08:02. I’m sitting in the lounge area at Flow, the excellent Budapest hostel that has been my home for the last four nights. With one exception, I have found Budapest to be an extremely friendly city.
While I didn’t have a great experience at dinner last night, I should have known that a place with “Traditional Hungarian Restaurant” written on the side wall in one metre tall letters might be a bit of a tourist trap.
The meal was okay, albeit over-priced, but the service would fall somewhere between robotic and downright surly.
When the bill came I noticed three charges that appeared to be percentages. I assumed that one would be a service charge and the others would be various taxes, but just to be clear I asked the waitress, Marja.
Apparently I wasn’t the first person to question this. Without saying a word, Marja pointed to a sign near the entrance and then went about her business of flinging menus at tables and thoroughly scaring small children.
I didn’t think it was unreasonable of me to offer a Ft10,000 note for a tab that came to Ft5010. Marja disagreed. There was much huffing and puffing and shifting of her considerable weight while making change.
I resumed my conversation with a nice Swiss family who were seated behind me and didn’t immediately pocket the bills or coins that Marja left on the table. She returned a minute later and relieved me of that task.
I didn’t know what to say as she walked away with my cash but a loud “hey” got her attention. “Sorry, but I cannot leave a 100% tip,” I said apologetically. Her response was to fling the money across the table with a left-handed motion that would have made Cy Young proud!
So much for “friendly” Budapest.
(When I sat down to write about this experience I wondered if I had read Marja’s nametag correctly. Was her name Marja or perhaps Maria? I Googled “Hungarian Baby Names” and found a list of new and old names for boys and girls. Apparently Marja is Polish and fairly common in these parts. It means “Sea of Bitterness.” I kid you not.)
10:31. I told the girl at the hostel’s front desk that I will leave a glowing review on the booking site HostelWorld.com. If the shower head didn’t keep sliding to the bottom of a vertical pole I would give the place a perfect 10. As is, maybe 9.8.
10:40. I have one hour to get to the train station so I will walk rather than risk getting lost in the metro or on the wrong bus. Better safe than sorry!
10:55. There’s a lot to look at on the way to the train station.
11:02. Just when you wondered whatever happened to Siegfried (or Roy, whichever one wasn’t Tiger Bait) you learn that he’s performing in Europe under the obviously fake name of Chris Norman. Who knew?
11:40. The train pulls out of the station on time. I have an assigned seat and so far I’m the only one at a table for four. Across the aisle are three German guys who appear to be in pretty rough shape based on all the moaning and groaning.
11:50. The attendant escorts two women and a boy of about 13 to ‘my’ table. Apparently they sat in the wrong seats for the first few minutes and they’re still confused. As best I can tell, they have paid a hefty surcharge to a travel agent for the sole purpose of procuring a private cabin. The attendant explained that they were ripped off as there are no private cabins on this train.
11:52. I’ve given up hope of starting a poker game at Table 14. Shortly after settling in my three seatmates began rummaging through their backpacks. Each produced a brand new Bible and a yellow marker. They are now whispering bible passages to each other and highlighting like there’s no tomorrow. Perhaps that’s the point. I don’t know. It would appear that Jehovah has three fewer witnesses in Budapest this morning.
11:56. I get out my iPad and keyboard and start to work on the lyrics for the song that I posted a few days ago. I bet Johnny Cash would come up with a few good songs if you put him on a Hungarian train for eight hours.
2:10. One of the guys at the adjacent table is now awake. He’s travelling with two cousins who will be in his wedding party next week. “If we live till then,” he says.
3:00. The scenery for the last few legs has been dreary but we’re now traveling through gently rolling farmland with low, snow-capped mountains in the distance. Most of the farm houses are what I think of as Bavarian style – large 2 and 3 level houses with steeply pitched roofs and symmetrical window arrangements. The barnyards are neat and tidy and everything is in good repair.
5:00. Ham and cheese on a bun is €6 in the dining car yet the breakfast platter is only €5 and it consists of a bun and a croissant, a generous portion of ham and cheese, plus butter, jam, marmalade and coffee. After conferring with several of her colleagues and perhaps the district manager, the girl running the dining car (glorified snack bar) agrees that I can have the breakfast platter, although the fact that someone might want “breakfast” at 5 in the afternoon is clearly the strangest thing she has ever encountered.
5:05. There’s a line of people waiting for a seat in the dining car so I sit with a Japanese student who stares at me for the entire time I take to eat my breakfast / dinner. It’s not a creepy kind of stare but rather a curious “you’re eating breakfast in the afternoon?” kind of stare.
5:38. I return to my seat to find that bible study is over and my seatmates are sound asleep. The guys at the next table are asleep. Even the two businessmen in the row behind us are now out cold. I begin to wonder if there has been a C02 leak or something of that nature while I was in the dining car.
7:02. I wake up from a strange dream just as the train pulls into Munich station. If my dream is any indication, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Maple Leafs are about to merge and the players have been asked to help the cause by moving back and forth between squads. In the dream I was standing on a stage at Mohawk Racetrack as Paul Godfrey explained the situation to the media. “It’s a sound plan that will ensure the survival of both sports in these tough economic times,” he said. The assembled reporters were openly skeptical. The JW’s were there and they weren’t buying it, either.