15th September 2014
First time in my life, I was awakened by a police officer. Yes, We were at Arad, last train station at Romanian border. The cop wanted to check my passport because Romania is not (yet) a part of Schengen area and we were about to enter Hungary, which does belong to Schengen countries. As soon as we crossed Hungarian border, Hungarian cops followed the similar procedure and my passport got yet another stamp.
Berths were comfortable and I had had a good sleep. The train reached Budapest at 9:15 AM. It took around 16 hours. I was positively surprised that there was free WiFi just outside the train station. I dropped a Facebook PM to Daniel who is my buddy from Budapest, who kindly agreed to host me. Pavel found a nearby bank giving decent exchange rate. We exchanged our Euros and filled our wallets with Forints (Hungarian currency). 1 Euro is 315 Forints approximately. Momentarily, we felt rich. We located a Burger King, to have coffee and more importantly to access the toilet! (Toilets in the train sucked.) Pavel and Rodica (being politicians) had their accommodation in a luxurious hotel and they were off after the coffee. I took my time to eat longer version of breakfast, which was kindly packed by Cristi’s mother. I made the day trip plan: cached the Budapest map on the Tablet and marked the spots. I bought the 24 hour travel ticket that would allow me to use all public transport means with one card. I decided to explore the Buda side of Budapest.
Castle hill is the home of tourist attractions of Buda! Buda castle stands with its roots deep down this hill and even deeper down the European history.
It was quite an exercise to take stairs to climb the hill. I was with a trolley bag and a backpack. Northern part of the castle hill is called as Castle district and has medieval churches, baroque houses and buildings. Among them, Fisherman bastion caught my attention and following the crowd, I bought a ticket to enter the bastion and the infamous Matthias church.
The view of Budapest with chain bridge connecting Buda and Pest sides was the one I dreamt of viewing for a long time.
The Matthias church was first built in 1015. That is one thousand years old! It has been destroyed and restored multiple times, keeping and enhancing its beauty. The raven on the top of one of the church towers was unique.
Some monuments were going under renovation promising more spectacular views for tourists to come.
I sent a few postcards from a souvenir shop cum post office. It was only then I realized that there were other buses which could take me straight until that post office. Apparently Google maps had not suggested me the best route ! :-(
The coffee in the fisherman bastion restaurant was memorable because of the company of two beautiful girls.
They were on Euro trip (too) and we exchanged some thoughts. After coffee I took a bus to the Varkert bazar, which was like a garden down the hill. I could not find a straight forward way to reach Varkert bazar, I was off the trail but somehow ended up there.
The stream of the Danube flows along the Varkert bazar, making it a popular ferry station.
Unknowingly I had completed a circle around the hill and I found myself in front of the Funicular railway to the Budapest Castle hill. It takes you up to the hill-top and saves you some efforts.
View of the parliament of Hungary from the bank of Danube was just spectacular.
This was pretty much the end of my day-trip. Next task was to find Daniel’s home.
Daniel is my good friend from Amsterdam where he stayed for an exchange-semester. I was looking forward to see him. I had his address and phone number. From my earlier experience, I did not trust Google maps much. I found the bus which would take me to Pest, then district IV of Pest. Hungarian citizens were helpful in answering me and guiding me. I managed to find this apartment building just before dusk. I also received some help from Prem, an Indian guy living in the same building complex. Thanks to my memory that I remembered Maria- Daniel’s mother’s name who once visited him in Amsterdam. I could verify the apartment number and the associated name. Well, the challenge did not end here: The elevator’s buttons were broken and had been replaced with confusing numbers. For example, pressing 3 would not take you to 3rd floor.
Thankfully, the doors were numbered and I found Daniel at his door waiting for me! Because we communicated through Facebook, he stayed at home but I did not have Wifi through out the day (except for train station) so I could not tell him my expected arrival time. He was worried for me and seemed glad to see me. It was after a year, we were meeting. Maria created a welcoming environment for me. She tried to speak in English and communicated with hand gestures, which was very sweet of her. She welcomed me with Vodka shots which is a way of welcoming a guest (I guess). She also had prepared a nice Omelet with tomatoes and curry powder. I was given his sister’s room who was away at that time. I took a long, much needed hot shower.
Daniel liked Romanian liquor- tuica which I bought him as a gift. I checked my emails and I realized that I had to book an apartment in Seattle.It took a while.
In the evening, we were to see Balazs, another buddy from Amsterdam, who lives in Budapest. There were four of us : Daniel, his friend Keszi, Balazs and me. We bought some drinks at the supermarket and went to a public drinking park near Deak Ferenc! It was not meant to be so, however it became as such in recent times. There were many young groups with their liquor stacks. We had a long chat over wine. I learned about Hungarian youth and their thinking. They were curious about spirituality and Godly rituals in India. Most young Hungarians (according to them) today, are not atheist nor believers. They just don’t care about religion. It sounded like a great thought to convert into habit. Not caring about religion can indeed have a huge impact on personal and spiritual life (if not social and political).
By the time we finished our drinks, I had learnt one important Hungarian manner: While saying cheers (which is Egeszsegedre in Hungarian), one should look into eyes of the person you are saying this to. Egeszsegedre means “To your health”. To raise the toast Egeszsegedre Budapest!
(to be continued…)