Saturday, 31 July 2010

Hungary #2 - gaining entry

Hi once again, all.

I successfully arrived in Hungary, and am currently safe sound and well slept in Moloko, a bar frequented by the friends I'm staying with. It's pretty cool. Pints are 300F Forint which works out at 90p, they have a Csocso table (Hungarian for table football) which is 50F a pop, and they have really funky lights - they're square, with little LED lights around the outside, and a mirror on top. The mirror reflects the lights off the plastic cover, so the light appears to stretch upwards into infinity when really the fitting is about 5cm high.

It probably looks better than it sounds.

Anyway, I intend to update you on how it's going so far. It may be fairly long winded, so if you aren't ready for a read then go away.

Several hours of travelling followed my last post. The flight to Frankfurt Hahn took just over an hour, then I spent 12 hours in the airport waiting for the next plane (mostly trying to sleep in awkward positions on the floor or benches). I arrived in Hungary just after midnight on Friday, and spent another 4 hours sleeping in that airport because I'd missed the last public transport. The sleep was welcome, however.

At 4.30 I woke up, went to the bus stop, and got on the bus for free (second time I've got on the first bus in a new city for free - interesting fact for you there). The bus took me through suburbian Budapest to Kőbánya Kispest, the first (or last, depending on your perspective) stop on the red Metro line. The ticket booth was closed, so I bought a "Cappuccino" from a dingy snack shack to break into a 1000F note, then bought a ticket for 320F and headed to the platform. I put Cappuccino in inverted commas because it wasn't really a Cappuccino despite being labelled as one - it was an espresso shot with whipped cream (or whipped plastic, going by the taste).

Anyway, I boarded the first train at the platform, then read an interesting notice about ticket validation. I then got off the train, went back to the ticket machine, and validated my ticket (don't wanna get fined!) Luckily the next train was only 4 minutes behind, so I waited, boarded, then travelled to Kálvin tér. I find foreign Metro systems interesting - I recall the trains of the one in Montreal have huge wheels with tyres on them, rather than the little metal ones they usually have (from what I've seen at least). From what I can gather, if they derailed the wheels would cushion the fall rather well and carry the carriage to a safe stop. My first observation of the Hungarian Metro was not such a comforting one: how most of the train carriages were actively rusty and decrepit.

I surfaced at Kálvin tér just after 5.30am, and took a traditional "first view of a new city" photo for my collection. The view was of typical Eastern European city buildings, surrounded by scaffolding and a fenced off building site. I then went to sit down and drink some water, before ringing Simon to come pick me up. The call wasn't answered. I waited ten minutes and tried again - still no answer. Then I waited ten minutes, called again, and was greeted with a message telling me his phone was off the hook. Shit.

Unsure of what to do, I decided to wander around the area I'd found myself in. A brief scan of the map told me I was near the Danube, so I headed there and absorbed the magnificent early morning view of Budapest. Over the next 6 and a half hours, I rang Simon no less than 43 times, and only the last call connected. In the meantime I remembered that I'd written down his address, so I located the street on the map and walked there. At first I thought that would be the end of it; the name "Simon" was written on the buzzer list for the apartment building, so I spent 30 minutes buzzing it, figuring that there wouldn't be 2 Simon's in all of Budapest, let alone the same building. No luck.

After a LONG time I saw movement in the lobby, and knocked on the door. After a short, awkward "conversation", a resident let me through the 2 security gates and into what was presumably Simon's building. I went to apartment #5 (the one labelled as Simon) and spent another 30 minutes knocking and buzzing before going up and heading downstairs. On retrospect I'm really glad the guy wasn't in, because he would have punched me for ringing his door so many times (it turns out there ARE 2 Simons in the building, and the one I was looking for is at apartment #11. Simon is a fairly common surname in Hungary, and is the surname of the resident of the apartment I spent 3 hours trying to enter.)

Downstairs I realised that you needed a key to get OUT of the building as well. This sparked a small panic attack - I wasn't supposed to be in this building - what if got arrested?! What if I ended up stuck in there all day?! What if I needed to do twosies?!!! I looked out of the window on the first landing to see if I could jump out, but it was way too high, and the area behind it was sealed off anyway so I'd just get stuck there. I knocked on several apartments. One knock was answered, but I was flustered and scared the resident back inside, where she would no longer answer my subsequent knocks. Eventually I sat on the stairs and regrouped, before realising that the lock was very primitive and could be forced open by a toothbrush (of all things).

I got out, and have never been happier to be on a Hungarian street.

After this, an old woman took pity on my situation, and (I think) invited me into her house for tea. My Mum told me not to talk to strangers, so I refused, and decided instead to calm myself down a bit by going to the Hungarian National Museum, which was just a short walk away.

For 550F (the student entry fee, which ANYONE under 26 has to pay, student or otherwise), I was able to peruse several exhibits about Hungary's history from the beginning of human life, to the fall of the Communist regime in 1990. It was interesting, but unfortunately too many things weren't labelled in English, and I was exhausted, so I didn't look at it all.

My energy reserves were gradually depleting, as was my patience, so I went and sat on a bench by the river with my iPod and attempted to destress. It was here that a call to Simon FINALLY got through - he casually apologised for not answering, explaining that he'd only just woken up after his trip from Serbia, then said to come back to the apartment and he'd let me in.

When I arrived he explained how the secure doors I was previously trapped by were opened by a simple buzzer mechanism that I completely missed. My previous ordeal then seemed hugely stupid. I would like to add, for the record, that the buzzer switch has a picture of a lightbulb on it however, so its function is not immediately obvious!

Finally, after nearly 7 hours in Budapest, I gained entry to Simon's flat, grabbed a drink, and sat down.

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