boarder:
Woke to the best looking day of the fall yet. But we were both cranky from days of stressing over this crossing and now it's finally here. We drove on down the M0 to the M5 and headed south. A gas station gave us an opportunity to fill up the spare tire -- an important precaution before entering Romania. Pretty soon we found our exit for E60 and paid the toll with VISA: 640 Ft or about $3.
Then we saw an amazing series of sites. All along the two lane highway we saw young women hanging out in tops and thong bikini bottoms. They were waiving to the truckers, pushing back their big hairdos and talking on their cell phones. We saw one almost get her trucker, but then she walked away. We wondered where they lived, or if a pimp drive them out there from Budapest and let them work all day. Pretty soon we became connoisseurs, comparing the ass of this one or the body of that one. For the most part they were all smashingly beautiful.
Stopped in the town of Szolnok to find camping gas and saline solution. After hunting around town without any sign of blue bottles for our camping gas, we were looking in a travel agency when a man sitting on the stoop interrupted our babbling to ask "May I help you?" He found out our need for the camping gas and made some calls on his cell phone in a back room. We waited on the street trying not to get our hopes up. He came back with a map marked with the place we should go. It was the second map we'd been given in Szolnok. Before following his directions we got contact lens solution (incredibly expensive at about $10 for a 300ml bottle), and made ourselves salad for lunch.
When we followed his directions, we came to a Primagaz warehouse. Jackpot! The lady spoke no English, but she took our bottle and filled it up. Hooray! Hopefully that means a gas place in Romania can fill our tanks for us. A tank exchange is looking pretty impossible to imagine. It was cheap as well -- only $4 for each tank. Unfortunately, after filling the first tank we were out of money, so we had to go back into town to get some more. Kathleen hovered in a lot and a man with a ticket book came up to tell us to move on. We don't know if he gave us a ticket through some 'mail it to you' mechanism because he took down our license plate number.
At 3:15 we were ready to roll out of town. Almost exactly three hours after we rolled in. We passed what seemed to us like a lot of police stopping people and taking their photographs by the side of the road.
We trundled on without incident until we made it to the border.
Wednesday May 17, 2000; An art show in Budapest:
On the road, we managed to make a reservation at Szolnok for Friday. Made it to Budapest, found a great parking spot two blocks from Heros Square. Contacted Steve Binder and found out about a photographic show that evening. We met him at a show with ample supplies of food and drink and walls bearing large prints of beautiful Venice Mask Festival portraits.
Thursday May 18, 2000; Movies and errands in Budapest:
Went to the baths, made reservations at Vista Travel, and in the evening watched the movie Gladiator.
Friday May 19, 2000; Picking up my mother:
During the day we took in the movie Man on the Moon and then drove to the airport with an hour to go before my mothers flight arrived at 7:15. Unfortunately, she wasnt on the flight, and we hadnt made any contingency plans whatsoever, so we didnt know who to call or anything. We figured we would need to come back in the morning, and many things on our schedule would have to be readjusted. But then at 9:15, Julia spotted Kathleen. Theyd managed to reroute themselves from Dublin, through Paris to Budapest. The plane leaving Shannon was over two hours late, so theyd missed all their connections.
We drove to Szolnok and found they were able to upgrade us to an apartment. We made dinner after 1am and got to bed around 2am.
Saturday May 20, 2000; Driving to Sirbi:
At 7am we experienced first hand one of the traits that make Germans terrible tourists. Already drunk, a young man was packing his socks and singing at the top of his voice. We ended up sleeping in until almost 10 and not packing out until 11:30.
The drive to Romania was hot and boring and too long. Because of our late start, and a slow dinner near the border to Hungary, we didnt make it home until around 11:30.
Friday May 26, 2000; Touring Eger and goodbye dinner in Budapest:
The simple aesthetics fooled us into not realizing where the curtain was to shut out the eastern sun. With the light coming in at 4:15 am, we had a feeling of tiredness all day long.
Toured the castle in Eger, and three churches. The most special time was the first church were the altar woman let us in though the church itself was closed to the public. At the castle, we had to suffer through the tour of the catacombs in Hungarian. It was only at the end that we found out an old man and his so were there from Canada. He was a holocaust survivor, and was particularly hard on the Hungarians. He said the Hungarians would go whatever way the wind was blowing. We said it was like that in Romania as well, and he said "at least they fought against the Nazis."
All in all, we could see that the quality of tourism is on the rise here in Hungary. We paid the hefty road tax to get onto the motorway just outside Eger and made it to Budapest in under two hours. Checked into the Radio Inn near our old stomping grounds with Noime and Hajne.
We had dinner at the Jardis de Paris, which for $40 was a dinner not possible to be had in the states. Its nestled in the footstones of the castle, with fire lit braziers and a live jazz band. Momma and Dan picked up the tab, saying it was an experience which could not be purchased back home for anything like a sum they could afford. Unfortunately, afterwards Kathleen started feeling sick, so instead of walking home, we took the train.
Saturday May 27, 2000; Dropping my mother off at the plane:
Kathleen stayed at the hotel room while I took Momma and Dan to the airport. The melancholy didnt strike me until I walked out front.
Checked out of the hotel at 12am. Spent the rest of the day in the van feeling wiped out, hot, bored and a little unhappy in the stomach. It was oppressively hot and we couldnt wait until the cold front promised on the CNN International weather came to Budapest. Went to bed at 9:30.
Sunday May 28, 2000; Dropping my mother off at the plane:
Woke up at 8:30 feeling stiff. There was sun on the van but it seemed cooler. We made breakfasts and organized our food until we left the van around 11. Wandered around the walking district, but didnt really get into anything with gusto.
Monday May 29, 2000; Budapest; Egyptian Embassy and Reading Café:
Went to the Egyptian Embassy, bumping into a photographer on the bus who said he could make our slides. At the Embassy, we found that the dire requirements wed been given for getting a VISA had nothing to do with Americans wanting to tour there. For $7 each, we left off our applications with the passport photos Kathleen had made last time we were in Budapest, and they said we could pick them up in three days! Wed gotten so used to paranoid Romanians that wed forgotten how nice dealing with a sensible bureaucracy can be.
While we were there a Hungarian woman at the writing desk saw our US passports and got star struck. "Youre from America!" she said as if she was saying youre from Mount Olympus! She has a sister who married an American and shes been to Connecticut a couple of times.
We caught a tram along the river to the foot of the castle, then climbed the stairs up to the level of kings and queens. It was awash in fresh rain and tour busses. The charm was there, but a sense of awe was not. After looking around, we found the reading café wed sought, inside a glass walled bookstore. There they had amazing treats made of ice cream and coffee, and we spent a happy afternoon reading, perusing photo books, watching the rain beat on the cobblestones and happy about the turn in the weather.
Tuesday May 30, 2000; Budapest; Picking up the Chrome and seeing movies:
We picked up the chrome and took it to Vista café to go through it. While I went upstairs and ordered some screenplays on-line, Kathleen began discovering the numerous marks and problems with them. I came down to find her mired in anger and depression. Some problems seemed like the film had been dropped, others merely like water spots (but not spots wed like to see left there for any length of time). We went through every strip and marked the ones that had problems with scraps of post it notes.
On our way back to the photo store, we rehearsed what wed say, and tried to imagine what their reactions would be. When we got there, we got the predictable defensive reactions, and a claim that even the dimples in the film were the result of not being washed adequately, and an offer to rewash them. We told them thats not what we thought it was, but finally agreed to let them rewash one section as a test.
It came back twenty minutes later in perfect condition. So swallowing our pride, we let them have all 37 out of 53 rolls that were tainted and asked them to wash them for us again.
When we started the day, we thought wed have enough time to lounge in another café reading and writing for a few hours before our movie. As it was, we had time enough just to get there and get comfortable. The movie was Tea with Mussolini and it was fabulous.
Outside the movie theater, we finally managed to contact Hajne. We found out her brother and Noime had gotten married in the six months since wed been there, but that the wedding was marred by the opening up the night before of stitches from a surgery Noime had had two weeks previously. Hajne was alone at home, and we told her we hoped we could get together the three of us when her brother and sister in law got back. Right now, theyre all sharing the flat together.
Feeling good and in the mood for more movies, we stopped in to see Magnolias. That flick was way to long and disjointed, so it ended our evening on something of a frustrating note.
Wednesday May 31, 2000; Budapest; Baths and another movie:
Went to the baths under an overcast sky with a slight rain coming down. It was heaven to float in each others arms in the outdoor hot pool with cool air and a light sprinkle on our faces. The chess players were there playing at a high level, game after game, sometimes shaking hands with almost all the pieces still on the board, both players seeing the end, though it eluded me.
After hanging again at the van, we treated ourselves to another movie. This one was The Green Mile, and it was also too long, but only boring for a half hour -- a testament to Tom Hanks acting abilities and the basically interesting story by Stephen King.
On the streets outside the mall, after 11pm, we saw lines of people queued up outside the post office. "Whats this for?" we asked. "Taxes," a woman replied. We took their pictures. "Its the same back home," I said. "Where are you from," she asked. "America," I said. Her eyes got big. "You have to do this in America too?" On Mount Olympus? Really?
Thursday June 1, 2000; No go with the slides at Stevens:
Kathleen tried to make slides of her work at Stevens. Unfortunately, he didnt really have an adequate lens, though hed told us he had a macro lens, what he really had was a variable focus lens which extended into a macro range. But this meant it didnt have the proper corrections for some lateral warping, and so on Kathleens 8x10 prints, the warpage was noticeable. She stopped it all at one roll of film, we took that roll to get developed, picked up our VISAs and discussed how to keep from burning all bridges with Steven but still go elsewhere.
We went to the lab that had developed our chrome. The rate they quoted us was a good bit less than theyd quoted us before: perhaps because with us there in front of them with a slide and a print it was clearer what we wanted. We asked why the slide Steven had taken was off and they knew the technical name for it. That convinced us and we left all our work with them to make slides.
In the evening, we hung at Vista Café, and found a device that lets one plug in the phone line and call any number, local or long distance, and print a receipt of the cost of the call at the end. Where has this thing been in all our travels through Europe? We composed e-mails on our computer and then called our server in Romania to send them. Of course, the server got stuck sending and we had to call back, costing us an extra two dollars, but we couldnt have spent three hours composing e-mails for the same cost we spent (1,300 Florints, about $4.70), so we walked away happy.
Friday June 2, 2000; Budapest Walking tour and the British Cultural Center:
Kathleen took the walking tour of the Jewish ghetto area. She found the tour disappointing because they didnt go very far and they didnt give her a real sense of what it was like before the war: the ostensible purpose of the tour.
We visited the British cultural center, and sat down at one of two study tables in their library for four hours. It felt just like any public library back home except for the newspapers being two days old and British.
After the library, we went home to our van and stayed there playing the small magnetic games wed bought that morning: "Morris," "Parcheesi" and "Backgammon."
Thursday June 22, 2000; Arriving in Budapest from Bratislava:
Took us a little while to find the route to Györ that avoided the motorway. The people who designed the signs seemed to have decided to hide any details that would reveal the location of the free roads. At Györ, we were triply lucky with our gas. The woman operating the gas center was wearing painted on shorts that gave us both the pleasure of incredulity. She filled one and a half bottles and charged us only for the gas she used (as opposed to the gas filling station in Szolnok). Finally, as soon as she was done, she left, so had arrived in the nick of time.
According to the Conservation of Luck principle, our fortune at getting the gas canisters filled meant we had a terrible time finding the free road to Budapest. Our map showed the road as route number 10, but the signage only showed route number 1. Apparently youre supposed to know these work out to about the same thing. Again in Budapest, we werent able to smoothly move from route 10 onto route 2, because even though the signs said we were doing what we wanted, they turned out delivering us to route 11 and sending us on the expressway south along the river Danube, instead of crossing us over to the park where we like to stash our car.
Eventually though, we navigated the maze of streets and missing signs and got ourselves parked with a hot van on a shady street. We took a break from the heat by heading to Vista café and getting our e-mail. When we returned to the van, we stripped down and lay still on the bed, dripping sweat in our tin can home just hoping that sweet sleep would take our consciousness and relieve our suffering for another fifteen minutes.
Friday June 23, 2000; Avoiding the Heat by watching movies:
The heat governed our actions. Temperatures soared toward the 100° F/38° C mark. We first went to Vista to get advice on satisfying some specific health care needs. As usual, they were of invaluable help, hooking us up with a woman who runs a gynecological business out of a small apartment in Szentendre, a touristy town on the Danube Bend to the north of Budapest, and steering us to the section of Károly Körút (the street before the Museum Mile of Budapest) where we could find contact lenses.
The contact lenses turned out to be simpler than wed hoped. They would have sold us a new box of lenses based on just Kathleens spare lens (which had the prescription printed on it). But for $15 more we got an exam and a prescription which we can fax to our parents in the states and get more sent to us. Whew! Kathleen was getting upset with only having her glasses to see with. The vision is never as good.
Both our morning errands had been in air-conditioned establishments. We decided to continue in the air conditioning by going to the Corvin movie theatre and watching "Double Jeopardy."
Later we went to the West End Center and each watched our own movie.
Saturday June 24, 2000; The Flea Market and More Movies:
We caught a long bus to the main Saturday market at Boráros tér. Stayed until the last of the vendors began shutting down. Our big loss was a beautiful dress from Transylvania that we decided to go back and buy, but when we returned to the ladies stall, she had packed up and was gone. We bought other skirts and blouses and some old money, then had a potato pasta dish for lunch. The rows of stalls were packed with English speaking foreigners, many American accents among them. We haggled with some Romanians over a picture in terrible condition that wed have been interested in for a couple of dollars, but they wanted $100. Though they denied actually being Romanians, they spoke Romanian, looked Romanian and acted Romanian. But clearly they were Hungarian, since they said they were and were in Hungary.
Following the crowds onto a return bus, we learned that you have to watch the color of the bus numbers as well as the numbers themselves: wed caught the red number 54 instead of the blue number 54. It ended up taking us a completely different route, but it ended well since the end of the line was a station on the Blue Line Metro.
We looked at our Budapest Sun which had the table of English movies and decided to continue hiding out from the heat by seeing a couple of more movies. The first one that was showing that interested us was "Stir of Echoes" at the Corvin, which was right on the Blue Line. The only problem was that we had to wait three hours until show time. All the other movies in town were either not interesting or even later than the movie at Corvin.
We camped out in their café. Kathleen studied her Romanian Language book and Henry read Story by Robert McKee. We snuck looks at a fashionably and provocatively dressed young woman who was waiting for someone. Entertained the notion that she might be an escort, but turned out she was just the girlfriend of a guy who worked for the theater who was dressed to impress.
After the movie at Corvin, we decided to go to the West End Center. All the 4-6 trams were not working, so theyd provided busses to carry people, but they were so crammed with locals it reminded us of the animalistic conditions in Romania. We decided to walk and marveled again that people were still taking the busses one stop, and its possible to walk two stops before being passed by a bus.
We had Indochinese food in the basement of the mall, then Kathleen watched "Hanging Up," and Henry watched "The Ninth Gate." After the movies, we walked out through the gardens on the rooftop of the mall. The Hungarians had hedged their bets with the massive complex, installing apartments on the margin of the center with access to the city through these well manicured public spaces. To our left and below we could see another public garden complete with playground equipment and we were again impressed by their use of space when we realized it was built on the rooftop of the train station.
Sunday June 25, 2000; Baths and Roman Amphitheater:
A cold front moved in overnight and dumped sweet rain and temperatures in the 70s. We went to the baths and reveled in our fortune with the weather. The light cool rain still falling made small clouds of fog drift across the surface of the outdoor pool. There was a brass band playing Ragtime outside and we called Henrys mother and her husband because the music reminded us of him.
After the baths, we shopped for a present for Ileana, then got in our van and drove to Obuda. There we walked around the old Roman amphitheater, finding the homeless there very elusive. They would leave their homes in the gladiator and animal pens which are still roofed over, and wander the streets with their plastic bags. As we left, they filtered back in, at least two of them that we could see, though there were beds that indicated three or four people made their home there.
Continuing north, we passed the museum at Aquincum, and an evocative ruin of Roman aqueduct preserved in the median strip of the highway. On the road beyond the bus station in Szentendre we found a beautiful parking spot on a stub of sand sticking out beyond the end of the road. A man at the last house spoke enough English to say "no problem" for our sleeping there. Then he added "Sleep well." And we did.
Monday June 26, 2000; Doctor appointment, Szentendre and TESCO:
Finding Kathleens doctor was an exercise in missing signage and friendly locals. On a street where they were taking down the power lines, (presumably to replace them with higher capacity cable, since the poles were already congested with a half dozen lines) a man and his daughter spent fifteen minutes drawing maps and describing how to find the apartment complex we needed. Then they drove half the way there and pointed to a critical turn for us.
The woman does a constant business through and office in the basement of an apartment building. She doesnt take appointments, its first come first serve. Turns out it was a good thing we didnt put her appointment off. Shed contracted an infection, possibly from the baths. The doctor gave us several prescriptions, putting a Hungarians name on it for some sort of insurance reason.
In the Szentendre city center, we found an awesome parking spot under the eaves of a tall weeping willow. Our great big green van was almost impossible to see from the street, and it was completely sheltered from the rays of the sun. The air was cool but the sun was hot, so we felt grateful for a way to keep our van cool. Across the creek we were able to get Kathleens prescription filled. In the tourist town center we bought all the presents we needed for Nikky and Daniel, and had the feeling that tourism had stamped out the soul of Szentendre.
Back at our secret parking spot, we had lunch and naps. Then we decided to make a flying trip back to Budapest to shop at the Tesco, then return to this area to tour Aquincum in the morning (because it was Monday, the museum was closed).
Taking the roads to Tesco worked out a lot better than ever before. Henry went into the Polluk Center while Kathleen stayed behind in the van. That allowed Henry to see an area called West Town inside the mall where American chains such as Pizza Hut mingled with One Armed Bandit casinos and a ice hockey rink.
We returned north to Szentendre and after trying a spot behind the Aquincum museum, we moved to our old spot at the end of the road.
Tuesday June 27, 2000; Roman Antiquities, Egyptian Tours and leaving town:
Any time we meet the Romans, were impressed. Aquincum was the capital of one of the most far flung provinces of Rome, on the edge of Pannonia Inferior. What is left are stone foundations, bath mosaic, and literally tons of stone funerary monuments. The museum had exhibits that included reconstruction of the ancient Celts clothing (the Celts were the tribe that inhabited Pannonia when the Romans arrived) and the clothing of Roman citizens from the merchant class on up.
We didnt realize the Romans had items like wrought iron chairs and pipe organs, but samples of both were included in the exhibits. The museum was opened over a hundred years ago and was built up to look like an ancient Roman temple.
By noon, wed retreated to Budapest and called the tour company that operates in Egypt. A Libyan met us and drove us to yet another upscale mall where his company has their offices. He gave us the cost they charge for a one week tour, and it worked out to about $500 a person, so we were encouraged to consider using them to help book our trip. That meant we changed our plans and didnt go on to Vista, since his price included travel from Budapest.
Kathleen bought forty rolls of film and we headed out of town. Trying to find the northern free route was a replay of the frustration wed experienced around Györ. In a strange twist, we ended up at the Polluk Center and Kathleen had an opportunity to see the inner wonderland of West City. We had Pizza Hut slices and it brought on a bought of home sickness. Henry watched the ice hockey while Kathleen used the toilets, then we continued driving around for an hour and a half attempting to connect with route 30. Turns out the critical sign that tells a person that one has arrived at that route, and its time to turn, was missing. We managed to drive for two hours after heading out on route 30, making it slightly beyond Eger.
Wednesday June 28, 2000; Drive to Romania:
Light and the threat of the suns warmth woke us up by 8am. The trucker parked behind us had already left. We got back on the road and spent an uneventful but grueling drive to the border at Satu Mare.
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