Europe | Hungary | Budapest – First Moments of Pest
I made it amazingly quickly to my hostel here in Pest despite the many obstacles. I was surprised to find lots of people waiting to offer me taxis and hostels. I haven’t received so much unsolicited ‘assistance’ since Morocco. All I can think is that it’s a sign of this post-communist country still trying to stand on it’s own, luring in tourists and foreign marks. I was relieved that I knew exactly where I needed to go and could refuse assistance convincingly.
The biggest challenge between the train station and my destination was money. I found an ATM and made a guess about how much to take out — 20,000 Hungarian Florints. I had a sinking feeling that I’d drained my bank account back home, but just a few minutes ago I did the math and discovered that 20,000 Florints is less than $100!! I get the feeling this money will last quite a while here. After getting the money, which of course came from the machine in only two large notes, I desperately needed change in order to buy my Metro ticket. The woman at the ticket window laughed in my face when I attempted to hand her the 10,000 note for a 125 ticket. I went to the nearby change bureau. On the face of the young cashier I could see she wanted to help me, but at the last minute decided she could not. She said, ‘The ticket office has to offer you change.’ I told her I’d tried and they’d refused. ‘But they are required,’ she said. Knowing she was wrong, and not wanting to get caught up in a vicious circle, I decided to risk the bakery kiosk next door. I bought a chocky (chocolate) croissant for 100 Florints and the cashier didn’t even bat an eye when I handed her the 10,000 note. Now I had change for the metro ticket! I felt like a millionaire with the thick wad of cash in my pocket, but for all I knew at the time it was only about 20 bucks.
There are only three metro lines in Budapest: red line, blue line, and yellow line. It was quite easy to figure out where to go. I boarded the train and stood in the aisle with my backpack still on my back. I munched on my croissant as if I were a commuter on my way to work and did this every day of my life. What confidence I feigned. Or maybe I really felt it… The strange sounds of the Magyor language did not phase me in the slightest; I’d grown accustomed to listening for the key items in the train announcements, and luckily the signs were still in the Roman alphabet.
The hostel here is stark, minimalist, clean, and not so friendly. But I didn’t expect much more. I feel as if I’m about to take a real look in post-communist Europe. Prague offered a package, but perhaps Budapest can tell me the real story…